Before Thursday, there were four teams fighting for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. After an exciting finish to Thursday night’s slate of games, the field of potential teams narrowed down to two: the Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trail Blazers. They will face off in the NBA’s first play-in games to determine the Western Conference playoff picture.
What We Know:
- The first must-win game of the day was the Memphis Grizzlies vs. the Milwaukee Bucks. The Grizzlies came into the bubble as the 8th seed, but a dismal 2-6 record in the seeding games pushed them to the edge of elimination. Still, they controlled their own destiny and could secure a spot in the play-in game with a win against the Bucks. On paper, this was the worst possible matchup the Grizzlies could have asked for with the Bucks having a league-best record of 56-17. But, a lot of things went in the Grizzlies’ favor on Thursday. Reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo sat out for the Bucks due to a suspension and the team didn’t play any of their starters for more than 20 minutes. The Bucks already secured their playoff seeding so there was no point in going all-in for their last game. The Grizzlies took advantage and won the game 119-106. Ja Morant and Jonas Valanciunas both had triple-doubles and Dillon Brooks went off for 31 points, scoring 14 in the third quarter to put the game away.
- The Phoenix Suns played the Dallas Mavericks for their last seeding game. The Suns played excellent basketball right from the start and basically won the game in the first half, putting up 76 on the Mavericks through just two quarters. Like the Bucks, the Mavericks were already locked into their playoff seed and had nothing to prove. Kristaps Porzingis did not play and Luka Doncic only played in the first half. Still, the Suns played with a sense of urgency to win this game. Devin Booker put up another excellent performance with 27 points and he got a lot of help from his supporting cast. Although the Suns won 128-102, they needed help in the form of losses from the other teams trying to make the play-in game. Unfortunately for Phoenix, this won’t be the year they end their playoff drought. Even though the Suns will not be in the play-in game, they surprised everyone in the bubble and were the only team to win all eight of their games. There’s something special going on in Phoenix and they have a bright future.
- The San Antonio Spurs came into their last game with the worst record out of the four teams trying to make the play-in game. Because the Grizzlies and Suns won their games earlier, the Spurs were mathematically eliminated from making the play-in right before their game tipped off. They played the Utah Jazz, who already had their playoff seeding fixed, so neither team really had anything to play for. Rudy Gobert did not play for the Jazz and the Spurs rested most of their veteran players. The Jazz won 118-112 and the Spurs will be leaving Orlando shortly. Although this seemed like a nothing game, it was an opportunity for the young Spurs players to get some time on the court. Rookie Keldon Johnson had a fantastic game with 24 points, tying his career-high. This marks the end of Gregg Popovich and the Spurs’ 22-year playoff streak, last missing the postseason in 1997. Popovich won three Coach of the Year awards and the Spurs won five NBA championships during that time.
- For the last game of the night, all the pressure was on the Portland Trail Blazers as they faced the Brooklyn Nets. If they won the game, they would make the play-in. If they lost, it would have propelled Phoenix into that position and Portland would go home. Phoenix coach Monty Williams said that his team got together in the hotel lounge to watch the game and root for the Nets. The entire game was a back-and-forth affair with no defense and a thrilling ending. The Blazers held a lead through the first two quarters, but the Nets erupted for 37 points in the third led by Caris LeVert and Garrett Temple. With their season on the line, the Blazers entered the fourth quarter down 7. But, everyone knows that the fourth quarter is Dame Time. Damian Lillard scored 12 in the final stretch of the game including a deep three-pointer from near half-court. The game came down to the last possession where LeVert missed a potential game-winner for the Nets. At the end of the night, the Blazers squeaked by with a 134-133 win to climb to the 8th seed in the Western Conference and secure a spot in the play-in game.
The Blazers-Grizzlies play-in game will be Saturday, August 15th. If the Blazers win on Saturday, they will advance to the playoffs. Since Memphis has a worse record, they will have to win Saturday’s game and a second play-in game to advance. The winner of this scenario will face the top seed Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.
Fan at Chiefs-Texans Game Tests Positive for COVID-19
A fan who attended the Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans game on September 10th has tested positive for the coronavirus.
What We Know:
- The Kansas City Health Department has confirmed that a person who was in attendance at the NFL season opener at Arrowhead Stadium has tested positive for COVID-19. The department has quarantined 10 other people for possible exposure to the virus as well.
- The Chiefs were one of the few teams to allow in-person fans for Week 1. The team said that their protocol required all fans and personnel to wear face coverings while inside. Several other NFL teams have stated that they will not allow fans into stadiums for the rest of 2020.
- The Chiefs defended themselves in their statement, saying that their contact tracing mechanisms and mask mandate limited potential exposure to a single seating zone of the stadium and allowed officials to identify all exposed people. The Chiefs have not made any announcements about allowing spectators for future games.
- The Chiefs-Texans game was the first NFL game to be held in front of fans. The Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, and Indianapolis Colts are the only teams that allowed fans to be in attendance at the start of the season. Arrowhead Stadium’s capacity is approximately 76,000 and it has been reduced in accordance with coronavirus protocols. Almost 16,000 fans were in attendance for this game.
- The Chiefs-Texans season opener was also in the news for the scene fans made before the game. Players from both sides held a “moment of unity” pregame and displayed messages supporting Black Lives Matter and racial justice. The fans in attendance could be heard on the broadcast booing the players during this moment.
The NFL has not made any official statements about this positive case of a fan. There is no official league-wide rule about having fans in stadiums. The NFL also announced seven new positive cases among players and team personnel in the latest round of testing.
A’ja Wilson Wins WNBA MVP
Las Vegas Aces forward A’ja Wilson was named the WNBA’s MVP on Thursday.
What We Know:
- A’ja Wilson has won the 2020 WNBA MVP. Crystal Dangerfield and Cheryl Reeve of the Minnesota Lynx won Rookie of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively. Wilson is only in her third year as a professional and averaged 20.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game.
- Wilson earned 43 out of 47 first-place votes for the award. The Seattle Storm’s Breanna Stewart finished in second place, and the Los Angeles Sparks’ Candace Parker finished in third.
- Wilson was surprised with the award by WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert on Thursday. She was given the honor in front of her teammates and called her family immediately afterward to share the good news.
“I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was probably crying before Cathy finished her speech . . . I needed my teammates to know I’m going to produce X amount of things every game, because that’s how you win, when you can count on people. That’s probably the biggest thing for me being MVP.” – A’ja Wilson
- The 6-foot-4 Wilson was the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft and won Rookie of the Year that season. She led the Aces to an 18-4 record and the best and the No. 1 seed. With Liz Cambage out of the bubble, Wilson stepped up her production across the board and improved upon her previous season in which she was named an All-Star.
Wilson and the Aces will face the Connecticut Sun in the semifinal round of the playoffs. Game 1 is scheduled for Sunday.
Big 10 to Begin Football Season in October
One of the nation’s power 5 college sports conferences has announced that it will begin its football season next month, a reversal of its decision earlier this summer, CBS Sports reports.
What We Know:
- The Big 10’s Council of Presidents and Chancellors voted Tuesday to allow the league to play its 2020 football season on the weekend of October 24th. Their decision comes just over a month after the league, in unison with the PAC-12, chose to forgo this year’s season due to coronavirus concerns.
The Big Ten Council of Presidents and Chancellors (COP/C) adopted significant medical protocols and has voted unanimously to resume the football season starting the weekend of October 23-24, 2020: https://t.co/b5yHShGb1D
— Big Ten Conference (@bigten) September 16, 2020
- Teams in the league will play eight regular-season games as well as a Big Ten Championship game set for December 19th. Their schedule will make them eligible for the College Football Playoff as the season’s final rankings announcement is slated for December 20th. Consolation games will also be played at the conclusion of the season.
- No tickets will be sold and fans will not be permitted to enter any games. Some exceptions may be made for family members of players, coaches, and staff.
- In regards to coronavirus safety, the conference will institute mandatory, daily COVID-19 testing for athletes and coaches beginning September 30. If a member of any team tests positive for the virus, the earliest they could return to the field is 21 days following their testing.
The decision follows pressure to resume play, including from President Donald Trump who is eager to see a return to normalcy. No decision has been made from PAC-12 officials regarding a reconsideration. The Big 10’s decision makes them the only power 5 conference not playing college football this year.
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