By Colin Lawless, Staff Writer
For months, those atop the NBA hierarchy were tasked with the impossible task of figuring out how to play basketball in the midst of a global pandemic. The gap between the suspension of the season back in March, and its restart in July, was longer than the NBA offseason is every year.
Commissioner Adam Silver and those around him were able to craft a plan that has worked better than most would have thought, and the NBA Bubble has been the hallmark of success for the return to sports. Twenty-two teams moved into a “bubble” in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida in July.
Once moved in, they weren’t allowed to leave. There were a few incidents where players had to re-enter quarantine because they ordered food to their hotel. It was an extreme lockdown operation, and it has done wonders as there haven’t been any positive cases for players since they’ve been there.
When the actual playing began, 6 teams, 5 from the west and 1 from the East, were playing in hopes of securing the 8th and final playoff spot in each conference. It was a tight race in the West, as Phoenix, Memphis, and Portland were within a half of a game from each other throughout the play-in phase.
Even though Phoenix, led by the ever so brilliant Devin Booker, won all 8 of their games, it was Portland and Memphis who punched tickets to the play-in game for the 8th seed. Portland, backed by Damian Lillard, who was voted as Bubble MVP, locked up the 8th seed and are currently in the midst of a first-round match-up with the Lakers. The Magic locked up the 8th seed in the East and are currently playing the Bucks in the first round.
In terms of predictions, I don’t think I can confidently make any. In a perfect world, I’d be predicting that my New York Knicks would cruise their way through the bubble and win their first Finals since the early 1970s. The world isn’t perfect, however, and the Knicks haven’t been good for as long as I’ve been alive. So, my wish would be for the Portland Trail Blazers to shock the world. Damian Lillard has been playing like the undisputed superstar that he is, and I’d love to see Carmelo Anthony win his ever so elusive ring.
But that wouldn’t be a very wise prediction.
My real prediction is that the Lakers will come out of the West and the Raptors will come out of the East. The only other teams I could potentially see coming out of the West are the Clippers and the Nuggets. However, I think they’re both too inconsistent down the stretch, and that the pairing of Lebron James and Anthony Davis will be too much for even those teams to handle.
The East is a more complicated call. The Raptors have surprised us all by finishing second in the East after losing Kawhi Leonard, but they’ve certainly earned their stripes. Led by Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, they’ve still been able to put up offensive numbers all while limiting their opponents on the defensive end.
Coach Nick Nurse has crafted a brilliant game plan for the second year running and was just awarded Coach of the Year honors. Their most obvious competition is the first place Bucks, but I’m convinced they’ll struggle down the stretch again and that Giannis just won’t get enough help.
I think that in the end, the Lakers will win it all, in probably 6 or 7 games, and Toronto will be denied their second title in 2 years. Hopefully, in a year’s time, I can say that about my Knicks. But if we’re being honest, but I wouldn’t be placing any bets.