Is the NBA Luka Doncic’s League Already?

He has arrived. The first chapter in Luka Doncic’s legacy was written Sunday afternoon, as he rose up over Reggie Jackson with his signature stepback move to sink a game-winner at the OT buzzer to even the series at 2-2. Oh, and that 43pts-17rebs-13asts stat line was without Kristaps Porzingis on the floor and less than 48 hours after badly spraining his ankle.

Doncic powered the Mavs to erase a 21-point 2nd quarter deficit with some help from an unlikely supporting cast that included a combined 46 points from Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. One point Kenny “The Jet” Smith has made on TNT I agree with: Look at this restart with a clean slate like it’s Luka’s third season, rather than thinking of it being a continuation of his sophomore campaign.

How often do we see the superior team win that type of game? I’d argue about 90%. But Luka, being the transcendent talent he is, just wouldn’t let that happen. The 21-year-old is coming along far quicker than anyone expected, and my jaw drops just thinking about what his game is going to look like in just another 3 or 4 years.

A few nuggets on how special that performance was from Luka yesterday: He became the youngest player to drill a buzzer-beater in the playoffs. He joined Oscar Robertson and Charles Barkley to record 40-10-15+ in a playoff game. Doncic is now in the same breath as basketball royalty with Magic Johnson and LeBron James as the only players to put up multiple triple-doubles in the post-season at 21 or younger.

His vision and feel for the game are LeBron-esque. No matter the situation, Luka is totally in control at all times. What’s impressed me most has been his emotional makeup and moxie, as the Clippers have tried to intimidate Doncic on multiple occasions throughout the first four games. This isn’t 2007 anymore; you’re not going to bully the Europeans coming over who have played professionally since they were 16.

Game 1 saw Marcus Morris try to rough up Doncic, which unfortunately led to the ejection of Kristaps Porzingis. We’ve seen Montrezl Harrell call Luka a “Bitchass white boy,” which he’s also apologized to him for (please relax right wing Twitter), and it’s only made Doncic raise his game to another level. He’s even engaged in the trash talk a bit himself, as Luka hasn’t been afraid to scream “And 1” in Morris’s ear or call out Harrell for his flopping.

I don’t know if the Mavs can actually pull this thing off and eliminate the title favorite Clips (shoutout Pandemic P), but Dallas has to be giddy about the future with Doncic and Porzingis at the helm. If I was starting a franchise today, Luka would undoubtedly be my number one pick, and that’s something I don’t know I would’ve said in January.

Game 5 should be fun Tuesday night.

 

 

 

Previewing Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs Inside the Bubble

Take a look at our predictions for every first-round matchup in the playoffs.

The NBA returned inside the Orlando bubble at the end of July and things couldn’t have gone much smoother. Gameplay’s been intense, presentation for the fans feels like real games, and most importantly, ZERO players have tested positive for COVID-19 since August 5th.

The regular-season games have given us plenty of storylines, as the Blazers have been carried by Damian Lillard’s heroics playing as a man possessed, the undefeated Suns became basketball’s darlings, Russell Westbrook’s thigh injury has thrown a wrench into the Rockets championship dreams, and title favorites Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks don’t seem to be as much of Finals locks as we once thought back in March.

With the Blazers clinching the right to take their shot at the one-seeded Lakers on Saturday to fill out the playoff picture, check out our predictions for the entire first round below. Tip-off is slated for Monday at 1:30 pm ET with game 1 of the Nuggets-Jazz series.

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Eastern Conference:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic

The bubble hasn’t been too kind to the hometeam Magic. Orlando, who went 3-5 in the restart, lost the promising Jonathan Isaac to a torn ACL, which should sideline him through next season. Milwaukee hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders since the restart, but cruised to the one-seed and now the real pressure is on for the favorite Bucks to roll through the Eastern Conference. Giannis has been on a mission this season (he’s the favorite for MVP and DPOY) and the Magic should be a light tune-up for him as Milwaukee sweeps.

Bucks in 4

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets

The 2019 champs are a bonafide threat to defend their throne and possibly repeat. I, for one, didn’t believe the Raptors would be this good (finished with the best winning percentage in franchise history) with Leonard heading to the West Coast, which should be a credit to my COTY Nick Nurse and the supporting cast taking their games to the next level.

As for the Nets, nobody could’ve seen a 5-3 bubble trip with a makeshift roster possible. Fans have to be thrilled with the team’s effort, but we know this is all about next year for them. Toronto’s size and depth should give the Nets fits all series, who shouldn’t leave Orlando with their heads hanging low.

Raptors in 4

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(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers

I want to throw up every time I think back to my pre-season prediction of having the 76ers coming out of the East, as Philly couldn’t be further from contenders right now. A logjam in the frontcourt and a coach that doesn’t know how to deploy his talent, and now minus Ben Simmons combined with a banged-up Embiid, this is the recipe for disaster in Philly. Tatum and Brown have evolved into a dynamic duo on the wing to lead the C’s. As long as Kemba and Hayward stay healthy, this team has a shot to make some noise in the East.

Celtics in 5

(4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Miami Heat

This will be the most competitive series in the East. A pair of teams that overperformed this year. Most people will be drawn to the theatrics of Jimmy Butler vs. Bubble MVP T.J. Warren, but my focus is on MIP candidate Bam Adebayo’s ability to control both ends and sharpshooters Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson pushing the Heat over the top to take a hard-fought 7-game series. Miami also has the coaching advantage with Spo > Nate McMillan.

Heat in 7

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Western Conference:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

This isn’t your typical 1-8 matchup. Every Blazer game has felt like a playoff game, as they roll into the post-season on a four-game winning streak. At times, their defense has been dreadful against lesser competition, so I fully expect LeBron to dominate this series and get whatever he pleases when exploiting Portland’s forwards. On the flip side, the Lakers don’t have anyone to answer for Dame, who should be able to steal a game or two by himself with his Bubble MVP heroics. Let’s just hope his tank doesn’t run out of gas (Blazers were a -13 on Saturday against the Grizzlies during his THREE MINUTES on the bench).

Lakers in 6

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(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

A lot has been made of this juicy series with the dazzling future MVP Luka Doncic writing the first chapter in his playoff journal. In his way stands the title favorite Clippers, who have yet to be at full strength inside the bubble, as Sixth Man of the Year candidate Montrezl Harrell is expected to make his debut.

Even with a historically good offense (highest offensive efficiency rating ever), Dallas has been atrocious in late-game execution, as they rank in the bottom of the league in games decided by five points or less. This should be a great learning experience for Luka, Porzingis, and co. but the Clips dispose of Dallas in five.

Clippers in 5

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz

If this series is anything like their earlier double-OT thriller in the bubble, it should be a classic. Two-man chess matches between Donovan Mitchell and Gobert clashing with the Joker and Jamal Murray are going to be the focus for both coaches, but look for the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. to lift the Nuggets. Injuries to both teams make for a bit of uncertainty, as the returns of Gary Harris Jr. and Will Barton are still up in the air, while Mike Conley just left the bubble to see the birth of his child and will miss at least the first three games most likely.

Nuggets in 6

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(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

It’s pretty simple; how long is Russell Westbrook out with his thigh injury? If he’s back by early next week, Houston is in good shape. If he’s out for the entire series, the Rockets are in deep trouble. We all know how much Chris Paul wants to stick it to Houston for trading him and how ironic would it be for the Thunder to finally get out of the first round now instead of the Russell Westbrook-PG era.

James Harden is going to put up astronomical numbers, but will he get enough help? Mike D’Antoni is fully committed to the small-ball experiment, so my x-factor for the Thunder will be Steven Adams. Does he get exposed and need to spend a lot of the series on the bench, or does he wreak havoc as a bully on the offensive glass?

Rockets in 7

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Dame Time: With the World at a Standstill, Lillard Finally Getting the Respect He Deserves

“Put some respect on my fucking name,” Lillard barked after leading the Blazers to another crucial 134-131 victory over the Mavs to keep their playoff hopes alive. With the stakes higher than ever and the public microscope gleaming on him, it’s only brought out the best in No. 0.

Lillard tied his career-best with 61 points (22 in the 4th quarter!!) and made history by joining Wilt Chamberlain as the only NBA players ever to post three 60+ point efforts in one season.

Following his missed free throws as part of the Clippers debacle last week, Dame Time has been fully in session, as he’s carried Portland with back-to-back 50+ point games and a pair of victories to keep the Blazers in the driver’s seat to clinch the 8-seed with a win on Thursday vs. the Nets. That’s 112 points in 81 minutes for those keeping score at home and the 10 and 11th 50-point games of his career, which ties him with Allen Iverson for 8th most all-time.

“When I first came here, I told you I didn’t come here to waste my time. They gave us a chance to get in like we asked for, and that’s what we’re here to do. The job still ain’t done, but I said, ‘You know what I’m here for.’ Our work ain’t done yet, but we fighting for it,” he told TNT’s Chris Haynes after the win.

As someone who lets his game usually do the talking, unless he’s in the studio, it’s been awesome to see Dame unleash on detractors while backing it up on the hardwood (averaging 37 points and 9.3 assists inside the bubble).

After calling out Paul George for switching teams and “running from the grind,” Logo Lillard then turned his focus to ethering the fraudulent Skip Bayless with an absolute haymaker on Monday. Not many things this pandemic have made me happier than seeing Skip getting put on his ass with an eviscerating knockout punch of a tweet from Lillard. Take that, old man!

The 30-year-old’s had several prolific “moments” in his career, as walk-off shots to defeat the Rockets (2014) and Thunder last year in the playoffs come to mind when the basketball world was in his palms. With Portland playing on the West Coast, it’s easy for Lillard’s late-night heroics to be reduced to an Instagram clip for followers to take in the next morning.

But this feels different, as the world’s stuck in a five-month standstill, every Blazer game has been must-watch cinema, and Lillard is the A-list star of the show. He seems to finally be getting the mainstream praise and collecting the accolades he’s quite honestly deserved for years. I have him on my All-NBA first team in the guard spot alongside Harden and conversations of him usurping the point guard throne from Steph Curry are bubbling on social media, as Steph and the Warriors have taken a gap year.

The job isn’t done just yet, as the Blazers still need to defeat the Nets on Thursday then win one of the possible two play-in games over the weekend to have the right to face the one-seeded Lakers. If all goes according to plan, Lillard should be the regular season Bubble MVP. This also wouldn’t be your typical 1 vs. 8 matchup, as L.A. has issues of their own to sort out. Being a student of the game, LeBron’s definitely taken note of Dame’s run and knows they don’t have any sort of answer for Lillard at the guard spot defensively.

Oh, and as a gift to fans, Dame and Adidas teamed up to make his Dame 6 sneakers on sale for $61 just for Wednesday in honor of his performance last night.

 

 

How A Few Knicks Losses Ended Up Saving My Life

Last night I was with my cousins watching Kevin Knox play for the Knicks. Summer basketball at its finest. One thing led to another, and we started talking about their 2011 series against Boston. That year I had a stroke on Easter Sunday (April 24). Later that afternoon, Boston completed a sweep. I left for the hospital shortly after Celtics-Knicks started.

There would have been tremendous anticipation if the Knicks had won even once in the series before this game. Boston pulled out a pair of close victories at home before easily winning at MSG for a 3-0 series advantage. I knew Boston advancing was just a formality.

My stroke happened early in the afternoon. Reluctantly, I took my Walkman and somebody drove me to the hospital. Something was clearly wrong. I became very dizzy. It passed, but eventually I discovered that my speech was really messed up. I loved Dick Clark, but was not ready for a life of speaking like him after his stroke. My brains were scrambled. It was tough to think straight.

As I reminisced last night, it suddenly hit me…the Knicks being down 3-0 probably saved my life. If the series was 2-1 either way, I likely would have stayed home until after the Knicks game ended. Even if I went a few hours later and survived, the damage could have been much worse. So, it is also possible that I could still be alive today but with poor speech and perhaps some sort of brain damage.

Therefore, I would like to thank the Knicks for being bad. It saved me. Good thing my stroke was not on the first Thursday afternoon of March Madness. Clearly, I would be a goner.