5 Things We Learned: NBA Bubble Experience

Story posted October 14, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Matthew McLaughlin

In an unprecedented season, Adam Silver and the rest of the NBA somehow pulled off a restart in Orlando, Florida. That being said, let’s get into the biggest takeaways and storylines from a historic stretch of basketball.

1. Damian Lillard deserves your respect.

Throughout his career, Lillard has been overlooked as one of the best guards in the league, mainly due to playing on the west coast in Portland’s small market.

In the bubble, he simply willed the Trail Blazers to the playoffs despite missing key contributors such as Jusuf Nurkic, Zach Collins and Rodney Hood.

Although Nurkic returned in time for the playoffs, the Blazers needed Hood’s shot creation and Collins’ ability to stroke the 3 and stretch perimeter defenses.

However, Lillard carried this team into the playoffs by scoring at least 30 points in five of the eight regular season games, which included two 40-plus performances, a 51-point masterpiece, and a 61-point explosion, earning six wins in the process.

In the end, the Blazers were bounced out of the first round by the Lakers, but if Lillard didn’t have your respect before, he has earned it now.

2. Joel Embiid looks like his old self.

Going into the bubble, former 76ers head coach Brent Brown announced that he was moving star point guard Ben Simmons to the power forward spot in order to maximize his size advantage.

Flash forward to the start of the playoffs, and Simmons was out with a knee injury, leaving center Joel Embiid to carry the majority of the offensive load.

Although the Sixers were swept by the Boston Celtics, Embiid stringed together three straight performances of 30 points or more by dominating the paint against a weak Celtics frontcourt and getting to the free-throw line.

While the result was disappointing, Embiid looked like the center that contended for MVP in 2018, which gives some hope to Sixers fans.

3. Paul George must prove his worth next season.

Before the season was paused due to the pandemic, analysts were eager to anoint the Los Angeles Clippers champions due to their depth and the pairing of wing men Paul George and Kawhi Leonard
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However, George struggled to score consistently against a poor Dallas Mavericks defense, and then put up two 10-point performances in a series loss to the Denver Nuggets after blowing a 3-1 series lead in one of the biggest meltdowns in NBA history.

Going into next season, George must establish himself in the playoffs, when the team needs him most, as a capable sidekick to Leonard if the Clippers want to make a conference finals for the first time in franchise history.

4. Jimmy Butler belongs in the upper echelon of the league.

For most of his career, Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler has battled every trend to establish himself as one of the best defenders and most efficient scorers in the league. He did not change his offensive approach when the rest of the NBA tried copying the Golden State Warriors.

Now in Miami, he has found a home that fits his approach, and the Finals saw him put up a 40-point triple-double in Game 2 and a 35-point triple-double in Game 5, both of which were wins.

Although he did not take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy, Butler cemented his status as one of the best players in the league.

5. LeBron James should be appreciated while he’s here.

For years, James has been compared to Michael Jordan as the greatest player in all of basketball, which has caused massive division within the basketball community. Old geezers gasp at the sheer audacity of anyone willing to compare James to His Airness.

James has somehow exceeded the high expectations put on him since high school, and instead of pointlessly debating, let’s just enjoy James’ incredible prime at the age of 35.

 

Matthew McLaughlin is a freshman majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mem6936@psu.edu.