Five things: NBA Playoffs are back

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The better teams won across the board during NBA Playoffs on Monday, but I’m not so sure that’s a sign of things to come on a consistent basis.

At some point things are going to get weird. I’m almost sure of it.. The lack of home-court advantage, and the length of time these players are going to have to stay within a campus — a bubble — is going to have its effect. Mike Conley has already left the premises for the birth of his child. This is not to say the NBA hasn’t done an unbelievable job navigating this operation. Perhaps I was pessimistic or cynical, but I thought it was doomed from the start. I’ve thus far been proven wrong. Loud wrong. I’m screaming from the mountaintops regarding my wrongness. 

But I’m no longer concerned about the safety of the bubble — the NBA seems to have that well under control. The thing that has me worried is what’s going to happen during this time is the everyday lives of these players.

This can’t be easy. Spending months and months residing in your own space with limited interaction with your loved ones feels like a test of one’s sanity. We know these guys love basketball, and we know they get paid a lot of money, but they’re still humans — people who require the same interactions this writer and anyone else reading this requires. 

I could go on for hours about this, but let’s talk about basketball, shall we?

Caris LeVert

One of the best aspects of the bubble has been the unpredictability factor. Given the inconsistencies of the lineups and the nearly total lack of home-court advantage, things have completely changed. The only game during the course of a four-game day that wasn’t really close was Raptors-Nets. Toronto is simply a better team, but I don’t believe anyone felt as if Brooklyn would be any sort of threat anyway, given the current state of its roster. 

Still, for the time being, it’s worth exploring what Caris LeVert brings to the table. He didn’t score the way you would normally expect but he dropped a career high 15 assists. The Raptors are attacking LeVert defensively when he begins to probe, given how few playmakers the Nets have off the dribble. But he’s showing when he’s healthy he can just about do anything.

If you’ve followed this sport you probably know this by now. The guy can play, and it’s been evident for a while now. But this is a perfect opportunity to take control of things for the time being as all the big names in Brooklyn are done for the season until the next one tips off and the Nets are back at full strength. 

Brooklyn isn’t winning this series. It may not win a game given how good the Raptors’ defense is playing. The Nets may not win a game. It may be a 4-1 gentleman’s sweep, though, as coined by my good friend Graydon Gordian. But take advantage of LeVert being given the reins. 

Denver scares me

I like Denver a lot. But the thing that makes the Nuggets dangerous, more than anything, is their ability to kill you with their depth. Right now, they don’t have it. Luckily for Denver, neither do the Jazz. 

Congrats to Mike Conley on the birth of his child. It goes without saying, that is a bigger moment in a person’s life than any dribble of a basketball. And in an awkward segue it also likely means the end of Utah’s season. It was probably over to begin with given the injury to Bojan Bogdanovic on top of everything, but now, the Jazz are pretty much done. Even if Conley comes back soon there’ll be COVID-19 protocol with which to deal and it feels like the end of the road for Utah. 

But Donovan Mitchell went berserk with 57 points Monday and it still wasn’t enough in an overtime game. He’s immensely talented and is capable of pulling out a win or beating a spread, but given their current state they’re just too shorthanded.

Still, Denver is not playing very well. It took a massive fourth quarter from Jamal Murray for them to even have a chance against a pretty thin Jazz team. Granted, Mitchell went crazy, and it’s tough to deal with a game during which one player explodes the way he did. Still, it doesn’t look good. They just aren’t the same without their normal depth, and that’s understandable.

No Simmons is problematic

We can all point fingers at the fact the Sixers’ giant point guard can’t shoot, but he’s still extremely valuable. He’s an amazing athlete with ridiculous size that traditionally doesn’t manifest itself at the position he plays. Now, Philly is struggling to find a point guard.

They haven’t exactly been playing consistently well this season anyway and have never been all that deep. I’m not even kidding when I say this: Raul Neto might be their best true point guard, and he didn’t even play Monday. And it was a DNP-CD.

They have talent, but it’s clunky without Ben Simmons. Dumping it down to Joel Embiid or Tobias Harris taking turnarounds can only go so far.

Porzingis got robbed

There’s not a ton of analysis here.

Luka Doncic was awesome in this game, and I think this is going to be a fun series. But the refs screwed the Dallas Mavericks. I’m just going to say it: Kristaps Porzingis didn’t do enough in totality to be tossed. Maybe one technical, OK. But two? Given what he did was pretty harmless, it was wrong. I don’t even want to talk about this game because the Mavs are good. Their lack of depth is going to hurt them and the Clippers are a better team — hell, I picked the Clips to win it all at the start of the season. But Dallas is a problem. Let them find a rhythm and they might kill you.

The refs deprived us of what could’ve been a great game. I’m almost never a blame-it-on-the-refs guy but I found myself very annoyed by the Porzingis ejection. The Mavs are a very scary matchup for anyone if they have their game plan in place. If it gets to clutch time things get a bit iffy with them, but they can run away from you.

It’s tough to do so when your second best player gets thrown out for being upset in the moment and then, in a totally unrelated incident, just defending a teammate.

More fun

These NBA Playoffs are going to be a blast, especially early in the proceedings. Games all day, every day. 

Things I’m really looking forward to watching tomorrow: Is the feud between Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren actually over or are they just playing nice? That might not be the sexiest series but the underlying storylines are definitely sexy. 

And how about Chris Paul in an Oklahoma City uniform taking on the Houston Rockets? If there’s one thing we know about Paul is he forgets nothing. This is shaping up to be a massive CP3 series, and I’d bet everything I have on him flat-out cooking against that defensive backcourt of the Rockets. 

Then there’s Blazers-Lakers. This is not the same Portland team we saw months back. The Blazers are healthier and more well-rounded. This is not your typical eighth seed, and there is essentially no home-court advantage beyond piped in noise inside the arena.

Be ready, folks. These playoffs are going to be unlike any you’ve seen before. Things will happen unexpectedly beyond injuries. Usually players can deal with everyday life because they’re at home and they can handle matters on the side. Not now.

I hope I’m loud wrong again, but without the ability to fully work with the daily events we all face as human beings, the probability of issues arising that force players to leave the bubble will only increase as time goes on after months in the bubble. 

Again, I hope I’m wrong. Let’s watch some basketball.

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