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Reasons for Bucks to Be Cheerful Despite Conference Final Defeat

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The Milwaukee Bucks missed out on a potential first NBA Finals appearance since back in 1971, after Mike Budenholzer’s team lost out to the Toronto Raptors in Game six of their Eastern Conference Finals. However, there is plenty of reasons for fans at the Fiserv Forum to be confident ahead of the 2019/20 season, with many already installing them as the favorites for the NBA Championship.

With the Raptors having gone on to become the first Canadian team to ever with the NBA title following their series win victory over reigning champions the Golden State Warriors, it is believed that only a small number of changes would see the Bucks once again compete on the biggest stage. Should the Bucks be able to attract the players in which they need during the upcoming 2019 NBA draft, they could well go one step further in 2020, with Head Coach Mike Budenholzer and his men sitting pretty in the betting odds from many of the leading betting apps.

Many had predicted the Bucks to push the Raptors a lot harder than they eventually did during the Eastern Conference Finals, with Giannis Antetokounmpo having lead the team to a series of impressive wins on the road, under the guidance of former Coach of the Year award winner Budenholzer. While they were unable to rediscover such form in their 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Raptors, the rest of the NBA will have certainly taken notice of the Bucks, meaning that they have the potential to be major contenders once again in 2020.

Having looked like a one-man team following the exploits of Antetokounmpo last season, the Bucks well and truly turned things around this year, improving significantly upon their 20th place ranking when it came to defense. Elsewhere, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez all stepped up to the plate in a major way, while even rookie Donte DiVincenzo showed his promise, having shot just 37% from three throws during his time at Villanova.

Coach Budenholzer will undoubtedly look to where things went wrong, however, with his team having led their series against the Raptors 2-0 at one stage, only to see their season unravel before their eyes. Antetokounmpo was among the favorites for the league’s MVP award after helping the Bucks to a 60-win season, however, the future of the Greek forward remains unclear.

Antetokounmpo recently qualified for a five-year supermax contract extension worth a massive $247.3 million, however, this deal cannot be formalized until next year. Should the Bucks be able to once again mount an NBA title challenge, the Greek superstar could well be convinced to stick around in Milwaukee.

The Bucks strengths turned into weaknesses during the Eastern Conference Finals, which ultimately cost them. As a result, Milwaukee is likely to look to improve upon their roster when it comes to wing defense especially, with the likes of Keldon Johnson, Lugentz Dort, Matisse Thybulle having all been linked with moves over recent weeks.

The Bucks’ 2019 season is likely to feel like something of a failure at this point, however, due to where they started the year, coach Budenholzer has every reason to be proud of his players. While we will never know what would have happened against a Golden State Warriors team who were decimated by injuries during their series defeat to the Raptors, those in charge at the Fiserv Forum will now have their attention firmly placed on what to do in order to ensure that the Bucks remain in a position to compete with the very best in which the NBA has to offer.

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2019-2020 College Basketball Preview

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The 2019-2020 college hoops season is just around the corner, and with that comes the great predictions, the unlikely statistics and the performance metrics that will predict which teams will likely make a deep run in the tournament come March… But it’s never that easy.

Everybody had Duke marching to the Championship at the beginning of last season – and will certainly make similar predictions about this year until, predictably, most of their predictions will fall apart one weekend in March. But every season brings surprises, (Like Baylor coming out of nowhere to win 20 games last season).

That is why college basketball is the most joyful and upsetting sport we have… where one week your team looks as if they could reach the Final Four – and the next week they get blown out at home by East Tennessee State.

Oh, by the way? The three-point line is now 22 feet 1 3/4 inches. That might change the outcome of EVERYTHING.

#1 Michigan State is the best team in the country. Tom Izzo and crew went to the Final Four last season with most of their returning team (A shock in today’s one and done era). It’s hard not to like this team, as senior PG Cassius Winston looks to be the best player in college basketball. Add on returning 6’8” junior Xavier Tillman and we should be watching this team make a DEEP run in March. MSU have 11-2 odds to win it all…

#2 Kentucky has two 5 star freshmen in Tyrese Maxey and Khalil Whitney, who fit nicely into John Calipari’s “Prepare them for the NBA” system. The problem is that in the One-and-Done era, only two teams have actually won the National Championship that are starting five-star future NBA players. (The 2012 Kentucky Wildcats and the 2015 Duke Blue Devils).

# 3 Duke returns Tre Jones and adds two five star freshman studs in Vernon Carey and Matthew Hurt (6’10” and 6’9”, respectively). They will have to face a VERY TOUGH

#4 Louisville team twice during the season who are expected to be better than last year’s 20 win team due to the addition of St. Joe’s transfer Lamarr Kimble (Who can shoot the lights out).

#5 Kansas is dealing with the NCAA recruiting sanctions leveled against them, but the return of Udoka Azubuike from injury and Devon Dotson’s decision to not test the NBA Draft has them looking like the best team in the Big 12. Of course, health is always a concern with Azubuike coming back from a hand injury and after last season’s string of close winds and losses, (Barely beating KSU, Losing to Texas Tech) they need to be playing with a fire that burns from the knowledge of not having a tournament to play in come March.

#6 Florida This team is a powerhouse. Andrew Nembhard and Tre Mann are remarkable playmakers surrounded by great shooters. Virginia Tech transfer Kerry Blackshear, jr. loads them up front. The SEC will be absolutely tough and This could be a title run 20 years after the last one for this Gators team.

#7 Auburn may have some issues from outside, which may make them vulnerable when they face bigger teams – although with 6’8” athletic big Babatunde Akingbola ripping down boards, this team could be one of the more athletic squads we will see this season.

#8 Villanova should be the best team in the Big East, but they may have issues at point guard, unless Collin Gillespie has taken big strides in his game. The always dangerous Wildcats are still superbly coached, balanced in the shooting department and will make magic with an 8-9 man rotation.

#9 Ohio State is tough… like really tough. Ever hear of DJ Carton? YOU WILL. The kid is an elite athlete and scorer and should lead this team far… He will play Michigan State only once this season – and it should be one of the most anticipated games of the year. He’s good enough to lead this well balanced team into the pre-season top ten… We’ll see how far he can take them come tourney time.

#10 Maryland is really balanced and sophomore experience will lead them to some great wins. Again, the Big 10 is full of big time front lines and missing a true big may cost them on occasion. Serrel Smith jr. showed a lot of promise last year and should step up while surrounded by a team with a loaded wing component. They face MSU twice… these are two other must see games.

#11 Virginia is still reeling off of their National Championship last year and won’t be AS good. But will still turn some heads… These guys just always seem to breeze through the giants of the league come tourney time…

#12 Purdue will miss Carsen Edwards as their go to scorer but they still come back stacked. Trevion Williams has NBA potential after a terrific freshman season.

#13 Florida State is awfully scary, and starts a very big lineup – their issues are in scoring in their half court offense. Get them on the break, however, and these guys are going to cause a lot of problems for opponents.

#14 Seton Hall will fight for the Big East title against Villanova – and with their four returning starters, they should get off to a fast start. Myles Powell is the truth – and should be a large factor in whether or not they make a decent tourney run.

#15 North Carolina – bring in superstar point guard Cole Anthony (Son of Greg) who is expected to be one of the best players in the country as a true freshman. The ACC is always a battle and the Tar Heels could make some ripples in the conference with Anthony at the wheel.

Coach Chris Beard has #16 Texas Tech riding high, and brought in grad transfers Chris Clark and TJ Holyfield. (My favorite name in college hoops this year). If Kansas hits any drags, the Red Raiders will be your Big 12 champions.

#17 Memphis – IS THIS THE MOST EXCITING TEAM IN THE NCAA? Perhaps. Penny Hardaway is ready for the big time and he has recruited four possible future NBA players. 7’1” James Wiseman is absurdly talented and Hardaway’s former AAU player… The question remains: Will Hardaway become a superstar coach at the D1 level? Or become a casualty of the Chris Mullin/Clyde Drexler variety and flame out after a couple of seasons? Whatever the case – it should be a fun season to watch the Tigers…

#18 Gonzaga – How do these guys stay so good year after year? Mark Few is a top-five coach, and with his front court drop of Killian Tillie and Drew Timme he returns an extremely impressive basketball team. Texas A 7 M transfer Admon Gilder could be the key to taking this team all the way… And Few has a tendency to get his teams clicking at the right time.

#19 LSU – NCAA Sanctions aside, these guys belong in the top twenty and may challenge for the SEC title. Trendon Watford is poised for a break through year and even though they lost some guys to the professional ranks last year. The problem may be the drama hanging around the program…

# 20 Arizona/Oregon – I had to include one Pac-12 team here, and since the conference doesn’t look that strong, these are the two best teams. One of them belongs in the top 20. Arizona brings in point guard Nico Mannion and Josh Green and if Sean Miller can shake his past demons, he could get these guys playing like a sweet 16 team. Oregon is in a similar position – big time impact freshman, grad transfers and a shooter in Addison Patterson. (Remember, the move of the three point line will affect a lot of percentages… Look for the numbers to fall all around.)

Hopefully that gets you started… but as we all know, these are kids, the tournament determines everything and you just never know what might happen…A team like #26 Creighton could come along and shock the world. (For the record Creighton is a terrific team… we just didn’t have space to get that deep…)

Good luck out there. Watch three point percentages to drop significantly. That is all.

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NBA News and Notes: Zion to Miss Start of NBA Season

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The start of the new NBA season is just around the corner but let’s look at some news from the last week of the NBA Preseason as NBA odds boards at different sportsbooks see adjustments to the win totals for the teams.

Zion Williamson to Miss Start of NBA Season with Knee Injury

Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Williamson, the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, out of Duke, is expected to miss a “period of weeks” so we will have to wait for his NBA debut. The news obviously worries Pelicans fans because Williamson is expected to help turn the franchise around but he should not play unless he is 100 percent ready.

Williamson showed promise in his preseason debut, scoring 16 points with seven rebounds and three assists while entertaining the crowd with amazing dunks as the Pelicans beat the Hawks 133-109 on October 7 but we also witnessed potential issues in his game. Williamson took 13 shots (missed two 3-pointers) and eight of those were around the restricted area in the lane (he would make just three of them).

Jrue Holiday led the way against the Hawks with 21 points in 18 minutes, Brandon Ingram finished with 19 points and six rebounds, Lonzo Ball had nine points, seven assists and five rebounds and promising rookie Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 12 points, which tells us that this is a team with a deep roster that to me will be just fine in those few weeks without Williamson. New Orleans also signed free agents JJ Redick and Derrick Favors and they can make some noise in the West once Williamson comes back.

Bradley Beal Signs Contract Extension with Wizards

Star guard Bradley Beal agreed to a two-year contract extension with the Washington Wizards worth $72 million. The deal has a player option for the second year, which means that Beal can push his free agency from 2021 to 2022, seemingly keeping him off the trade market while giving the Wizards at least one more year to show him that they’re serious about their intentions to be a competitive team in the near future.

Beal averaged a career-high 25.6 points, 5.5 assists and 5.9 rebounds in 36.9 minutes over 82 games last season and he averages 19.8 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 34.4 minutes over 488 career games (454 starts) in seven seasons with the Wizards. Beal clearly wants to play for a winner, so now is up to the Wizards to prove him that they can build a competitive roster, unless they want to risk losing him.

Russell Westbrook Exits Preseason Finale Due to Finger Injuries

The Rockets ended their preseason slate with a 144-133 road win against the Heat last Friday but Russell Westbrook had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after re-aggravating finger injuries on his right hand.

Westbrook dislocated two fingers on the right hand in the game against the Spurs but he still played against the Heat. Backup guard Austin Rivers also left the game early. He played only seven minutes before experiencing neck soreness and sitting out.

“Both of them told me they were OK, so we’ll take that,” head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN. Westbrook had 16 points, four rebounds and four assists on 6 of 13 shooting in 26 minutes.

After Paul George demanded a trade to the Clippers, the Thunder worked together with Westbrook to send him to a team of his choice and James Harden wanted to play with him, so he convinced the Rockets to go after the 2017 NBA MVP.

Harden and Westbrook were teammates with the Thunder for three years and their Big Three with Kevin Durant made it to the 2012 NBA Finals where they would eventually lose to the Heat in five games. Adding Westbrook makes the Rockets serious contenders in the Western Conference as long as both players show a willingness to sacrifice.

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2020 Summer Olympics: Who Will Go, Who Will Not?

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Let’s face it: the US national team didn’t do as well as expected at this year’s FIBA Basketball World Cup. USA Basketball originally selected 35 players to represent the country at the tournament in China this summer, yet only four of them were actually part of the US squad: two were dropped after the Las Vegas training camp, and 17 of them withdrew. The US was represented by Brook Lopez, Derrick White, Donovan Mitchell, Harrison Barnes, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Joe Harris, Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Marcus Smart, Mason Plumlee, and Myles Turner. And the results were far from brilliant: they beat the Czech Republic, Turkey, and Japan in the group stage, Greece and Brazil in the second round, lost to France in the quarter-finals, and beat Poland but lost to Serbia in the classification games. Ultimately, the Spanish national basketball team won the tournament, followed by Argentina, and France in the medal positions – the USA came seventh, outdone by Australia, Serbia, and the Czech Republic.

Many of the players who backed out of the 2019 Basketball World Cup commitment have, in turn, expressed interest in joining the USA squad at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Enthusiasm

Miami Heat player Jimmy Butler announced at his introductory conference in Miami that he would “most definitely” consider joining the USA squad at the Olympics next year. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis did the same, saying that he does want to play USA Basketball – he already has plenty of experience in international basketball competitions, having played in the 2014 World Cup and the 2012 Summer Olympics. The Warriors’ Draymond Green also plans to play in the Olympics – actually, he looks forward to it, as he has his wedding planned around it. The Rockets’ James Harden, the Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard, and the Warriors’ Stephen Curry have also expressed their interest and enthusiasm to represent their country in Japan next year – the latter was cautious about making a commitment, though, because of the constant threat of an injury. Understandable, considering the early point in the season.

Reservations

The Clippers’ Paul George was a bit more moderate in expressing his enthusiasm for joining the USA squad in Tokyo next year. “I would love to. Hopefully, god willing, I can get through a season healthy. And when that time comes, I would love to be part of the Olympics and represent,” he told the ESPN. “But this comes first, obviously. And getting through this year, giving everything to this year. Hopefully, by June, we’re the last team standing and I’ll deal with it at that point.” Kawhi Leonard is also on the cautious side when it comes to committing to the Olympics – “I do want to play but I’m taking it one step at a time. And right now it is getting the Clippers to the Finals,” he sais. The Lakers’ LeBron James has a similar stance on the matter. “I don’t know. I would love to. … I will address that at some point”, he told reporter Dave McMenamin who shared his words on Twitter. He plans to speak to USA Basketball head coach Gregg Popovich at some point, McMenamin revealed.

Who has qualified for the Olympics already?

According to the rules of the Olympics, the host nation – this will be Japan next year – automatically qualifies for the tournament. Besides, the teams that finished the 2019 Basketball World Cup best from each FIBA zone also qualify automatically. Thus, the national basketball teams from Australia (FIBA Oceania), France, and Spain (FIBA Europe), Iran and Japan (FIBA Asia), Nigeria (FIBA Africa), and Argentina and the United States (FIBA Americas) have their spots assured at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

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