The NBA Returns: the Biggest Surprises and Disappointments of the Bubble

by Ashton Basak ’23


Published Oct. 12, 2020

Sports, especially in times of trouble, have been sources of normalcy and a place to turn to escape reality. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic that swept the nation in early March, the world has been without this distraction for months. It seemed that this would be the case for a while until the National Basketball Association announced in June that they would be continuing the regular season and playoffs starting at the end of July. The top nine teams from the Eastern Conference, along with the top eleven teams from the Western Conference, would travel down to the Disney Resorts in Orlando, where a “bubble” would be created. As the regular season ended shortly after bubble basketball started, the beginning of the playoffs, a competition in which the top eight teams from each conference compete for a championship, started.
One of the most surprising teams to make a deep run in the playoffs in the Orlando bubble was the young Miami Heat. Their team, consisting of many young and budding stars, undrafted players, and second round picks, took the league by surprise after defeating the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics, all with relative ease. Led by stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Miami Heat have now found themselves in the NBA finals against the infamous Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Butler, rookie Tyler Herro, and Adebayo have been playing at an elite level, responsible for much of the Heat’s success.
Another team that has surprised fans across the globe has been the Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets this year became the first team in NBA history to ever come back from two 3-1 playoff deficits in the same season. In the first round, the Nuggets, led by superstars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, defeated the Utah Jazz in seven games after being down three-games-to-one. In the second round, the Nuggets did the same, but against one of the best teams in the league, the Los Angeles Clippers, making it one of the biggest upsets during this year’s playoffs.
On the other side of the spectrum, the Los Angeles Clippers are widely seen as the largest disappointment of the NBA bubble playoffs. The second-seed in the Western Conference advanced to the second round to play the underdog Nuggets team. The Clippers, led by superstar Kawhi Leonard, fresh off a historic season after leading the Toronto Raptors to an NBA title, and Paul George. The Clips secured a three-to-one lead against the Nuggets, in a best-of-seven series. However, the offensive strength of Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic and the rest of the team overpowered the two superstars in the last three games, allowing the Nuggets to win 4-3. This was shocking, as Kawhi Leonard, a player who is arguably the best player in the world, is known to dominate in the playoffs. Additionally, Paul George, who is an all-star and dubbed himself “Playoff P”, was heavily criticized for his poor performances all throughout the series.
Another disappointment comes from the Philadelphia 76ers, who were the sixth seed in the east and got swept in the first round by the third seed Boston Celtics. The duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were too dominant on offense for the Ben Simmons-less 76ers team to handle. Star center Joel Embiid was forced to take control on both ends of the floor, and without much help from his supporting cast, the Sixers team fell short of their championship aspirations. Many have questioned how a team that is loaded with the talents of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Al Horford, and Ben Simmons could not win a single game in the playoffs. This was a major disappointment, as the team was projected to have a deep playoff run. As a result, head coach Brett Brown was released of his head coaching duties, making the future unknown for this team.
Finally, the Los Angeles Lakers, with Lebron James and dominant big man Anthony Davis, cruised by their competition to the playoffs to make it to the NBA Finals where they will face the Miami Heat. LeBron James continued his dominant streak as a playoff performer at the age of 35, only aided by the addition of Davis, a superstar, in the offseason back in July of 2019.
Whether a fan of the sport or not, the NBA was guaranteed entertainment this Summer and Autumn. The league promised and provided games everyday and all day, allowing watchers to escape from the difficulties our world presents. Although bubble basketball may have not seemed normal, it certainly exceeded expectations, and gave NBA fans the closest option to the standard NBA playoffs given the circumstances.

UPDATE: After a decisive 106-93 victory, the Los Angeles Lakers emerge from the Disney bubble victorious! The Lakers defeat the Heat in 6 games to cap off a historic and unforgettable season filled with twists and turns. After averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists, LeBron James was unanimously voted the Finals MVP, making him the first player to receive the award on three different teams. While next season’s start date is still up in the air, it is clear that the Lakers will be among the favorites for next season title, especially with the invaluable skill sets and leadership of 4-time champion LeBron James and dominant big-man Anthony Davis.

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