Observations From The Seeding Games in the NBA Bubble
August 7th, 2020
by Alan Lu
The first week of the NBA regular season in the bubble at Orlando, Florida, already has went down, and it has been quite eventful. There have been many pleasantly, interesting stories that has been happening right now. Here are my thoughts on what’s going on around the league.
The San Antonio Spurs have been surging since the time off, and they’re playing well at the right time to try to be the team to force a play-in game. Head coach Gregg Popovich has done a great job of utilizing his roster, and the starting lineup of DeMar DeRozan at the four has worked out quite well for them. Jakob Poeltl is back, as he’s provided them with solid interior play, and their guards, Dejounte Murray and Derrick White have packed a strong scoring punch for them to bolster their team.
The Spurs have won 3 of 5 games in Orlando, and they have beaten Memphis and Utah this past week. They have closing in on Memphis and Portland, as they are 1 1/2 games back of the Grizzlies, and are 1 game back of the Trail Blazers with three games left to play. They have a chance to climb up the standings if they get wins over New Orleans, Houston, and Utah. The lesson here is, never underestimate the Spurs or count them out because they will fight to the last second.
The New Orleans Pelicans look rusty and out of sync. After Zion Williamson had been out of the bubble, his minutes have been restricted, and his conditioning has not seemed to be what it was before the season was suspended. He’s played well for stretches, and his tremendous strength and magnetic athleticism still serves him well as a scorer around the basket, but other times, he’s just going into double teams and it’s as if he is trying to go through brick walls to score inside. Sometimes it works, but when it doesn’t, it looks ugly. It also doesn’t help that the Pelicans have really struggled defensively, and when he’s out of the game, they’ve looked lost. All-Star forward, Brandon Ingram has been prone to making some really careless mistakes at times. With the myriad of issues that the Pelicans are facing, it’s now looking highly unlikely that they will make the playoffs.
Much of the focus to start the season was on the Los Angeles Lakers’ thrilling, two-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers on July 30th, as LeBron James scored on a go-ahead basket to get his team the 103-101 win, but what’s been seemingly lost in the shuffle is that the Toronto Raptors then beat the Los Angeles Lakers shortly afterwards. The Raptors are an excellent defensive team, and are well-coached by head coach Nick Nurse. The Raptors have good chemistry from last year, Marc Gasol’s healthy, and they pretty much have their full lineup back. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam both are playing really well right now. The Lakers are still sort of struggling to figure out their rotation around LeBron and Anthony Davis, but they’ll be back and running when the postseason starts.
I was really excited to watch Jamal Crawford suit up for the Brooklyn Nets, even though he had sat out the first two games back in the bubble. He played terrific basketball for six minutes against Milwaukee, and it seemed clear that he was back. Unfortunately, he later suffered a hamstring injury, and his night, and perhaps his season was over. Hopefully, he can come back to play just before the season ends, but it would be understandable if he didn’t.
The Portland Trail Blazers are playing very well with Jusuf Nurkic back. Gary Trent Jr. has been a reliable 3 and D guy off the bench, and Damian Lillard is back to hitting big shots for them in the clutch. Carmelo Anthony also has been playing very well in the bubble, and has embraced his role as a complimentary player for the Blazers.
For the Indiana Pacers, T.J. Warren scored 53 points in his team’s win over the Philadelphia 76ers. This game was interesting for several reasons. One, T.J. Warren has noticeably improved his outside shot, and that gives the Pacers another reliable scorer and go-to guy to help them for the playoffs.
Two, the 76ers still looked sort of dysfunctional, as they have been struggling with their chemistry, and now Ben Simmons is injured, and is out for the year. In this game against the Pacers, Joel Embiid and second-year point guard Shake Milton were embroiled in a heated, screaming match on the sidelines after a breakdown, and the two had to be separated. Luckily for Shake though, after having an abysmal first game against Indiana, Milton went on to play very well against San Antonio and Washington, and the 76ers will need his shooting and playmaking skills to come in handy for them throughout the rest of the year.
Ben Simmons played well, but still showed a strong reluctance to take three-point shots in games. With one of their best players out for the year, the 76ers will be shorthanded in the playoffs, but their loss to the Pacers raises questions if Embiid and Ben Simmons can fully mesh together to carry their team for a deep playoff run in the future.
The Phoenix Suns have been surprisingly good in the bubble. They have won some tough games, as they have rattled off wins over Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers, and Indiana. Devin Booker has carried the way as he made a stunning, game-winning shot against the Clippers, and the Suns are still in the playoff hunt. In fact, as of right now, they have a better record then both New Orleans and Sacramento. It’s uncertain if there’s enough time for them to force a play-in game, but it’s fun watching them compete and play out here.
The Miami Heat came agonizingly close to pulling off an upset win over the Milwaukee Bucks, but the Bucks received strong play from Eric Bledsoe, who was able to drive to the hoop at will to score down the stretch, Donte DiVincenzo knocked down outside shots, and the Bucks played shutdown defense to pull away to get a double-digit victory. Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued to play terrific basketball this season, and he’s shown tremendous scoring skills, and has made play after play to help his team rack up wins.
There are still questions about Giannis’ outside shot, if the other players on the Bucks can be counted on down the stretch to get them tough playoff wins, but if this was a test for them, the Milwaukee Bucks passed this one. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a terrific player, and if Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and DiVincenzo can play as well as they did here down the stretch, that will serve them very well, as the Bucks could prove to be a strong contender that may have what it takes to win a title. They’ll face stiff competition from teams such as the Lakers, Clippers, and the Raptors though, so it will be fun watching how it unfolds in the postseason.