The NBA’s eight seeding games concluded on Friday, and the format has to be considered a resounding success so far.
First and foremost, since teams entered the bubble, there have been no positive COVID-19 tests, so clearly, the closed campus has been an effective way to have sports while limiting exposure to coronavirus.
But on the court, the product has been fun and innovative as well. The seeding games provided fans with a glimpse at a Phoenix Suns team that made a miraculous 8-0 run but still ultimately fell short of a playoff spot, an out-of-nowhere ascension as an elite scorer by T.J. Warren, and an absolutely insane scoring run from Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers to get his team into the eighth playoff spot in the West. There’s also still a play-in game to look forward to – the Blazers play the Grizzlies Saturday. A win by Memphis gives the Grizzlies a chance on Sunday to win again and steal that playoff spot from Portland.
The league also added another surprise this week – they'll unveil recipients of “Bubble Awards” on Aug. 15 prior to the Western Conference play-in game. There will be a bubble MVP, an all-bubble team, and an award for the top coach. Here are our predictions:
The field for this award is surprisingly crowded, and perhaps most shocking, regular season frontrunners GIannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James don’t factor into the conversation.
Devin Booker took a huge leap forward and led the Suns to that perfect record. Luka Doncic was a do-it-all force who threatened a triple double every night the Mavs played. James Harden continued to do James Harden things and helped the Rockets climb into the fourth spot in the West even with Russell Westbrook out due to injury. And T.J. Warren was the early star of the bubble, scoring 53 points in Indiana’s opener and scoring 30 or more in four of the six games he played.
But the winner of this one is easy. Lillard willed the Blazers to a 6-2 record, including multiple nail-biting and comeback wins. His pull-up from halfcourt and his high-bouncing three-pointer were two of the most iconic shots of the seeding game and he was the runaway star.
Top Bubble Coach
With all due respect to Jacque Vaughn, the interim coach of the Brooklyn Nets, this one is easy. Monty Williams’ young Suns team finally found some consistency from the young roster, the team embraced a defensive-minded approach, and whenever next season starts, the Suns will be one of the trendy picks to be a playoff threat as a result of what they showed in Orlando.
But don’t overlook Vaughn, who just took over the team prior to the season shutting down. He entered Orlando with a roster missing its top scorers and several key rotation players. The Nets played as hard as any team in the bubble, and held onto the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference, something most predicted they wouldn’t be able to do heading into the seeding games.
The All-Bubble Team
The first four spots were mentioned in the MVP discussion of this post. Lillard, Booker, Harden, and Doncic were clearly the standout stars. Warren was an early lock for this, but he cooled off a bit late and missed two games due to injury.
So the final spot on this team is going to Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets. Porter has been stashed on the Nuggets bench most of the season and in and out of their rotation. Injuries forced him into a larger role in Orlando, and he shined. He had 23 points or more in four games and also had four double-doubles. His sudden ascension gives Denver another weapon to go with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, and makes the Nuggets a suddenly intriguing pick to make a run at the NBA Finals depending on how matchups play out in the West.