Coming into the Orlando bubble, NBA fans could not have predicted how well the restart has progressed, with new breakout players emerging every game. The NBA is different than we last saw it, with teams fighting for playoff position every game bringing the passion and intensity to the court almost as if the playoffs had already started.
The Phoenix Suns have shocked NBA fans with their success thus far searching for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. They started official play with a win against the Washington Wizards led by Devin Booker who scored 27. Since then the Suns have defeated the Mavericks, Clippers, Pacers and Heat all of which are good teams with playoff hopes. The Suns are now the only undefeated team remaining in the bubble after the Raptors suffered a loss to the Boston Celtics. The Phoenix Suns had a great start to the NBA regular season in October with the addition of a Deandre Ayton’s three-point shot, which could make this team a difficult playoff matchup.
The Lakers have taken a step back since they clinched the number 1 seed in the Western Conference, but it is unlikely that this will slow them down come the start of the playoffs. LeBron James especially has taken his foot off the gas sitting out in a loss to the Houston Rockets and a potential first round matchup between the cold Lakers and a blazing Phoenix Suns team would be a tough turn around. Although LeBron has put up top tier stats he has not played with the sense of urgency on defense and the Lakers have only won two of their games in the bubble thus far. LeBron and Davis both struggled mightily against the Raptors shooting a combined 9-22 from the field. LeBron can ramp up his offensive game leading the Lakers with his big numbers throughout the other games, but without a real bench scorer, the Lakers are in trouble if LeBron or Anthony Davis struggle shooting the basketball in games that count.
The best player in the bubble right now is not Giannis Antetokounmpo or Lebron James, it is TJ Warren of the Indiana Pacers, who has been simply performing on another level since putting up 53 points against the Philadelphia 76ers. Averaging 34.8 point per game in Orlando, Warren has been knocking down shots at an extremely high clip shooting 60% from the field and 55% from deep. His incredible play is what has led the Pacers for big wins. While only losing one game to the red-hot Phoenix Suns, in their wins Warren has scored 53,34,32 and 39 which are crazy numbers for a player who normally shoots about 15 pts per game and who has always been known for his great defense. Warren is also currently averaging 1.8 blocks per game. The 4 months break in play gave time for Warren to improve his offensive game making him a more rounded player. Tomorrow night, Warren will face off against Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat, for the first time their scuffle in their last meet up. Butler called Warren “soft” and “trash” but now Warren has improved and is looking to put the Pacers in front of the Heat in the standings and a potential first round matchup between these teams could be remarkably interesting.
The Toronto Raptors are not the offensive juggernaut they were with Kawhi Leonard, but the defense is still there, and the Raptors have one of the top team defenses in the NBA if not the strongest defense. The Raptors take pride in their iron wall protecting the rim, forcing teams to hoist up threes but with quick forwards like Chris Boucher, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson most are contested. The Raptors currently hold the second-best record in the bubble with 4 wins and 1 loss. Led by veteran Kyle Lowry this team can bring the same intensity that their veteran player brings to every game. This intensity on defense and shot making ability on offense makes them a tough team to beat 4 times.
Michael Porter Jr. was a definite question mark coming out of high school as a top prospect then dropping to the Denver Nuggets with the 14th pick in the 2018 draft. Missing his entire rookie season and playing limited minutes throughout his second season really didn’t demonstrate how good he was, but now Porter has played his heart out lighting up both ends of the court averaging 26.3 points per game with 10 rebounds per game as well as 50% from deep an incredible number for a 6’10 forward. This breakout was exactly what the Nuggets needed to truly contend for a championship, an underrated offensive team with an effective team defense and they could find their way to the conference finals with the added offence of Porter.
The Brooklyn Nets possibly the most unremarkable team remaining in the bubble will make the playoffs without the star power of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant or the strong play of Spencer Dinwiddie and Deandre Jordan. This roster was not predicted to win a game in the bubble but was able to take down the NBA leading Milwaukee Bucks Winning 3 of their 5 games is a good mark for a team playing without 5 of the top 8 players on their roster, an impressive feat that can be contributed to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot who led the Nets with 26 points in the win against Milwaukee. With this improved play the Nets will compete in the playoffs for the second of two consecutive seasons, and although the chances of beating the number one seeded Bucks are slim, anything can happen in a 7-game series.
This article is original content published by sports writer Matthew White. Please feel free to link to and discuss this article but do not copy content.
Cheer for your favorite team in style with a NBA jersey! Click the link below.