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Updated Saturday, September 19, 2020 at 3:30 a.m. ET

The Denver Nuggets have made history by beating the odds this postseason, but they couldn't overcome the Los Angeles Lakers and a second quarter full of whistles in Friday night's Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. The Nuggets were called for 16 fouls in the second quarter, and Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Paul Millsap all were in foul trouble with three fouls each before halftime, as the Lakers went on to a 126-114 victory in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

The Nuggets, who became the first team to overcome 3-1 deficits and win in back-to-back series to get to the West finals, couldn't overcome that Lakers run as Denver opened the second quarter shooting 0-for-6 from the field and turning the ball over six times. But nothing hurt the Nuggets more than Jokic falling into foul trouble. "If you watched the game, you could tell," Murray said when asked what happened during the Lakers' run. "Yeah, if you watched the game, then you could tell."

LeBron James might have the Los Angeles Lakers just three wins away from the NBA Finals, but he has reason to be unhappy. Before the Lakers' 126-114 Game 1 win over the Denver Nuggets to tip off the Western Conference finals, the league announced the MVP voting for the 2019-20 season on Friday, and James came in second to the Milwaukee Bucks' Giannis Antetokounmpo. It was the fourth time in his 17-year career that the Lakers' star finished as the runner-up for the league's most prestigious individual award.

"Pissed me off. That's my true answer," James said after pumping in 15 points and 12 assists in the series opener. "It pissed me off because out of 101 votes, I got 16 first-place votes. That's what pissed me off more than anything. "You know, not saying that the winner wasn't deserving of the MVP. But that pissed me off. And I finished second a lot in my career, either from a championship, and now four times as an MVP."

James took aim at the undefined criteria for the award, which leaves voting up for interpretation. The NBA's annual awards are voted by a global panel of 100 media members from across print and broadcast journalism, plus a single fan vote. "I don't know how much we are really watching the game," James wondered aloud about the panel.

On Friday night, in a 126-114 win over Denver, the Lakers got a whole lot more from Dwight Howard than they could have expected. From the moment Howard came bounding off the bench with 10 minutes left in the second quarter, he changed the dynamic of the game. He started wrestling with Jokic inside as they battled for post position. Howard cut back door for alley-oops, drove hard to the basket, blocked two shots, created two steals and drew four fouls in his first seven minutes. "I had a chance to get there once and always promised myself if I had a chance to get back there, I'd give my teammates everything I got and lay it all out on the line," said Howard, who lost in his only NBA Finals appearance in 2009 with the Orlando Magic.

Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward is listed as questionable for Saturday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Miami Heat. The Celtics are hopeful that Hayward could play a role off the bench in Game 3, sources told ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.


The result was a 106-101 loss, and the Celtics trail, two games to none, to a team that’s better connected, more cohesive, and quite honestly doesn’t believe the Celtics can beat them. Boston Globe

Facing that reality, the Celtics’ locker room imploded after the game. The used-to-be-close Celtics were screaming at each other. How come they can’t score against the zone? Why did so-and-so take that bad shot? Why was Butler allowed to get two critical steals on hustle plays, while the Celtics watched as Butler created two layups? Boston Globe

After the locker-room fracas, which lasted about 20 minutes, the Celtics were of few words. They’re embarrassed. The Heat are laughing in their faces. Whatever the Celtics have, the Heat have a counter. Go ahead and take a 17-point lead, we’ll come back and beat you anyway. Last year’s Celtics team gave up after falling behind to the Milwaukee Bucks, with Kyrie Irving headed out the door before the decisive Game 5. This year was supposed to be different. The Celtics were supposed to be as connected as they have been in years, but that’s not the case, obviously. Boston Globe

Jaylen Brown was the only Celtic to acknowledge the postgame argument was out of the ordinary. And he supported Marcus Smart. Can fences be mended in the next 48 hours? Was this actually a positive that a team that has been pretty cordial finally has decided it is tired of being outplayed and outhustled on the biggest stage? Boston Globe

After the Boston Celtics blew a second straight second-half lead and lost 106-101 to the Miami Heat on Thursday night, Celtics guard Marcus Smart was yelling at his teammates in the locker room before leaving the room swearing, according to ESPN's Malika Andrews. Smart left the locker room yelling, "Y'all on some bulls---," according to Andrews, and there were several loud clanks -- like someone throwing things -- coming from inside it, while several players, beyond just Smart, were yelling. While Smart left without speaking to reporters after being requested following Game 2 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals, those who did speak -- Celtics coach Brad Stevens, guards Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown and forward Jayson Tatum -- all tried to downplay the situation.


Raptors president Masai Ujiri said he hasn’t had any contract discussions with team owner Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment since the club’s season ended last week. Ujiri’s contract has one year left. He spoke to reporters on Thursday in his season-ending news conference. Toronto Star

Not even Steve Nash expects himself to be a tactical expert on the sideline. As the head coaching job has evolved in the NBA over the years — from essentially strict principal to guidance counselor — Nash said he’s focusing on his strengths of relationships and culture, which was why the Nets hired him for a championship run despite zero coaching experience. “I wasn’t hired to come in and be a tactical wizard,” Nash said in JJ Redick’s “The Old Man and the Three” podcast. “I think they understand that my acumen for the game is strong and I can catch up on any of the tactical aspects. I think they hired me because of my experience, the personality to work with these guys and help them grow and reach their potential and bring it all together. I can’t lose sight of that." NY Daily News

Beginning Monday, the Timberwolves will be home in Minneapolis. But home for many players and staff is going to feel so far away. That's because for two weeks, the Wolves will be in their own version of the NBA bubble, only going back and forth from a hotel to their team's practice facility and Target Center for the first group workouts they will hold since the NBA postponed its season March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Wolves were one of eight teams that didn't make the cut for the NBA's bubble campus in Orlando, but they and the other seven teams pressed the NBA for an opportunity to hold group workouts in a bubblelike setting so as not to go even longer without holding any organized team activities. Star Tribune

Having played JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard sparingly in the second round of the NBA playoffs against the small-ball-centric Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel acknowledged he'll need to bring his bigs back into the fold against Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals. "'Joker' is one of the most unique players in the world, and one of the most unique players ever to play the center position in this league," Vogel said Wednesday. "He can basically hurt you in all ways. He can hurt you at the 3-point line, in the pocket, playing the 4-on-3 game in the post, and obviously with his passing. ... "It does make this series a little different -- a lot different, actually -- in terms of how much we'll use our centers. I don't want to get too much into detail, but obviously we're going to be the L.A. Lakers, who we've been all year. We adjusted to a small-ball team last series, but I would expect us to return to form."

McGee and Howard played a combined 23 minutes over the final four games of conference semifinals -- all Lakers victories, mind you -- as Vogel plugged in Markieff Morris at the stretch 5 and also called for more possessions with Anthony Davis playing the pivot. But L.A.'s size was a strength all season, as it led the league in blocks and finished ninth in rebounding. Jokic -- averaging 25.4 points on 51.5% shooting, 10.8 rebounds and 6.0 assists in the playoffs so far -- is the type of foe the Lakers will try to meet with force in the series that begins Friday.


Reggie Miller couldn't believe Paul George's Game 7 performance Tuesday night against the Denver Nuggets. And Miller really couldn't believe George's response to the loss. Miller, the Indiana Pacers legend and TNT NBA analyst, joined the "Dan Patrick Show" on Wednesday. They discussed the Nuggets' win over the Los Angeles Clippers (Miller joins at about the 20-minute mark), who were considered a championship contender featuring George and Kawhi Leonard. L.A. squandered a 3-1 series lead and Denver ran away from the Clippers in the fourth quarter of Game 7. Indianapolis Star

Not long after the LA Clippers' season came crashing down in stunning fashion, coach Doc Rivers said the finger can be pointed at him for the team's failure to meet its enormous championship expectations. After the Clippers completely unraveled for a third straight game in a 104-89 loss to the Denver Nuggets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Rivers said the title expectations were not too heavy for his team, even though the Clippers fell short of reaching what many thought all season would be a West finals showdown with the Los Angeles Lakers.

"We didn't meet them," Rivers said of the expectations. "That's the bottom line. I'm the coach, and I'll take any blame for it. But we didn't meet our expectations, clearly, because if we had, in my opinion, we'd still be playing." The Clippers squandered a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series in epic fashion. They lost double-digit leads of 16, 19 and 12 points in the past three games, respectively, as the franchise's Western Conference finals drought reached 50 years.

Doc Rivers is the only coach in NBA history to lose a 3-1 lead in three playoff series, having done so with the Clippers in the 2015 West semis against the Houston Rockets and with the Orlando Magic in the first round against the Detroit Pistons in 2003.

After coming back from 3-1 down in the opening round against the Utah Jazz, the Nuggets had to overcome three consecutive double-digit deficits against the Clippers to win three straight games and advance to the Western Conference finals. According to Elias Sports Bureau research, the Nuggets are the first team in postseason history with three straight double-digit comeback wins when facing elimination. "I think this is our sixth straight elimination game. Seventy-one days in the bubble and just to stay together, that commitment, that toughness is -- you don't see that around very often," Malone said, not actually running out of things to say. "That speaks to the guys in the locker room and how much they love each other. Just an amazing feeling."


Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni has informed the franchise that he's becoming a coaching free agent and won't return to the team next season, he told ESPN on Sunday. "It's with tremendous sadness and gratitude that my wife Laurel and I announce that our incredible journey in Houston has ended for now and that we'll be moving to a new chapter," D'Antoni told ESPN in a statement.

D'Antoni, whose contract expired with the end of Houston's season in the Western Conference semifinals on Saturday, turned down extension offers before the season. He will be considered among a group of candidates for the Philadelphia 76ers' coaching opening, sources told ESPN.

The reeling LA Clippers have blown two big leads in a row and have stunningly squandered their 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series to the Denver Nuggets. But Paul George says it is the Clippers who are "still in the driver seat" entering a do-or-die Game 7, despite collapsing down the stretch of their past two losses.

"It's positive," George said of the Clippers' mood after a 111-98 loss to the Nuggets in Game 6 on Sunday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. "This group's staying together. We still in the driver seat. It's not a panic mode. We have a Game 7. I like our odds with our group. We put ourselves in this position and it's on us to get ourselves out of it."

Coach Mike D'Antoni, a free agent now that the Houston Rockets are eliminated from the NBA playoffs, said his preference would be to remain with the organization. That's also the hope of James Harden, the face of the franchise. "Of course. Of course," Harden said after the Rockets' season-ending 119-96 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals Saturday night in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. "Mike has done some unbelievable things here."

The Rockets have gone 217-101 during D'Antoni's four seasons in Houston, plus 28-23 in the playoffs, advancing past the first round in each season and to Game 7 of the West finals in 2017-18. D'Antoni, 69, spent this season in the final year of his contract after extension discussions twice broke down last offseason in unusually public fashion. Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta and D'Antoni's longtime agent, Warren LeGarie, publicly blamed each other for the failure to reach an agreement on an extension.

D'Antoni is considered a leading candidate in the Indiana Pacers' coaching search, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported recently. Sources told ESPN that at least one other team with a coaching vacancy has a strong interest in D'Antoni.

A one-year break for LeBron James and a nine-year hiatus for his franchise came to an end on Saturday: James and the Los Angeles Lakers are back in the conference finals. James poured in 29 points to go along with 11 rebounds and 7 assists in the Lakers' 119-96 Game 5 victory over the Houston Rockets, storming back to take the Western Conference semifinals series 4-1 after Houston upset L.A. in Game 1.

L.A. took control by turning to Markieff Morris as its starting big man in place of JaVale McGee from halftime of Game 3 through the end of the series and dominated. The Lakers held a 20-plus point lead over the Rockets in three of the final four games of the series -- including a 30-point cushion Saturday. Morris had 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting in Game 5 and went 4-for-4 on 3-pointers. L.A. outshot the Rockets from the outside as a team Saturday, going 19-for-37 from 3 (51.4%) compared to Houston's 13-for-49 (26.5%).

The Lakers will await the winner of the LA Clippers-Denver Nuggets series -- which the Clippers lead 3-2 heading into Sunday's Game 6 -- to see if Los Angeles' first-ever NBA city series will be played out in the bubble in Florida or if the Lakers will face the Nuggets in a rematch of the 2009 conference finals.

William Rondo, the brother of Los Angeles Lakers guard Rajon Rondo, was ejected from Saturday night's Game 5 against the Houston Rockets after trash-talking with Rockets guard Russell Westbrook. After the Lakers eliminated the Rockets from the NBA postseason in a 119-96 win in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, Rajon Rondo told reporters his brother called Westbrook "trash" in the fourth quarter and waved goodbye when the Rockets star turned and asked what he said.


It turned out that [Marcus] Smart's defense, as it often does, won out this time. And, as a result, the Celtics won 92-87 and advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. Smart's block on Powell with 58.2 seconds to go on the break -- a play reminiscent of the chasedown block by LeBron James late in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against Andre Iguodala -- prevented Toronto from its best chance of tying the game in the dying moments, as the Celtics won 92-87 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for a third time in four years.

Smart often trails in attention behind his higher-profile teammates on the perimeter in Boston, and that remained the case in Game 7. Jayson Tatum (29 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists) became the second youngest player in NBA history to have at least 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a Game 7 -- trailing only his idol, Kobe Bryant. Jaylen Brown had 21 points, and Kemba Walker struggled overall but made a couple of key plays in the fourth, including burying the game-clinching free throws with 7.9 seconds left.

For the sixth time this season, the Clippers lost a game they'd been leading by 15 or more, tied for the most in the NBA this regular season and postseason, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. But this time, the Clippers wasted their first opportunity this postseason to make the conference finals as Denver stunned LA 111-105 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, to force a Game 6.

The Nuggets, who became the 12th team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit in the first round against Utah, trailed by 16 late in the second quarter. The Clippers later held an 80-67 lead with 1:25 remaining in the third quarter before Denver went on a 35-14 run. "We definitely lost our discipline," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "There is no doubt about that. That would be the lesson."

After finding himself in a flurry of criticism following his Game 4 postgame comments, Denver Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. stepped up in Game 5 on Friday night to hit the biggest shot of the game, playing a key part in forcing a Game 6 against the LA Clippers. With the Nuggets up by two with 1:11 left, Porter caught the ball on the wing and -- despite not having made a shot yet and it being only his third attempt of the game -- he pulled up and drilled it to give Denver a five-point lead.

Following Game 5, in which Porter scored 15 in the first half but was largely absent on the offensive end in the second half, the rookie voiced that his lack of scoring was due to not touching the ball. His comments drew a reaction from media and active players, including Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, who tweeted his disapproval. "I kinda tried to block that out. Everything I said -- I stand by what I say. And I didn't mean it in any type of disrespectful way or anything like that," Porter said. "Coaches and my teammates, they all know that. We talked as a team. Everybody was on the same page coming into today. But Dame and those guys, I respect all those guys -- especially those superstars in the league talking to a young guy like me. You want to listen. You don't want to have an ego and think you're always right. So I took what those guys said, and I listened to it. Everybody has their opinion, but that was blocked out before today, and everybody was on the same page."


The Los Angeles Lakers might have missed out on convincing Kawhi Leonard to join LeBron James and Anthony Davis and form a "big three" last summer, but Lakers coach Frank Vogel says L.A.'s team defense is ending up having the same impact another All-NBA individual added to the mix would have had. "That's as powerful a weapon there is in one of these playoff runs. It's as powerful as a superstar," Vogel said after L.A. beat the Houston Rockets 110-100 on Thursday to go up 3-1 in their Western Conference semifinal series. "If you have an elite defense, that can be your third star, so to speak." Beyond holding Houston to 43.4% shooting as a team, L.A. limited James Harden to just 21 points on 2-for-11 shooting from the field. Even with Harden making 16 of 20 free throw attempts, he was kept well below his league-leading average of 34.3 points per game.

Houston Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni offered a simple explanation for his team's terrible performance through three and a half quarters of Thursday's 110-100 Game 4 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. "Just a lack of spirit," D'Antoni said. "It just seems like we got down. We lost our way a little bit." The loss put the Rockets on the brink of elimination, as the Lakers took a 3-1 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.

Houston displayed an alarming lack of energy, failing to score a second-chance or fast-break point in the first three quarters of the game. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, the Rockets are the first team to achieve that dubious distinction in a playoff game since at least 1997, the earliest that play-by-play information is available.

Since games began on July 30, several NBA general managers and team athletic training officials have noticed that the play looks crisp, players are moving up and down the court with speed, and there were top-notch performances almost every night even though teams were playing every other day at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World. Though it is a small sample size, GMs and team staffers pointed to the same factor: the lack of travel. "Our guys feel better," one Western Conference GM told ESPN. "We don't know if it's anecdotal, but we've got these games and we don't have to jump on planes [afterward]."

A second GM then chimed in on the same theme, sources said, echoing that the lack of travel and additional rest contributed to better play and helped even out the competition. Sources said a league official on the call then brought up the concept of teams heading into cities to play a potential series of games -- fly into a city and play the host team in two games over a short time span. The idea, which several GMs considered akin to a baseball homestand, was discussed in an effort to reduce the mileage teams might have to fly during the regular season.

In a call with reporters Wednesday, Utah Jazz EVP of Basketball Operations Dennis Lindsey also mentioned this concept. "The league ... teams specifically and the health performance group has gotten a lot of feedback from the players that the reduced travel, they physically feel better," Lindsey said. "So, would we ever get to a situation like baseball where you play a team more than one time in the market. Obviously, there's some business concerns there, but that reduced travel, I definitely think the product is more compelling because of that. The players feel better and, frankly, we need to listen to the players."


"F---, that was great," [Kyle] Lowry said (about Normal Powell). "Thank you, Norm. That was f---ing unbelievable. S---. That was cool. We needed that." It was Lowry's shot with 11.7 seconds to go in the second overtime that put Toronto up four and in position to win the game. But after a Jayson Tatum 3-pointer, it was Powell's free throws with five seconds left that helped to ice the game. Toronto had to deal with a 3-point attempt by Marcus Smart and survive an inbounds pass with 0.7 to go without fouling, but when the buzzer sounded and the Raptors held on for a 125-122 victory, this Eastern Conference semifinal series was headed to Game 7.

"I think everyone came into this series expecting a long series," Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. "I don't think we lived up to that in the first couple of games. We were able to work ourselves back into position to give ourselves a chance and Game 7 to go to the Eastern Conference finals ... all you can ask for is a chance so. "Long game, longer than we all would have asked for, but time to get some rest and go back at it again."

Powell scored 10 points in the second overtime, had a key block on Daniel Theis, hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 1:23 to play and added a steal that turned into an and-1 to put Toronto up four with 38.7 to go. "He saved us. He saved our season," VanVleet said. "That is his trademark now. You never know when it is going to happen but it always happens at some point in the playoffs so he was huge for us. Obviously Kyle was steady the whole night, but Norm really gave us boost there."

Kemba Walker finished with just five points on 2-for-11 shooting in 52 minutes Wednesday night, as he was unable to make the kinds of plays that he made seem routine both against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round and then against the Raptors for much of this series. "The second half, I just couldn't really find a rhythm," Walker said. "I thought I had a few good looks, but it just wasn't enough to help my teammates out tonight. Just a bad offensive night for me, terrible offensive night for me."

Houston Rockets forward Danuel House Jr.'s status for the remainder of the Western Conference semifinals is in jeopardy as the NBA probes a potential violation of campus protocol, sources told ESPN. House, the Rockets' sixth man, has denied any violation on a matter that has the league probing his activity within the team hotel, sources said. He did not leave the perimeter of the campus, sources said.

Five-time NBA All-Star Chauncey Billups has emerged as a candidate in the Indiana Pacers' coaching search, sources told ESPN. As the Pacers begin preliminary interviews with a number of candidates, Billups and team officials have recently engaged and are planning to talk further about the job, sources said Wednesday.


The NBA is targeting Nov. 18 as a new date for the 2020 draft, pending discussions with league owners and general managers in separate meetings on Thursday and Friday, according to a memo obtained by ESPN. The NBA and National Basketball Players Association negotiated what the memo called a "potential revised 2020 NBA Draft date" as a tentative replacement for Oct. 16. The delay would allow the league and union to negotiate amendments to the collective bargaining agreement and agree on 2020-21 salary cap and luxury tax thresholds.

The Pacers are embarking on a wide-ranging search that has included seeking permission to speak to several assistant coaches in the league, including the Spurs' [Becky] Hammon and Will Hardy, Miami's Dan Craig and Chris Quinn, Dallas' Jamahl Mosley and Stephen Silas, Milwaukee's Darvin Ham and Charles Lee, Orlando's Pat Delany, Minnesota's David Vanterpool, Philadelphia's Ime Udoka, Brooklyn's Jacque Vaughn and Portland's Nate Tibbetts.

Houston Rockets forward Robert Covington passed a concussion protocol test, does not have a broken nose and is expected to be available for Game 4, he said Wednesday. Covington left Tuesday's Game 3 loss after a collision with Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis.


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