- The NBA season has resumed in a bubble in Disney World.
- Games began last Thursday and have continued since, with a weekend full of action.
- Here’s an early look at winners and losers from the first few days of play.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The NBA season is up and running inside a bubble in Disney World.
Games kicked off last Thursday and continued over the weekend, marking the first NBA action since March 11.
After four days of exciting, wild, and sometimes, sloppy, games, here’s a look at some early winners and losers of the NBA’s return.
WINNER: San Antonio Spurs
Why they’re winners: The Spurs entered the bubble with low expectations, sitting in 12th place in the West, with no LaMarcus Aldridge. They responded with two big wins over the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies. They got excellent guard play from Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, and DeMar DeRozan has more freedom than ever as a de-facto power forward, with Gregg Popovich forced to go small. The Spurs are now in ninth place, within two games of the eighth seed, and they don’t play any of the top five teams the rest of the way. How could we have doubted the Spurs?
LOSER: New Orleans Pelicans
Why they’re losers: The Pelicans were a dark horse to make the playoffs coming into the bubble. Now, they have almost no chance. They blew a late lead to the Jazz on the opening night, then got blown out by the Clippers, a poor response in what was almost a must-win game. Zion Williamson is still under a minutes limit, and the Pelicans supporting cast has been up and down. The Pelicans are still only 3.5 games back of eighth place, but they will have to win most of their remaining six games to even force a play-in game.
WINNER: T.J. Warren
Why he’s a winner: The 26-year-old Indiana Pacers forward exploded for 53 points to help his team beat the 76ers on Saturday. Warren was essentially dumped onto the Pacers this past offseason but has proven himself to be a quality part of the rotation. The Pacers are a bruised bunch in the bubble, but Warren proved they won’t go away easily.
LOSER: Memphis Grizzlies
Why they’re losers: The Grizzlies have been competitive in both of their games, but ultimately, their losses to the Blazers and Spurs (two teams trailing them in the standings) push them closer to a play-in game. When games have gotten tight, the Grizz haven’t had a go-to scorer, raising concerns about how they’d fare in a play-in game for the playoffs.
Why they’re winners: The Rockets have had two impressive wins, first in a comeback over the Mavs, then in a back-and-forth battle over the Bucks. The wins haven’t been flawless, but Houston’s switching defence has looked solid (despite the high point totals in their games), and they got a win over Milwaukee on a bad shooting night. Could Houston be proving itself as a third contender in the West?
LOSER: Orlando Magic
Why they’re losers: The Magic have won both of their bubble games and look like they can move into the seventh seed in the East.
But they got a dose of bad luck on Sunday when forward Jonathan Isaac tore his ACL. Isaac is a multi-dimensional defender who had been playing well when healthy this season. Orlando can win without him, but it’s certainly a blow going forward.
WINNER: Kyle Lowry
Why he’s a winner: Lowry reminded the NBA world that he might be the best (or at worst, second-best) player on the reigning champions. On Saturday, Lowry scored 33 points with 14 rebounds and 6 assists, while posting a +24 in a win over the Lakers. As ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote about Lowry, “he does winning things every second he is on the floor.” The Raptors are title contenders, and Lowry looked like he didn’t miss a beat during the suspension.
LOSER: Dallas Mavericks
Why they’re losers: The Mavericks took their high-octane offence to the bubble, but not their defence. The Mavs have scored 264 points in their two bubble games, but have given up 270. They blew a lead to the Rockets, then lost a winnable game to the Suns. Dallas is locked into a playoff spot, but they have an opportunity to climb out of the seventh seed into sixth or fifth, where they could avoid the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. They will have to play far better than they have so far to look like true playoff threats.
WINNER: Dion Waiters
Why he’s a winner: It’s been a rocky journey for Dion Waiters, the former No. 4 pick. After playing just 77 games over three seasons in Miami, Waiters was bought out and joined the Lakers, but did not get in any games prior to the suspension. However, in the bubble, Waiters has been an effective bench player, averaging 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 47% shooting from three. The Lakers will need his production with Rajon Rondo recovering from a broken hand and Avery Bradley sitting out of the bubble. After such an up-and-down few seasons, he looks like he has a place in the NBA.
LOSER: Shake Milton
Why he’s a loser: Milton, a second-year guard, was a heralded addition to the 76ers starting lineup in the bubble, as it moved Ben Simmons to power forward and off the ball. In his first game in the bubble, Milton played 19 minutes, missed his only shot attempt, picked up five fouls, and turned the ball over three times. He also got into an argument with Joel Embiid over a defensive rotation, and teammates had to come between them. Not an auspicious start for Milton.
WINNER: Rudy Gobert
Why he’s a winner: The NBA shut down after Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 in March, the first known case in the league. Four-plus months later, Gobert scored the first points in the bubble and hit the game-clinching layup off an assist from Donovan Mitchell. The Jazz lost their second game, but it was a nice moment of redemption for Gobert, who has taken some heat in recent months for seemingly not taking the coronavirus seriously before he tested positive.
LOSER: Washington Wizards
Why they’re losers: The Wizards probably should not have been invited to the bubble, but they were. Two games in, their playoff hopes are already dwindling after two losses, putting them at 24-42, seven games back of the eighth seed. They will have to go at least 3-3 to force a play-in game, and even then, can they beat the Nets or Magic twice?
WINNER: Microsoft Teams
Why they’re a winner: Microsoft Teams partnered with the NBA to provide virtual fans via the “Together Mode” on big LED screens in the bubble arenas. It’s not a perfect setup – fans occasionally leave, leaving empty seats – but it provides some atmosphere and crowd noise and seems like a better option than cardboard cutouts or totally empty arenas.
Why they’re losers: It’s been a rough few days for the NBA refs, who may be adjusting to the bubble conditions themselves. The early games have been weighed down by foul calls, many of which have been questionable, and lengthy reviews to check for flagrant fouls. Perhaps refs are getting used to hearing more contact and yelling without fans, but the constant stoppages have slowed down the games. Hopefully, it will ease up over time.