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Games in bubble living up to hype

Aug 7, 2020 5:00 AM

A second week of entertaining games are underway in Orlando’s basketball bubble and clean coronavirus tests coming back add to the celebratory feel. The routine of playing games and preparing for the next one means there’s less concern that guys will stray and find themselves in hotel bars or trolling for chicken wings.

Despite the presence of hologram fans instead of real ones, the NBA has restored a sense of normalcy despite a pandemic still in full bloom just outside its bubble.

As a result, handicapping what once looked likely to be a largely untenable situation has been fairly easy. The league releases an injury report at 1:30 PT, like clockwork. Unlike baseball, which has seen pitchers scratched from starts and players pulled out of lineups in addition to multiple cancellations, pro basketball has managed to contain its surprises solely to what happens on the floor.

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Put an asterisk wherever you want. Unlike the competitive imbalance that’s becoming an issue in baseball due to irresponsible behavior leading to multiple postponements, the NBA is delivering a product that looks and feels familiar.

The Lakers' LeBron James and Anthony Davis continue to form one of the most lethal pick-and-roll combos the game has ever seen, but defending champion Toronto clamped down and held the Lakers to 92 points Saturday.

Zion Williamson was finally allowed to play more than 15 minutes for the Pelicans, helping produce that victory over Memphis they were looking for to snap a two-game skid. The Spurs notched two upsets and are 3-0 against the spread in the early going, proving Gregg Popovich hasn’t lost a step as he continues to stay alive for an unprecedented 23rd straight playoff appearance.

The 76ers continue to be the most impressive-looking batch of underachievers, falling behind Indiana to drop into sixth in the East. They failed to cover in either of their first two games. 

Home-court advantage is out the window because you can’t replicate exiting a visitors’ locker room and playing in a hostile arena, but bookmakers have adjusted and set lines intelligently. Bettors who invested in the ‘over’ on July 31 went 6-0 as every total was eclipsed by at least 10 points. The Blazers and Grizzlies went to OT and combined for 275 points. A few hours later, the Rockets and Mavericks played an extra five minutes and scored 303.

Despite that anomaly, the under had come in 12 times over the NBA bubble’s first 25 games, helped in part by totals being inflated to open August.

Friday

Spurs vs. Jazz: Utah will be playing the first of a back-to-back before a huge Saturday matinee against Northwest Division-leading Denver and won’t be as locked in as it will need to be. The Spurs seem to be handling bubble life just fine. SPURS

Saturday

Mavericks vs. Bucks: The Bucks and Mavericks won’t combine for 300 points, but unless oddsmakers place the total above 250, they’re not setting it high enough for the pace that’s likely to prevail. There figures to be a lot of scoring this time around. OVER

Monday

Pacers vs. Heat: Look for Miami to win a showdown against the Pacers in a game where Jimmy Butler and T.J. Warren will renew their memorable beef from the regular season.

Warren scored 53 in Indiana’s win over the 76ers points and was averaging 43.5 points through his first two games, but Butler will make life awfully difficult for him and the Heat will follow his lead and pick up a win, covering a spread likely to be around 3-4 points. HEAT

Last week: 2-1

Season: 31-25-1