The opening night of the NBA’s restart in Orlando provided two entertaining and competitive games, which was something of a surprise, given it was all four teams’ first basketball games in four months. The Utah Jazz edged out the New Orleans Pelicans with a 16-point comeback in the opener, while the Lakers held off the Clippers in the nightcap, and while both had some expected choppiness, the overall quality of the games was a pleasant surprise.
It was one game, the first in months, and as such it is time to make sweeping declarations based off of a small sample size and begin some All-Bubble team watch. With the NBA awards already voted on and these games not counting towards that, we’ll be keeping track of who are first and second team NBA All-Bubble as the games go along. Some may say it’s too early given that only four teams have played, but I beg to differ.
All-Bubble First Team
G: Donovan Mitchell
Mitchell was a big part of dragging the Jazz back into their opening night win with 20 points, five assists, and five rebounds. He’s got a genuine chance to hold onto a spot here given how much they’re going to need from him offensively.
G: Paul George
George was spectacular in a Clippers loss, hitting some huge shots late to tie things up as he went for 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting (6-for-11 from three). If Bubble P is a real thing, it bodes well for the Clippers, who have been waiting for this version of George all season.
F: Kawhi Leonard
The loss on Thursday was not at the feet of their stars — aside from a dismal final possession — as Leonard kicked in 28 points for the Clippers. It wasn’t his most efficient outing, but he came through with some big buckets when it counted and the Clippers were much better when he was on the floor. Having your two stars playing well out of the gate when you’re still awaiting key bench help might mean more to the Clippers than the results early on.
F: Anthony Davis
The best player of the night was AD, as he went off for 34 points and eight boards, dominating inside against a Clippers frontcourt that simply had no answers for him. Given the relative struggles of LeBron, Davis being at this level already is a very good sign for the Lakers.
F: Brandon Ingram
I don’t know why the NBA insists on keeping the center position on the All-NBA ballot rather than just being a frontcourt spot. I reject the premise. Ingram was sensational in the first half, but ran out of gas in the second half, which made this a real debate between he and Gobert. Still, he finished the night with 23 points and eight rebounds and for a stretch of the first half was truly unguardable. A lot of guys have to figure the conditioning thing out still, and Ingram appeared to get tired legs down the stretch, missing all four shot attempts in the final five minutes of the game when New Orleans desperately needed some shot making.
All-Bubble Second Team
G: J.J. Redick
The Pelicans sharpshooter had a monster first half and, while he was less impactful in the second half, he was a big reason New Orleans opened up the 16-point lead they would eventually see slip away. He finished the game with 21 points, four rebounds, and three assists, and the Pelicans might have to consider involving him more in their late game offense that was otherwise dreadful.
G: Jordan Clarkson
An absolute masterclass from Clarkson on Thursday night. He opened 2-for-9 from the field, including 0-for-5 from three, but did that stop him from leading the Jazz in shot attempts and points? Hell no. Jordan Clarkson finished the game 8-for-17 shooting with 23 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals (!). It really and truly was Jordan Clarkson Time.
F: Kyle Kuzma
Kyle Kuzma was actually very impressive in the opener for L.A., coming off the bench for 16 and seven on strong efficiency and played legitimately good defense. More than Davis, Kuzma playing at this level would unlock an entirely different Lakers team if he can be this kind of an efficient threat who is engaged on the other end.
F: LeBron James
LeBron was only 6-for-19 from the field and didn’t get to the free throw line, but still put together the sequence of the night on the final two possessions of the game, hitting the game-winner on a follow runner off his own miss and then locking down Kawhi and PG to force a contested miss to end the game. It wasn’t his finest effort by any stretch, but he still finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists.
F: Rudy Gobert
Gobert bookended the opener with the game-opening and game-winning baskets, finishing the night with 14 points and 12 rebounds, and, per usual, was sensational defensively with three blocks and just generally making the Utah defense menacing when he was on the floor.
All-Bubble Third Team
G: Dion Waiters
There was a brief stretch where I was really excited about the idea of having Waiters and Clarkson on the first team, but unfortunately the Dion minutes tapered off late. Still, he had 11 points, three rebounds, and two assists on 5-for-10 shooting and was a preposterous +17 as the Lakers bench dominated the Clippers bench, which sounds ridiculous but is true! It’s fun seeing Dion play well.
G: Mike Conley
Conley had 20 points and four assists, looking an awful lot like the Mike Conley we’ve grown to know and love over the years in Memphis, but struggled to show that consistently in his first season with Utah. It wasn’t often pretty for the Jazz, but when they had their starting unit on the floor they were genuinely quite good. Conley was a big reason for that and they’ll desperately need that to continue if they’re to do much of anything in the playoffs.
F: Jrue Holiday
Going to cheat a bit and put Holiday in as a forward, because sometimes he plays the three in New Orleans. That’s good enough for me, and he was very solid for the Pelicans with 20 points, five rebounds, four assists, and three steals. For whatever reason, he, like Ingram and the rest, couldn’t buy a bucket late, and they’ll need to iron out that end of game execution if they’re to climb into the playoff hunt.
F: Royce O’Neale
It is honestly incredible how badly the Jazz need Royce O’Neale to be good right now. He and Joe Ingles are about it for functional wing players — and it wouldn’t surprise me to see some more three-guard experimenting from them in this seeding period. He looked good in the opener, with 12 points and nine rebounds, along with being their best wing defender by far.
F: Zion Williamson
It was not a stellar frontcourt night so Zion’s 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting lands him this spot in only 15 minutes of action. Also I just wanted to note how weird his handling in this game was. The initial reporting said there was no minutes restriction, but that he’d play in short bursts, but he only played 15 minutes, none in crunch time, and after the game Alvin Gentry said it was because he’d played the minutes the medical staff would allow. If there was a minutes restriction, I can’t understand not building in some cushion for late minutes as coach. All around bizarre, and Williamson looked less than thrilled on the sidelines.
Ja Rule, who I assume had Pelicans -2, put it best.
Why the fuck is Zion on minutes restrictions???
— Ja Rule (@jarule) July 31, 2020
Thank you, Ja.