We have now entered the annual peak of NBA basketball. The basketball-shaped hole in my heart, created in the wake of the March Madness cancellation, is finally filled. And not just filled, overflowed. 10 hours of meaningful basketball, every day, for 2 weeks. I don’t care that I can’t go to the games. I don’t care that there are no (physical) fans. I don’t care that the refereeing is excessive and suspicious and seems to always go against my team (okay, maybe I care a little about this). I don’t care, because playoff basketball is back. I can breathe again.
It’s been a few days since it’s begun, so let’s take a look back at the bubble thus far. Inspired by Zach Lowe’s article for ESPN, here’s my list of things that I like and don’t like about bubble basketball:
Like: The Heat
I originally had TJ Warren on this list because I thought it would be ignorant to exclude one of the bubble’s most shocking breakout players. But after two convincing losses with little noise, I’ve changed my mind. I’m out on TJ. I’m in on the Heat.
I love this team. They’re so young and exciting and they seem to have so much fun playing together. Jimmy Butler is proving everybody wrong by being an actual leader, and the people around him seem to genuinely appreciate his leadership. Looking back, it should’ve been more obvious that his problems with Minnesota and Philly had more to do with the organization than Butler himself, though he didn’t always handle it well. Bam Adebayo has been elite, too, and the Duncan Robinson/Tyler Herro “white kids that can shoot threes” duo is electrifying.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pacers are swept by this team. They’re down 2-0 headed into Game 3 today, and TJ Warren has been brought back to earth. It was fun for Pacers fans while it lasted, but this Miami team is the real deal. I’m looking forward to the Milwaukee series. Miami seems to have figured out the blueprint to the modern game, and with the Bucks showing mental fatigue combined with the Heat’s barrage of three pointers (2nd in 3p% in the league!), this will be a clash of the titans.
Don’t Like: Giannis throwing fits and the Bucks Suck
I want the Bucks to be good. I don’t like them–I have my qualms with Giannis as it is–but I want them to be good so they have no excuses and so people don’t write off this bubble season as a fluke year. But they’re trying real hard not to be.
I will say, they blew out Orlando on Thursday afternoon and are winning convincingly as I write this. They are finally showing a little bit of life, so take this with a grain of salt. But these games aside, the Bucks looked bad in the early stages of the bubble. Everyone outside of Giannis seemed to be taking this season as a joke. Either an effect of too much confidence or a dislike for the bubble as a whole I don’t know, but it’s not encouraging. And then Giannis seems to be taking everything too seriously. This has always been an annoyance of mine when I watch him play, but he took things to new heights in the seeding games.
For example, the Greek Freak has tried to fight two separate opponents on different occasions. He went at Donta Hall after he was aggressively boxed out, and he head-butted (what, lol) Moe Wagner while they beefed. If you didn’t know, Donta Hall plays for the Brooklyn Nets, and Moe Wagner plays for the Washington Wizards. Giannis, why are you trying to fight players on the Nets and Wizards?! At this point in the season, Milwaukee had more than secured the one-seed in the East, yet Giannis feels the need to assert his dominance over anyone that shows a little bit of fire.
It’s annoying at this point. I already don’t like the way he plays, but every time I watch him he irritates me more. Thursday, up by however many, Giannis jammed it on some poor schmuck on the Magic then proceeded to scream and flex like he just hit a buzzer-beater over LeBron in Game 7 of the Finals. Dude, it’s Game 2 against the Magic. Calm down.
After a shaky start in the bubble, Boston has really pulled themselves together. Despite Hayward’s injury, they’re firing on all cylinders. On both offense and defense, they play as a team, and are executing what they are supposed to be executing. Kemba, Tatum, and Brown have all been hot (despite Tatum’s poor Game 3 performance last night), and they’ve been dominating Philly,who at this point looks like they’ve already booked their plane tickets home for Sunday. They’ve established themselves as a serious threat in the East, which should make basketball fans happy.
As the playoffs advance, it’s good to see them playing good basketball. A series against the Raptors has been much anticipated, and it looks like it will live up to the hype.
Don’t Like: Pat Bev, and Paul George too while I’m at it
Every time I watch him, Patrick Beverley proves again and again why he’s one of the most disliked players in the league. Even from the bench, Pat Bev still manages to piss me off. Laughing and clapping at Damian Lillard missing free throws? C’mon man. What the hell is that about? That bush-league crap would get you clapped in any pick-up game around the world. This man’s job is just to rattle opponents by being a huge d**khead, so I guess it’s working.
And while I’m at it, Paul George needs to watch his mouth, too. He must still be salty about Dame knocking down a 40-footer to send him packing last season, because he’s been talking up a storm when he has no right to be. Don’t get me wrong, I love beef. But taking shots at Dame is not a battle that PG is going to win, especially when he puts up performances like Game 2 and 3. Playoff P strikes again. *cough* 4-17 *cough* *cough* 3-16 *cough*
Like: Dame Dolla and the Blazers
These guys have been so much fun to watch lately. I know they’re not really an 8-seed, considering they played the regular season without a few key guys from their Western Conference Finals run last year and now they have them back, but they’ve got an underdog mentality that is impossible to hate and they’ve been a lot of fun to root for throughout the bubble.
Dame is putting up MVP numbers, carrying the brunt of the load for the Blazers as they take on the first-seeded lakers. CJ McCollum has been ballin’ despite a supposed injury, and Nurkic has been the dominant force in the paint that they’ve needed. Both teams are fighting for a genuine shot at a title, and while the Blazers were lost in Game 2, this series is looking to be very exciting. The Lakers should win it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Portland took another game or two and made this really competitive.
Don’t Like: The Lakers’ Bench
LeBron and AD have been good, as expected, but the Lakers have been tough to watch thanks in whole to horrendous performances from their bench. They looked really unstable closing out the seeding games, losing 4 of their last 5 and causing some doubt over whether or not they could live up to the hype they created 5 months ago. Then, in Game 1 against Portland, they seemed to really fall apart (again, this is excluding LeBron and AD, though AD didn’t have his best game either if we’re being honest). LeBron and AD aside, the Lakers’ role players shot 32% from the field, with notably poor performances from KCP (1 point on 0-9 shooting) and Alex Caruso (2 points on 1-6 shooting).
Nobody wants to watch the Lakers struggle. As one of the best teams in the league, it would be disheartening to watch them collapse when it matters most. Though I think they can pull it together to get past Portland, if these struggles persist I’m picking Houston to upset them in the second round.
Like: Coach Russ and Houston
What a sight to see. Russell Westbrook dressed in Westbrook attire, coaching his teammates while he sits out with a hamstring injury. He’s so invested in his team and his teammates are clearly appreciative of his advice… it’s just nice to see this much passion.
Houston has been killing it, too. Their small ball offense has been extremely effective despite the absence of Russ, and their defense has been superb to everyone’s surprise. This team is extremely fun to watch, and I’ve got them as a dark horse to make it to the finals with other Western Conference favorites struggling a bit. The only downside of their series against OKC is that the Thunder are getting smoked. But hey, look at Russ, man.
Don’t Like: The Departure of the Suns
This was heartbreaking, I won’t lie. I’m still shook that Devin Booker and company put on such a show in the bubble and were rewarded with jack. It seemed silly that they were invited to Orlando in the first place, but they made everyone eat their words. That being said, it’s an absolute shame that a team recording an 8-0 record was still eliminated and not even given a chance through the play-in game. It was fun while it lasted, Phoenix fans. Let’s just hope they can pick up where they left off next season.
P.S. As heartbroken as Suns fans may be, it looks like Dbook is doing okay outside of the bubble:
Feature Photo Credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images