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Chris Paul, Trae Young in NBA’s plans for H-O-R-S-E competition

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul is expected to be one of multiple all-stars to compete in an upcoming H-O-R-S-E competition. (Eric Christian Smith/AP)
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With the NBA’s season suspended and practice facilities shuttered because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, multiple all-stars are planning to pass the time by returning to a favorite childhood game: H-O-R-S-E.

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley and Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine will participate in the competition, which will be televised by ESPN and also will feature Paul Pierce, Chauncey Billups, Tamika Catchings and Allie Quigley. Players will adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines by competing from home.

The tournament will consist of three rounds: The first will air Sunday at 7 p.m., while the semifinals and championship round will be held back-to-back on April 16 starting at 9 p.m.

This is not the NBA’s first foray into H-O-R-S-E, a shooting game in which a player accrues a letter whenever he can’t duplicate his opponent’s made attempt, with the first person to spell out H-O-R-S-E by failing to match five shots losing. At its best, H-O-R-S-E can be a platform for creative trick shots and humorous trash talk. At its worst, H-O-R-S-E devolves into a monotonous jump-shooting competition.

In 2009 and 2010, H-O-R-S-E was added to the official All-Star Weekend slate. Thunder forward Kevin Durant won both years, beating the likes of Joe Johnson, O.J. Mayo, Rajon Rondo and Omri Casspi, before the event was canceled because of unimaginative shooting and minimal buzz.

The 21-year-old Young, who started in his all-star debut this year, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday that he planned to lean on his deep three-point shooting skills, joking that he would take “half court shots only.” The undersized point guard also told LaVine, a two-time slam dunk contest champion, that “ABSOLUTELY NO DUNKING” would be allowed.

While Young’s specialty is the long-distance shot, the proposed field is stacked with capable shooters. Paul, a midrange specialist, shot 52 percent on long twos and 90 percent on free throws before the season was shut down March 11. He earned his 10th all-star selection this season.

The 32-year-old Conley struggled through a down season in Utah, but he is a career 38 percent three-point shooter and 82 percent free throw shooter. LaVine, meanwhile, was in the midst of a career year, averaging 25.5 points and shooting 38 percent on more than eight three-point attempts per game. He joined Young as a participant in the three-point contest at All-Star Weekend in Chicago this year.

Pierce retired in 2017 as a career 37 percent three-point shooter. Billups earned the nickname “Mr. Big Shot” during a career that stretched from 1997 to 2014. Catchings shot 36 percent on threes throughout a Hall of Fame career that spanned 15 WNBA seasons. Quigley has made three consecutive WNBA all-star appearances with the Chicago Sky and is a career 40 percent three-point shooter.

The NBA, which is facing a potential $1 billion revenue hit if it can’t salvage the 2020 playoffs, is pursuing creative ways to fill time and television programming holes during the ongoing sports shutdown, which is expected to drag on for months.

Unfortunately, the league’s hands are tied in numerous ways by the coronavirus. The NBA has advised teams to close their practice facilities and instructed its players to follow home-isolation guidelines, making five-on-five or three-on-three games impossible to conduct safely. Many players, including superstars, do not have access to a home court or even a basket to shoot on.

These conditions have forced the NBA to think outside the box. Last week, the league began televising an “NBA 2K” video game tournament that featured Durant and other stars. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was also the first guest on “#NBATogether,” a new social media talk show hosted by TNT commentator Ernie Johnson that launched on Monday.

“Sitting here today, I know less than I did [four weeks ago],” Silver said when asked about a possible timeline for the NBA’s return to the court. He added that the league would remain shut down until at least May 1.

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