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Bam Adebayo Is Making Plays, Denver Is Making Us Look Bad, And The Lakers May Need To Make Some Adjustments

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chris.herring (Chris Herring, senior sportswriter): So, the last time we talked, we thought maybe we’d reached peak craziness in the NBA playoffs already. The Raptors and Celtics had played an overtime game that was fantastic, and it looked as if we were certainly barreling toward a Lakers/Clippers collision course.

And well … the Clippers collided with the Nuggets, instead.

tchow (Tony Chow, video producer): How young and innocent we all were back then.

dre.waters (Andres Waters, FiveThirtyEight contributor): LOL

chris.herring: Now we’ve got a pair of conference finals series that figure to be interesting. The Heat and Celtics kept the overtime trend alive, with Miami winning Game 1 in dramatic fashion. What are the odds that the Heat take out the Celtics in this series? It seems like a good matchup for them

dubin (Jared Dubin, FiveThirtyEight contributor): Forty-five percent, according to RAPTOR!

tchow: Our forecast has them as basically a toss-up, with the Celtics getting a slight edge (55 percent to Miami’s 45 percent).

chris.herring: It kinda feels like they should be favored, between the lead and the fact that they match up as well as they do

tchow: That 45 percent seems low to me. Miami leads in the series, and RAPTOR doesn’t account for how much of an impact that Adebayo block will have on Jayson Tatum’s future performances.

dubin: I thought the Celtics would have much more success hunting individual matchups than they did in Game 1. They got Duncan Robinson in foul trouble very quickly, but Tyler Herro held his own, and for some reason they kept going at Bam Adebayo in pick and rolls rather than trying to attack Goran Dragić in isolation.

dre.waters: Herro was actually one assist short of being the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple-double in the conference finals.

chris.herring: I felt like Boston wouldn’t struggle nearly as much as Milwaukee did to create offense against the Heat defense. But Kemba Walker continues to get a ton of defensive pressure. And as Jared pointed out … challenging Adebayo is certainly an odd choice

Makes you think that will be an adjustment going forward in the series.

One thing that really stood out to me was Bam’s playmaking. The ball was in hands seemingly more than normal, so I went back and looked at the numbers. He finished with nine assists, which was impressive enough. But he came away 13 potential assist opportunities — more than double the number he averaged against the Celtics in the regular season.

Almost looked Jokić-like in terms of hunting backcuts and then punishing the Celtics with a pass to the perimeter when they overplayed the cuts backdoor.

dubin: Bam was probably the second-best passing big man in the league this year — especially on short rolls out of the pick and roll.

dre.waters: Bam’s playmaking is pretty underrated. He’s actually been their leader in assists this postseason.

chris.herring: And none of that even gets to him making the play of the game, which Tony mentioned earlier.

One of the better, more impactful playoff blocks we’ve seen in recent memory.

dubin: One thing about the Heat is that so many different guys can carry them at different times. Dragić and Herro kept them in it early, Jae Crowder just kept making threes, and then Jimmy Butler’s scoring and Bam’s block won it late.

Side note: How much do the Celtics regret turning Crowder into a shooter? He wouldn’t even be on the Heat right now if that had never happened a few years back.

dre.waters: That’s gotta be eating them up. Everytime the Heat have needed big three this postseason, he seems to hit one for them

dubin: Does anyone else think Butler is the most fascinating player left in the playoffs, by the way? He’s so strange. Some games, he completely dominates from start-to-finish. Others he disappears for long stretches, only to pop up at the most opportune times (like Game 1). He does so many things well and makes his impact in such profound ways.

chris.herring: He might be the most unusual star in the league, man. Can drop 40 one night but then hand the reins to someone else the next. Really good passer. A stud defender. But always seems to be there for the big moments.

The Heat are a scary team. Still just one loss this postseason! And they almost won that one, too.

dubin: He has such a strange shot distribution for a star, too. Plus, he parades himself to the line like 400 times a night.

chris.herring: Which helps make up for the subpar jumper.

tchow: I don’t think there was ever a question that Butler was a star in this league, albeit an enigmatic one. That partly explains all the team changes he’s had over the years. He’s a tough one to pinpoint, but these games in the bubble so far have shown how fun he can be to watch.

chris.herring: I wonder if him moving from team to teamto team makes people question how good he is, or if he’s worth it. You normally don’t see clubs move on from a guy who’s a superstar. I don’t know that Jimmy is one. But it really does feel like he impacts the game as much as the guys we call superstars. And it’s clear he considers himself on their level, if not better.

Speaking of people on Jimmy’s level: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. … All of a sudden, they aren’t in the playoffs anymore. The Nuggets disposed of them after mounting another 3-1 comeback, pulling away in blowout fashion to win Game 7.

We could start in any number of places. But how surprised were y’all by the Nuggets’ comeback, and how much of this was Denver’s doing versus the Clippers collapsing?

dubin: I want to say it’s about equal, but when you see Kawhi and PG go 10-38 for 24 points in Game 7, that makes it tough.

chris.herring: No points in the fourth quarter from either guy! Kawhi and PG were scoreless! With one free throw attempt the entire game!

tchow: In our last chat, someone who clearly knows nothing about the NBA said, “The Nuggets have had a really impressive playoff run, but I can’t see them pulling this off.” Boy, was that guy wrong.

dre.waters: Even though we had just watched the Nuggets come back from the same deficit the round before, it was still really surprising to see just how much the Clippers fell apart in the second half of that game.

Outscored 50-33 in the second half … ooof.

dubin: Denver’s defense has gotten a lot stingier (121.7 points per 100 in the seeding games, 131.1 through Game 4 of the Jazz series, 107.1 since), and Jamal Murray really just can’t miss anything. I want to give the Nuggets almost all of the credit. But man, it really feels like L.A.’s offense self-destructed.

And the fact that it was their offense that was so bad made it even more surprising, I think. There were some cracks in the defense throughout the year, but you’d think they could generate some points against a defense that was kind of hopeless until like two weeks ago.

chris.herring: I want to be really clear: The Nuggets were excellent. Paul Millsap had a turning point. Michael Porter Jr. redeemed himself. Gary Harris was a factor. The contributions of Murray and Nikola Jokić go without saying, and when one got going, it opened up things for the other, because of how the Clippers went about trapping and doubling.

So I’ll be the first to credit the Nuggets while also saying that this was terribly disappointing from the Clippers.

tchow: I think the surprise is kinda our own faults, too. (“Our” meaning just NBA media.) It feels like all season, you’ve heard over and over that the Clippers had a championship-caliber roster, and the franchise itself was not shy about confirming that. I mean, making those moves in the offseason, they clearly had a title-or-bust idea going into this season. But you just heard it over and over again, so when they collapse like this, the surprise is in large part because we built them up in our heads. Or at least I did.

dubin: By the way, Murray just had a fantastic series while being guarded almost exclusively by Kawhi, PG and Pat Beverley. Think he’s gonna have an easier time against Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso and Rajon Rondo?

Three of those four guys are consistently good defenders, and one (Rondo) has been good in the postseason. But man, they’re not on the level of the guys the Clippers threw at Murray.

chris.herring: I think that question is one that might define the series, Jared. That along with what happens between Jokić and Anthony Davis.

I really hope Lakers coach Frank Vogel doesn’t wait as long as Doc Rivers did to make adjustments, though.

tchow: Yeah, I’m going to be really interested to see how the Nuggets end up matching up against the Lakers, defensively more so than offensively.

dubin: There’s a 112 percent chance that Vogel is going back to the big lineup to start the series, right? I feel pretty confident in that happening.

tchow: I think the big lineup would be the obvious choice for the Lakers. Exploit one of your clear advantages.

chris.herring: … And that seems like a clear mistake to me.

Saw this note from Anthony Slater over at The Athletic:

The Lakers this year, against the Nuggets:

  • With Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee, 52 minutes total, and the Lakers were outscored by 18.
  • With Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard: 42 minutes, and the teams were even.
  • With Anthony Davis and neither big alongside him: 56 minutes, and the Lakers outscored Denver by 34.

tchow: OK, never mind then. Frank, if you’re reading this, rethink your starting five for Game 1 tomorrow.

Doesn’t Anthony Davis HATE playing center though?

dre.waters: Pretty sure he does, LOL.

dubin: If AD didn’t state publicly at almost every opportunity that he wants to be a power forward, I don’t think JaVale or Dwight would get any playoff minutes. But alas, AD does state that at basically every opportunity. It was one of the first things he said upon being traded to the Lakers.

chris.herring: Won’t the Lakers HATE Anthony Davis if he doesn’t play center in this series for long stretches, and they lose because of it?!

tchow: Yeah, this is probably a case of the needs of the team being more important than the wants of a player — but this is also the NBA.

dre.waters: I mean, if you’re literally playing for a shot at the championship, I would think Davis would be willing to make the sacrifice, if necessary.

dubin: Right? Bang with Jokić for four to seven games, and then you get Daniel Theis or Bam in the Finals, in what should presumably be less physically taxing (in the way Davis likes to avoid) matchups.

chris.herring: I took the Lakers in this series, but I’m also fully prepared for the Nuggets to make me look like an idiot one more time, for good measure.

As Jared said before, Murray isn’t going to see better defenders than he did last round, which has to be encouraging for the Nuggets. And the Nuggets do have a handful of bodies they can throw at LeBron James, though LeBron should be able to produce still.

tchow: Well, if Murray can play the way he played against two NBA All-Defensive second team players (Kawhi and Bev), maybe he’ll have another great series against just one NBA All-Defensive first team player in Davis, especially since Davis will probably guard Murray a total of zero minutes.

dubin: LeBron might be holding himself a little celebration at the fact that he gets to play Paul Millsap in the playoffs again.

chris.herring: Beats having to go through Kawhi for an entire series, you’d think.

dubin: Jerami Grant did a better job on Kawhi than I thought he would, but LeBron is even another level of physicality. That’s gonna be real tough on Grant.

chris.herring: The Lakers end up facing a slate of defenses that are ranked no better than 15th on their way to the Finals, if they get there.

dubin: Pretty nice road for a team that struggled in half-court offense for most of the year.

tchow: And then they would a defense ranked in the playoff top five on the other side of the conference in the Finals. Rude awakening?

chris.herring: If the Nuggets end up winning the series, what will have been the difference, do you think? Murray? Aside from Murray, what do the Nuggets have that puts them over the top?

tchow: They have point guard/center Nikola Jokić who puts them over the top.

dre.waters: I think Harris, Porter Jr. or Jerami Grant will have to be the difference. Denver is going to need someone else to step up offensively.

dubin: I would say the most likely factors would be Murray, cold shooting from the Green-KCP-Kuzma-Morris crew, and the Nuggets getting good games from Harris and two of Millsap-Grant-Porter every night.

chris.herring: Yeah: No. 1 on my “Family Feud” board would be cold Lakers shooting from the outside.

You have to be able to make the Nuggets pay for playing Porter Jr. long minutes. Gary Harris probably has to be a factor on both ends; not just defense.

dubin: It remains completely insane that the Clippers didn’t hunt Porter on defense like the Jazz did.

tchow: We should actually do a “Family Feud” board of things most likely to happen for the remainder of the playoffs and see who gets three X’s first. That’s kinda how “Family Feud” works right?

Check out our latest NBA predictions.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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