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Butler’s all business in bubble

The end of August was a bear in basketball circles. It started with the disruption of NBA playoff games in a protest of social injustice that triggered meetings between players and league officials where all options were discussed, including pulling the plug on the whole operation.

Action resumed. Then legendary college coaches John Thompson and Lute Olson passed away. It’s all been so heavy.

The game itself has delivered some incredible performances. We’ve seen Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Jayson Tatum rise up brilliantly to lead their teams the way they have all season. Only Dallas’ Doncic is out of the mix since he lost tag-team partner Kristaps Porzingis to injury and didn’t have enough help against a Clippers team that looks to be the deepest in Orlando.

Monday’s action featured Miami Jimmy Butler and Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul refusing to be beaten down the stretch, putting their teams on their back with great plays and remarkable will.

The fourth quarter of Game 1 of Heat-Bucks and Game 6 of Thunder-Rockets delivered tremendous passion. It gives me faith that September will be filled with terrific moments throughout all sports as football joins the fray.

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It was uplifting. It helped to be on the right side with both 5.5-point underdogs cashing too.

Butler respects the arrival of families to the Disney campus now that the number of teams playing has been trimmed and no one has tested positive for the coronavirus, but he opted to not invite his own, calling his stay in Orlando a “business trip.”

“(I’m) not messing around,” TNT’s Allie LaForce reported Butler told her. “Everyone wants to have their family without a doubt, but we’ve been doing this for this long, what’s another couple of months? It’s an individual decision.”

Don’t lose sight of the fact Butler expects to be in Central Florida for another couple of months, which means he expects the Heat to be in the NBA Finals. He said this before going out and dropping 40 points on Milwaukee in an opening salvo.

Paul, one of the driving forces in making the Orlando bubble happen as president of the league’s Players Association, is looking to hang around as well with upstart OKC.

Ultimately, excelling in this type of unprecedented environment requires fierce will in addition to great talent. Keep that in mind when placing your wagers.

The Thunder’s comeback made big winners out of the West’s top seed, the Lakers. They now get to watch their competition in the conference semifinals toil in a winner-take-all game of a physical series while they enjoy more rest.

The collision course L.A.’s teams have been on for well over a calendar year appears even more likely with the Clippers also resting while the Nuggets and Jazz had to work in Tuesday’s Game 7.

Concerns like Clips’ guard Patrick Beverley nursing a calf issue and the Lakers’ lack of consistent perimeter threats remain valid, but both will be rightfully favored in the next round and are unlikely to be defeated four out of seven times before squaring off in the Western Conference finals.

The East semifinals opened with Boston blitzing Toronto early with a 39-point first quarter, but the Celtics should eventually have a fight on their hands.

The top-seeded Bucks knew going in they were in for a battle against a fifth-seeded Miami team that matches up extremely well against them. Antetokounmpo landing in foul trouble and being atrocious from the free-throw line didn’t help the cause. Point guard Eric Bledsoe was also a late scratch due to hamstring tightness that hopefully doesn’t linger because he’s a big piece to their puzzle.

Friday

Bucks vs. Heat: For this week’s selections, I’m locking in on the Heat continuing to be a handful for Milwaukee since I think they have a real chance to pull the series upset.

Game 2 is a natural spot for the Bucks to respond but I expect Friday’s Game 3 to go Miami’s way. Take the points in what will be a Heat “home game” with all their signage and remember that they put together a 74-point first half against the Pacers in the third installment of that series. HEAT

Rockets-Thunder vs. Lakers: Friday should also yield Game 1 of the Lakers series against the survivor of Houston-OKC, so we’ll be laying the points and counting on LeBron and Anthony Davis to send an early message. LAKERS

Saturday

Raptors vs. Celtics: This series should be a roller-coaster, but I see it largely becoming a defensive struggle. Both will focus on limiting easy baskets and the pace should slow to crawl in tight contests down the stretch. Ride the ‘under’ in Saturday’s Game 4. UNDER

Last week: No record (Games postponed)

Season: 37-28-1