• Performances of the Night

    Bogdan Bogdanovic, Sacramento Kings – 35 points, four rebounds, three assists, one steal, six 3-pointers (13-20 FG, 6-9 3PT)

    Coming off a dreadful performance in Tuesday’s loss to Dallas (three points on 1-15 shooting from the field and 1-8 from deep), Bogdanovic caught fire early Thursday, scoring 19 points in the first quarter before ending the game with a career-high 35.

    De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings – 30 points, 10 assists, three steals, three rebounds (12-21 FG)

    Fox has been on a tear since play resumed, averaging 27.5 points a night. Sacramento dropped their first three games in Orlando but are still hanging on to contention for a berth in the play-in series. Fox is going to have to put the rest of the squad on his back and keep these types of performances coming in their final four games if they want to have any chance at advancing in the standings.

    Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks – 33 points, 12 rebounds, four assists (13-17 FG)

    Just another standard night for the Greek Freak. Milwaukee had to battle back from a 23-point first half deficit to knock off a shorthanded Miami Heat team. After picking up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, Giannis was relegated to the bench before returning to the floor with just over five minutes remaining in the contest. Upon his return the Bucks quickly went on a 20-0 run before coasting to victory. With the top seed in the East locked up it would not be surprising to see Coach Budenholzer pull back the reins on the presumptive MVP and limit his minutes for the remaining seeding games.

    Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks – 33 points, eight assists, six rebounds (9-14 FG, 5-6 3PT, 10-10 FT)

    It’s tough to be more efficient than Middleton was today. The shots were falling from everywhere and he completed the game with a well-rounded stat sheet and a plus-30 plus/minus. Similar to Giannis, Middleton could be looking at some rest over the next week as the Bucks prepare for a potential deep playoff run.

    Ivica Zubac, Los Angeles Clippers – 21 points, 15 rebounds, one block (10-10 FG, 1-2 FT)

    Zubac had season-highs in points and rebounds in only 24 minutes on the floor. The 10-10 performance tied a Clippers record for most made field goals without a miss in a single game, and he became the first player in franchise history to record 20 points and 15 rebounds in less than 25 minutes. The perfect shooting clip was the 18th such occurrence in the league so far this season.

    Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers – 45 points, 12 assists, four rebounds, three steals (13-21 FG, 11-18 3PT, 8-10 FT)

    An unbelievable performance by Dame tonight as he tied his franchise record with 11 makes from deep. A few of them coming from VERY deep. The Blazers have played their way to within a half-game of eighth-seed Memphis in the standings and are looking to secure a bid to the all-important play-in series. The squad is back to full strength, a feeling they haven’t felt since last season, but they will only go as far as Lillard can take them. With a few more extremely important games on the horizon I’m not going to be shocked with he takes the game over in this fashion again.

    Gary Trent Jr., Portland Trail Blazers – 27 points, four assists, two steals (10-15 FG, 7-10 3PT)

    Trent has been somewhat of a revelation for Portland in the bubble. He entered the game leading the league in 3PM since the restart, and poured in seven more from deep but he was bumped to second thanks to Lillard’s ridiculous night. GTJ has been racking up the minutes and the points in Orlando, averaging just over 20 points in 33 minutes a night off the bench. His shooting ability and toughness on the perimeter has given Coach Terry Stotts more flexibility with his rotations with a relatively thin roster. This next week will feature the biggest games of his career but if Trent and the rest of the Blazers can continue this type of play, they are a shoo-in for the play-in series and could possibly even steal a game from the Lakers in the first round.

    Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets – 27 points, 12 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block (10-18 FG, 4-7 3PT)

    Injuries have decimated Denver’s rotation and given bench guys an opportunity to grab more minutes, and Porter Jr. has not let that opportunity pass him by. This marks his third consecutive double-double, all within four days. Injuries and a logjam in the rotation have previously held MPJ back from making an impact but he has absolutely played his way into coach Malone’s rotation over the last week.

    James Harden, Houston Rockets – 39 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds, three steals, one block (11-19 FG, 5-10 3PT, 12-12 FT)

    With Russell Westbrook out, Harden knew he had to go to work and that’s just what he did, dropping over 30 points for the 42nd time this season. The Lakers had no answer for the three-time scoring champ as he completely controlled the game in his 36 minutes on the floor.

    Add(s) of the Night

    As the injury bug circulates around the league and teams begin to clinch and seal their fate, the floor has opened up for some new faces to get significant run and put up stat lines worthy of a deeper look.

    Trey Burke, Dallas Mavericks – 11 points, four assists, four rebounds in 31 minutes

    Burke has solidified himself as the team’s backup point guard and has even seen significant time playing alongside Luka Doncic so far in Orlando. It was a brutal shooting night on Thursday (5-15 FG, 0-7 3PT) but the opportunities were there. Since the restart Burke is averaging 13 points, three assists and one steal in just over 24 minutes a night. As long as he continues to get the minutes the shots will always be there playing for the fast-paced Mavs. Whether or not he can get those shots to fall is another question.

    Cameron Payne, Phoenix Suns – 15 points, three rebounds, three assists, one steal in 22 minutes

    Payne made his season debut in the Suns’ first seeding game and has played well coming off the bench in all four games since the restart. He is instant offense off the bench, averaging 12 points in just over 20 minutes per game. So far, he has had the hot hand from distance, knocking down 8-of-15 from behind the arc. Not just an offensive threat, Payne is swiping over one steal a night as well.

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    Drop Zone

    Dion Waiters, Los Angeles Lakers – eight points, two rebounds, two steals (2-10 FG, 0-4 3PM, 4-4 FT)

    We can’t expect much from Waiters at this point in his career and more often than not he is going to hurt you more than he will help. His shooting inefficiency and lack of any other statistical upside leaves little reason for Waiters to be rostered for the remainder of the season.

    Injury Report

    Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers – out for Friday’s game with a subluxation of the left knee cap

    Mike Scott, Philadelphia 76ers – remains questionable ahead of Friday’s contest with soreness in his right knee.

    Glenn Robinson III, Philadelphia 76ers – doubtful for Friday with a left hip pointer

    Alex Caruso, Los Angeles Lakers – out Thursday with neck spasms

    Russell Westbrook, Houston Rockets – out Thursday with a bruised quad

    Troy Daniels, Denver Nuggets – out Thursday with right hip tightness

    Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets – downgraded to out prior to Thursday’s game due to a sore left hamstring

    Will Barton, Denver Nuggets – out Thursday with knee injury

    Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets – out Thursday with hip injury

    Bryn Forbes, San Antonio Spurs – out Friday with right quad tightness

    Patrick McCaw, Toronto Raptors – out Friday with left knee soreness

    Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz – out Friday with lower leg peroneal strain

    Mike Conley, Utah Jazz – out Friday with right knee soreness

    Royce O’Neale, Utah Jazz – out Friday with right calf soreness

    Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz – out Friday for scheduled rest

    Seth Curry, Dallas Mavericks – out Thursday with right leg soreness

    Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn Nets – questionable for Friday after a left ankle sprain

    Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets – questionable for Friday with a left groin contusion

    Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic – doubtful for Friday with a strained left hamstring

    Michael Carter-Williams, Orlando Magic – questionable for Friday with a left foot tendon strain

    Gordan Dragic, Miami Heat – out Thursday with a left ankle sprain

    Doug McDermott, Indiana Pacers – out Thursday with sore right knee

    Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix Suns – downgraded to out prior to Thursday’s game with a knee injury

    Aron Baynes, Phoenix Suns – out Thursday with a right knee contusion

    The Suns Stay Hot

    The Suns are not only the hottest team in the bubble, they are the only remaining undefeated team since the restart commenced a week ago. Phoenix came into Orlando at the bottom of the West standings (of the teams in attendance), leading some to write them off before the games even tipped off. Here we are halfway through the seeding games and their perfect 4-0 record has put them within reach of the play-in series.

    Devin Booker has carried the team so far in Orlando, averaging 28 points, seven assists and four rebounds on 47% shooting from the field and 40% from deep in their four contests. His scoring prowess has been on display since he entered the league but the fifth-year player has stepped up his playmaking this season, increasing his assist numbers from a career mark of 4.7 per game to 6.5 per game in 2019-20. Book’s ice-cold demeanor and sweet shooting stroke has made him one of the most feared closers in the bubble. He assisted or scored on 12 of the final 14 points in Thursday’s win over Indiana, led two 7-0 runs late in the game to close out both Dallas and Washington, and drilled the final three shots against Los Angeles, including the shot of the restart (so far), a fadeaway game-winner over two of the best wing defenders in the game, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard.

    Part of Booker’s recent success ties in to the play of his supporting cast. That group is lead by Deandre Ayton, who has also put together a nice string of games since the season resumed. Other than a seven-point outing against Dallas, when he only logged 21 minutes due to foul trouble, he has averaged a double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds a night. Ricky Rubio provides a veteran presence in the backcourt alongside Booker, and rookie Mikal Bridges has already shown he is a legitimate perimeter defender and willing to lock anyone up. Bridges got the task of guarding the bubble’s hottest player in TJ Warren and held him to a pedestrian 16 points on 7-20 shooting from the field.

    The road ahead is not easy for Phoenix as they close out their final four seeding games against playoff teams in Miami, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia and Dallas. For quite a few players on this roster, these next four games will be the most important of their lives as they fight for a playoff berth. Whether or not they can keep up their impressive play against that gauntlet of teams is yet to be determined.

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