Nuggets vs Heat:
To start things off in Orlando, the Denver Nuggets went on to face an underrated Miami Heat team. Denver was playing without three of their starters, which meant that they needed bench players to step up. Bench players were unable to keep up with the Heat, and the Nuggets fell short.
Second half defense gave the game away.
When you look at the final score, most people will assume that Miami had control from the starting tip, and Denver had no chance. But, that wasn’t the case. At the half, the Nuggets were up by 1. They had a good chance at winning the game, but their defense blew it. In the third quarter, Denver gave up 38 points, compared to 22. The Heat took a 16 point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and that was that. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo combined for 44 points, and Denver couldn’t stop them. Even though they didn’t have three of their starters, the defense should’ve been there.
Bol Bol can become a threat.
Even though Bol Bol played about ten minutes against the Heat, you can see that he can become something special; he has a lot of potential. We all saw what he did in the scrimmages. His defense is crazy good, and he can expand his game, becoming a threat in the paint. He scored 5 points, and grabbed 5 rebounds in a short amount of time. He scored his first NBA bucket against the Heat, which is crazy to think about. If Bol Bol can get more playing time, and get used in the right way, he can come in award discussions next season. Most Improved Player of the Year can be one that he can eventually snag.
Coming up for the Nuggets are the Oklahoma City Thunder. OKC is coming off of a big win against the Utah Jazz, and people are starting to take note of them. Getting a win against the Thunder would be huge for Denver, as they will have beaten a top 5 team in the West.
Miami was 27-5 at home and 14-19 on the road, how will the neutral site affect their play? Will they win more games with the neutral site?
The Heat had multiple question marks heading into the bubble and they definitely filled a lot in. They got a statement win against a tough Denver team even though the Nuggets had a weakened team. Down the stretch, the biggest thing for the heat was their depth. Duncan Robinson, Kelly Olynyk, and Jae Crowder were all on fire from deep. Kelly only played 24 minutes and scored all 20 of his points in the fourth quarter. This depth could lead to a dangerous team and a deeper playoff run.
Bam Adebayo and Duncan Robinson and going to be a problem in Miami. The two of them are just connecting and right now is just the right time to do so. Robinson made smarter decisions in this game, passing the ball up to Bam instead of throwing up a poor shot during the game. Bam has been improving all season long and his improved versatility and playmaking was huge. If Robinson keeps shooting the way he is shooting there is no question that these two can make a huge impact for the heat.
Next up they play tomorrow vs the Toronto Raptors, a tough matchup for them. Are they going to produce a similar offense, that’s the question everyone is asking right now.
Pacers vs 76ers
Coming into the bubble, the Indiana Pacers were neck and neck with the Philadelphia 76ers fighting for the 5 seed. Getting this seed would avoid having to meet the Celtics in the first round. In their first game against Phili, the Pacers secured the W, without Domantas Sabonis.
T.J. Warren put on a major show
One of the most underrated players on this Pacers team is T.J. Warren. Warren showed the NBA how much of a dominant force he can be, in an important game. He finished with a total of 53 points, shooting 20-29 from the field. He shot 75% from the 3 point line, going 9-12. Crazy. Winning this game was very important for Indiana, putting them a game ahead of the 6ers for the five spot. Without the major help from Warren, the Pacers likely wouldn’t have been able to win this game. A career night that will definitely go down as one of the greatest for T.J. Warren.
Even though Indiana got the win, the defense needs to be better.
When you look at the statline, not many people are talking about the night Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris had, because of T.J. Warren’s dominance. Embiid poured in 41, while Harris gave 30. Paint defense hurt the Pacers even though they got the win. Embiid was easily finding buckets left and right. Tobias Harris knocked down a trio of threes as well. Allowing 120+ points in any game means that the defense needs help. When Indiana gets Sabonis back, hopefully this issue gets resolved. When Indiana goes on to face the Lakers and Rockets, better defense will be key.
Next up for the Pacers are the Washington Wizards. The Wizards haven’t been doing great in Orlando, going 0-2 to the Nets and Suns. Indiana needs to continue the dominant offense, and have better paint defense especially when Rui Hachimura is on the floor.
Will the process finally mold together and bring Philly a championship that it has so desperately desired over years of disappointment? Will the Embiid be conditioned enough to go the distance?
New Starting lineup
The Sixers look like they are still adjusting to their new starting lineup and were not very smooth starting the game. They turned the ball over a lot and were constantly messing up defensive assignments. The end of the first ended with a shouting match with Embiid and Milton. They have a long way to go and need to work out some kinks immediately.
One of the biggest questions coming into the bubble for this team was if the Embiid was conditioned. He played 34 minutes and was active on both sides of the floor which is something all 76ers fans should be happy about. Joel put up 41 points and added on 21 rebounds to go along with it, a solid night for the big man. Hopefully, it will continue to carry on throughout the playoffs as the 76ers will need Embiid to make a run.
Next up for Philadelphia are the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are coming off of an upset victory against the Grizzlies. Gregg Poppovich has done a great job with this squad in Orlando, even without LaMarcus Aldridge. The keys for success in this game is to have good perimeter defense. Derrick White is on fire from beyond the arc, and the 76ers need to stop him along with other Spurs to win this game.
Jazz vs Thunder
The Utah Jazz are coming off a win over the very talented yet young New Orleans Pelicans. In this game against the Thunder, the Jazz struggled mightily to do anything. We saw the Thunder expose the Jazz’s weaknesses, and dominate the scoreboard.
The Utah Jazz have an offensive attack that features three point scoring, complemented by an attacking Donavan Mitchell. When the Jazz are clicking offensively they are a hard team to stop. In this game we saw the OKC Thunder shut down the offense, and took over the game. Both Gobert and Mitchell were held under 15 points, and the leading scorer for the Jazz was Mitchell with 13 points. These are guys that are averaging around 20 points per game, and leading the offensive attack. When both Gobert and Mitchell got shut down, Jordan Clarkson or Mike Conley were not able to step up. The only way that the Jazz were able to create any offense was by speeding up the pace and catching the Thunder out of position, or by the rim running of Rudy Gobert that came from a faster pace. The one thing that the Jazz did not have was the pace that they needed to keep the Thunder off balance, and aid in their own offense. This game was one to forget as the Jazz did not have any offensive rhythm or flow, as the Thunder stopped any push that the Jazz tried to create.
The leaders of the OKC Thunder are their three guards that lead the team and engineer their offense and defense. Both Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul scored over 15 points, and Denis Schroder was able to add 13 off the bench. All three of these guards were able to attack offensively, and control the pace of the game. Both Gilgeous-Alexander and Paul also used their drives into the paint to kick out to an open three point shooter or Steven Adams in the paint. This gave opportunities to teammates such as Adams,16 points, and Gallinari, 15 points, to flourish. The Utah Jazz could not stop Paul or Gilgeous-Alexander, and even though they had Rudy Gobert in the paint the Thunder were still getting easy buckets. When either guard attacked the paint and drew the attention of Gobert, it immediately opened up room for Adams or anyone else to cut underneath. These defensive woes for the Jazz is due to a lack of perimeter defense, and great offense from the Thunder. While the Jazz are usually a great defensive team they still bump in the road, and both the fans and team should hope that this is just a bump in the road.
The Utah Jazz are going to be playing the L.A Lakers next in the bubble, and this will be the second team that they play that is ahead of them in the seeding. As bad as the game was against the Thunder the Jazz must hope to get their offense and defense sorted out before they face the Lakers, because they can make the Jazz pay much more than the Thunder could.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Will OKC be a potential dark horse contender to make a run in the playoffs? Is CP3 going to show up in the playoffs and continue to lead OKC?
CP3 is a problem
Chris Paul has been a force to reckon with all season long and now when its time to play your best, he continues to get buckets. Against the Jazz he was 7-11 with 18 points, 7 assists, and 7 rebounds. Once again he came out and showed everyone that he is not washed and one of the best players in this league this year. With him playing like this OKC team looks ready for the playoffs.
Lu Dort defense
Dort was undrafted and was signed by the Thunder in July. He has started 21 games for the Thunder and they are 16-5 during those games. Against the Jazz it was defense. Dort held Donovan Mitchell to 13 points on 15 shots with straight up suffocating defense. He didn’t allow Mitchell to get much space which ultimately forced him into tougher shots. Good stuff from Dort and it could have a huge impact as they face other teams with good guard play.
The Thunders offense and defense give them a dark horse chance. They play the Nuggets tomorrow at 3 PM.
Pelicans vs Clippers
New Orleans Pelicans
After a close game against the Utah Jazz, this game against the Clippers was going to be a measure about how much the Pels can actually compete in the playoffs. After a huge blowout, the Pels have now lost both of their games in the bubble and are on a downward spiral.
Why isn’t Zion playing
The biggest headline of the Pelicans season was the drafting of Zion Williamson. Analysis has compared the 6’6 power forward to the likes of Lebron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo. After a couple of injuries limited his playing time in the regular season, many people were getting ready for what Zion was going to do in the bubble. As a candidate for the eighth seed in the west, the Pels were going to have to make a push from the tenth seed to the eighth. To make this push and compete with talented teams such as the Blazers and Grizzlies, the Pels need Zion to be at 100%. Over the past two games Zion has played 15 and 10 minutes, which is the total of some players one game minute total. Zion had to leave the bubble and quarantine himself once he reentered, and has missed some valuable practice time. While this is a reason for concern, we have seen posts of Zion in the gym and looking as health and fit as ever. After playing his first game in 3 minute bursts, it is surprising to see Zion still be on a minutes restriction. Without their star, the Pels have not been on the trajectory for a fight in the eighth, but as one of the bottom teams in the bubble. If the Pelicans want to turn around their tough start, they will need a playing Zion that changes games.
Kept the rest of the Clippers in check
The L.A Clippers have one of the best benches and supporting casts in the league. The New Orleans Pelicans were able to take this advantage away from the Clips by holding everyone but the Clippers two stars to less than ten points. This should be an accomplishment for the Pelicans because of the fact that they were able to take something from the Clippers. While this is not the type of game the Pels would have liked, they need to be able to learn from this game and move forward.
With a game against the Grizzlies coming up, we should be expecting a very tight game. Both the Grizzlies and Pelicans are fighting for the eight and this game could prove monumental in the fight for the eighth seed.
Los Angeles Clippers
After coming off of a heartbreaking loss against the Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers were hungry to get a win against Zion’s Pelicans. Kawhi and PG were both clicking on offense, and the Clippers defense did what they do best. Play good defense.
The Clippers got the tone set early.
When Paul George knocked down 3 three-pointers in a row, the rest of the Clippers started getting hot. Before you knew it, L.A. was up 20-6, hitting all 6 of their three-point attempts. This already left the Pels in a deep hole, giving the Clips all momentum. Kawhi Leonard got the mid-range game going, and Paul George was red hot from beyond the arc. As a team, the Clippers had 13 three pointers before mid second quarter. If they can keep this balance with great offense and defense, their chances at a title will vastly increase.
Locking Zion down on defense was key.
From the start of the game, the Clippers made it a priority to lock Zion down. They did a great job stopping him, and forcing Williamson into bad shots. Zion ended up with just 7 points, and couldn’t do much to help the Pels get the victory. Ever since Williamson came into the league, not many teams have been able to contain him. The Clippers showed that if you can shut him down, it’ll be difficult for the Pelicans to get a win. Great job by Los Angeles for shutting him down. This is yet another reason why they can get to the finals, and win it. Lockdown defense.
The Clips are going to be facing the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are two key forces L.A. will need to lock down. If they do so, a win will be in their hands easily.
Lakers vs Raptors
The Lakers are coming off a huge win against the Clippers, but everyone was waiting to see if AD and Lebron were in shape to take on another team with one day rest. The answer looks like a no, but we will see if LA can bounce back.
It looked like it was Nick Nurse’s plan to make the Lakers bench beat them, and the bench showed up. The Lakers bench had 49 points out of 92, which is way more than half the points. Kuzma, Waiters, and Caruso had 39 of those 49 points coming off the bench and were instrumental in the Lakers’ point totals. The starters just struggled in this one and this game shows the depth this team has. Let’s see if these guys can keep it going and move the Lakers on to a whole new level
JR was another one of the player signings over the offseason that generated a lot of buzz. Most of this was due to his previous mishaps and his random gym highlights. But after preseason there was a good amount of high surrounding JR and it looked like he could really make a huge impact. After a few games, it just looks like he won’t really be a part of the rotation with mistakes on both sides of the floor and his defense just not being ready for the playoffs. It would have been a great story, but it ultimately fell short.
The Lakers look to see help on their bench consistently as they will go take on the Jazz tomorrow at 9 PM.
The Raptors are the defending champions yet they aren’t even favored to get out of the second round. Everyone thinks they can’t make it without Kawhi and they are just out to prove everyone wrong.
Anthony Davis just came off a great night when the Lakers took down the Clippers. Things were looking good for the Lebron and AD who both had huge games on Thursday night. Then the Raptors opened the 8 game season and they hit hard. They focused on stopping AD and they did a great job on him. Davis was held from 2-7 from the field, the only thing that got him up to 14 points was the free throw line. He was 9-9 there which is something the Raptors should probably work on. Without AD’s 26 PPG the Lakers were held to under 100 points in this game.
The Raptors player development has been flat out fantastic, players are emerging from this team left and right. It looks like the Raptors have stumbled onto another potential star in OG. He was 8-9 from the field and was a perfect 4-4 from beyond the arc. He ended up with 23 points and 4 rebounds. Not to mention that he also guarded Lebron James for most of the night.
The Raptors could keep this defense and offense going; they look like they could make another championship run. Next up for the Raptors is Miami tomorrow at 12:30.
Top Photo: Kim Klement/Pool Photo via AP