Take a bow, NBA players and commissioner Adam Silver. The league looks like it will complete its season in Orlando without any COVID-related interruptions. The only work stoppage occurred due to activism and will result in NBA arenas being used for voting stations. Apparently except for you, Milwaukee. #Boo.
Here’s a look at the best and worst from the bubble:
Biggest Winner: LeBron James, Los Angeles Lakers
With a victory on Friday, LeBron James will earn his fourth NBA championship, and his third with a different team. He might never eclipse Michael Jordan in the eyes of some. But he has done some things that are amazing. He’s a one-man dynasty having been to the NBA Finals nine out of the last 10 years. This was a crucial season for James, who will turn 36 in December. He was the MVP runner-up, but who knows how many title chances he has left. We may never see anyone as good as James again.
Postseason Most Valuable Player: Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers
It’s close between LeBron and Davis. Both have been sensational. Slight edge to the Unibrow. After suffering through seven seasons in New Orleans, Davis has made the most of his first season with the Lakers. Among players who reached at least the second round, he’s second in the playoffs in scoring (28.2), fourth in field-goal percentage (57.8), and sixth in rebounds (9.3). In the advanced metrics, Davis leads in win shares (3.9), and is second in Player Efficiency Rating (31.1) and in Value Over Replacement player (1.7). Big men still matter.
Restart Most Valuable Player: Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Damian Lillard was an unstoppable scoring machine in eight regular-season games in the bubble. He averaged 37.3 points, 9.6 assists, and 4.3 rebounds, while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 43.6 percent on three-pointers. He closed out the regular season by totaling an absurd 154 points over the three games, including 61 against Dallas. Portland won those three games by a grand total of seven points to reach the playoffs.
Postseason Least Valuable Player: Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
Russell Westbrook was returning from a quad injury. And yes, playing with James Harden can be complicated. But even with that factored in, he played poorly. Westbrook had career-worst playoff averages in points (17.9), assists (4.6),and free throw percentage (53.1). Among players who reached at least the second round, he was second worst in win shares (minus-0.2) and third worst in box/plus minus (-3.2). His performance at the end of the Game 6 loss in the first round against Oklahoma City was horrific.
Restart Least Valuable Player: Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson entered the season as the most hyped rookie we’ve seen since Anthony Davis (2012). But he was limited to 24 games due to injury. Still, when the NBA resumed play, many were curious to see how Williamson would look after the long layoff. He and New Orleans went a disappointing 2-6 (1-5 with Zion) in the bubble. Most alarming: the Pelicans were minus-58 in 104 minutes with Williamson on the floor.
Best Coaching Performance: Erik Spoelstra, Miami
As previously mentioned, Erik Spoelstra reminded everyone that he’s one of the best in the league. He led a team with four key players 25 and younger into the NBA Finals. This roster isn’t as talented as Milwaukee or Boston. The Heat beat both in a surprising playoff run.
Worst Coaching Performance: Doc Rivers, L.A. Clippers
Doc Rivers is a good coach, but the buck stops with him. When you have championship aspirations, you can’t blow a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the second round. Unbelievably this is the third time this has happened to Rivers as a coach. Don’t feel sorry for Doc. He’ll enjoy his new job with the Sixers.
Best playoff game-winner: Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks vs. L.A. Clippers
The Dallas Mavericks had no Kristaps Porzingis and seemingly no shot in Game 4 of its first-round series. Luka Doncic’s sprained left ankle would surely limit his effectiveness. Well, Doncic enjoyed the performance of his life. Doncic made a stepback three-pointer at the buzzer to win the game 135-133 in overtime and tie the series at 2-2. Doncic finished with an unbelievable triple double: 43 points, 17 rebounds, and 13 assists. It was the kind of game that officially elevated Doncic to superstar status. He’s among the most popular players in the league.
Best restart game-winner: Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns vs. L.A. Clippers
The degree of difficulty here was jaw-dropping. With the score tied at 115, Devin Booker dribbled right into the heart of the defense. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are among the best in guarding the perimeter. No matter. Booker took both on and elevated for a turnaround jumper. Swish. Ballgame. It capped a 35-point outburst and provided a meme-worthy moment.
Best buzzer-beating play: Toronto Raptors vs. Boston Celtics
It’s virtually impossible to make a game-winning basket with half of a second left. Toronto coach Nick Nurse drew up a play that he said he learned from ESPN analyst Hubie Brown’s instructional DVD. Kyle Lowry made an inbounds pass over 7-foot-5 Tacko Fall to OG Anunoby on the other side of the court for a shot that gave the Raptors a 104-103 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Best duel: Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz vs. Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
Donovan Mitchell (36.3 points, 4.9 assists 5.0 rebounds) went mano a mano with Jamal Murray (31.6, 6.3, 5.6). You wish it never ended. Mitchell eclipsed 50 points twice, Murray tallied 50 once. Both reached 50 in Game 4. Before Game 7, they totaled 267 points – the most by any two opposing players over a three-game postseason span in NBA history. In the decisive game, both were running on fumes. Mitchell scored 22 on 9-of-22 shooting, while Murray had 17 on 7-of-21 shooting. Denver won the slugfest 80-78.
Best bubble debut: T.J. Warren, Indiana Pacers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
The first 50-point game of the bubble wasn’t from James Harden, Damian Lillard, or Giannis Antetokounmpo. That honor belonged to… T.J. Warren?!? He channeled his inner Steph Curry to light up the Sixers. He scored a career-high 53 points by making 20-of-29 shots (9-of-12 from three-point range). Indiana won 127-121.
Biggest college winner: University of Kentucky
The NBA bubble: one long recruiting pitch for coach John Calipari. Kentucky had the most players in Orlando (17) and the most in the playoffs (13). Four reached the NBA Finals: Anthony Davis, Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, and Rajon Rondo. That’s not all for the Kentucky ties. Heat president Pat Riley and Lakers coach Frank Vogel are both alums. Riley played for the Wildcats. Vogel was a student manager.
Best recipient of free advertising: Magic City
Chicken wings so good, you’ll break quarantine for them! You can’t buy the type of advertising the Atlanta strip club got from Lou Williams’ ill-advised visit. At first, we all laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of an investigation over an NBA star getting food at a gentlemen’s club and maybe a little bit more. Guess what? The wings reportedly are legit. Williams even has a flavor named after him: “LouWill Lemon Pepper BBQ.”
Worst wing man: Jack Harlow, rapper
Williams might have gotten away with it if rapper Jack Harlow hadn’t posted a picture of the two at Magic City on Instagram. Worst wing man ever.
Best hotel guest: Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets
NBA players spent months in the bubble. That’s a long time to be living in a hotel. Russell Westbrook demonstrated his appreciation of the Grand Floridian housekeepers by reportedly leaving an $8,000 tip, according to the Dallas Morning News. He also apparently left the room “spotless.”
Worst teammate: Danuel House, Houston Rockets
Whatever Danuel House did in the privacy of his own room, hope it was worth it. He’ll be forever known as the first player to be banned from the bubble. Officially, he was kicked out for violating safety protocols. The NBA said: “House had a guest in his hotel room over multiple hours on Sept. 8 who was not authorized to be on campus.” The guest reportedly was a female COVID-19 testing official. No one knows exactly what happened. But it cost the Rockets their starting small forward during the playoffs series with the Lakers.
Also, House is married. Oops.
Best virtual fan: Guitar Man
There have been many celebrities like Barack Obama, Lil Wayne, and Robin Roberts. No one made us smile like the dude with the guitar.
Virtual fans playing the guitar at NBA games… 2020!!! pic.twitter.com/bX4KckchKG
— Highlight Hoops 24/7 (@HLHoops247) August 4, 2020
Best entrepreneur: Jimmy Butler, Miami Heat
Jimmy Butler started his own business inside the bubble: Big Face Coffee. For $20(!), he’ll use his French press machine to deliver you an expensive cup of joe. Small, medium, large. Doesn’t matter. It’s still $20. Strict rules too: cash only and no IOUs.
Best meme: JJ Redick, New Orleans Pelicans
Nothing beats JJ Redick staring blankly into the abyss knowing that the end is near.
— The Ringer (@ringer) August 1, 2020
Best useless skill: Meyers Leonard, Miami Heat shotgunning a beer.
The 7-footer finished a 12-ounce can of Coors Light it in less than three seconds.