The NBA bubble has already produced plenty of storylines and the playoffs have not even started yet.  

The coronavirus pandemic forced the league to think outside the box, leading to games being played within a bio-secure one. Through careful planning and at great expense, a plan was drawn up to take the show on the road to Orlando, Florida. 

Walt Disney World is used to delivering entertainment; the resumption of the basketball season has not disappointed on that front, aided by a revised structure that offered several teams renewed hope. 

Amid great uncertainty during a global health crisis, the players and teams bought into the proposal to deliver sporting drama to an eager audience watching on from afar. 

Scoring climbed upon the resumption – the average rose by 4.3 points per game per team – while the absence of the bottom feeders, those teams too far back to contend and already focused on the next campaign and beyond, led to a slight rise in the number of close contests.  

"It's better than what we had envisioned," NBA commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "Players have taken to it in a more spirited way than we thought they would.   

"We knew that this would require enormous sacrifice on everyone's part, but I think that what is hard to calibrate - and this maybe goes to my experience when I first came into the arena - is the human emotion that comes with being around other people. And I think everyone realised they missed it more than they even understood." 

Now the initial 22-team field is down to 16, the Portland Trail Blazers confirmed in the final playoff spot after coming through a play-in tournament, one of several changes put in place due to a shortened regular season.  

The top seeds will be the focus moving forward now, but others have claimed the spotlight during the action seen so far.

RED-HOT SUNS CATCH FIRE 

The Phoenix Suns are done for the campaign despite winning all eight seeding games, another new concept from the NBA that condensed the race to qualify in both conferences.  

They were always a long shot to make it, but that did not stop Monty Williams' roster from giving it their all to make up the gap. They ended up making unwanted history, becoming the first team to finish the season on a winning streak of eight or more games and still not make the playoffs. 

Phoenix's eight straight wins all came while scoring 110 or more points in every game, matching the longest such streak in franchise history (having also done so between November 23 and December 9 way back in 1971).  

Their average points per game increased from 112.6 to 122.3, while they were successful with 40.2 per cent of their attempts from deep. The Suns were also outstanding from the free throw line, shooting 90 per cent, not to mention on social media.

Devin Booker was a major reason for the sudden hot streak. The guard averaged 30.5 points in Florida and provided one of the more memorable moments during the seeding games, hitting a buzzer-beating game-winner to down the Los Angeles Clippers.  

Booker had 20 or more points in every outing and while they missed out on the playoffs for a 10th straight season, Phoenix's form in the sunshine state provides renewed hope for the future. 

"I just think that we have a group that wanted to come here and wanted to prove to the world that they were worthy of being here," Williams said. They certainly did that.

LILLARD BLAZES A TRAIL 

The Suns only narrowly missed out on a play-in place to the Memphis Grizzlies, who owned the tie-breaker between the pair after both finished with identical 34-39 records in a competitive Western Conference.  

Memphis had arrived in Orlando sitting in eighth but dropped down a spot due to the form of the Trail Blazers, who piggybacked Damian Lillard's hot hand to go 6-2 following the restart.  

Lillard was unsurprisingly named bubble MVP, as he finished top for points, averaging an outstanding 37.6 a game, and three-pointers, hitting 44 to finish 10 ahead of team-mate Gary Trent Jr.   

The point guard had 154 points in a three-game run at one stage, just shy of the 158 he managed during a similar span back in January. His tally of 71 successful free throws, meanwhile, put him behind only James Harden (73).  

But it was not just about the scoring for Lillard, who also averaged 9.6 assists per outing for a Blazers roster who will hope to continue their fine form when they face the Los Angeles Lakers in the playoffs.  

To put Lillard's performances into context, the five-time NBA All-Star is the only player since the league merger to have 150-plus points, as well as 25 or more assists, in a three-game spell – and he has done it twice this season.  

If his feats on the court were not enough, the 30-year-old has also found the time to drop three tracks on a new EP titled "Live From The Bubble". Both on and off the court, Lillard has capitalised on the opportunities presented to him during this unique campaign, one that is far from over for him and his team just yet. 

The playoffs will be different, of course. They always are. The Lakers will focus on stopping Portland's top scoring option, but without Lillard's recent efforts the Trail Blazers would surely have missed out on even getting a shot at causing an upset in the opening round.

SEEDS OF CONCERN FOR LAKERS?

And what of the Lakers, the top seeds in the West who are preparing for a first playoff appearance since 2013?  

They always had a long-term goal in mind, knowing the seeding games allowed key personnel to get enough minutes to be primed for bigger challenges ahead while still having plenty left in the tank.  

Coach Frank Vogel has also experimented with rotations with one eye on the not-too-distant future, so it is understandable that the overall numbers have dropped of late.  

Still, the Lakers ranked first in field goal percentage and fourth for effective field goal percentage when the season was halted in March -they were 19th and 21st in those respective categories in Florida.  

Indeed, the statistics where they saw numbers increase while going 3-5 was in turnovers and opposition scoring, which jumped to 113.4 points per game (instead of 106.9 earlier in the campaign).  

LeBron James and Anthony Davis also dipped in terms of production, the latter averaging 21.6 points, way down from his previous number of 26.7, in seven outings. 

The drop in output should not raise too many alarms, particularly with both stars in the conversation to be crowned overall MVP.  

Yet the Lakers will understand the unprecedented circumstances have altered the outlook for all teams still standing, particularly as home advantage no longer exists within the bubble. 

The seedings run was fun - now it is time to get serious. Those still alive will fight it out to discover who will be crowned champions at the end of a season that will never be forgotten.

Devin Booker was willing the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday and send the Phoenix Suns to the Western Conference play-in game.

The Suns have sensationally ended the seeding games in the 'bubble' with an 8-0 record after beating the Dallas Mavericks 128-102.

Phoenix had looked to be all but out of the running for the playoffs heading to Orlando, but star guard Booker has been in inspirational form.

He put up 27 points, seven rebounds and five assists against the Mavs, although the Memphis Grizzlies' win over the Milwaukee Bucks meant the Suns will be eliminated unless Portland lose later in the day.

Speaking to TNT after beating Dallas, Booker said: "I am aware of the Memphis score.

"I'm a big Brooklyn Nets fan. I'm going to call my guy Tyler Johnson and make sure they give it their all.

"But either way, I'm proud of this team."

He added: "We had one objective, and that was to get better. We did that."

Draymond Green has been fined $50,000 by the NBA for comments made about Devin Booker's situation with the Phoenix Suns.

Appearing as an analyst on TNT, Golden State Warriors forward Green praised Booker for his performances since the NBA season restarted, before adding it was "not good for him" to be in Phoenix.

"It's great to see Book playing well, and Phoenix playing well, but get my man out of Phoenix. It's not good for him, it's not good for his career," Green said.

"They've got to get Book out of Phoenix. I need my man to go somewhere where he can play great basketball all the time and win, because he's that type of player."

In a statement released on Sunday, the NBA announced the comments violated the league's anti-tampering rule.

Green was indeed jokingly asked on the show if he was tampering, to which he replied: "Maybe."

"The NBA announced today that it has fined Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors $50,000 for violating the league's anti-tampering rule," the statement read.

"The fine is in response to statements Green made as an analyst on TNT on August 7 regarding the Phoenix Suns' Devin Booker.

"As announced prior to the start of the 2019-20 season, the NBA has adopted a stricter enforcement approach for conduct relating to tampering, salary cap circumvention and free agency timing rules, including with respect to the rule prohibiting player-to-player tampering."

The Suns defeated the Miami Heat on Saturday to stretch their winning streak to five games. They have a 31-39 record and sit 10th in the Western Conference as they aim to make the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

TJ Warren overshadowed LeBron James' return as the Los Angeles Lakers slumped to a third successive NBA loss, while Luka Doncic dazzled on Saturday.

Back after a groin injury, Lakers star James had 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 35 minutes but could not stop the Indiana Pacers and their thriving small forward from claiming a 116-111 victory.

Warren, a revelation since entering the NBA bubble, continued his incredible scoring run with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting.

In the final minute, he hit a floater, a pull-up jumper and a clutch three-pointer over Anthony Davis to earn the Pacers a fourth win from five games at Walt Disney World Resort.

All-Star guard Doncic and reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo did not disappoint in their duel, sharing 70 points between them as the Dallas Mavericks outlasted the Milwaukee Bucks 136-132 in overtime.

Doncic did the business for Dallas, delivering a decisive triple-double with 36 points, 19 assists and 14 rebounds.

 

Pain for Mitchell, better for Booker

Donovan Mitchell's nerveless 35-point performance was not enough to help the Utah Jazz avoid a 134-132 defeat to the Denver Nuggets in double overtime, a thrilling game that included 30 points and 11 rebounds from Nikola Jokic.

Devin Booker's 35 points proved more valuable for the Phoenix Suns, who beat the Miami Heat 119-112 to stay undefeated since the restart.

 

Lillard's let down

After trading taunts with the Los Angeles Clippers, Damian Lillard let his opponents have the last laugh when he wasted two clutch free throws and missed a three-point attempt late in the Portland Trail Blazers' 122-117 loss.

 

Doncic's delicious dime

The Mavericks' main man went between the legs for one of his 19 assists.

Saturday's results

Los Angeles Clippers 122-117 Portland Trail Blazers
Denver Nuggets 134-132 Utah Jazz (2OT)
Indiana Pacers 116-111 Los Angeles Lakers
Phoenix Suns 119-112 Miami Heat
Dallas Mavericks 136-132 Milwaukee Bucks (OT)

 

Trail Blazers face 76ers

Lillard and the Trail Blazers (32-39), ranked ninth in the Western Conference, know they cannot afford any errors when they face the Philadelphia 76ers (42-27) on Sunday.

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker defeated team-mate Deandre Ayton to win the NBA 2K20 charity tournament.

With the NBA postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, a charity tournament has been put together to raise money in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.

And Booker received the $100,000 cheque to donate to charity after taking down Ayton in the best-of-three final on Saturday.

Booker – seeded fifth for the tournament – won game one 72-62 using the Houston Rockets against Ayton's Los Angeles Lakers.

In game two, Booker selected the Denver Nuggets and triumphed 74-62 over the Milwaukee Bucks.

"Undefeated tournament. Thanks to 2K for putting this on. Lots of good competition out here," Booker said afterwards. 

Earlier in the day, Booker had beaten Clippers star Montrezl Harrell in the first semi-final clash.

Meanwhile, Ayton – the 10th seed – upstaged Clippers guard Patrick Beverley to set up an all-Suns decider.

Phoenix Suns star Devin Booker and the Cleveland Cavaliers' Andrew Drummond reached the quarter-finals of the NBA 2K20 charity tournament on Sunday.

With the NBA postponed amid the coronavirus pandemic, a charity tournament has been put together to raise money in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.

Winner of the single-elimination Xbox One tournament will receive $100,000 to give to charity, and Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant – the top seed – was a high-profile casualty on Friday.

Fifth seed Booker defeated Michael Porter Jr. of the Denver Nuggets 85-75 in the opening round, while sixth seed Drummond crushed former Golden State Warriors center DaMarcus Cousins 101-49.

Rui Hachimura of the Washington Wizards topped Utah Jazz All-Star Donovan Mitchell 74-71 and Los Angeles Clippers center Montrezl Harrell eased past Indiana Pacers star Domantas Sabonis 73-51.

The quarters are now set, with Harrell to meet Miami Heat forward Derrick Jones Jr., who stunned Durant on Friday.

Booker will play Hachimura, Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young takes on Suns center Deandre Ayton and Drummond goes head-to-head against Clippers guard Patrick Beverley.

The tournament – being aired on ESPN – will continue on Tuesday and conclude on Saturday.

Brooklyn Nets superstar Kevin Durant will lead a field of 16 in an NBA 2K20 charity tournament to raise money amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With the NBA postponed due to COVID-19, players have time on their hands, so a select group will go head-to-head in the virtual world, starting Friday on ESPN.

The winner of the single-elimination Xbox One tournament, which runs through to April 11, will receive $100,000 to give to a charity in support of the coronavirus relief efforts.

Durant is the top seed, ahead of Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks), Hassan Whiteside (Portland Trail Blazers), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Devin Booker (Phoenix Suns), Andre Drummond (Cleveland Cavaliers), Zach LaVine (Chicago Bulls), Montrezl Harrell (Los Angeles Clippers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns), DeMarcus Cousins, Michael Porter Jr. (Denver Nuggets), Rui Hachimura (Washington Wizards), Patrick Beverley (Los Angeles Clippers), Harrison Barnes (Sacramento Kings) and Derrick Jones Jr. (Miami Heat).

"We're thrilled to partner with the NBA and NBPA to bring basketball back to fans throughout the world and to help those in need during these uncertain times," said Jason Argent, 2K senior vice-president, sports strategy and licensing.

"Entertainment, especially sports, has the ability to bring communities together – including athletes, fans and families – and we hope that everyone will enjoy the tournament."

"We are excited to tip off the first 'NBA 2K Players Tournament' in partnership with the NBPA and 2K, continuing an ongoing effort to stay connected with NBA fans around the world, while also giving back in this time of need," said Matt Holt, NBA SVP of global partnerships.

Players' seeding is based on their NBA 2K rating, with two-time champion Durant 96 overall in the video game.

Durant, who contracted COVID-19 and has been recovering from an Achilles injury, will open the tournament against Jones on Friday.

Devin Booker has earned his first selection to the NBA All-Star Game after Damian Lillard was ruled out with a groin strain.

In-form Portland Trail Blazers star Lillard suffered the injury in his team's 111-104 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday.

Lillard still tallied 20 points and 10 assists in 37 minutes, but his 2020 All-Star absence was soon confirmed.

Commissioner Adam Silver named Phoenix Suns guard Booker to the Western Conference's Team LeBron as Lillard's replacement for Sunday.

Booker, in his fifth season, is averaging 26.4 points, 6.3 assists and 4.2 rebounds this season.

The 23-year-old is also to take Lillard's place among eight NBA stars taking part in the Three-Point Contest, having won the event in record-breaking fashion in 2018.

Devin Booker was the most notable omission as six first-timers won NBA All-Star selection among the 14 reserves named on Thursday.

Jimmy Butler, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook headlined the list of players selected by NBA coaches to round out the roster options for Team LeBron and Team Giannis.

Phoenix Suns guard Booker was denied a place despite averaging 27.1 points, 4.1 rebounds and 6.4 assists through 44 games this season.

Oklahoma City Thunder veteran Paul, Houston Rockets star Westbrook, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz youngster Donovan Mitchell snatched Western Conference guard spots, the latter handed his maiden selection alongside team-mate and fellow first-timer Rudy Gobert.

Brandon Ingram, Bam Adebayo, Jayson Tatum and Domantas Sabonis will also be among the newcomers at United Center in Chicago on February 16.

Suns general manager and three-time NBA champion James Jones questioned Booker's absence.

"I've played with and against multiple All-Stars in this league and Devin Booker is undoubtedly an NBA All-Star," Jones said in a statement.

Frenchman Gobert's inclusion alongside Sabonis (Lithuania), Ben Simmons (Australia) and Nikola Jokic (Serbia) plus starters Luka Doncic (Slovenia), Joel Embiid (Cameroon), Pascal Siakam (Cameroon) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece) lifts the number of international players to eight, a record for an All-Star Game.

The 2020 edition will feature several format changes to honour Kobe Bryant after the Los Angeles Lakers legend, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash on Sunday.

Among them will be a 'target score' to chase in a timeless fourth quarter, the figure being the leading team's tally after three periods plus 24 points - representing the number Bryant wore during the second half of his glittering NBA career.

LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, the designated captains, will select their teams from the available player pool on February 6.

 

Eastern Conference reserves:

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics), Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Domantas Sabonis (Indiana Pacers), Jimmy Butler (Miami Heat), Khris Middleton (Milwaukee Bucks), Kyle Lowry (Toronto Raptors), Bam Adebayo (Miami Heat)

Western Conference reserves:

Chris Paul (Oklahoma City Thunder), Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers), Brandon Ingram (New Orleans Pelicans), Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz), Rudy Gobert (Utah Jazz), Russell Westbrook (Houston Rockets), Nikola Jokic (Denver Nuggets)

Monty Williams hailed Devin Booker as "a complete player" after he sparkled in the Phoenix Suns' 114-109 victory over the previously unbeaten Philadelphia 76ers.

There were 'MVP' chants for Booker at Talking Stick Resort Arena on Monday as he scored 40 points to inflict a first defeat of the NBA season on the 76ers.

The 23-year-old became the eighth-youngest player to reach the 6,000-point mark in the NBA, while also claiming four rebounds and laying on three assistants.

Suns coach Williams said: "He's a complete basketball player. He's competitive, not afraid of the moment, he makes big plays, and the thing I like about Devin is he'll get off of it.

"It wasn't just his scoring, he's a willing passer. He gets off of the ball and finds guys for open shots, but in those moments, we have to get out of the way sometimes.

"It's not a structure, it’s just a really good basketball player going to work."

Booker knows he must maintain the high standards he has set.

"Every day I wake up, I get another chance to come play the sport I love in the city I love. I try to take full advantage of it," said Booker.

"I know it's cliche, but when people say it's the first time somebody is watching, it could be the last time somebody was watching you also. I take that in.

"Every day I wake up and step in here and I know I can affect peoples' lives and in positive ways. Everybody's excited, everybody's happy. So, you know, I just gotta keep working."

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