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NBA action continued to pick up this past week, with games getting more intense and individual performances only getting more impressive. Below, our 10 biggest takeaways from Week 2 of the Orlando bubble.
1. Devin Booker is turning the corner as a player. The Suns 2-guard was an All-Star for the first time this season, though he made it as a replacement for an injured Damian Lillard, and even so, it’s clear that he’s playing at an even higher level in the bubble. The Suns are the only undefeated team in Orlando and Booker has been the primary reason for that, averaging 28 points and 6.5 assists over four games. We wanted to see Booker do it when it matters, in important late-season games, and he’s doing just that.
2. The Lakers’ poor bubble offense is getting concerning. Through five games in Orlando, the Los Angeles Lakers have by far the worst offense of all the bubble teams, scoring just 95.7 points per 100 possessions. The next worst offense, which surprisingly belongs to the Raptors, is nearly a full seven points per 100 possessions better than that. Sure, LeBron James missed one of those games for L.A. but even so, this is getting a tad worrisome with the playoffs right around the corner. The Lakers are converting a bubble-worst 23.4 percent of their three-point looks.
3. There are a few surprise stars of the bubble going off. TJ Warren, Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Trent – three solid players who have taken their games to another level in Orlando. Warren ranks second in bubble scoring, trailing just James freaking Harden himself, at 33.8 points per game. Porter is 10th at 26.3 points per contest, which is especially interesting considering he scored 20-or-more points in a game just twice before getting to Orlando. And Trent is leading the bubble in three-point shooting (minimum: 25 attempts), knocking down an astronomical 62.9 percent of his outside looks through four games.
4. The West’s 8th seed still goes through Memphis. After a massively important (and dominant) win over the Thunder on Friday, the Grizzlies now have a great chance to at least force a play-in game for the final playoff spot in the West. Losing Jaren Jackson Jr. hurt, and they’re going to be putting a ton of pressure on their rookie phenom Ja Morant, but the Grizzlies are still in a decent position to be one of the final two teams fighting for a place in the postseason.
5. Now healthy, the Blazers are flat-out scary. Memphis’ biggest foe for the final playoff spot in the West is undoubtedly Portland, who is 3-1 in the bubble and boasts the fourth-best net rating in Orlando. With an MVP-level Damian Lillard, a stud backcourt mate in CJ McCollum, a quickly-developing Gary Trent Jr. knocking down threes, Carmelo Anthony stepping up in clutch situations and a now-healthy Jusuf Nurkic, Portland might be able to make some noise in the playoffs. For what it’s worth, Charles Barkley has them coming out of the West. We won’t go that far, but they’re certainly a team to keep an eye on.
6. Brooklyn has stepped up despite the odds being against them. We’ll eat crow here: We said last week that the Nets, without most of their top players in Orlando, might go winless in the bubble. We were way off, as the team, led by Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris, have stepped up big time, going 3-2 over their last five games and locking up their spot in the playoffs. Good on you, Nets. Jacque Vaughn is making a strong case to keep that head coaching gig next season.
7. The Heat need to get healthy, and soon. With Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic sitting out back-to-back games and set to miss a third contest in a row today, Miami doesn’t have much time to get healthy before the playoffs. The Heat won’t go far without their best and third-best players for a long stretch.
8. How will Philadelphia do without Ben Simmons? With an injured Ben Simmons set to potentially miss a good chunk of time, it’ll be fascinating to see how the Sixers do with Joel Embiid the focal point of the team once again. In their one full game without the All-Star point guard, Philadelphia handled Orlando pretty easily, winning 108-101 behind 23 points and 13 rebounds for Embiid. A player who could see his role expand sans Simmons: Al Horford, who also did well against the Magic with 21 points and nine rebounds.
9. The Spurs will not go away. San Antonio, an afterthought this season restart, especially after the news that LaMarcus Aldridge wouldn’t be joining them in Orlando, is 3-2 in the bubble, two games behind Memphis and one behind Portland, and has a legitimate shot to make the playoffs. This might be one of Gregg Popovich’s more impressive recent coaching feats.
10. Indiana’s next few games are going to be hugely important for their future. That’s because if they suffer an unceremonious first-round defeat, even without Domantas Sabonis available, we could see them undergo a head coaching change this summer. More on that below.
A NEW HOT SEAT? According to Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe, there’s scuttle going around the bubble that Nate McMillan’s job could be in jeopardy this offseason, a surprise considering his 181-137 record as the team’s head coach.
ARGENTINE STAR NBA-BOUND? There are strong indications out there that Facundo Campazzo, elite point guard for Real Madrid, could be headed to the NBA this offseason.
MAJOR LOSS IN PHILLY: It looks like the Sixers could be without star point guard Ben Simmons for a while after a knee injury forced him out of a mid-week game.
HIGH PRAISE: Gregg Popovich paid Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic a huge compliment this week, comparing the All-NBA center to Larry Bird and Moses Malone.
NEAR MISS: Look away, Knicks fans, because apparently, Kemba Walker was very interested in signing with New York last summer before Boston came along.
AWARD WINNERS: We polled multiple award-voters and collected other votes from media members who made theirs public to give ourselves a good idea of who this season’s major award-winners are going to be. It looks like Giannis is about to be an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season.
A LONG REIGN: Patrick McCaw has been an NBA champion three seasons running, giving him the second-longest championship reign since the 1960’s, trailing just Steve Kerr.
STRUGGLING LATE: We took a deep dive into Luka Doncic’s late-game struggles for the Dallas Mavericks this season.
STAY MELO: Although the media and NBA teams themselves counted out Carmelo Anthony prior to his resurgence in Portland, fellow players have always been in his corner.
LOOKING AHEAD: We haven’t even had the 2020 draft yet, but we decided to take a look ahead to 2021 anyway to see how the mock draft prognosticators think that class is going to shake out.
Basketball, NBA, Newsletter, Newsletter, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, LeBron James, Michael Porter, TJ Warren, Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers