Two teams have played to a 3-0 mark in the bubble thus far – the Phoenix Suns and the Indiana Pacers. That will end on Thursday for one of them, as they face each other at 4 p.m. in the Visa Athletic Center.
Devin Booker was the most recent to posterize Paul George with a game winning three, shades of Damian Lillard’s splash over George when he was a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder and got waved bye bye to by Lillard. Someone needs to tell Paul George this isn’t the best way to get on a poster.
Speaking of Lillard, a year and a half later he, C.J. McCollum, and Jusuf Nurkic got the best of the Houston Rockets last night to springboard their time in the bubble.
T.J. Warren is averaging a Bubble MVP-like 39.7 points per game, and the Milwaukee Bucks’ slide continues due to load management – so they still haven’t clinched the Eastern Conference with five games remaining.
Brooklyn Nets 119
Milwaukee Bucks 116
I’m thinking load management isn’t the best thing right now for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not when your No. 2 scorer is throwing things up at a 28.6 percent rate from downtown and a 37.5 percent click from everywhere. Not when your No. 3 guy makes his bubble debut and drops eight points on 20 percent shooting. Or when your next highest scorer is only 13 points, 11th off the bench, and only gets two rebounds.
I get it that even the best teams have down games. Hell, the Los Angeles Lakers had one against Toronto and even got beat by the Dallas Mavericks two weeks ago in a scrimmage. But this was the second game of a two game slide – wouldn’t it be nice to clinch before you coast?
Not to mention that if things stay 1 – 8 in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, you just gave a patchwork team confidence that they can beat you. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is gaining confidence in the bubble, making a name for himself in Brooklyn after near anonymous runs in Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, and Chicago.
The Miami Heat are up next, and I guarantee they aren’t going to roll over and flame out. It’s a chance to beat the best in the NBA and they’ll take full advantage of it. Brooklyn did …
|NETS (32-35) 8th in the East||BUCKS (54-14) 1st in the East, NBA|
26 points – three rebounds – one assist
16 points – six rebounds – two assists – four steals
19 points – five rebounds – four assists – two blocks
13 points – two rebounds
11 points – four rebounds – two assists – one block
11 points – 10 rebounds – two assists – one block
Nets vs. Celtics – Tonight
Bucks vs. Heat – Thursday
Dallas Mavericks 114
Sacramento Kings 110 (OT)
It took a near perfect performance from Luka Doncic to beat the 12th place Sacramento Kings … and it took overtime at that.
I firmly agree with my good friend and colleague Brianna Ramirez, who asked the age old To Tell the Truth question, ‘Will the Real Dallas Mavericks Please Stand Up?’ in her fantastic piece yesterday.
I mean, they finally got a win, after a 20-13 fourth quarter knotted things up at 95-95. They went on to outscore the Kings 19-15 to get their first official win in the bubble, after Doncic hit the tie breaking shot with less than two minutes remaining in the extra period. Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway, Jr. threw in 22 points apiece, and Dorian Finney-Smith added 16 and 16 in the win.
Sacramento was once again paced by the talents of De’Aaron Fox, but got a good game from Buddy Hield, who stepped up with 21, while Kent Bazemore added 16 points. Nemanja Bjerlica chipped in a dozen and grabbed 13 rebounds. The Kings went 0 for eight from downtown in the second quarter and ended up at 16 of 43 overall.
Dallas made up for its statistical shortages by grabbing 61 rebounds to Sacramento’s 47, and only committing 21 fouls to the Kings’ 37 hacks.
|MAVERICKS (41-29) 7th in the West||KINGS (28-39) 13th in the West|
34 points – 20 rebounds – 12 assists – two blocks
28 points – three rebounds – nine assists – two steals
22 points – seven rebounds – two assists – two steals
21 points – four rebounds – three assists – one steal
|Tim Hardaway, Jr.|
22 points – five rebounds
16 points – two rebounds – two steals – one block
Mavericks vs. Clippers – Thursday
Kings vs. Pelicans – Thursday
Phoenix Suns 117
Los Angeles Clippers 115
The Phoenix Suns are playing like they have nothing to lose … because they don’t.
The Suns came into the bubble with the worst seeding record in the Western Conference and have won three straight games, rolling over the Washington Wizards, the Dallas Mavericks, and now the Los Angeles Clippers.
Phoenix used the strength and distance of a 63-56 first half lead and solid defense to keep the pesky Clippers at bay last evening, holding L.A. to 56 points in the first half and 59 in the second. They also shot an incredible 53 percent from downtown to the Clippers’ horrid eight of 29 – this was a team that hit a franchise record 25 three pointers two nights ago.
Phoenix made 17 three pointers. Two fewer turnovers and a four assist advantage also helped the Suns eclipse L.A.
The Suns were led by the scorching touch of Devin Booker, who not only shot 52 percent from the field and 67 percent from beyond the arc, but hit a 35’ shot at the buzzer to give Phoenix a 3-0 start in the bubble – the least likely, yet only, team to do so … until the Indiana Pacers played the Orlando Magic later in the evening.
Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined for 50 on the night, but other than Ivica Zubac’s 18 and 12, got little help, and are missing the ferocity and athleticism that Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams brought all season long. Williams was a shadow of himself at seven, six, and six in 21 minutes of action, his first in the bubble.
Reggie Jackson was worse as the sixth man off the bench, and Patrick Beverly even more pathetic in a starting role. The Clippers now sit 6.5 games back of their Big Brother Lakers.
|SUNS (29-39) 12th in the West||CLIPPERS (45-22) 2nd in the West|
35 points – four rebounds – eight assists
27 points – seven rebounds – three assists – one steal
19 points – seven rebounds – four assists
23 points – six rebounds – five assists
18 points – three rebounds – four assists
18 points – 12 rebounds – one block
Suns vs. Pacers – Thursday
Clippers vs. Mavericks – Thursday
Orlando Magic 109
Indiana Pacers 120
If there’s an MVP of the bubble games, it might just be T.J. Warren. At least that’s what the Indiana Pacers would say if polled.
Warren worked his magic for a third straight game, leading his team to victory over the Orlando Magic, who dropped to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with the loss and Brooklyn’s win over the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Indiana forward has totaled 119 points, averaging 39.7, over Indiana’s three game run in the bubble, all wins, matching only the Phoenix Suns for such a feat. The loss breaks a five game win streak for the Magic.
The Pacers raced out to a 21 point first quarter advantage and then rode that cushion all the way through the other 36 minutes of play. Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo combined for 44, 11, and four, while Malcolm Brogdon, Aaron Holiday, and T.J. McConnell kicked in a dozen apiece.
Nikola Vucevic led the Magic for the first time in the bubble with 24 and 10, Aaron Gordon and Terrence Ross combined for 40, while James Ennis III had 12 and Markelle Fultz finished with 10. Orlando has been swept by the Pacers for the past four seasons. It’s a sleight of hand they’ve yet to figure out.
|MAGIC (32-36) 8th in the East||PACERS (42-26) 5th in the East|
24 points – 10 rebounds – two assists – one steal
32 points – two rebounds – three assists – three steals – one block
20 points – seven rebounds – three assists – one steal
21 points – six rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
20 points – three rebounds – one steal
13 points – five rebounds – two assists – two steals
Magic vs. Raptors – Tonight
Pacers vs. Suns – Thursday
Boston Celtics 106
Miami Heat 112
After losing their last game to the Toronto Raptors, the basketball club from Miami turned up the Heat on the vaunted Boston celtics last night, making a statement that they’re not just in Orlando to make an appearance and bow out gracefully.
Bam Adebayo led the club for the second time in three games – both wins, I might add – and also without the assistance of Jimmy Butler, who did not play due to a sore right ankle. Adebayo went for 21 and 12, while Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic combined for 41 in support.
Boston was led by its Big Four in Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker and Gordon Hayward, who combined for 71 of the Celtics’ 106 points. A 63-51 first half gave the Heat all the buffer they needed to keep Boston at arm’s length.
The Celtics ripped off an impressive 16-3 run to get to 69-68 halfway through the third quarter, but then Miami tore out a 14-2 spurt of their own in response. Marcus Smart fouling out in the middle of that run didn’t help the Celtics.
|CELTICS (44-23) 3rd in the East||HEAT (43-25) 4th in the East|
23 points – seven rebounds – one assist – one steal – one block
21 points – 12 rebounds – two assists – one steal – one block
18 points – 10 rebounds – two steals – one block
21 points – three rebounds – two assists – one block
|Gordon Hayward15 points – seven rebounds – three assists||Goran Dragic|
20 points – three rebounds – two assists – two steals
Celtics vs. Nets – Tonight
Heat vs. Bucks – Thursday
Houston Rockets 102
Portland Trailblazers 110
It may be a stretch at this point, and it’s definitely a hindsight opinion, but it looks like the Houston Rockets gave up on Clint Capela a little too soon, given how Jusuf Nurkic had his way last night against Robert Covington and the small ball Rockets.
Nary a true center on their roster – aside from Tyson Chandler, who did not play – Mike D’Antoni’s Houston Rockets have gone the small ball route since sending Capela to Atlanta and Coach D isn’t have any more consistent success winning with that formula than he did using it in Phoenix with Amar’e Stoudemire as the Suns center.
Exciting basketball? Yes. Wins? Yes. But consistency enough to keep a coaching contract or get a team to an NBA Championship? No
Nowhere. Not Denver. Not Phoenix. Not in New York. Not L.A. And the jury’s still out on Houston, while they’ve looked sharp at times – like when they incredible defense to smother the Milwaukee Bucks two nights ago – they’ve also been as inconsistent as James Harden’s shooting percentage and Russell Westbrook’s turnovers.
Still, they remain in the conversation as a team that could pop this bubble league and surprise everyone with contention for an NBA Championship. So much so that the Brooklyn Nets are eyeing how D’Antoni and the Rockets do to make a run at the coach when this disjointed season is over.
And it’s that conversation about Houston, not Portland, that fuels a fire in the Trailblazers hotter and bigger than any Antifa hot dog and marshmallow roast outside the Mark O. Hatfield federal courthouse.
And that internal fire is what spurred on the Blazer last night as their top two worked hand in hand with the Bosnian Beast to bring the Rockets back to earth last night. Nurkic’s 18 points and 19 rebounds weren’t just pedestrian numbers. That’s a solid game from someone who’s come back from the type of injury that Nurkic has, and an expectation that everyone from Neil Olshey to Terry Stotts to Jusuf Nurkic himself has had as a goal in his rehabilitation and return.
Portland sits a game and a half back of the Memphis Grizzlies and is in contention for the play-in situation for the eighth and final spot. They keep playing like this, they’re in … and then eyeing redemption for the way they went out last year.
|ROCKETS (42-25) 4th in the West||TRAILBLAZERS (31-38) 9th in the West|
23 points – six rebounds – nine assists
21 points – nine rebounds – eight assists – two steals
22 points – six rebounds – one assist
20 points – seven rebounds – five assists
|Danuel House, Jr.|
17 points – four rebounds – three assists
18 points – 19 rebounds – three assists – one steal – three blocks
Rockets vs. Lakers – Thursday
Blazers vs. Nuggets – Thursday
(All Times Eastern)
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Tracy Graven is a Senior NBA Analyst for BackSportsPage.com.
He has written the NBA, and done NBA radio, for the last two decades for HoopsWorld, Swish Magazine, and HoopsHype, the Coach Scott Fields Show and NBARadioShow.com, and is also tackling the NFL, NCAA, and will be pinch-hitting on some Major League Baseball coverage for BackSportsPage.
He’s spent 20 years in locker rooms in
- Boise (G League)
- San Antonio
- Oklahoma City
A corporate trainer by day, he currently resides in SEC Country near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Reach him on Twitter at @RealTMoneyMedia
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