[caption id="attachment_310179" align="aligncenter" width="1586"] (NBAE | Getty Images)
Good afternoon, folks. Move over Damian Lillard, TJ Warren, etc. Devin Booker is the best player in Orlando right now. Let's talk NBA Bubble.
I cannot believe what I am watching with the Phoenix Suns
I have been trying so, so hard not to jinx anything about the Phoenix Suns improbable run to restart the 2019-20 season, but I can't stay quiet any longer: Devin Booker
has been the best player in the Bubble and it's not particularly close at this point. Not only is he averaging 30.3 points (6th most during the Bubble), 3.8 rebounds, and 6.0 assists in 33 minutes per outing, but he's doing so on insane
shooting splits of 50.4/33.3/94.0. Most importantly, though, is the Phoenix Suns 6-0 start in the Bubble, the longest winning streak for the franchise in over six years and the only undefeated team left in Orlando.
There was talk before the restart even tipped off that Phoenix wasn't worthy of being invited down--and it was justified at the time--but they came down with a point to prove and holy shit are they doing just that. The circumstances of the Bubble are helping the Suns with every passing game (teams with cemented playoff spots resting a majority of its starters or playing them under 25 minutes) and it was no different during Monday's 128-101 demolition of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
OKC was without two former Wildcats, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
(bruised right calf) and Nerlens Noel
(sprained right ankle), although both are expected to be healthy and ready to go for the playoffs. Along with those two, Danilo Gallinari, Steven Adams, and Dennis Schröder were also out. Booker and the Suns made sure to take advantage, but not until the second quarter.
Phoenix trailed by as many as 15 points in the second frame before taking swift control of the game, eventually leading 65-64 at the half before exploding the margin to 20-plus throughout the second-half. Booker finished with a casual 35 points to go along with five rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. He was 3-7 from beyond the arc but has actually been doing most of his damage right at the rim. With a full head of steam, Booker has been unguardable; he's regularly flicking in running floaters off the glass that have zero business going in. But just to prove he's still
one of the world's top shooters, he drained a near-40-footer with a defender right up in his grill.
“I don’t shoot any shots to miss them," Booker said after the game.
With plenty of minutes to fill, OKC handed a chunk of them over to Hamidou Diallo,
who played 22 minutes and was gifted with a green light--which probably wasn't the best idea. The second-year guard went 4-13 from the field (0-4 from beyond the arc) for nine points in addition to a career-high six turnovers.
With time running low, the stars continue to align for the Suns to force a play-in round. They have just two games remaining on its schedule, one of them later on Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers, who will be without its two best players, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The final outing is against the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday.
Do you hear that? Is that what I think it is? Of course! It's your daily update on the bottom of the Western Conference standings! New Orleans and Sacramento were officially eliminated on Sunday, so we don't care about them anymore. Look at how close this is all becoming.
Portland is now just a half-game back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8-seed while the Suns and San Antonio Spurs are a half-game back of the Trail Blazers for the 9-seed. Things are getting spicy!!
Kuzma's game-winner lifts Lakers over Murray and Nuggets
The Los Angeles Lakers were 2-5 in the Bubble entering Monday's contest again the Denver Nuggets but played like it was a deciding playoff game. The Nuggets played its healthy starters, but only in limited minutes. Jamal Murray
played just 24 minutes, adding 14 points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals. Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. both appeared in under 26 minutes apiece. All three of them sat out the entire fourth quarter for Denver.
The Lakers, on the other hand, played its starters down the stretch and secured its third win of the Bubble thanks to this jumper from Kyle Kuzma, who received a hand-off pass from Anthony Davis
after coming around his screen.
Kuzma finished with 25 points, LeBron James added 29, and Davis completed the scoring trio with 27 points himself. The former Wildcat was 9-15 from the floor while contributing six rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocks. The Lakers locked up the top overall seed in the West a few days ago.
Minute restrictions all around
Similar to what we saw from the Denver Nuggets, several other teams have been resting its most important players with the playoffs less than a week away. Particularly the Miami Heat, as Tyler Herro
played 25 minutes while Bam Adebayo
was in for just 22 minutes during a 114-92 win over the Indiana Pacers. Herro registered 17 points on 7-11 shooting to go along with five boards and two dimes while Adebayo dropped 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
These minutes restrictions have been indirectly helping teams such as Phoenix and San Antonio potentially sneak into the postseason. The Suns have upcoming games against a banged-up 76ers squad and a Dallas Mavericks team with nothing to fight for. The Spurs will face off against the Rockets and Jazz, who are equally locked into the playoffs. Portland has Dallas and the Brooklyn Nets (who might actually be the toughest challenge) while the Memphis Grizzlies face Boston and Milwaukee, two more teams with little to play for. All of those opponents--excluding the Nets--will rest its best players in some form or fashion, opening up the door for these teams near the bottom of the West to continue rising in the standings.
Other notes from the Bubble
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TODAY IN THE BUBBLE
1:00: Nets @ Magic
2:00 (NBA TV): Rockets @ Spurs (Johnson)
4:30: Suns (Booker)
5:00: Celtics (Kanter)
6:30 (TNT): Trail Blazers (Gabriel)
@ Mavericks (Kidd-Gilchrist)
9:00 (TNT): Pelicans @ Kings (Fox)