Here are a few takeaways I got out of the wild weekend in the NBA Bubble…
Takeaway 1: A Weird War of Words
Saturday’s spat between Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and Damian Lillard during and following the Los Angeles Clippers‘ 122-117 win over the Portland Trail Blazers was definitely good Twitter timeline fodder. However, I must admit I found the timing of it a bit odd.
The bad blood between Lillard and Beverley & George was playoff-caliber. With Beverley mocking Lillard after his rough final minute (missing two free throws and a crucial three-pointer), and how the three of them went at it on Instagram, you would think this was the precursor to a hard-fought playoff series.
Unfortunately, Saturday’s game will likely be the final meeting between these two teams this season. The Clippers are locked into the second- or third- seed in the playoffs, while the Blazers are fighting just to get into the eighth seed. So the high tension between these two squads won’t be resolved for months, depending on how next season is formatted.
That honestly disappoints me. I’m pretty indifferent to off-court trash talking, but I love to see players put it all out on the court in response to, or in order to back up, what was said outside the lines. Social media definitely won’t forget what happened Saturday, so at least we know we’ll get a good game whenever these two franchises link up again.
Takeaway 2: Be Sure to Back it Up!
Speaking of backing up trash talk, if you’re going to bring the smoke against the Blazers and their best player, make sure you follow that up with a strong performance against an opponent that is missing six of its rotation players, including their two superstars.
Obviously, the Clippers staff have their eyes on the postseason and want to give their players a chance to rest and heal for the big run. However, their absence still feels like a couple of guys talking trash and then leaving the rest of their team high-and-dry the next game. Just not the best look.
Nevertheless, I’m sure whenever Beverley and George are active again they will be looking to walk their talk. Apparently, the Clips really need them right now, because…
Takeaway 3: It’s Raining in Southern California
Honestly, both Los Angeles teams have been disappointing in The Bubble. The Clippers are now 3-3, while the Los Angeles Lakers are 2-4 and currently on a 3-game losing streak.
The troubling part to me is that these teams are losing even when their superstars are playing substantial minutes. Both franchises have been utilizing a lot of load management for their stars, but when they do step on the court, their full impact still seems to be dampered by inconsistent play from themselves and the role players that are getting full or extended run.
The Basketball Nihilist in me assumes that these struggles won’t matter in two weeks when both teams are in the conference semifinals. However, I can’t help but be a little concerned when the Lakers get 35 minutes each out of LeBron James and Anthony Davis and still lose by five to the Indiana Pacers.
Takeaway 4: Brooklyn Goes Hard in the Restart
On the other side of the coin, major props to the Brooklyn Nets! They went 2-0 on the weekend, bringing their Bubble record to 4-2. Also, their 119-106 win over the Sacramento Kings on Friday helped them officially clinch a playoff berth!
This Nets squad has certainly surprised me. With so many of their core players opting out of Orlando, I figured they were as good as done. They would still make the playoffs — I also didn’t think the Washington Wizards had much of a chance to compete in the Restart, either, and they’re now 0-6 — but I assumed it would be an unceremonious sweep. 12 games of good cardio, a showcase for their reserves, and a participation trophy.
Instead, this team has come together with great ball movement and a hot hand from beyond the arc. The Nets are averaging 28.0 assists per game during the Restart, second-most only to the Denver Nuggets, and hitting 15.0 three-pointers a game, fourth-most in the Bubble.
Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic, the team I thought would breeze their way into the seventh-seed, are 2-4. The only team with any modicum of homecourt advantage can’t even keep up with the scorching Nets! We’ll see how far Brooklyn’s brand of basketball takes them as the Restart continues to unfold. But judging by their first six games, it will likely be much further than anyone expected.
Takeaway 5: Big Games in the Bubble (feat. Luka Doncic)
Lastly, let’s celebrate some of the big performances from over the weekend in Orlando. Lillard bounced back from the rough Clippers loss to drop 51 points on the Philadelphia 76ers. TJ Warren bounced back from his down game against the Phoenix Suns to score 39 points on the Lakers. Austin Rivers unleashed a career-high 41 points on the Kings.
However, the biggest performance of the weekend in my eyes was Luka Doncic‘s 36 points, 19 assists, and 14 rebounds in the Dallas Mavericks‘ overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks. Luka put the team on his back, utilizing his god-tier court instincts, elusive handles, and sweet shooting to lead the Mavs to the big victory. That’s what superstars do.
Mind you, he just racked up 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists against the Kings on Tuesday. Heck, Saturday’s statline marked his third triple-double in the Bubble! Numbers like these are becoming slight work for him! However, I find his game on Saturday so special because he pulled it off against one of the best teams in the league and their own EuroStar, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
If you’ve been paying attention to Doncic since the EuroLeague days, none of this is surprising. It’s still impressive and fun to watch, but it isn’t surprising. Luka’s rise as a superstar felt inevitable, and he has already cemented his status as a top-tier player in the NBA in just his second season. His game on Saturday simply reiterates that fact.