Mavs vs Rockets
The Mavs faced off against division rival Houston Rockets on Friday, and their offense was amazing. But, so was the Rockets. Houston had a response for everything that the Mavs did on offense, and moreThis loss will hurt Dallas even more because they are now 2.5 games behind the six seed. Getting that six seed would most likely avoid having to play the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
The offense and defense were two completely different stories.
When you look at the final score, well, even the halftime score, it appears as the score of an all-star game. Scoring 85 points in the first half was unbelievable, but the defense was something that the Mavs would like to forget. Dallas allowed 75 points in the first half, but in the clutch, their defense suffered the most. Dallas was up by 7 with 45 seconds to go. It would go from James Harden sinking a deep three, to Robert Covington tapping in a missed free throw to tie the ball game, and send it to overtime. Dallas shot 42.9% from beyond the arc, and Trey Burke was one of the players who helped a bunch with that stat. Turnovers also hurt the Mavericks. Dallas had 20 turnovers, compared to Houston’s 9. These turnovers led to unnecessary points that later would be vital when Dallas badly needed them back. Overall, it was a great start offensively for Luka’s Mavs, but the defense needs to get it together so that they can get to the next level.
KP has picked up right from where he left off.
In the first game of the NBA restart, Kristaps Porzingis showed fans that they shouldn’t be worried that he would lose his mojo that he had before the season suspension. Porzingis poured in 39 points, on 50% shooting from the field, not to mention 10-11 from the free throw line. Going into this matchup, Dallas knew that when KP was on the floor, he would have a huge advantage size-wise compared to his defender. He took advantage of that as much as he could, and it paid off. Porzingis was able to work his mid game, along with his 3 point shooting. If he can continue to show this kind of success throughout the next seven games, it will give Dallas a better shot at jumping Houston for a six seed.
The Mavs will face off against the Phoenix Suns on Sunday. Phoenix is coming off of a win against the Washington Wizards, in which the Ayton-Booker duo combined for 51 of the team’s points. The key in this game will be to contain Ayton in the paint. In the last meeting against the Suns, Dallas just couldn’t stop DeAndre Ayton from getting buckets in the paint, which led to a Suns victory.
The Houston Rockets are best known for their small-ball lineups that they have started using over the season. After trading Clint Capela and bringing Robert Covington, the face of this team has been changed into a positionless game of basketball with no conventional center.
They have proved they can beat taller teams
One of the biggest concerns regarding the small-ball lineups is big and tall centers. The Dallas Mavericks have one of the best shooting centers who can kill teams outside or inside in Kristaps Porzingus. This proves the ultimate challenge for the Rockets, due to the fact that they don’t use anyone that could match up against Porzingus. Using PJ Tucker to guard Porzingus has shown flaws in small-ball such as the 15 more rebounds that the Mavs had than the Rockets. This game style also has upsides, like that Russell Westbrook now has a much more open paint to operate in. This is evident due to his 31 points and offensive explosions that are happening every night. Now that the Rockets have gone all in on small-ball they must hope that the benefits of opening up Westbrooks offensive potential outweighs the risks that come with playing a smaller lineup. With the win over Dallas and the tall group of players that are on the Mavs lineup, the Rockets can now have more faith than ever in their system.
James Harden has zero rust
James Harden is one of the best offensive players in the NBA, and when he came back to bubble many people wondered what shape he would be in and how much rust he would have. In the Rockets first game, Harden has showcased that he is in the best shape of his life after playing an overtime game and not showing any sign of fatigue. Harden also seems to have zero rust as he put up 49 points on 14-20 shooting. This is a great sign for Houston because they can now fight for position among the West and not have to worry about the productivity of their best player.
The Rockets are going to be playing the Milwaukee Bucks next game, and should be ready. The Rockets will be facing one of the best teams in the league, and need to show that they can compete with the best of the best.
Score: HOU 153, DAL 149
Magic vs Nets
In the opening night for the Magic, they faced off against the Brooklyn Nets. Orlando is trying to snatch the seven seed from Brooklyn, and opening night showed that they can do it. After getting off to a slow start, the Magic quickly picked up their pace, and kept the double-digit lead on Brooklyn. The Nets are short-handed, so the eight games will be a bit more difficult for them, but no matter the opponent, all wins matter for Orlando.
The struggling offense finally got going.
Throughout the 2019-2020 campaign, one of the struggles for Orlando was to get their offense going. In their game against Brooklyn, they put up 128 points, and had their offense rolling. In 3 of the four quarters, they scored at least 30 points, and made it hard for Brooklyn to have a chance at coming back. Orlando also shot 52.9% from the field, as they found easy buckets in transition. Another category that the Magic excelled in was free throw percentage. They shot 89.3% from the strip, knocking down 25 free throws on 28 attempts. Three key players who contributed the most in this win were Nikola Vucevic, Jonathan Issac, and Evan Fournier. These three were dangerous from all parts of the floor. Vuc controls the paint scoring, while Issac takes care of mid-range. Fournier shot 50% from 3 point range. If this kind of offense continues for Orlando, the future will be very bright for Steve Clifford’s squad.
Don’t sleep on Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier poured in 24 points for the Magic Friday afternoon, and was their main force offensively. He shot 66.7% from the field, and also had 5 assists. Fournier is a very underrated guard, and this time is the perfect time for him to make a name for himself. He has 7 years of experience in the league, and hasn’t gotten much attention. If Orlando were to be a contender in the next few seasons, Fournier should deserve a lot of credit for what he has done.
The Magic will square off against the Sacramento Kings at 5:00 on Sunday. These two teams are at the bottom positions of their conference, but they both have a future. The Kings are coming off of a loss against the San Antonio Spurs, in which De’Aaron Fox dropped 39 points. The key for Orlando is to get back on defense quickly. In the Spurs game, Fox easily was able to rush down the floor and score an easy layup. If Orlando can play like they did against Brooklyn, they should expect a good result against Sacramento.
The Brooklyn Nets were the underdog of the bubble after losing so many of their starting lineup. They came in with low expectations and so far haven’t really shown us anything different.
The Nets looked like a competitive team in the first quarter shooting almost 70% from the field and putting up 39 points. They looked like a team that could maybe keep up with these straight up better teams. Then the 2nd and 3rd quarter and it was a completely different team. They played poorly on defense and couldn’t get anything to go in. The offense was not very good and scored under 25 points in each of those quarters.
The Nets have one of the crazier stories heading into the bubble looking like a completely different team than before. They started two players in this game that have never started a game this year. One of them also had never started a single game. Chris LeVert averaged 27 points a game and was shut down. He was 7 for 17 shooting from the field including 0-4 from behind the arc. This team needed them to be strong and control the games in order to get wins. They lose that when they have to force the more experienced players to step up. The Nets need to put their veterans in, and let them control the game. Another note is Jamal Crawford who was brought in, didn’t play.
Their next matchup is against Eastern conference worst, the Wizards on Sunday. The should be a good matchup against two undermanned teams that are fighting for nothing more than bragging rights.
Score: ORL 128, BKN 118
Blazers vs. Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers were healthy for the first time in months, and fighting for a playoff position that is heavily contested. In the Blazers first game back they faced off against the current number eight seed, and showed the rest of the NBA that they deserve the playoff spot.
The Blazers are back
After an injury plagued season that was filled with disappointment and losses, the Portland Trail Blazers are finally healthy and ready to prove everyone wrong. Saturday’s game proved that the Blazers were back, and that they had taken the next step forward. With offseason additions, Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside, and players coming back from injury, Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, the Blazers seem completely different than the team that was dropping through the western conference rankings. Nurkic and Melo provided the biggest boost this game, by putting up 40 points combined. Nurkic provides the Blazers with an inside presence that could control the boards, and also play the pick and roll game with Lillard or McCollum. Melo gives the Blazers a third scorer on the wing, who can knock down threes and drive to the lane.
CJ McCollum was always the robin to Damian Lillard’s batman, but this game the Blazers needed McCollum to be more than a robin and he stepped up. Putting up 33 points on a mix between drives, threes, and pullup mide rangers McCollum was attacking the Grizzlies defense. In the first half in which Lillard was off, McCollum was able to pick up the offensive slack. This should be a very encouraging sign for the Blazers who have relied on Lillard so much, and when he is having an off day it is nice to know that there are players on your team that can step up and make plays.
The Blazers will try and continue their success in the bubble. This game against the Celtics will be the Blazers first matchup against a playoff contender with a healthy lineup. This game will prove vital to see whether the Blazers can truly make out of the first round if they make the playoffs.
The Grizzlies desperately needed to show up to prove themselves in a game. They set up everything to have a big game and today they just didn’t finish it out
This game was by no means pretty for either team with the Grizzlies heading to the line 50 times yesterday. The Griz only got 38 of them to go in which is 12 missed points. Memphis also had 26 fouls of their own compared to the 36 fouls on the Trailblazers. Down the stretch the Griz got to the line a bunch of times and even missed one inside the fine minute mark. Can’t help but wonder if that free throw could have kept them from OT.
Everything this season surrounding this season has been about their rookie sensation Ja Morant. Little has been said about their surrounding pieces, but a lot of people have stepped up. This game it was Jaren Jackson Jr. with 33 points and 18 of those points being from deep. Brandon Clarke also had a huge night from off the bench putting up 21 points. None of those points came from the three point line and that was big down the stretch. Clarke had 5 points in the last 5 minutes of regulation including the game tying layup with 32 seconds to go.
Next up they play the San Antonio Spurs tomorrow. This should be one of the easier matchups, and the Grizzlies are expected to take home the win.
Score: MEM 135, POR 140
Suns vs Wizards
The Phoenix Suns have a lot of work to do in order to make the playoffs. Although they played one of the weakest teams in the bubble, they got off to the right start. The young duo in DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker showed a lot of hope yesterday that this young duo can be something special in the coming years.
The Suns capitalized on forcing turnovers, and turning them into points.
In the first game back in over 100 days, you can expect play to get a little sloppy here and there. In the Suns-Wizards matchup, Phoenix did a really good job on taking advantage of turnovers by Washington, and turning them into points. The Suns forced 10 steals, and gained 21 points off of turnover. Forcing pressure on the defense is something that the Suns will need to do in order to have any kind of shot at a playoff spot.
The Booker-Ayton duo has a lot of potential.
Many fans know that the young duo that the Phoenix Suns feature has a lot to work on, but they haven’t seen much of the bright side yet. Well, the first game showed us all we needed to know. DeAndre Ayton scored 24 points, on 11-14 shooting, while Devin Booker gave us 27. Coming into this game, Ayton had never made a three pointer in his NBA career. He sunk 2 from beyond the arc in 3 tries. Ayton was a threat inside the paint, and beyond the arc. Booker continued his dominance offensively, giving his defender no chance to stop him from making a shot. After watching the first game back for Phoenix, Suns fans should be having bright thoughts when thinking about the full potential of this team. Both of these young players stuffed the stat sheet, and played harder than expected. Because Luka Doncic stole most of the show for the rookie class last season, not many eyes were on Ayton. He was dealing with injuries, and couldn’t get into a good rhythm in any game. His time in Orlando will be very important when proving to the staff and fans that his performance will only be getting better. As for Booker, he just continues blowing our minds game in and game out. No matter the opponent, or circumstance, Booker will show up and give the Suns all he has in his tank.
On Sunday, Phoenix will be going up against a young Dallas Mavericks team. This game will be interesting to watch, as there will be a lot of excitement surrounding the two duo’s leading each team. If the Suns can pull off an upset here, it will be a major boost in their hunt for the eight seed. A win here would require outstanding defense, though. In their first game back, the Mavs put up 149 points in a loss to the Houston Rockets. Perimeter defense will be one of the keys to a W for Phoenix come Sunday.
The Washington Wizards have come into the bubble with one of the worst offensive and defensive ratings in the NBA. Both of their top offensive playmakers, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, have opted out of the NBA restart leaving the Wizards without a direction.
Rui Hachimura showed some star potential
On a Wizards team that is struggling to find direction, Hachimura has shown flashes of what made him the number 8 pick in his draft. Against the Suns, hachimura had a team leading 21 points and 8 rebounds. During the Suns game hachimura showcased a three point shot that looked good and could make defenders respect his outside game. Hachimura also showcased a strong inside game that is vital to anyone at his height. Lastly, Hachimura was able to run coast to coast with the ball and operate a transition offense. This gives Hachimura versatility that is coveted at that height range. The Washington Wizards are not going to be very competitive in the bubble, but if they are able to give hachimura time to develop his game, the Wizards could consider this restart a win.
The Wizards stayed close for 2 quarters
The Washington Wizards are not going to be competitive in the bubble, and that was a known fact once Beal opted out of the NBA restart. Even against a subpar team like the Suns the Wizards lost by 13. The Suns may be subpar but they have talent in Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker, so the fact that a team like the Wizards was able to keep up was impressive. Through the first and second quarter both teams were trading buckets and playing extremely competitively, and this should be viewed by the Wizards as a win.
The Washington Wizards have one of the few games in which they might have a chance against the Brooklyn Nets. Both teams have lost stars to the opt-out and are not really looking to be competitive in the bubble. While both teams have nothing to lose this game should be fun, and there should be no stress on either team.
Score: PHX 125, WAS 112
Kings vs Spurs
To start up things in the bubble, the Sacramento Kings went on to face a San Antonio Spurs team who is also fighting for the eight seed. Winning this game was something that really boosted the Kings chances at getting a chance at the playoffs, but they came up short. Sacramento was unable to get stops early on, and the tone was pretty much set after the first quarter.
De’Aaron Fox has been putting in a lot of work, and it showed.
Although the Kings came up short, De’Aaron Fox gave them a lot to watch. Fox scored 39 points, shooting 17-33 from the field. His shooting from beyond the arc was off, but he used his speed to score against the Spurs. Fox had 20 points at halftime, and his Kings were leading by a point. In the second half, the rest of the Kings just couldn’t get going. De’Aaron added 19 in the last two quarters, but it wasn’t enough. It was fun to watch Fox use his athleticism to score buckets, but the rest of this Sacramento team needs to have his back.
The defense needs to play harder.
From the opening tip, the Kings had a rough time getting stops on the defensive end. Derrick White and DeMar DeRozan led the Spurs in scoring, and the Kings couldn’t find a stop to it. Down the stretch in the fourth quarter, DeRozan was able to work his mid-range the way he wanted to. The Kings struggled to get around screens, which let the Spurs have an open shot.
Next up, the Kings will be facing the Orlando Magic. The Magic are coming off of a ten point victory against the Brooklyn Nets, and their offense is looking better than ever. The key for success in this game for the Kings is to get stops inside the paint. They need to find a way to stop Nikola Vucevic and his hook shot. If Sacramento can keep up the offense, and improve the defense, they should be able to take care of Orlando.
San Antonio Spurs
The first game for the San Antonio Spurs was one that they should be very happy about. Not having their second best scorer (LaMarcus Aldridge) will hurt them, but players like Derrick White and Keldon Johnson helped them get the victory against the Kings. The Spurs have started off in Orlando the way they planned, and hopefully it is a familiar sight that we will be seeing.
Derrick White showed how much of a threat he can be on both sides of the floor.
On the first return game back, Derrick White scored a career high 26 points for San Antonio, and was a big threat offensively. He got hot early by sinking a trio of three pointers, and he wouldn’t stop. White ended up going 4-9 from the three point line, along with 8 rebounds and five assists. White would also contribute on the defensive side of things. He took five charges, and was a constant threat to the Kings. He came up with a steal and a block in game 1, and proved to his teammates and coaches that he can be trusted.
DeMar DeRozan is one clutch man.
Going down the stretch, the game was getting more and more intense. The Spurs knew who the ball would be going to, and their main man delivered. In the final 2 and a half minutes, DeRozan scored 10 points, sealing the deal. He was able to drive and pull up for a mid-range shot easily, and was consistent when shooting. DeRozan finished with 27 points, and hopes to continue this style of play throughout their time in Orlando.
Game 2 will be a very important one for the Spurs. They will be going up against Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies. This will be a good test as the Grizzlies currently hold the eight seed in the West. The key for the Spurs is to get a good rhythm going early. Like they did against the Kings, getting a lead early will help with momentum, and give them a cushion.
Score: SAC 120, SAS 129
Bucks vs Celtics
The Milwaukee Bucks are the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, and are going to be fighting for a championship. Games against rivals such as the Celtics or Raptors show if the Bucks can make it out of the Eastern Conference, or if they will be sent home.
Giannis is back!
So many Bucks fans have waited for the moment where they can see Giannis take the floor again. He is one of the biggest and fastest players in the league, and has dominated this season. Giannis is the best player on the Bucks, and without him they wouldn’t be where they are. In his first game back to NBA action, Giannis Antetokounmpo put up 36 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists. This is a great game of Giannis, and sends a message to the rest of the league that he hasn’t lost his game, and that the Bucks will be a force come playoff time.
3 point shooting
The offense of the Milwaukee Bucks is based around three point shooting, and attacking the paint. Players on the Bucks must be able to do both, and this includes the centers that are normally sitting in the paint. In the Celtics game Brook Lopez went 2-5 from three and Robin Lopez went 1-2 from three. While these may not be super good shooting percentages, a 2-5 mark from three is very impressive for a center. This is very important for the Bucks because they need floor spacing bigs that can give Giannis room to operate in the paint where he does most of his damage. For the whole team they recorded a 32% three point shot against the Celtics, and while this is not a bad number the Bucks should look to increase that number as the playoffs grow nearer.
The next game for the Bucks is against the Houston Rockets who present a difficult challenge for the Bucks. A small-ball team like Houston is going to test the pace of the Bucks, as well as the ability of their bigs to guard outside.
The Boston Celtics have become a championship contending team on the backs of the breakout stars. After swapping Kemba Walker for Kyrie Irving, the Celtics are looking for success in the postseason and bubble season.
Jayson Tatum shooting woes
Jayson Tatum has taken the superstar leap this year, and was the focal point of the Celtics offense. Tatum was red-hot when the season ended, and it is safe to say that he has lost his momentum from the season. Tatum shot 0-4 from three and was 1-2 from free throw. As bad as both of those numbers are, Tatum was 2-18 from the field and only had 5 points. This was the same person that was tearing up defenses before the break, and going for 23 points per game. This is super alarming for the Celtics because Tatum has become their primary scorer, and if he can’t regain his form the Celtics will suffer. While the Celtics do have scoring options elsewhere on the field, no one can replace the void that Tatum would create if he can’t start shooting soon. Most fans are hoping that this is just some rust that Tatum needs to knock off, but if it is something more than that the Celtics are in big trouble.
Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart keeping the Celtics in the game
At the beginning of the game, the Celtics were losing badly; they couldn’t make anything and the Bucks were running all over them. At the end of the second quarter they had turned a 13 point deficit into a 6 point deficit. At the end of the 3rd the game was tied, and the Celtics kept it a close game till the buzzer. With poor performances from their star in Jayson Tatum and limited minutes from point guard Kemba Walker, the game seemed like the Bucks from the beginning. The only thing standing in their way was a couple of tough and talented Celtics who weren’t going to make this easy on the Bucks. Marcus Smart is known for defensive prowess and made a couple of great plays defensively, but Smart was also able to contribute 23 points and was 50% from three. Jaylen Brown who has grown into a star in his own right, was able to put up 22 points and try to fill the void left by Tatum’s horrible game. Both of these players put up huge numbers, and were able to keep their game competitive until the end.
The Boston Celtics are facing the Portland Trail Blazers next up, and this should provide an easier matchup than the Bucks. If the Celtics want to get back to playoff form, they should hope that the Blazers game provides a game to knock off their rust.
Score: BOS 112, MIL 119
Top Photo: Kim Klement, Getty Images