Champs, contenders and key sleepers highlight week two in The Bubble
Jacob Rosenfarb (@jacobrosenfarb)
August 3, 2020
The NBA has been back for less than 100 hours and The Bubble in Orlando has already been rife with key storylines and exciting moments.
With the first full week of basketball's return set to start Monday at 1:30 p.m. ET and carry out upwards of 10 hours of consecutive basketball, per day, for the entire week, here's a look at each game you should be bookmarking in your schedule and why.
August 3 – Toronto Raptors vs Miami Heat — 1:30 PM ET
A tone-setting defensive identity, methodically efficient offenses and great coaching define both the Raptors and Heat as these two under the radar Finals contenders kick off the first full week of NBA bubble action. Toronto gently reminded the world why the Larry O’Brien trophy currently resides north of the border with a thorough 15 point beatdown of the Lakers Saturday night, and have another chance Monday to assert themselves against a Miami team that began their playoff tune-up equally impressively with a 20 point win Saturday over the injury-riddled Nuggets.
The current two and four seeds, Toronto and Miami are likely Milwaukee’s two most stringent obstacles standing between them and a Finals appearance, with both teams possessing the wing depth, defensive intangibles and timely shooting necessary to take down the top-seeded Bucks.
August 4 – Houston Rockets vs Portland Trail Blazers — 9 PM ET
Another matchup between two similarly constructed teams, both Houston and Portland have placed their bubble hopes squarely on the shoulders of their superstar backcourts. In their pursuit of the eighth seed, the Trailblazers have welcomed the returns of talented big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic as they work to provide some sort of balance for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.
The Rockets on the other hand have looked balance in the eye and laughed, instead trotting out a starting lineup consisting of five players 6’7 or shorter. The strategy has both reignited the Rockets offensively and further invigorated their trap-heavy defensive scheme, which in turn has rematerialized the lofty preseason expectations donned upon Houston and has illuminated a potentially groundbreaking path to the NBA Finals.
August 5 – Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma City Thunder — 6:30 PM ET
One of the hottest teams in the league at the time of the NBA’s shutdown, Oklahoma City has continued their strong play into Orlando as they began their restart campaign with a resounding 16 point win over Utah. Entering the week just a half game back of both the fourth-seeded Rockets and fifth-seeded Jazz, the Thunder appear to have gelled just in time to do serious damage in the upcoming playoffs.
Armed with a unique blend of youth and experience, OKC presents problems for virtually every Western Conference contender, with the Lakers as no exception. The rejuvenation of Chris Paul spells particular trouble for Los Angeles, as they have struggled all season against the league’s elite point guards and now find themselves without their best guard defender in Avery Bradley.
Wednesday’s clash presents a valuable opportunity for Oklahoma City to exploit these weaknesses and potentially improve their playoff standing, all while making a resounding statement on national television against one of the league’s premiere franchises.
August 6 – Los Angeles Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks — 6:30 PM ET
A preview of a likely first round playoff matchup, Dallas has the opportunity to answer the multitude of questions surrounding their team as they tangle with the league’s other LA based championship contender. The vast majority of the questions haunting Dallas lie on the defensive end of the court, as the team works to counter-balance their lack of natural defenders with more conducive defensive principles.
While increased minutes for players like Dorian Finney-Smith and Maxi Kleber have elevated their overall defensive profile, the loss of Dwight Powell looms large on the team as they work to compliment their record-setting offense. Thursday’s contest should provide some important insight how the Mavericks plan on tackling the Clippers all-world forward duo, and the showdowns that lie in store for what could potentially be one of the West’s most exciting series.
August 7 – Philadelphia 76ers vs Orlando Magic — 6:30 PM ET
While the news of Jonathon Isaac’s ACL tear certainly dampens the excitement surrounding this matchup, there’s still plenty of reasons to end your week with this Eastern conference duel. Chief among them is the tantalizing possibilities Markelle Fultz presents against his former team, as the former number one overall pick continues his career revival for a talented but imbalanced Orlando team. While averaging career highs in points, assists and field goal percentage among a litany of other statistics, Fultz has asserted himself as the point guard of the future for a Magic team still seeking a coherent identity.
Speaking of identity crises, Philadelphia enters the bubble still trying to reconcile how a team seemingly overflowing with talent finds themselves sixth in their conference. With a relatively easy slate of games preceding their likely first round showdown with Boston, Philadelphia has been granted the rare opportunity to reimagine their team midseason in hopes of utilizing each of their core players to their fullest potential.
While Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid’s on-court relationship continues to evolve, Brett Brown has striven to surround his two superstars with the more complimentary supporting cast. In the 76ers first bubble action, Brown subbed Al Horford out of the starting lineup for only the fourth time all season. While TJ Warren’s 53-point performance helped spoil Brown’s experimentation, it is a positive indication of the lengths Brown will go to unlock the East’s most talented tandem.