Jul 30, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Reminder — Jeff here, taking over for Kendall both today and tomorrow.

  • The NBA is finally back, and it joins the NHL and MLS as bubbles that continue reporting zero positive tests (to say nothing of the NWSL, which completed its tournament without a single positive).
  • MLB, on the other hand, has updated its coronavirus protocol as it continues investigating the Marlins outbreak.

Today's word count: 1,889 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 The NBA is back
Table: Axios Visuals

The NBA returns tonight with a Western Conference doubleheader — Jazz vs. Pelicans and Clippers vs. Lakers (6:30pm ET, TNT) — kicking off a 10-week race to the finish, all within the friendly confines of what's become an exceptionally well-run Disney World bubble.

The state of play: 22 teams made the trip to Orlando, and for the next two weeks they'll each play eight "seeding games" to determine the playoff field.

  • Seeding games count toward regular season records, after which the top seven teams in each conference automatically earn a playoff berth.
  • The eighth seed must be more than four games up on the ninth, otherwise a "best of two" play-in series will determine the final playoff berth (No. 8 would need to win just one game; No. 9 would need to win both).
East

Favorites:

  • Milwaukee Bucks: They're so far in first they'll likely use the seeding games as a tune-up, easing players into the new environment ahead of the playoffs.
  • Toronto Raptors: The reigning champs have moved on nicely after Kawhi Leonard's departure, avoiding the infamous championship hangover.
  • Boston Celtics: Kemba Walker's leadership and huge leaps from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have the Celts ready for a deep run.

Contenders:

  • Miami Heat: All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo lead the way, but their depth sets them apart.
  • Indiana Pacers: Victor Oladipo is fully healed, but All-Star center Domantas Sabonis was forced to leave the bubble for treatment on his plantar fascitis.
  • Philadelphia 76ers: With Ben Simmons' back no longer aching, every team's going to want to avoid the Sixers.

The rest: Orlando Magic, Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards

West

Favorites:

  • Los Angeles Lakers: Like the Bucks, the Lakers have a big enough lead to use these games as a tune-up, and it looks like Anthony Davis (eye) should be good to go tonight.
  • Los Angeles Clippers: The layoff appears to have done wonders for Paul George's surgically-repaired shoulders, to say nothing of Leonard's chronic quad issue.

Contenders:

  • Denver Nuggets: Depth was already a strength ... then they added seven-foot-two-inch rookie phenom Bol Bol.
  • Utah Jazz: Their best shooter is out for the season with a wrist injury, but an elite defense gives them some wiggle room.
  • Oklahoma City Thunder: Despite losing Russell Westbrook and Paul George, they're better than they were a year ago thanks to Chris Paul's mastery and a breakout year from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
  • Houston Rockets: Houston's still trying to shoot its way to a title, which is entirely possible, though Eric Gordon's ankle injury doesn't help.
  • Dallas Mavericks: Luka Dončić and Kristaps Porziņģis fuel the league's top-rated offense.

Intriguing fringe teams:

  • Memphis Grizzlies: Likely ROY Ja Morant has been as impactful as he is entertaining.
  • Portland Trail Blazers: The return of injured bigs Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkić could make Portland a legit upset pick.
  • New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson only played 19 games. Imagine where they'd be if he'd been healthy all year.

The rest: Sacramento Kings, San Antonio Spurs and Phoenix Suns

Go deeper:

2. 🏆 NBA awards predictions

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Voting for the NBA's end-of-year awards has concluded, after the league announced that the upcoming seeding games in Orlando won't factor into who wins the hardware. Winners will be announced during the playoffs.

MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL), LeBron James (LAL), James Harden (HOU), Leonard (LAC), Damian Lillard (POR) and Davis (LAL) are the favorites.

  • My pick: LeBron. 25.7 pts, 7.9 reb and a league-high 10.6 ast, playing 35 mpg in his 17th season for the first-place Lakers.
  • Likely winner: Antetokounmpo. Supremely deserving back-to-back wins for the Greek Freak on the strength of absurd numbers (29.6/13.7/5.8) and an NBA-best 53-12 record.

Defensive Player of the Year: Antetokounmpo (MIL), Davis (LAL), Rudy Gobert (UTA), Leonard (LAC) and Simmons (PHI) are the favorites.

  • My pick: Antetokounmpo. The anchor of the league's best defense can guard all five positions equally well.
  • Likely winner: Antetokounmpo.

Rookie of the Year: Morant (MEM), Williamson (NOP), Brandon Clarke (MEM) and Kendrick Nunn (MIA) are the favorites.

  • My pick: Morant. He wasn't just a walking highlight reel — he also led Memphis to nearly as many wins in 65 games (32) as they had all of last season (33).
  • Likely winner: Morant.

All-NBA: ESPN's Zach Lowe and The Ringer's Dan Devine agreed across the board. Who am I to say otherwise?

  • First team: James (G), Harden (G), Antetokounmpo (F), Leonard (F), Davis (C)
  • Second team: Paul (G), Lillard (G), Dončić (F), Jimmy Butler (F), Nikola Jokić (C)
  • Third team: Tatum (G), Simmons (G), Pascal Siakam (F), Khris Middleton (F), Gobert (C)

Go deeper: Zach Lowe's picks for MVP, ROY and close races (ESPN)

3. 🎓 The great unknown of fall college sports

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

As colleges continue making decisions regarding both academics and athletics for the fall semester, the coronavirus continues to show it's far from run its course.

Driving the news: The New York Times released results of a nationwide survey yesterday, linking at least 6,300 cases of COVID-19 to roughly 270 colleges.

  • And while some schools have moved classes online and others have canceled fall sports, many "still plan to welcome freshmen to campus in the coming days, to hold in-person classes and to host sporting events."

The big picture: In just the past day, the Big West postponed fall sports, Penn State reported eight positives among student-athletes, the ACC set an 11-game schedule and the 15-player outbreak among the Rutgers football team was linked to an on-campus party.

  • The ESPN site dedicated to these updates reads like a window into the mind of a reckless individual, but it's just what happens when institutions are faced with unprecedented circumstances and no easy answers.

Between the lines: Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, a projected first round pick in the 2021 NFL draft, has opted out of the 2020 season "due to uncertain health conditions and regulations."

  • Ultimately, more top prospects will likely follow suit, and a pertinent question might be how many more it will take before those decisions force schools' hands, instead of the other way around.

The bottom line: We've already seen how effective bubbles can be and how quickly things can go sideways in the absence of one. But since colleges will never have the luxury of even considering a bubble, it begs the question of just how long this house of cards can last before toppling.

4. ⚡️ Catch up quick

Braves RF Nick Markakis at a spring training game, pre-pandemic. Photo: Mark Brown/Getty Images

  • ⚾️ MLB: Braves RF Nick Markakis, who'd initially opted out of the season due to concerns over COVID-19, has reversed his decision and will rejoin the team. As he told the media, "Sitting at home, watching these guys compete … deep down in the pit of my stomach, I felt like I needed to be out there.”
  • 🏀 NBA: The league announced it will provide thousands of free COVID-19 tests in both Orlando and other team markets nationwide. The program will focus on "historically marginalized communities of color where access to testing is scarce."
PSG star Kylian Mbappé on crutches during last week's French Cup Final. Photo: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images
  • ⚽️ Champions League: Paris Saint-Germain's leading scorer, Kylian Mbappé, is at risk of missing his team's Champions League quarterfinal match against Atalanta (Aug. 12) after sustaining an ankle injury in last Friday's French Cup Final.
  • 🏈 NCAAF: Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley, who's led the Sooners to the College Football Playoff in each of his three seasons with the team, earned a huge contract extension. He was set to make $24 million over the next four years. Now, he'll make $45.21 million through the next six.
  • 🏀 WNBA: The No. 1 and No. 2 picks from the 2020 draft — former Oregon teammates Sabrina Ionescu and Satou Sabally — went head to head last night in the second game of the season. Ionescu went off for 33 points, seven rebounds and seven assists, but the Liberty still lost to Sabally and the Wings, 93-80.
5. 🏀 Ranking the NBA's all-time rosters (No. 4)
Expand chart
Player data: Basketball Reference; Graphic: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

We're ranking the all-time rosters for all 30 NBA teams. Note: Rosters and stats based only on time spent with this specific team. Thoughts? Email me at jeff@axios.com.

4. Golden State Warriors

Talk about bookending success — the Warriors won the inaugural NBA (then, the BAA) championship in 1947, and now they've been the West's representative in the past five NBA Finals, winning three.

  • Year established: 1946 (as the Philadelphia Warriors)
  • All-time record: 2,787-2,998 (.482)
  • NBA Championships: 6
  • Hall of Famers (indicated by *): 6

Starters:

  • Steph Curry, G (23.5 pts, 4.5 reb, 6.6 ast, 23.8 PER/103.2 WS)
  • Rick Barry*, F (25.6 pts, 7.3 reb, 5.1 ast, 21.1 PER/85.9 WS)
  • Kevin Durant, F (25.8 pts, 7.1 reb, 5.4 ast, 25.8 PER/33.9 WS)
  • Nate Thurmond*, F (17.4 pts, 16.9 reb, 2.7 ast, 17.1 PER/68.6 WS)
  • Wilt Chamberlain*, C (41.5 pts, 25.1 reb, 3.0 ast, 30.2 PER/112.4 WS)

Sixth man: Chris Mullin*, F (20.1 pts, 4.4 reb, 3.9 ast, 19.0 PER/79.6 WS)

Bench:

  • Klay Thompson, G (19.5 pts, 3.5 reb, 2.3 ast, 16.4 PER/46.8 WS)
  • Paul Arizin*, F (22.8 pts, 8.6 reb, 2.3 ast, 19.7 PER/108.8 WS)
  • Neil Johnston*, C (19.4 pts, 11.3 reb, 2.5 ast, 24.7 PER/92.0 WS)
  • Draymond Green, F (9.0 pts, 6.9 reb, 5.0 ast, 15.1 PER/44.4 WS)
  • Tim Hardaway, G (19.8 pts, 3.6 reb, 9.3 ast, 18.8 PER/38.9 WS)
  • Baron Davis, G (20.1 pts, 4.4 reb, 8.1 ast, 19.8 PER/22.2 WS)

Notes:

  • Chamberlain played six seasons with the Warriors, leading the league in FG% three times, rebounds four times, minutes fives times and points all six years.
  • Curry has played 10 full seasons, and he holds six of the top 16 single-season marks for made threes. He's also the all-time FT% leader (90.56%).

ICYMI ... 30. Grizzlies, 29. Timberwolves, 28. Hornets, 27. Raptors, 26. Pelicans, 25. Pacers, 24. Clippers, 23. Mavericks, 22. Nets, 21. Cavaliers, 20. Bucks, 19. Hawks, 18. Wizards, 17. Suns, 16. Kings, 15. Magic, 14. Nuggets, 13. Trail Blazers, 12. Rockets, 11. Knicks, 10. Thunder, 9. Jazz, 8. Heat, 7. Pistons, 6. Bulls, 5. 76ers

Stats, explained: Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is a measure of a player's per-minute productivity (20+ is elite); Win Shares (WS) attempts to divvy up individual credit for team success (6 per season is elite).

6. July 30, 1908: 🏁 A race around the world
Starting line of the New York to Paris race in Times Square. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

112 years ago today, a six-car race from New York to Paris finally ended, 169 days after it began. Germany, Italy and the U.S. each entered one car, while France entered three.

The route: The race began at 11:15am in Times Square on Feb. 12.

  • The first leg took racers from New York to San Francisco, with the U.S. — represented by George Schuster driving a Thomas Flyer — arriving first after 41 days, 8 hours and 15 minutes.
  • The second leg included multiple ship rides: When they arrived in Valdez, Alaska, conditions were so treacherous that the race was rerouted across the Pacific to Japan, and eventually into Vladivostok, Siberia.
  • The final leg took competitors across Asia and Europe to the finish line in Paris.
Schuster's Flyer gets stuck in the mud. Photo: Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

The results: Only three cars — Germany, Italy and the U.S. — made it past Siberia.

  • The Germans arrived first, on July 26, but were assessed a 30-day penalty for skipping Japan and shipping their car by rail part of the way.
  • On July 30, Schuster and his Thomas Flyer arrived victorious, beating the Italians by over a month.
A group of German well-wishers see off their representative ahead of his trip to New York to begin the race. Photo: Ullstein Bild via Getty Images

Go deeper:

7. 📸 Photos 'round the world

Photo: Stu Forster/Getty Images for ECB

SOUTHAMPTON, England — Ireland's cricket team poses for a socially-distanced team picture ahead of the Royal London ODI series against England at the Ageas Bowl.

Photo: Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

TORONTO — Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby prepares for his team's lone exhibition game ahead of the NHL restart at Scotiabank Arena.

Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

VILLADIEGO, Spain — The peloton during the second of five stages in the 42nd edition of the Spanish road race known as the Vuelta a Burgos ... which is now dealing with a potential COVID problem.

8. The Ocho: 🛹 Skateboard master
Source: @getakliu (Twitter)

Pure wizardry. Enjoy.

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Giphy

If Antetokounmpo pulls off the MVP/Defensive Player of the Year double, he'll be just the third player in league history to win both awards in the same season.

  • Question: Who were the other two?
  • Hint: One in the '80s, one in the '90s.

Answer at the bottom.

10. ❤️ Why we love sports
Andrew's Knicks ticket stub. Photo: Andrew F.

Andrew F. (New York) writes:

"Today, self-isolating and craving some sports memories, I opened up two boxes full of old ticket stubs.
"Among the stubs were three championship clinching games — the Giants' first Super Bowl win in 1987, the Yankees' clinching win in Game 6 of the 1996 World Series, and their clinching win in Game 5 of the Subway Series in 2000.
"These were all memorable, but my favorite ticket stub was from April 30, 1993 — floor seats to the Knicks' first-round playoff win over Reggie Miller and the Pacers. Sat three seats down from Spike Lee.
"But the real significance of this game was that I had planned to propose to my (now) wife on that evening, that is until my friend offered me the ticket on the floor at The Garden. She'd waited this long, what's one more day?
"I canceled our dinner date and went to the game with the ring in my pocket. The Knicks won and my friend then took me on a bar tour of NYC to celebrate the fact that I was about to get engaged.
"The next day, with a bit of a hangover, I proposed to my wife. I waited five years to tell her the story of why we got engaged on May 1. Only one of us thought it was funny!"
Andrew and his wife. Photo: Andrew F.

✍️ Submit your story: Do you have a fondest sports memory? Or a story about sports having a positive impact on your life? To share, simply reply to this email. We'll be telling your stories until they run out.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Jeff "Guessing is harder than knowing" Tracy

Trivia answer: Michael Jordan ('88) and Hakeem Olajuwon ('94)