My thoughts on another busy day in the NBA Bubble!
It was a pretty entertaining Thursday in the NBA Bubble. Six games like usual, with a quadruple-header spread between NBA TV (one game) and TNT (three games). I’m only covering the nationally-televised games, meaning no coverage of the Suns’ big win over the Pacers or Damian Lillard and Gary Trent Jr. hitting a combined 18 triples to help the Trail Blazers defeat the Nuggets.
What was your biggest takeaway from Thursday’s action? Let me know in the comments!
Also, programming note: My thoughts on Friday’s action will be part of my “Weekend Takeaways” article. So have an awesome weekend, please be safe out there, and see you Monday!
Sacramento Kings 140, New Orleans Pelicans 125
Soooo….not the most sterling defensive performance for either side. But it seems the Pelicans’ saloon doors had a little more WD-40 on them. The point total they surrendered tied a season-high, giving up two 40-point frames (49 points in the 1st, 40 in the 3rd) to “accomplish” this feat.
Bogdan Bogdanovic was a man on fire! Talk about a redemption game! In his last game against Dallas, he shot a woeful 1-of-15 from the field. Today, he scorched the nets for 35 points (a new personal best!) on 13-of-20 shooting from the field, including 6-of-9 from 3-point range. He really is a hidden gem out there in Sacramento, and I’m glad I happened to catch a game where his talent was on full display.
De’Aaron Fox was also pretty fun to watch, as he finished with 30 points and 10 assists. He’s just so smooth and crafty with the ball it feels like he can do whatever he wants. Fox may have a new haircut, but his game is still the same!
Also, Fellow Moraine Valley Alum Richaun Holmes had eight points, five rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Here’s hoping his Bogdan Game is right around the corner.
The Pelicans did what they could to keep up. I mean, 125 points in a game is impressive in its own right. But the defense was just so bad. Zion Williamson looked good, scoring 24 points in 22 minutes, going 10-of-12 from the field. Sometimes it feels unfair that a tank like him can move so well on the floor. Hopefully his minutes continue to increase in future games. Maybe he can help a bit more on the defensive end.
Lastly, one of the interesting quirks about this game is that it was fast-paced without a lot of transition scoring. NBA.com clocks the pace of this game at 101.5 possessions per team per 48 minutes, but both teams combined for just six fastbreak points; Sacramento had four, New Orleans had two.
Milwaukee Bucks 130, Miami Heat 116
Not gonna lie, I was worried about Milwaukee there for the first 24 minutes. The Bucks were down 73-56 at halftime, and had been down by as many as 23 points. But they managed to come out of the locker room and do a 180. Next thing y’know, it’s tied at 86 with 3:03 remaining in the third quarter. The Bucks would outscore the Heat 44-30 the rest of the way.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton really stepped up in this game, wielding dual 33-point games. Giannis shot a gorgeous 13-of-17 from the field, had 12 rebounds, and threw down some pretty sweet dunks in the process. Middleton went 5-of-6 from beyond the arc. These are Milwaukee’s two All-Stars, so this team is going to go as they do. They really needed a good afternoon like this.
One thing Milly will have to work on is their perimeter defense. They went into The Hiatus allowing the most three-point attempts per game in the NBA (38.6). Teams apparently remember that, because they’ve really been firing them up in The Bubble. The Bucks have allowed 50.3 three-point attempts per game so far in this restart, obviously the most of anyone.
But not only have opponents been taking them, they’ve also been making them. Miami made 21 threes today, making this the third consecutive game that a Bucks foe has made that many. Today, the Bucks did the right things to keep that from stinging them like it has in their last two games. However, it’s clear that this is something they should probably clean up before the playoffs get underway.
Honestly, I feel for Miami: they had it and then they didn’t. The Heat were without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic for this game, but they were running like a well-oiled machine anyway in the first half. However, Milwaukee turned up the volume in the second half and the game took on a much more expected outcome than when we were on upset alert in the second quarter.
Kendrick Nunn, without Dragic playing over his shoulder, had his first decent game in awhile by scoring 14 points. Duncan Robinson had a team-high 21 points, so he seems to be back to his old self after a rough one against the Toronto Raptors. Then there’s Tyler Herro, who finished with 20 points in this game, his highest point total since Feb. 1. This also marked his third straight game in double-figures, so here is another young Heat player that has been making strong contributions in The Bubble.
Los Angeles Clippers 126, Dallas Mavericks 111
Don’t let the score fool you: This was a well-played game for both teams. Granted, the one-point Clippers lead at halftime did balloon to 12 with 5:06 left in the third quarter. However, the Mavericks pushed back and managed to tie the game at 101 with 6:41 left in the 4th.
In the end, though, the Clippers just happened to have one more big run left in them. LA reeled off a 25-10 run to close out the game and secure the win.
Naturally, Kawhi Leonard (29 points) and Paul George (24 points) led the charge for LAC with their superstar selves. But guess who was the third leading scorer? Ivica Zubac! He finished the evening with 21 points (on 10-of-10 shooting!) and 15 rebounds.
This is Zubac’s second big game, after dropping 18 & 12 yesterday against the Phoenix Suns. For a team that prefers to play smaller, 7-footer Ivica is giving the Clippers a different identity while Montrezl Harrell is still out.
Of course, Zubac has been the starting center all season, but he was only averaging 18.1 minutes per game before the Hiatus. He has averaged 21.4 minutes in the Bubble, playing 24 minutes in each of the last two games. I think that little extra time on the floor gives him a better chance to get into a groove. We’ll see if my theory holds in subsequent games.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks may have fallen to 1-3 in the Bubble, but make no mistake: they have been competing. This loss is their most decisive game of the Restart, while their previous three were determined by a combined 10 points.
Luckily for the Mavs, they’ve secured the seventh seed. So while their Bubble record isn’t the best, they can simply spend the rest of this re-seeding round focusing on getting healthier and more cohesive. That’s especially important because the Clippers have also secured the second seed, meaning these two will be meeting again in the First Round!
Houston Rockets 113, Los Angeles Lakers 97
Yuck. This was a terrible game to end this week of Nightly Notebooks on.
I feel like the Lakers are gaslighting me. I have so many issues with their play right now, but I also have this sinking feeling that none of it is going to matter in two weeks.
I could go on and on about their stagnant offense, or how Anthony Davis isn’t nearly as impactful on the floor as I think a guy with his talent and skillset should be, forcing me to question how this team will survive anytime LeBron James is off the floor. I could even say that I think the Laker’s role players are clearly too inconsistent to be trusted to make big contributions in the playoffs, and that this will end up being their downfall.
However, we’ve seen LeBron drag far lesser teams by the ear and into the NBA Finals. So there’s a very sizable chance that all the irritation I’m feeling towards this team right now will be rendered moot once they finish dismantling whoever their first round opponent is (I’m thinking Portland or Phoenix) after James averages 42 points in the four-game series.
So, basically, it’s whatever. I’m over it. The prisoner-of-the-moment in me wants to think this two-game stretch is a harbinger. But you and I both know this is more than likely an anomaly.
I will say something nice about one Laker, though. Chicago native Talen Horton-Tucker played the first substantial minutes of his career. Pre-Hiatus, he had only five total minutes over two games. Tonight, he logged just over 19 minutes and looked pretty promising in the process. He finished with 10 points (on 4-of-6 shooting) and four(!!) steals. He has the tools (especially the wingspan) to become a productive two-way player, so be sure to keep an eye out on him.
Russell Westbrook sat out for Houston tonight, so James Harden had the chance to use this game as his playground. He did whatever he wanted against these Zombie Lakers, racking up 39 points, 12 assists, and eight rebounds. 25 of those points came in the first half.
Ben McLemore also had a big first half, scoring 17 points. He finished the game with 20. It’s just good to see him fit into a NBA system after wandering in the basketball wilderness for the first six seasons of his career.
There was a point in the game where I thought the Lakers were about to turn things around, and I was going to have to eat my words. After Houston took a 91-73 lead with 2:13 left in the third, LA started to slowly chip away at the deficit. They got it down to five, 94-89, with 7:59 left in the fourth. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, they lost it as soon as they had it. The Lakers immediately conceded a 16-2 run and that was basically all she wrote.
Despite the loss, LA already secured the top seed in the Western Conference two games ago. Also, we understand that LeBron James is going to bring his A-game come playoff time. However, judging by the last two games, it’s clear that the rest of this roster has plenty of room for improvement before the postseason gets underway.