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Five players elevating their games in the NBA bubble

Elevating in the bubble!

The NBA bubble in Orlando, Florida is succeeding in keeping players, coaches, and league personnel safe from COVID-19 and the possibility of an incomplete season. There haven’t been any positive tests in the past three weeks. While the bubble gives fans a chance to watch live sports again, it also opens a unique opportunity for players to ramp up their games in a controlled environment as the playoffs approach.

While some of the top players in the league brought their transcendent games to Orlando, several are taking the opportunity to showcase even higher levels of play. Five players, in particular, stand out for their performances at the end of the season.

Zion Williamson deserves an honorable mention for his five bubble games with the New Orleans Pelicans. Despite only playing 20.7 minutes per game, Williamson averaged 18.4 points per outing while connecting on 55.9% of his shots. While the Duke product still needs to apply himself more on defense and develop a mid-range game, teams haven’t figured out how to slow him down around the basket.

*Numbers accurate as of the morning of August 10

5. Damian Lillard, PG Portland Trail Blazers

Lillard remained underappreciated for most of his first five seasons. However, the 30-year-old point guard emerged as a superstar over the past three years. Last season, he carried the Trail Blazers to the Western Conference Finals after waving goodbye to the Oklahoma City Thunder and outlasting the Denver Nuggets. With Portland battling for the final seed in the Western Conference, Lillard elevated his game in the bubble.

Through Portland’s first six games in Orlando, Lillard averaged 33.0 points and 9.5 assists per game while finishing 47.4% of his overall shots and 38.6% of his three-pointers. The Trail Blazers are 4-2 in the bubble with the two losses coming by a combined nine points to the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers.

4. Devin Booker, SG Phoenix Suns

As of this article’s writing, the Suns are only two games behind Portland and could conceivably steal the eighth seed. Some fans wondered if Phoenix even deserved a spot in the bubble, but Booker and company seem determined to finally make the playoffs. The Suns haven’t made the postseason during Booker’s career.

The star shooting guard seems intent on making his playoff debut. The Suns are 5-0 in the bubble, and Booker is leading the charge. The 23-year-old shooting guard is only playing 33.8 minutes per game, but he’s averaging 29.4 points and 6.4 assists per contest. Fifty percent of Booker’s overall shots are dropping, and he’s converting 91.7% of his free throw attempts.

3. T.J. Warren, SF Indiana Pacers

Warren was never a bad player. He averaged 19.6 points per game in 2017 and 18.0 in 2018. However, the former 14th overall pick is playing at a different level in the bubble. The Pacers are 4-1 through their first five games, and Warren is leading the way with 34.8 points per game.

First-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis isn’t playing for Indiana right now. He’s seeking medical help for plantar fasciitis. Between missing their leading rebounder and Victor Oladipo still not playing at 100%, it seemed like the Pacers were dead in the water. But Warren dropped 53 on Philadelphia in his first bubble game. Since then, he’s only posted one game with fewer than 30 points.

2. Michael Porter Jr., PF Denver Nuggets

MPJ remains one of the most promising young players in the NBA. At 22 years old, there’s plenty of time for the former 14th overall pick to leave his mark on the league. However, injuries cost Porter his first potential year in the NBA and limited his action this season. Luckily for the Nuggets, who hold the third seed in the Western Conference, Porter looks ready to go.

The Nuggets are 3-2 in their first five games in the bubble. If you discount the first game where Porter played limited minutes, the Missouri product is averaging 29.3 points and 12.5 rebounds per game. He’s also nailing 56.3% of his overall field goals and 46.7% of his three-point shots over the past four games. Porter isn’t holding back either. He’s launching 7.5 threes per night.

No one knows if MPJ can keep playing at his current clip, but the 6-10 forward seems on his way to realizing his potential.

1. Luka Dončić, PG Dallas Mavericks

Dončić is a top-ten player in the NBA, and that’s no longer a debate. Usually, his defensive deficiencies would keep him floating outside the top ten, but the Slovenian phenom is already on a crash course with the top five players in the league. Dončić put up great numbers before the shutdown, but he’s raising his game in the bubble.

The Mavericks are only 2-3 in Orlando, but they’re coming off a massive 136-132 overtime win against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks. In a duel between two of the NBA’s brightest young stars, Dončić recorded his 17th triple-double this season, amassing 36 points, 19 assists, and 14 rebounds. He shot 50.0% from the floor and 90.0% from the line while only committing two turnovers and one foul.

Dončić is averaging a triple-double in the bubble, posting 33.4 points, 11.6 assists, and 11.6 rebounds per night. He’s also connecting on 48.3% of his shots and 78.2% of his free throws. Both percentages are significant increases from his pre-shutdown numbers.

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