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Zion worked to stay in shape during quarantine

For New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson, quarantine presented a new set of challenges. How does a 285-pound athlete who was two months removed from returning from knee surgery stay in shape?

The NBA provided one lifeline when it cleared Williamson to continue his rehab at the Pelicans facility even after the league shut down operations. The second lifeline for Williamson came from his stepfather, Lee Anderson.

“At first, I’m a say it was very tough (to stay in shape), because even now you still don’t know what’s fully going on with that situation,” Williamson said on Thursday morning. “But me and my stepdad just found different ways to stay in condition, on-court, off-court, just wherever we could find it.”

Williamson said he got on the court “every day” during the quarantine period with his stepdad, since he wasn’t allowed to work with the Pelicans’ coaching staff per the NBA guidelines. When asked where he was working out, Williamson let out a laugh.

“I can’t tell you all my secrets, man,” Williamson said. “Some things I gotta keep to myself.”

While we don’t know what kind of basketball shape Williamson is in, he did say he feels like he’s in good shape heading into the NBA restart. The Pelicans will kick things off for the NBA’s eight seeding games on July 30 when the team plays the Utah Jazz.

Count Josh Hart as one of Williamson’s teammates who was impressed with how he looked in the gym once players got back together.

“I think body-wise, he looks amazing,” Hart said. “He looks good. His shot looks better than it has in a while. He’s been putting the work in, and that’s great to see.

“And he’s one of the players that has one of the biggest spotlights in the league and in the world right now. So he’s handled everything with great humility. I’m very surprised and proud of just how he handles all that stuff.”

When the Pelicans return to the court against the Jazz, they will do so attempting to make up a 3.5-game deficit to the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

If New Orleans can stay within four games of the Grizzlies and claim the ninth seed — while holding off Portland, Sacramento, San Antonio and Portland — it would find itself in a play-in tournament against Memphis. Or, possibly overtake Memphis and become the eighth seed.

It’s a battle that was ramping up as the season was halted. But Hart feels that if the Pelicans had Williamson for more than just 19 games, the eighth seed wouldn’t be what they were chasing at this point.

“I think if we had him at the beginning of the year, the story wouldn’t be ‘fight for the eighth seed’; it would’ve been ‘we’re a 4- or 5-seed in the West,'” Hart said. “Honestly, that’s my opinion. Unfortunately we weren’t able to have him at the beginning of the year, but he’s helped turn this organization and this season around.”

Williamson said the team’s focus in Orlando is to make a playoff push, but he agreed with Hart that the team could have been much more dangerous if everyone had been healthy for the entire year.

“I think this team can be really special when we’re all healthy,” Williamson said. “It’s just a matter of us coming together, fighting those mental battles of being in the bubble and just, honestly, coming together. I feel like if we can come together and fight the battles together, I think we can be something really special.”

By the time things kick off in Orlando, it’ll be the completion of a whirlwind 12 months for Williamson, who will turn 20 on July 6. His first summer league game ended with an injury and an earthquake. The start of his season was delayed because of surgery. He hit four 3-pointers in his first game — and just two since. And in the middle of a pandemic, he was named a cover athlete for NBA 2K21.

Now his unconventional Year 1 ends in another unconventional way — playing in Orlando in July and August.

“I’m very fortunate that the NBA was able to do this,” Williamson said. “Because I trust the NBA, that in the bubble, we’re gonna be in a safe environment, protected at best from certain situations and what’s going on. And, it’s crazy man; we’re actually about to go. It’s a lot to process, for sure, but I am excited.”

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How Pelicans rookie star Zion Williamson maximized conditioning and mental toughness during quarantine

Only four days remain before Zion Williamson will no longer be a teenager. The New Orleans Pelicans rookie star does not consider his upcoming 20th birthday to be a special day, however, other than feeling grateful for the milestone. Williamson has still struggled to process what happened to him as a 19-year-old.

"The last 12 months have been a different experience," Williamson said Thursday on a conference call.

What an understatement.

The Pelicans drafted Williamson with the No. 1 pick three months after he sprained his right knee during his freshman season at Duke. After bruising his left knee during Summer League play, Williamson then tore his right lateral meniscus before the team’s opener and missed the first 44 games of his rookie season. Once he returned, Williamson immediately catapulted the Pelicans into the NBA playoff picture and himself into the league’s Rookie of the Year race. Then, the NBA halted the season on March 11 because of the novel coronavirus, which will leave Williamson sidelined for another 4½ months before the Pelicans resume the season against the Utah Jazz at a quarantined site in Orlando on July 30.

"With the injury, all the stuff going on and not playing basketball as much as I’m used to, it’s been a crazy experience," Williamson said. "I stick with my family."

CONCERNS: What would it take to halt the resumed season?

FULL SCHEDULE: All 88 seeding games to finish regular season

DON'T MISS: 13 must-see games on the new NBA schedule

That has paid off in different ways. Williamson’s mom, Sharonda, gave insight about her time in track at Livingstone College, saying, "Life is life. You may go through a lot of bad times and you may go through a lot of good times. Just try to prepare yourself as best as you can."

Put in that work today ūüí™#WontBowDownpic.twitter.com/py6PRJVZ1q

Williamson has done that by leaning on his stepdad, Lee Anderson, who played college basketball at Clemson. Williamson and Anderson conducted daily workouts.

Williamson declined to share what his routine entailed. As he said with a grin, "I can’t tell you all my secrets, man. Some things I got to keep to myself." But each day, Williamson worked his stepdad both on his conditioning drills and on-court work.

Beyond attending the Pelicans’ voluntary individual workouts for the past two months, Williamson trained only with his stepdad to minimize any risk during the pandemic. On the first day of the Pelicans' mandatory individual workouts Wednesday, the 6-foot-6, 284-pound Williamson wore a mask that made him look like Bane, the Batman villain in "Dark Knight Rises" that crushed his opponents with both strength and smarts.

"I do find that I’m in good shape right now," Williamson said.

Who wore it better? #WontBowDown | @Zionwilliamson

ūüďł: @PelicansNBApic.twitter.com/Szd7EMdr8Y

That should encourage the Pelicans (28-36), who enter the resumed NBA season trailing the Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) by 3½ games for the eighth spot in the Western Conference. With the NBA hosting eight regular-season games before the postseason, the Pelicans will also likely compete with the Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) and Sacramento Kings (28-36) for the last playoff seed. Still, the Pelicans understandably remain cautious about not drawing any big-picture conclusions on how Williamson will fare.

"I have no idea," Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said about Williamson’s conditioning level. "They’re not able to do anything here that smacks of basketball, and all of the workouts right now are voluntary. I can tell you he is handling the ball awfully well, and his shooting looks great. In terms of his preparedness and fitness for basketball, I can’t give you any indication of that at all. I really have no idea."

The Pelicans already have an idea about Williamson’s mindset, though.

After missing the first 44 games of the season, Williamson played a large part in the team’s late-season turnaround. He scored at least 20 points in 13 consecutive games, the second-longest streak for a rookie since 2000. He ranked second in the NBA in paint points (17.3) and 14th in the league in offensive rebounds (2.9). The team was encouraged by how he improved his movement patterns and conditioning.

Once the season stopped, Williamson admitted "at first, it was very tough" to stay in shape. Beyond leaning on his family to maximize his training and keep his attitude positive, Williamson also channeled his efforts elsewhere. He often told his teammates, "we’re going to get through this." Amid protests about racial inequality, Williamson vowed to become further educated on those issues so he can maximize his platform. And Williamson was one of the five million that tuned in weekly to watch "The Last Dance" documentary on Michael Jordan and the 1990s Chicago Bulls.

"You saw his true love for the game and the passion he put into the game. That’s the reason he is where he is," Williamson said of Jordan. "The emotions he showed after one episode? He was willing to sacrifice not friendships but being disliked by certain people. But he wanted to make his teammates better so much by pushing them. It just showed his love for the game and his drive. He felt like if somebody could do something as close as good to him, he wanted to show that he could dominate. That overall mindset throughout the whole documentary is something to look at."

Can Williamson inspire his teammates with his mindset?

"He’s handled everything great," Pelicans guard Josh Hart said of Williamson. "Body wise, it looks amazing. He looks good. His shot looks better. He’s been putting the work in. That is great to see. He’s one of the players that has the brightest spotlights in the league and the world right now. He handles everything with great humility. I’m very surprised and proud on how he handled all of this stuff."

More adversity awaits. The Pelicans had three unnamed players test positive for COVID-19 since testing began on June 23. The Pelicans are one of several NBA teams concerned by how they ramp up their workload for full games after still remaining confined to individual workouts. Although the Pelicans have a blend of young players (Williamson, Hart, Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball) and veterans (Jrue Holiday, J.J. Redick), they would likely face the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs.

Still, Williamson faced and passed plenty of tests as a 19-year-old. He didn't appear overwhelmed with the challenges that await him as a 20-year-old.

"This team can be really special when we’re all healthy," Williamson said. "It’s just a matter of us coming together and fighting those mental battles."

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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‘NBA 2K21’ release date, cover, cost, editions: A guide to everything you need to know

While 2K Sports is preparing for the typical release of the latest game in its “NBA 2K” series, everything surrounding the title is far from normal.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forced the NBA to suspend play back in March, leading to an inevitable delay of both the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons. That means “NBA 2K21” will be available while the previous campaign is still in progress for the first time in the game’s history.

In addition to that unusual element, “NBA 2K21” is also expected to be ready for PlayStation 5¬†and¬†Xbox Series X. It’s unclear when exactly those next-gen consoles will arrive, but teasers of various games, including one for¬†“NBA 2K21,” have generated plenty of hype.

When will “NBA 2K21” hit the market? Here’s everything you need to know about the world’s most popular basketball video game.

‘NBA 2K21’ release date

“NBA 2K21” will¬†be released¬†Sept. 4, 2020,¬†for PlayStation 4 and¬†Xbox One. The game is now available for preorder.

As for “NBA 2K21” on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X, it’s safe to assume the release date will be later in the year when those consoles can be purchased.

‘NBA 2K21’ covers and editions

Current-gen edition: Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard

The five-time All-Star is the first Portland player to land on the cover of “NBA 2K.”

Next-gen edition: Pelicans forward Zion Williamson

Despite playing in just 19 games prior to the NBA’s shutdown, Williamson finds himself on the cover of “NBA 2K” for next-gen consoles.¬†He is the third New Orleans players to be featured on an “NBA 2K” cover (Chris Paul on “NBA 2K8” and Anthony Davis on “NBA 2K16”).

Mamba Forever edition: Kobe Bryant

Bryant was previously seen on the cover of “NBA 2K10” and the Legend edition of “NBA 2K17.”¬†

‘NBA 2K21’ cost

Similar to last year’s release of “NBA 2K,” prices vary¬†depending on how much is offered in each tier.¬†

‘NBA 2K21’ teaser trailer

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Damian Lillard doubts players will follow NBA’s bubble rules, questions league’s ‘best interests’

Damian Lillard thinks the NBA’s bubble may be popped.

With the NBA planning its Orlando restart in a “bubble” scenario with members of 22 teams being housed and isolated within the Disney World resort in Florida, many questions have been raised as to the plan’s overall safety and the¬†strict ruleset that the league has imposed on its players.

In asking a question of his own, the Trail Blazers guard cast doubt upon whether NBA players will be able to stay within the lines of the NBA’s restart guidelines.

“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard told¬†ESPN.¬†“My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom, everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”

Lillard detailed that while he and the rest of the NBA will have different forms of activities and entertainment, there are¬†still some questions as to whether the Association had the players’ “best interests” in mind.

“We’ll see if it was really well thought out and if they really had our best interests once we get there.”

Before the restart of the season, there was reported discourse between multiple angles among the players, with the safety of players and the potential that an NBA restart would take away from current protests and civil unrest around the country, with sports offering a distraction.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith also questioned if players will be able to handle the upcoming season without ‚Ķ extra-curricular activities.¬†

In any case, if one of the NBA’s most public-facing stars is questioning the stability of the bubble, maybe the league should listen.

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How the NBA restart rules work for substitute players now

What’s next for NBA teams now that the transaction window has closed?

Multiple teams made roster moves over the past week, including those included and excluded from the season restart in Orlando, Florida. Players can still opt out of participating, and teams can continue to add players to their rosters, though the rules for those transactions are different moving forward.

Here are answers to the key questions about what’s next, what happens if a player gets injured or tests positive for COVID-19, and when trades might be allowed.

MORE: Breaking down the latest roster moves ahead of the NBA restart

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Aussie star discovers perils of isolation

People across the world slowly lost their minds after being locked indoors thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

Health restrictions saw the vast majority of people remaining indoors and only venturing out to either walk the dog or quickly duck down to the shops.

The pandemic also saw workplaces shift to remote set ups to limit groupings of people. For most it meant going from the office set up to the couch in scenes akin to Groundhog Day.

But for professional athletes, being trapped indoors presented a whole new challenge for their normal routines and saw competitions across the globe come to an end.

For Australian NBA star and Spalding ambassador Matthew Dellavedova, he learned just how difficult life in isolation can be in the early stages of lockdown.

“The first six weeks we spent in Cleveland in a two-bedroom apartment, so I didn’t have access to a court or a hoop and it was still snowing every now and then outside so was running in downtown Cleveland through the snow,” Dellavedova said to news.com.au.

“The last few weeks we’ve been out in California and I’ve had access to a court and it’s been a lot more fun to get back onto the court and actually shoot hoops.”

But it was trying to keep up not only his fitness levels, but his basketball skills that caused plenty of unrest for Dellavedova and ultimately his neighbours, as the team went through drills in the safest way possible … via zoom.

“We’ve obviously had team meetings, we’ve done yoga classes. Our strength coach put together a few training classes,” Dellavedova said.

“One of our coaches did some ball handling workouts which, uh, when I was in Cleveland was interesting. I definitely think I owe my neighbours, downstairs and on either side, some tickets to some games when it can come back.

“I tried to keep it at a reasonable hour of the day, but it would have been pretty loud I think with the ball inside the apartment.”

Unfortunately for Delly the NBA return won’t include the Cleveland Cavaliers with the squad sitting to far outside of the playoff race to be in involved.

Despite the 2019/20 season being on ice for Delly, his focus has shifted to the future and what could happen when the Boomers assemble for the Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s disappointing, but we’re going to get together in the off-season and give it another crack,” Dellavedova said.

“I know we’re all motivated to go better and it’s probably going to be one of the last opportunities for this kind of core group that’s been together for quite a while.

“We’ve had confidence for a longtime that we can win against anybody and unfortunately we haven’t been able to get it done yet. But we’re all very motivated to finish the job.”

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76ers coach says no one has worked harder than Joel Embiid ahead of NBA’s return

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown said no one has worked harder than Joel Embiid as he hailed the All-Star ahead of the NBA’s return.

The 2019-20 NBA season is set to restart via a 22-team format at the Disney World complex in Orlando, Fla., on July 30 after the campaign was halted due to COVID-19 in March.

Embiid’s fitness has always been a topic of discussion, and all eyes will be on the three-time All-Star center when the NBA returns following the coronavirus pandemic.

Philadelphia’s first game back will be against¬†the Indiana Pacers, who share identical 39-26 records to be fifth and sixth respectively, on Aug.¬†1.

And Brown had high praise for Embiid’s training and conditioning midweek.

“Let’s start with the respect and applause I give him for putting in time. There is nobody on our team that has put in more time than Joel Embiid,” Brown told reporters on Wednesday.

“Forget what he has actually done in the gym for a minute, just go to the man hours and consecutive days and the amount of days he has put in over the past few months. I’m proud of him, I respect him. He needed to do it. We understand the impact he can have on our team.”

Embiid had been averaging 23.4 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game this season.

“We’ve got a three-week runway to deliver him to the regular season,” Brown said. “I’m looking for Joel to come in in as good of shape as he’s been in since I have coached him.

“I think the three weeks we have together is an inverted sort of luxury we haven’t had. I’m excited for Jo to get back into this and show what he has been doing the last few months.”

The 76ers ‚ÄĒ¬†14 games behind the Eastern Conference and NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) ‚ÄĒ¬†are also set to be boosted by the return of fellow All-Star Ben Simmons.

Simmons has been sidelined since February due to a back injury, but Brown added: “He’s good to go. He’s put in a tremendous amount of work for me to be able to confidently say that.

“As you search for silver linings with this pandemic and the way things have shaped up, it would be hard-pressed for me to find something more obvious than this: It’s enabled Ben to reclaim his health. He’s good to go, and we look forward to watching him with what I’m told is effectively 100 percent health.”

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Why Denver Nuggets’ Mike Malone is confident about reopening facility, resuming season with full roster

The Denver Nuggets closed their practice facility this week for a simple reason.

“We had multiple people in our traveling party test positive” for the coronavirus, Nuggets coach Mike Malone said Wednesday in a conference call.

Therefore, the Nuggets could not hold the first day of mandatory individual workouts as 21 other NBA teams did beginning on Wednesday. Nonetheless, Malone said “there is a chance we can open up the gym” before the team departs for Orlando on July 7.

That depends on when/if the Nuggets receive all negative tests for COVID-19 after initially testing on June 23. Nonetheless, Malone and Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly have had varying conversations with players in recent days about their pending participation in the resumed season beginning on July 30.

“There has been no indication that any of our players are not planning on attending Orlando,” Malone said. “With that said, if one of our players or a few of our players or coaches did not feel comfortable going, I would fully support them.”

Malone respectfully declined to name who currently has COVID-19. But Nuggets star Nikola Jokic has been one of them. Jokic has been in his native Serbia. NBA players who were overseas were scheduled to report to their team by June 15, but Jokic was granted an exception.

“He feels great. We’re working on getting him back here,” Malone said. “But the hope is he will be with us next Tuesday as we depart for Orlando the hope and expectation is Nikola Jokic will be with us as we head our plane down to Orlando. From everything I’ve heard and talking to him, he feels great and feels fine and is excited to get back.”

Malone said he feels the same way. He had felt symptoms on March 20, but he had not taken a test because of the state’s supply shortage.  He discovered around Memorial Day weekend that he had the virus after taking an antibody test. Afterwards, Malone joked with a CBS’ Denver affiliate, "I like to say that I got coronavirus and I kicked its butt.

“I was embarrassed. I made light of something that has devastated families,” said Malone, who has not seen his parents during quarantine. “It is definitely not something that should be taken lightly. It’s something I’m making jokes about how I kicked its butt. That was way off base. I feel bad about it. We as a family have dealt with it by staying together and relying on each other.”

Follow USA TODAY NBA writer Mark Medina on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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Lakers won’t replace Howard, ‘hopeful’ he’ll play

  • Lakers and NBA reporter for ESPN.
  • Covered the Lakers and NBA for ESPNLosAngeles.com from 2009-14, the Cavaliers from 2014-18 for ESPN.com and the NBA for NBA.com from 2005-09.

LOS ANGELES — Lakers coach Frank Vogel says the team will not seek a replacement player for Dwight Howard for the Orlando restart. And, according to Vogel, the team will not ask the replacement player that it did add, JR Smith, to play like the player he replaced, Avery Bradley.

Speaking on a video conference call with reporters Wednesday at the start of the Lakers’ “pre” training camp comprised of individual workouts before the team flies to Florida next week, Vogel restated L.A.’s commitment to the backup center.

“We’ve been in communication with Dwight the whole way with supportive phone calls and text messages,” Vogel said. “We don’t know what the level of participation is going to be yet. He wants to play. We’re hopeful that he’s able to join us.”

Howard is currently with his family in Georgia, where he is satisfying the NBA’s home quarantine and testing protocol required of all players who will participate in Orlando, a league source told ESPN.

Howard’s 6-year-old son, David, is in his care. David’s mother, Melissa Rios, died of an epileptic seizure on March 27 at her home in Calabasas, California.

Not only is Howard juggling his responsibilities as a father with preparation for the finale to the season, but as a Black man he has also been deeply affected by the social unrest facing this country, according to Howard’s agent, Charles Briscoe.

“Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction,” Howard said in a statement issued to CNN through Briscoe last month.

Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka told reporters this week that the team is working with Howard, Briscoe, the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association in order to find a workable path for the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year to eventually report to the team.

All 22 teams participating in the restart were required to submit to the league their 36-person traveling party list — including their roster of up to 17 players — by Wednesday. Vogel said “we don’t have any intention” of keeping Howard off the Lakers’ list.

“He has an extenuating circumstance that he’s working with the league on in terms of what that is ultimately going to look like,” Vogel said. “But we’re hopeful and optimistic that he’ll be able to join us in Orlando.”

The NBA has already assessed player circumstances on a case-by-case basis, as players have tested positive for COVID-19 before returning to their teams. Sacramento Kings forward Jabari Parker, for example, will remain in Chicago before joining his teammates in Orlando as he recovers from the coronavirus, rather than trek to the West Coast beforehand.

As for Smith, he officially signed a contract with the Lakers on Wednesday, giving L.A. another option at guard after Bradley opted out of playing in Orlando last week because of family concerns. The 34-year-old, who hasn’t played in the league since November of 2018, will wear No. 21 for the Lakers.

“In terms of what he brings to the table, just the experience factor,” Vogel said of Smith, who paired with LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers to win a championship in 2016. “I mean, this guy is a big-time player. He’s proven it over the course of his career. We know he can help us.

“We almost added him earlier in the year when we added Dion Waiters and now we have the luxury of having both. We’re not going to ask him to come in and be Avery Bradley. He’s going to come in and be JR Smith. He’s going to just fill that position, more than fill that role.”

The Lakers’ Instagram account posted photos of three players working out at their El Segundo, California, facility Wednesday: James, Anthony Davis and Alex Caruso.

Caruso, who averaged 17.8 minutes before the season was suspended to Bradley’s 24.2, said he hopes to pick up some of the slack created by Bradley’s absence.

“I’m not sure if I’m going to be the sole provider of everything that Avery did,” he said on a video conference call with reporters. “That’s a lot to ask for just because of how good he is at what he does. But I’m definitely going to be ready to fill part of that gap and that need.”

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Lillard has doubts on players following all rules

  • Covers the Oklahoma City Thunder for ESPN.com

As teams prepare to depart for Orlando in the next week, entering into the campus “bubble” environment, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard expressed serious doubt all the protocols and rules will be strictly followed by players.

“My confidence ain’t great,” Lillard said with a laugh on Wednesday. “My confidence ain’t great because you’re telling me you’re gonna have 22 teams full of players following all the rules? When we have 100 percent freedom everybody don’t follow all the rules. I don’t have much confidence. But hopefully it’ll be handled to a point where we’re not putting everybody at risk or in a dangerous position.”

The 22 teams that are part of the NBA restart will arrive in Orlando beginning on July 7 and will be tested, isolating for up to 48 hours, and then tested again. From there, it will become a bubble environment, with interaction between the outside world basically eliminated. Close family members will eventually join the bubble beginning with the second round of the playoffs.

In Florida, COVID-19 cases are rising sharply, which has led to questions about the NBA’s plan.

“The fact that we’re going to be in a bubble, it kind of knocks it down and limits the chance of us being exposed to everybody else outside the bubble in Orlando,” Lillard said. “I think it is a safer situation. But I don’t think it’s possible for them to protect us 100 percent. I think everybody’s going there understanding that.”

The league gave teams a 113-page document outlining all the protocols and rules of the bubble. A player who breaks the bubble and leaves campus will be quarantined for at least 10 days and have to undergo deep-nasal testing. Players can’t go into each other’s rooms but can eventually socialize with video games, one-on-one ping-pong and golf.

Lillard said his plan for handling the circumstances will be simple: basketball and chill.

“I know they’re going to activities for us and all that stuff, but I mean, I’m gonna be chilling. I feel like there’s still a possibility for something to spread within that bubble, just with so many people doing so many different things that we’ve got to follow to be safe, even though we’re not exposed to the public. So for me, it’s going to be what time is practice, what time can I get in the weight room, what time can I get some shots up, what’s the plan for gameday. And then I’m gonna be in the room. I’m gonna have my PS3, my PS4, I’m gonna have my studio equipment, my mic, my laptop, I’m gonna have all my books. That’s it, man. I’m gonna be in the room, chilling.”

When facilities re-opened for voluntary workouts, there wasn’t an official restart plan in place and Lillard said following the protocols were challenging — no locker room access, can’t help a teammate with long rebounds, specific towels and water bottles, no weight room or showers.

“It was just so many rules where everybody was like, ‘Man, are we even playing? Is this even worth it?'” Lillard said. “And when they were like ‘Alright, we’re playing, this is where the location is,’ it seemed like it was rolling at that point. Guys showing up more consistently … Just having something to look forward to, something to work for helped a lot.”

Lillard said he’s going in with an open mind, but won’t know how good the plan really is until he sees it in action.

“We’ll see if it was really well thought out and if they really had our best interests once we get there,” he said.

The Blazers enter the restart in a difficult position, 3.5 games back of the Grizzlies for the 8-seed. The Blazers need to be within four games of the 8-seed to at least force a play-in round.

“It’s basically an eight-game season and we’re starting off behind,” Lillard said.

But the Blazers do have one thing working in their favor: health. They expect to have center Jusuf Nurkic back, who missed the last year recovering from a gruesome broken leg, and Zach Collins, who missed three months early last season because of shoulder surgery.

Lillard was vocal before the league’s plan was announced, saying he wasn’t interested in participating in a restart if the Blazers didn’t have anything to play for. But he said with the way things are set up, he’s excited for the chance to go play again.

“The only thing I asked for was the opportunity to make it,” he said. “And we’ve been given that, so we’re going to show up and do what we gotta do. Simple as that.”

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