After a lengthy hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the NBA resumed late last week albeit under very unusual circumstances. But despite all players and staff being confined to the NBA ‘bubble’, and fan participation reduced to nothing more than a virtual experience, a lot has remained the same since we last saw NBA action in early March.
Apparent arch enemies Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden continue to fill the box score with ridiculous performances, as do Harden’s teammate Russell Westbrook, Lakers’ forward Anthony Davis and the Mavericks exciting young duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. But whilst the superstars continue to produce awe-inspiring displays, let’s look at those more inconspicuous teams and players that have come out surprisingly well since the NBA recommenced.
After going 46-18 prior to the season’s interruption, no one should be surprised at the Raptors performance over their first two games back. But even now, at this latter point of the season, many pundits refuse to believe that the reigning champs can do anything substantial in the post Kawhi Leonard era.
How much longer can we continue to underestimate them though? They dismantled the Lakers in game one before overcoming the Heat in a tight contest. They remain an intriguing proposition heading into playoffs and beyond, especially if you have an eye to the off-season. The worth of guard Fred VanVleet continues to be a talking point after the upcoming free agent had a career high 36 points against the Heat.
The Orlando Magic Offense
The Magic have long provided low-scoring, lacklustre contests, outlined by the fact they’ve been in the bottom half of the league for scoring and field goal percentage each of the last four seasons. Over the course of the 19-20 season, they’ve averaged 107.1 points per game (25th overall) on 44.4% from the field (tied 26th overall).
However, since the resumption of the season in their home city, the Magic have put up scores of 128 and 132 in two high-scoring encounters against the Nets and Kings. Will it be anything more than a brief anomaly? Whatever it is, it certainly provides greater entertainment for Magic fans and the broader basketball-loving public.
There’s nothing better than watching an athlete make a successful return from a serious, career threatening injury. But even Portland staff must be surprised at the output of big man Jusuf Nurkic on his return after an horrific broken leg last March.
In his first game in over 16 months, Nurkic posted 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists and six blocks in an overtime win against the Grizzlies. He then backed that up with a 30-point, nine rebound, five assist game against the Celtics in the Blazers’ second game. Even if the Blazers fail to reach the playoffs, the Bosnian’s come back is a huge positive moving forward.
Nuggets Draft Steals
The major talking point during the scrimmage period was the performance of Nuggets’ rookie Bol Bol. In the opening scrimmage against the Wizards, the 7 ft 2 athletic phenom recorded 16 points, ten rebounds and an astonishing six blocks in 32 minutes of action.
Since the season restart, one of the surprise performances has come from Bol’s teammate in second year forward Michael Porter Jr. He made headlines in an overtime victory against the Thunder, recording 37 points and 12 rebounds on 75% shooting and 66.7% from three-point range.
Both Bol and Porter Jnr were considered elite prospects before sliding in their respective drafts. With franchise star Nikola Jokic and promising point guard Jamal Murray already in place, the Nuggets could be absolutely anything should Bol and Porter Jnr reach anywhere near their potential.
The Pacers forward has been a solid to good NBA player through his six years in the league, a valuable addition in Indiana after being traded for ‘cash considerations’ by Suns management looking for salary relief.
That trade has now reared its head again following Warren’s scoring explosion in the first two games in Orlando. He tallied an extraordinary 53 points (including 9 three-pointers) against a 76ers defense led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, before backing that up with 34 points and 11 rebounds in a 111-100 victory over the Wizards. Given Warren’s current form, a first-round matchup between the Pacers and Jimmy Butler’s Miami Heat could be compulsive viewing after the pairs feud earlier in the season.