[caption id="attachment_310347" align="aligncenter" width="2266"] (NBAE | Getty)
Good afternoon, folks. I'm sorry, but I have to say it: this is better than March Madness. Let's talk NBA Bubble.
Keldon Johnson posts (another) career-high
San Antonio Spurs guard Keldon Johnson
wasn't expected by most--myself included--to find much clock during the NBA's restart, but he forced Gregg Popovich's hand the second he arrived on campus. The former Wildcat has announced himself to the rest of the NBA world and continues to do so even as the seeding games come to a close. Against the Houston Rockets, Johnson posted career-highs in both points (24) and rebounds (11) to help secure a must-win for his team, 123-105. The rookie also added three assists to his stat line while shooting 8-12 from the floor and a perfect 3-3 from distance. But, as we've said before about Johnson down in the Bubble, his impact goes well beyond simply putting up numbers. His energy on both ends of the court has been contagious to a Spurs squad that is now 5-2 in Orlando.
''Whether it's hustling, running the floor - just doing whatever I need to do to help us win,'' Johnson said after the win. ''Help from my teammates has definitely helped the game slow down for me.''
Popovich, his head coach, recently compared Johnson to a wild "Mustang"
and bragged about his new-founded prospect once again on Tuesday.
''That's what he does,'' Popovich said about Johnson's confidence. ''He's a high-energy guy. He's very physical. Very competitive. Very coachable. He's just a winner
San Antonio's hopes of setting a new NBA record by making the postseason for a 23rd consecutive season are still breathing, but they're going to need some help if they want to keep that streak alive. We'll talk more about the actual standings in just a minute because you already know we have to talk about Devin Booker
Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns just won't die, move to 7-0 in Bubble
I am absolutely flabbergasted at what I've seen from the Phoenix Suns down in the Bubble--FLABBERGASTED, I tell you!
Against an incredibly banged-up version of the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, Devin Booker and the Suns stayed the course to remain undefeated, snagging a 130-117 win that took until the final quarter before they feel comfortable with the lead. Phoenix is somehow now 7-0 during the restart with just one seeding game left. Much like San Antonio, the Suns are right in the mix to secure that final playoff spot and it's likely going to come down to the final game. But once again, we'll talk about that in just a second.
There's a very good chance that Booker could win Bubble MVP (something the NBA recently announced is going to be a thing
, although if Damian Lillard drops another 50-point game he might steal that title away from Book) and it would be hard to argue against it after he dropped another 30-point outing on Tuesday. With the 76ers missing the vast majority of its key players--Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Al Horford, Tobias Harris, and Josh Richardson--Booker didn't' waste any time trying to put this game away.
The former Wildcat went for 35 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, and just two turnovers while shooting 11-24 from the floor. In the process, he broke the Phoenix Suns record for most 30-point outings by a single player with 91. Quick reminder: he is only 23 years old.
He also did this:
Booker's impressive performance might have had something to do with the pregame video that the Suns video team surprised its players with during the pregame introductions. All five starters plus head coach Monty Williams were introduced via video call by members of their family. For Booker, his sister introduced him, and the pure reactions from the players on the floor are enough to make you cry on this fine morning.
THAT is why I love basketball. Now watch Devin work.
The bottom of the West is an utter mess and I love it
Okay, now let's try and break down this absolute disaster. Before we go any further, here's your daily look at the standings near the bottom of the Western Conference as of Tuesday morning.
WOOOOOO buddy things are tight. All four teams have one game remaining in the Bubble and it's basically a "win-and-your-in" scenario for the Portland Trail Blazers, whose final matchup is against the Brooklyn Nets (who are 5-2 in the Bubble and actually playing excellent basketball). This is where things get a bit tricky, so I'll let this graphic from Tim Bontemps explain it:
[caption id="attachment_310339" align="aligncenter" width="1242"] (@TimBontemps)
Memphis, San Antonio, and Phoenix are all going to need some help from each other to snag that 9-seed. If Portland loses to Brooklyn, all hell is going to break loose. But should they win, Phoenix and San Antonio will just have to take care of business and hope the rest plays out in its favor.
There is still the potential that, even if the Suns win and go 8-0, they won't make the play-in round. Booker shared his thoughts on that possibility after Tuesday's win.
"That's life, man," Booker said, according to ESPN
. "We're controlling what we can control. That's the eight games that we play in. So I'm proud of my guys regardless. We came in here with the right mindset, and it could have been different. People could have been frustrated, coming off of a four-month hiatus to straight to basketball and leaving your family.
"But we came in, we locked in, and made the sacrifices that we need to make, so I don't think there's going to be any sad faces around here, whether we leave here in the playoffs or not. We've put the work in and we've grown as a team. We've took tremendous strides that I think will build for us for continuing years to come
Other notes from the Bubble
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TODAY IN THE BUBBLE
4:00 (NBA TV): Pacers @ Rockets
6:30 (ESPN): Raptors @ 76ers
8:00: Heat (Adebayo, Herro)
@ Thunder (Diallo, Gilgeous-Alexander, Noel)
9:00 (ESPN): Clippers (Patterson)
@ Nuggets (Murray)