[caption id="attachment_310648" align="aligncenter" width="2038"] (Getty Images | NBAE)
Good morning, folks. I felt like I was watching March Madness yesterday. Let's talk NBA Bubble.
Devin Booker leads the Suns to 8-0 record in the Bubble, still miss play-in round
I am heartbroken.
After defying every single odd that was placed against them, the Phoneix Suns ran the Bubble table by posting an 8-0 record down in Orlando; yet somehow, it still wasn't enough. Phoenix came into Thursday's slate of games needing some help from the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets, but received no such aid. The Memphis Grizzlies took easy care of the Bucks (who were without Giannis Antetokounmpo) while the Portland Trail Blazers held its collective breaths as Damian Lillard classically led his squad to an epic victory. As a result, the Suns' perfect stretch came to an end despite never losing a game.
They sure did go out in style, though. The entire NBA world knew what needed to happen on Thursday. Four teams (Phoenix, Portland, Memphis, and the San Antonio Spurs) were all fighting for two play-in spots. Memphis and Portland simply needed to win and they were in. Devin Booker
and the Phoenix Suns were tasked against a Dallas Mavericks team with questionable motives heading into its final seeding game--they had the playoffs locked up and would benefit from resting its best players.
The motives of Booker have been clear since the moment he set foot in Disney World roughly one month ago and he didn't waste any time against the Mavs reaffirming that point. The Suns pounced on Dallas from the opening tip, leading by 11 after the first quarter and 19 by halftime against mostly the Mavericks starting rotation. With the game decided by halftime and Dallas faced with nothing to fight for, the reserves were brought in and Phoenix cruised to a 128-102 win, achieving the Bubble sweep.
Booker finished the game with 27 points, seven rebounds, and five assists, completing his stint in the Bubble with averages of 30.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 6.0 assists while shooting slightly over 50 percent from the floor. He did more than play like an All-Star during the restart; he showcased the future of Suns basketball, and it's a bright one. Even though Memphis and eventually Portland would win and advance to the play-in round, eliminating Phoenix along the way, the trip was worth it.
''We had one objective - to get better - and we did that,'' Booker said. ''I think we approached this with the right mindset from the beginning, from practices, from training camp in Phoenix, from the first two weeks we got down here, everybody was locked in on all cylinders.''
Book's efforts could end up winning him Bubble MVP (although, even I
have swapped my pick over to Damian Lillard after his final three seeding games), or at the very least a spot on the All-Bubble First Team. The 23-year old is a star.
The coming era of Keldon Johnson
Devin Booker wasn't the only former Wildcat who made his mark in the Bubble; Spurs rookie Keldon Johnson
earned himself a longterm roster spot with his efforts over the last eight games.
San Antonio woke up on Thursday morning with a teensy
shot at making the play-in round, but they needed losses from two of either Portland, Memphis, or Phoenix. Before the Spurs game even tipped off, Memphis and Phoenix had already won, effectively killing any chance at making the postseason and extending an NBA record 22-season postseason streak. With that being said, head coach Gregg Popovich rolled with his young guys, starting Johnson at small forward and playing him a career-high 30 minutes. And all the one-time 'Cat did was drop another 24 points (tying his career-high, which he set the game prior) on an 8-12 shooting clip.
Here's your crazy but true stat of the day: The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs--April of 1997--Keldon Johnson was still over two years away from being born.
The Spurs found something in Johnson down in Orlando, a player that looked like he might be on his way to break out before the season was suspended back in March, but never earned the chance until now. Coming off the bench to fill the void left by two key figures in the rotation--LaMarcus Aldridge and Trey Lyles
--Johnson complemented the Spurs beautifully as a big slashing guard who could score from all over the floor. He gave a bit of relief to primary scorers DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay when those two were on the bench and never overstepped his boundaries. Johnson was the fourth-leading scorer for the Spurs in the Bubble at 14.1 points per outing.
Don't expect another G League run for Johnson next season. If he continues to play anything like he did in Orlando, Popovich will find a spot for him.
Other notes from the Bubble
- The play-in round is officially set as the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers will fight for the right to face Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Since Portland snagged the 8-seed, they just need to beat Memphis once while the Grizz will have to win two in a row in order to advance. That game will tip-off on Saturday at 2:30 EST.
- The Chicago Bulls finally fired head coach Jim Boylen.
[table id=562 /]
TODAY IN THE BUBBLE
1:30: Nuggets (Murray)
4:00 (ESPN): Heat (Adebayo, Herro)
6:30 (ESPN): Thunder (Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander, Noel)
@ Clippers (Patterson)
9:00 (ESPN): 76ers @ Rockets