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The good, bad and weird from within NBA bubble: Breaking down all the happenings since play resumed in Orlando

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It’s been almost two weeks since the NBA officially resumed games inside its bubble at Disney World in Orlando, and so far it seems to be holding well. There have been no positive tests within the bubble as the league has been able to pull off what other sports leagues across the country are struggling to accomplish as they look to return. While there’s still a long journey to crowning a champion, it’s hard not to consider this a success.

There were endless questions surrounding how the NBA was going to make this work, from the COVID-19 safety aspect to the actual basketball being played. With most of the seeding schedule in the books, though, we’ve seen enough to discern the highs and lows of the league’s restart. 

To break it all down, here are the good, bad and just plain weird things we’ve seen happening in the NBA bubble.

GOOD

Quality of basketball: After five months away from the game, there was no telling what kind of basketball we were going to get. Were players going to be out of shape, resulting in inefficient games? Was the intensity going to be down for fear of injuries? We just had no idea what to expect. With seeding games almost wrapped up, though, it’s safe to say what we’ve gotten so far has been some of the most exciting basketball we could’ve asked for in this restart. The battle for the two spots in the play-in game in the West alone has been the best thing about this restart. There have been more close games than blowouts, and so many crucial overtimes. This is what happens when the Knicks aren’t there to tank every game. 

BAD

The injuries: As good as the basketball has been, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the injuries that have popped up over the course of the seeding schedule. This was always going to be avoidable regardless of how the league planned its return. It’s just unfortunate that it’s happening to key players with the playoffs just around the corner. The 76ers — once again — have been bitten with the injury bug as Ben Simmons just underwent knee surgery, and Joel Embiid is dealing with an ankle injury. The Grizzlies lost Jaren Jackson Jr. for the remainder of this season, and could potentially be without him when next season starts, whenever that is. Injuries suck, and sadly there’s no way around them.

WEIRD

T.J. Warren playing like a superstar: This could be categorized as good, if you expected Warren to suddenly turn into the best player on the planet, but considering no one saw that coming, this is certainly weird to see. He’s cooled off recently, but early in the seeding games he dropped 53 points on the Sixers and has had three 30-point performances. With Victor Oladipo struggling to get his footing, Warren has by far been Indiana’s best player inside the bubble.

GOOD

Virtual fans: One of the biggest questions coming into the bubble was how was the league going to make these games watchable without all the typical sights and sounds we’re used to seeing on a broadcast. Instead of going the cardboard cutout fan route like MLB did (which is honestly a sad sight to me), the NBA actually brought the fans to the game … virtually. By using the giant video boards that surround the court as virtual seats, each game has around 300 fans rooting for either team, and it’s been a great addition to include something to these games. It’s even funnier when you see guys like Shaquille O’Neal and a very stressed out Paul Pierce pop up in the middle of the game.

BAD

The Pelicans‘ lackluster performance: Check any outlet’s coverage leading up to the restart — including ours — and you’ll see that the Pelicans were the heavy favorites to grab the final playoff spot in the West. Call it the Zion Williamson hype, strength of schedule or the lack of trust in the other teams, but New Orleans was supposed to give the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers a run for their money. Instead, what we got was a team that has won just two games in the bubble, a struggling Lonzo Ball who is averaging just 5.7 points and lost hope of a LeBron James-Zion Williamson first-round playoff matchup. This JJ Redick meme just sums up the feelings all of us are having about the Pelicans perfectly.

WEIRD

The Wizards have a worse win percentage than the Hornets, who weren’t invited to Orlando: Washington hasn’t won a single game in the bubble, proving that it probably had no business being invited in the first place — especially considering the Wizards sent Rui Hachimura along with some deep-bench reserves and G League players. Once Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal opted out of the restart it was clear the Wizards weren’t going to contend, but they haven’t even been fun to watch like the next team on this list.

WEIRD

The Phoenix Suns are undefeated in the bubble!: Phoenix had the worst record among the teams invited in the Western Conference, and the league didn’t even think the Suns would make any noise by not giving them a single nationally televised game. Well, the joke’s on all of us because not only have the Suns won all their games in the bubble, but they actually have a legitimate shot at making the postseason. For a franchise that’s been down-right awful for the better part of a decade, it’s nice to see it finally figure things out. However, we’ll see if any of this success carries over into next season, or if it was just bubble fever.

GOOD

The trash-talking: This pertains specifically what transpired between Damian Lillard, Paul George and Patrick Beverley. Click here if you want a detailed explanation of what happened, but long story short, George and Beverley poked the bear so to speak, and it has resulted in Lillard scoring 112 points in his last two games. I don’t know why we haven’t learned to not to anger Lillard because he definitely took it personally, and for that the whole league should be worried if the Blazers make the postseason.

BAD

The court/fake logos: If you thought what the court looked like didn’t matter, were you wrong. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of what the far superior WNBA court looks like compared to the NBA’s:

Notice anything different? The NBA opted to not fill in the baseline border around the court, making it look empty and somewhat unappealing. Some things have changed since the games resumed, like the introduction of virtual logos on the court that change depending on which team is the home team. But even those have been problematic. Any time a player is in the area of one of the sponsor logos, it glitches out and looks like the player has paint on their face. It’s especially true if the player is wearing a white jersey, making them look like a walking billboard. If you haven’t noticed it yet, watch closely next time, and you won’t be able to unsee it.

WEIRD

This all just feels like one big AAU tournament: The biggest example of this feeling like an AAU tournament is when the camera pans to the “audience” and you see players from teams who aren’t even playing right now in the seats. If you’ve been to an AAU tournament, then you’ll remember seeing the best team in the tourney roll up to the gym like two hours before their game starts in their warm-ups with headphones on just to sit in the stands and scout the competition. Then there’s the fact that all these players are staying at the same hotels right now. Some have said that the next great super team will be created because of this, but I just want to know if Lillard has seen Beverley at the ice machine since their altercation.

GOOD

Afternoon basketball: Unless you live on the West Coast, if you wanted to watch a Lakers or Clippers home game before the postponement that meant staying up until basically 1 a.m. just to watch the end of it. Not in the restart. The NBA blessed us with what I think should become a regular thing, which is afternoon start times. By far the best thing about the restart has been being able to watch 10 straight hours of basketball starting at 12 p.m. ET and the final game ending around 10 p.m. This will most likely go away once the postseason starts, and all the games are in primetime, but even the prime-time games are starting an hour earlier since all the teams are in one location. 

BAD

Fouls are way up: It calmed down for a bit, but it appears that fouls are inching back up, and it’s messing up the flow of the game. It may be due to players being exhausted from playing games every other day, or referees being able to hear every slap with no crowd noise, but just look at this graph comparing foul rates before and after the hiatus:

In the exciting Blazers-Mavericks game, Dallas shot 33 free throw attempts alone, which is 10 more than what it averaged prior to when the season was postponed. We’ll see if this trend carries over into the postseason, but referees are known to let players play a little bit more in the playoffs. 

WEIRD

Post-game interviews and limited media: One of the strangest things by far is how media is handled in the restart. For one, there are no more media scrums, so it’s incredibly weird to not see video of LeBron’s post-game press conference with hordes of reporters huddled around his locker. Instead, Zoom conferences have become the norm, and media members who are there in person have to always keep a distance of six feet from all players and coaches, even when being interviewed. It’s especially funny when players aren’t sure where to look when being asked a question, because it could be coming from an ominous voice through a speaker on Zoom, or someone standing right next to them in the bubble. Also funny, the extra long microphones that ESPN and TNT are using to conduct post-game interviews with players to ensure that six-feet rule is followed: 

First of all, the strength it takes to hold on of those microphones steady like that is pretty insane. Secondly, I’m sure the players are enjoying not having media members all up in their personal space right after a hard-fought win or loss. Something tells me that the players union will see if they can keep this rule in place even after the pandemic is over. 

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