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NBA Daily: Clear-Minded Covington Ready To Make An Impact

Robert Covington never expected a bone bruise to sideline him for the Timberwolves’ final 45 games last season, but its effects actually went much deeper than just keeping him out of action. Douglas Farmer writes.

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When Robert Covington left the court on New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, he did not expect his absence from the Minnesota Timberwolves to last long.

He had not broken or torn anything, so his apparent injury hiatus should be short-lived, he and anyone watching figured.

The Timberwolves were 17-20, hardly out of playoff contention in the aggressive West. They had rattled off an 8-3 stretch when Covington first arrived from Philadelphia in the Jimmy Butler trade, turning a tumultuous 5-9 start into a 13-12 standing filled with possibility. Even the subsequent 4-8 stretch did not totally derail hopes.

Covington’s injury did.

“I was sitting back at home while my team is sitting up here trying to win games, make that playoff push,” he said Monday at Minnesota’s annual Media Day. “I was on my way back when I had that small setback and had to have surgery. That made me even more frustrated.”

The bone bruise to Covington’s knee eventually developed swelling that needed surgery to address, removing loose bodies from the knee. Even if the swelling setback required the surgery just to be properly diagnosed, it was merely the obvious injury, not the only one.

“I thought [a bone bruise] was something so minor, so simple, when actually it’s not,” Covington said. “It was more in-depth than what I actually knew. I was frustrated.”

The threat to Covington’s long-term play, and thus the Timberwolves’ future, was that frustration and the effects that came from it. The seven-year veteran felt his headspace wavering to such a degree that he dispatched his family, not wanting his deteriorating mood to rub off on them.

Someone who prides himself on bringing an uplifting energy to every room he walks into, Covington instead walked around Minnesota’s facilities with his head down, lost in thoughts of his teammates “busting their ass each and every day to make it to the playoffs” while he could do nothing but watch.

The Timberwolves’ coaching staff took over six days after that New Year’s Eve injury, with Ryan Saunders moving from assistant coach to interim head coach when Tom Thibodeau was fired. In that assistant’s role, Saunders had known Covington since only the trade in mid-November, yet it was clear to the now-head coach that what was amiss was nothing to dismiss.

Saunders, general manager Scott Layden and head trainer Gregg Farnam sat down with Covington to talk through the effects of the injury, both physical and mental.

“It brought tears to my eyes because not only did they notice — I knew on the inside how I was affected,” Covington said. “It built trust because Ryan shared stories with me about how a therapist helped him with the loss of his father, how he dealt with it.

“Ryan gave me motivation to keep reading, to keep my head in a positive manner to where there’s going to be days when you have stress and frustration and everything. How you handle that is what is going to dictate the outcome of how you feel about it.”

Covington took their advice and spent a couple sessions with a therapist. To hear him tell it, that proactive approach aided both Covington’s mental health and his physical recovery.

“The therapist gave me a professional way to view everything, to handle certain things, to get through it,” he said. “That’s what has allowed me during this whole phase to not have any issues and what has helped my recovery process…If I do have a day where I do feel discomfort or anything, I’m not viewing it as I did before based off of where I was five months ago. I’m nowhere near that person.”

Instead, Covington knows and acknowledges he is not yet in playing shape — only recently cleared for competitive action. He understands the long run is valued more than October, particularly in an organization now preaching sustainable success under president Gersson Rosas. These practical approaches fit how Covington long approached the game on the court, his under-the-radar contributions adding up to a whole performance pushing the team over the top.

That is part of why the Timberwolves went 8-3 when he first arrived, a groove Covington fully expects the team to get back into. After all, the core pieces of that stretch are still around, despite rampant roster turnover.

“We still have the same caliber of guys, just not the names behind them,” he said. “They’re guys that are younger, but we still do the exact same thing…You just come into the building and buy into what we’re doing. That’s what guys are doing the past month and a half as they’re working, getting to know the system.”

That system has changed, as one might expect with Saunders installing his own staff under Rosas’ guidance. The united front now preaches an up-tempo offense focusing on efficient shots and a defense ripe with switching, as much a philosophical method of defending as one natural to a roster loaded with wings. The first thing Saunders cited as a focus of this week’s practice was, in fact, defense.

It is Covington’s calling card, so his physical and mental health is paramount to its success. That is not lost on anyone, particularly not franchise cornerstone Karl-Anthony Towns, who did not hesitate to put Covington’s name into the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.

Covington will likely spend considerable time as the biggest body alongside Towns. That would, in theory, leave Towns alone responsible for protecting the rim. The seven-footer sees it the other way around.

“We all look way better defensively because you don’t have to worry about — for me, personally, I know if RoCo is on that side, on the wing, I don’t have to worry about penetration coming into the paint,” Towns said. “I don’t have to protect it.

“One of the biggest things I’ve stressed a lot is I don’t want to be leading the league again in contested shots…There’s no reason I should be doing that, because we should be playing defense to a standard where I don’t have to contest that many shots and put myself in a position [of foul trouble].”

Towns fouled out nine times last season, coming one foul away from it another 19 times. Lessening that starts with Towns, obviously, and extends past Covington, who Towns expects to defend four positions. It also lands at the feet of free-agent signee Jordan Bell, who Towns suggested can defend all five positions, and even Andrew Wiggins. They will all be pieces of Saunders’ switching schemes.

“That’s just going to make us more and more deadlier,” Covington said. “It’s going to give us a little bit more freedom to do things. We are able to make up for a small [mistake].”

Those defensive efforts begin with Covington on the court. After all, he was active for only one of the Timberwolves’ 12 worst defensive showings last season. Towns specifically mentioned giving up 140-plus points four times; there were another eight instances of Minnesota allowing 130 or more.

If Covington’s presence is vital to stopping such egregious showings — and it is — then the Timberwolves’ desired defensive improvements began in the offseason with a difficult conversation between Covington and a head coach he had never played for.

A conversation that inspired trust and led to needed recovery, mental as much as physical.

Contributing writer to Basketball Insiders, based in Minneapolis since 2017 with previous stops in Dallas and Los Angeles. Went 32-of-40 at the backyard free throw line this past Christmas. Twitter: @D_Farmer

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NBA Daily: Milwaukee Bucks Face Unique Situation

Despite a successful season, Tristan Tucker looks at why the Milwaukee Bucks face uncertainty regarding their future.

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Despite beating the dominant Brooklyn Nets in seven games, the Milwaukee Bucks face more uncertainty about their future than any other team in the playoffs. Last season, the Bucks accrued a 56-17 record that was good for best in the league. However, the team disappointed and saw a second-round exit at the hands of the Miami HEAT.

After that disappointing finish to a season that many believed would lead to an NBA Championship, the Bucks faced many criticisms. In response, Milwaukee rushed to fix many of those issues. Eric Bledsoe and a boatload of first-round picks were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for defensive stalwart Jrue Holiday. The team then swapped out its bench rotation, filling it out with players like P.J. Tucker, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes. The Bucks even got older rookies Sam Merrill and Mamadi Diakite to play quick spot minutes.

But Milwaukee’s biggest criticism was one that was left unresolved: the coaching situation. Head coach Mike Budenholzer is a two-time NBA Coach of the Year winner. Budenholzer first won the award after getting the Atlanta Hawks over 60 wins in 2014-15. Then, he did it again with the Bucks two years ago. Despite his metal, Budenholzer’s rotation decisions were met with criticism and confusion during the heartbreaking loss to Miami in 2020. Many fans around the league noticed that many stars were playing well over 40 minutes in big games and never played less than 36. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s big names sat for extended periods of time.

For reference, Anthony Davis and LeBron James for the Los Angeles Lakers played over 36 minutes per game in the playoffs last season. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo did the same for the HEAT. Both of those teams moved on to the Finals. On the other hand, Khris Middleton led the team with 35.5 minutes per game in the playoffs while Giannis Antetokounmpo played just 30.8 minutes a night.

Despite this, Milwaukee’s brain trust kept Budenholzer into the 2020-21 season. And so far, that seems like the right decision. The Bucks came back in a big way in the playoffs, being the only team to sweep another team, Miami, in the first round. Then, the Bucks battled back into the series against the Nets, evening the series twice after falling back the same number of times before eventually overcoming the then-title favorites. The team is now matched up with the scorching-hot Hawks and has gone down 1-0 in the series.

All seems to be going relatively well for the Bucks despite the current series. Budenholzer seems to have learned his lesson, his stars are all playing over 37 minutes per game. In fact, the whole rotation seems to be clicking.

Middleton in particular put together the best postseason performance of his career in Game 6 against the Nets. The former All-Star ended that contest with 38 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals, missing just five of his 16 shots. This isn’t new for Middleton, who is the face of consistency in the league. Outside of an injury-marred 2016-17 season, Middleton has averaged around 20 points per game for almost six straight years.

In each of the last two seasons, Middleton came within inches of securing a 50/40/90 season. Both seasons have seen a respectable amount of attempts from deep and the charity stripe. Middleton even became the go-to guy on offense for the Bucks. Just watch his and his teammates’ confidence in him as he buried a four-point play to ice Game 6 against Brooklyn:

It isn’t just Middleton. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing more aggressively as of late, securing 30 points on 20 field goal attempts in Game 6 against the Nets. “The Greek Freak” followed that performance up with a 40-point showing to clinch that series, officially avenging last year. In Milwaukee’s Game 1 loss to Atlanta, Antetokounmpo put up 34 points, 12 rebounds and 9 assists in 41 minutes.

Holiday hasn’t had the best playoff stint of his career, but there’s no denying how absurdly better the team’s perimeter defense is with Holiday substituting for Bledsoe and George Hill. The team’s faith in Holiday paid off with a 33-point, 10-assist showing that saw the middle Holiday brother connect on five 3-pointers.

Some of the most notable changes came from Milwaukee’s bench. Forbes and Portis in particular took the next step as players this year. Both players took one-year bets on themselves in the offseason that are sure to result in paydays this summer. Portis and Forbes ranked third and fourth in the regular season in three-point percentage, respectively. Forbes in particular became notorious for how he torched the HEAT in the first round from deep.

And yet, despite the positives, the Bucks still face one of the biggest crossroads of any team in the playoffs. And it all depends on how deep this team can go.

Despite beating the Nets, Budenholzer is still on the hot seat. While Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported that the series win over Brooklyn will go a long way in determining Budenholzer’s future, the two-time Coach of the Year still hasn’t made the Finals as a head coach. If Budenholzer and the Bucks lose to the Hawks, who they are much better than on paper, it could have a ripple effect on the franchise. In fact, several reports indicate that the team is already looking at potential replacements if things go south.

It’s an odd turnaround for a team that is experiencing the high of knocking off the title favorites. Middleton had a poor Game 1, and the team likely doesn’t lose that game if he is clicking. But Budenholzer’s questionable rotation decisions still plagued the team, with seldom-used Jeff Teague seeing six critical minutes against Trae Young.

Firing a head coach — especially one as successful as Budenholzer has been in the regular season — is no small task. The move would likely come with several other staff and roster changes.

Despite how great Portis and Forbes have been for the team, it’s unlikely Milwaukee can afford either moving forward. Portis and Forbes both have player options for next season, Portis at $3.8 million and Forbes at $2.4 million. There’s no way either remains on the Bucks at that price with a weak free-agent class on the horizon. And unfortunately, the Bucks don’t have the money to re-sign either to a huge number.

That path would lead to the team being extremely aggressive with what money and assets it does have. The team reportedly agreed to trade Donte DiVincenzo — who is now out with injury — for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign-and-trade before Bogdanovic refused to be traded there. Other players like Brook Lopez and Pat Connaughton have tradeable salaries and could help bring in another impact player.

If the Bucks went the distance, Budenholzer would most likely stay and the franchise would avoid a culture reset. Forbes and Portis probably still depart, but other free agents like Tucker would likely be more inclined to re-sign for a smaller salary.

In that case, the team would be more inclined to sit back and watch internal growth. Players like Jordan Nwora, Merrill or Diakite could fill the holes left by potential Forbes or Portis departures. That isn’t to say the team wouldn’t be aggressive, but there isn’t a team left in the playoffs that would see such a huge change if they were eliminated. 

Monty Williams of the Phoenix Suns was a Coach of the Year finalist. The Suns have the assets for internal and external growth if eliminated. The Hawks vastly improved from the last season, and have a direct pathway to getting better through guys like De’Andre Hunter and Onyeka Okongwu. And the Los Angeles Clippers will likely retain Tyronn Lue and Kawhi Leonard this offseason, even if things go awry.

Unfortunately for Budenholzer, this is a unique situation. There haven’t been many do-or-die cases involving jobs this deep into the playoffs involving contenders. For Budenholzer, winning the title secures his job. If he fails to do so, it could spell the end of his Milwaukee tenure.

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Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers Game 3 predictions, picks and betting tips: Bet Home Court Dogs on Friday Night

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Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals takes place at 9pm ET on Friday. Our experts have made their predictions and betting picks for the Clippers vs Suns at the Staples Center.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Cynics will tell you that L.A. is a city of a million shattered dreams, and if Deandre Ayton’s last second alleyoop slam-dunk is anything to go by, those cynics aren’t exactly wrong.

The Phoenix Suns marched into a 2-0 series lead vs. the Clippers as a result of Ayton’s heroics. The 104-103 victory meant Monty Williams team now takes a firm grasp of the Western Conference finals.

Despite being down 2-0 in the series, it appears the average American bettor hasn’t given up hope on the Clippers staging part one of a comeback in game 3. Indeed, why would they? We’ve seen way over 400 teams return from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs over the years. Plus, if Paul George (26 pts in Game 2) decides to wage war again, the Clippers do have half a chance, even without Leonard…

Besides, why wouldn’t you place a couple wagers on a mild underdog on the NBA betting lines?

All odds from Bovada Sportsbook. New customers get $750 free to bet on Suns @ Clippers

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Moneyline Odds 

Phoenix Suns: -115

Los Angeles Clippers: -107

Western Conference Finals – Game 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Spread (DraftKings NBA Playoff Odds)

Phoenix Suns -1

Los Angeles Clippers -1

Los Angeles Clippers Preview

Other than the pain of a last second defeat, the big news coming out of the Clippers camp remains the fact that the team’s best player, Kawhi Leonard, is still out injured.

Leonard had averaged over 30.0 points per game during the playoffs until going down with a knee injury towards the end of Game 4 vs. Utah in the last round. The current prognosis is not good – he will almost certainly miss out again.

There is series-hope for Clippers fans in the form of SG Paul George, who himself is averaging 26.6 points per game in the postseason; not to mention the fact that L.A. has twice before returned from a 2-0 deficit in the playoffs. But they have to get something going in Game 3 – no team has ever returned from 3-0 down in NBA playoff history.

Nevertheless, what hope is left is dangling by a thread at present. Up against a full-strength Phoenix team that’s riding high on the confidence of a last-minute win, it’s going to be tough evening’s work for George, Jackson and co. come Thursday night.

That said, L.A. does have home-court advantage and di just lose by the 1 point. So, it’s little surprise the two teams have been given similar odds – Game 3 is anyone’s game.

Phoenix Suns Preview

The Suns did what they needed to do, took advantage of being at home for games 1 and 2 and now take a lead to LA. Game 2 was on a knife edge throughout, so they’re not as dominant over the Clippers as some may have thought, but the 2-0 lead is huge. As mentioned above, they’ll be hoping that Leonard can’t make it to the court on Thursday night, but even if he does, they can rely upon the likes of Devin Booker, Cameron Payne and game 2 hero Deandre Ayton to stifle the Clippers. They’ve now won 9 straight in the playoffs and they’ll take some stopping to make it 10.

Chris Paul is expected back from a stint on COVID protocol soon. But Game 3 might come too early. Expect Paul to miss out again.

Other than that, the Suns are surely shining bright en route to Los Angeles following Ayton’s heroics in the previous clash. The Clippers have caused them problems throughout the first two games, but the Suns seem to have that little bit extra in the tank: more guile; more nous, and, even if Leonard could take to the court with the Clippers, – arguably – more talent.

Devin Booker has been in superb form in the series thus far, putting up 40 points over the course of the first two contests – look for him on the player prop market.

Overall, there’s a reason the Suns have been made favorites by the NBA oddsmakers, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than a continuation of the their dominance in Game 3…

Western Conference Finals – Game 3: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Phoenix Suns Prediction

We’ve spent all this time waxing lyrical about Phoenix, but the Clippers deserve a result. They have pulled out all the stops in the absence of Leonard and, in our humble opinion, eventually hard work pays off.

We are vouching for the homecourt underdogs on the moneyline: Clippers to win at -107

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

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NBA Finals Betting Odds : 2021 NBA Championship Odds Update as Conference Finals Continue

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The 2021 NBA Conference Finals are now underway and so look at the updated Championships odds for the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks, Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers.

Register an account with Bovada and bet on the 2021 NBA Finals with a $750 Free Bet.

Few expected to see the Milwaukee Bucks, Atlanta Hawks L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns make up the final four of the NBA Championship Playoffs. But each team has made it this far on merit, and the performances don’t lie – the cream always rises to the top.

In the Western Conference Final, DeAndre Ayton broke Clippers hearts last night when, with 0.5 seconds remaining in the fourth, he came up trumps with a sublime alleyoop dunk. Those 2 points put the Suns 104-103 ahead, as they took a commanding 2-0 lead in the series.

The Hawks are all set to travel to the Bucks for the first game of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, in a game that will see two of the NBA’s finest talents, Atlanta G Trae Young and Milwaukee PF Giannis Antetokounmpo come face to face.

2021 NBA Championship Odds

With games coming thick and fast and players bouncing into and out of form and IR in this year’s epic conference finals, it’s about time to check in and see what the sportsbooks make of all the action, as we take a look at the 2021 NBA odds for the 2021 national championship.

Clippers NBA Championship Odds Continue to Dwindle Without Kawhi Leonard

It’s hard not to feel bad for Clippers fans: without their superb small forward Kawhi Leonard, and the 25 points per game he tends to put up, life was always going to be tough vs. the Phoenix, even without the Suns having their electrifying playmaker Chris Paul out on court. And so, it has proven.

After that tough final second loss, the Clippers have seen their odds drop from +440 at the start of the playoffs to between +1500 (FanDuel). If they lose again on Thursday (June 24), expect to see the odds reach into the +infinity category, since no NBA team has EVER come back from 3-0 down in the playoffs.

Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue must now be thinking about just wheeling Kawhi Leonard out there in a wheelchair for one final assault. But don’t write his team off just yet: L.A came within 1point and they did that without their best player – there’s still a chance; they make it through and we’ll find out for sure come Thursday.

Los Angeles Clippers NBA Finals Odds: +1500 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

Suns’ Odds to win NBA Championship Continue to Rise

The bad news for the Clippers is that Chris Paul is expected to be back in action for the Suns quickly. The diminutive playmaker broke COVID protocol, which was stupid, but did get himself vaccinated beforehand (not so stupid) and will be available sooner rather than later as a result.

Plus, Devin Booker more than carried the mantle in Paul’s absence during last night’s second meet. Booker put up 40 points in total as the Suns asserted their dominance.

It’s the strength in depth and the team’s ability to hurt its opposition all over the court that has seen the odds on the Suns continue to shorten. Monty Williams’ team began the playoffs as massive outsiders at +2500. But their odds are now just +115.

Phoenix Suns NBA Finals Odds: +115 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

NBA Betting Lines not Favoring the Hawks

Atlanta’s incredible 4-3 series defeat of the Philadelphia 76ers is the stuff of legend and the Hawks deserve a tremendous amount of credit for pulling that result out of the bag; even if the 76ers were missing Joel Emblid for a few games.

Enough about that though. With players like G Trae Young to boast among the ranks, you’d give the Hawks a chance against anyone, including vs. the Bucks this evening.

That said, Milwaukee is a big ask for Nate McMillan’s team. During the regular season, the Bucks posted the highest field goal accuracy (91.8), the 2nd most rebounds per game, and the 5th most 3-pointers per game – they are a team that can punish you if given just half-a-chance.

Sorry Atlanta fans. But it seems likely to us that the McMillan Cinderella story ends here.

Then again… we’ve been wrong before and at +1300, it’s worth a Hail Mary for sure!

Atlanta Hawks’ NBA Finals Odds: +1300 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

The Bucks are the Betting Favorites to be NBA Champions

The Bucks began the playoffs with NBA Vegas odds of +800 on the moneyline. If you are one of the lucky ones who picked them up on those odds, hold tight: you’re looking good right now; Milwaukee fans are dreaming of being NBA Champions for the first time in 50 years.

Greek sensation Giannis Antetokounmpo has been on fire throughout the Bucks’ postseason run, putting up 30 points in six games thus far! With Middleton and Brook Lopez, in particular, among the supporting cast, the Bucks offense puts up big numbers and rarely turns the ball over without something to show for it.

It’s not that the Hawks don’t have playmakers of their own – they do. But defensively, they don’t touch this Bucks team that features both Jrue Holiday (DPOY) and Antekounmpo (2X DPOY). That’s why the odds are so short on Milwaukee and so long on Atlanta – the sportsbooks don’t fancy the Hawks to score enough.

Milwaukee Bucks’ NBA Finals Odds: +105 – Click HERE to bet with Bovada Online

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