An aura of collective glee permeated the homes of NBA fans across the globe on Wednesday, as actual basketball — one NBA team playing against another NBA team — took place for the first time since March. Sure these are exhibition games and don’t count toward the standings, but they take on a whole new level of importance and energy because of the four-month hiatus.
The temptation to overreact to the first set of games is nearly impossible to suppress, but a lot went down on Wednesday — ranging from genuinely exciting to comically awkward — as we got our first glimpse of how NBA basketball will look inside the Disney bubble. Below are the scores from the first scrimmages of the restart, along with some key takeaways.
NBA scrimmage scores for Wednesday, July 22Bol Bol is an absolute delight
We’d heard rumors of Bol Bol — the Nuggets’ mysteriously tantalizing rookie who had yet to play an NBA game — looking great in practice, and we got to see his talents in full bloom on Wednesday in his Denver debut. The 7-foot-2 20-year-old wasted no time working NBA Twitter into a frenzy with his blocked shots, 3-pointers and ball-handling. He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in a win over the Wizards, producing countless highlights along the way.
Bol also apparently caught the league’s attention, as he underwent a random drug test after the game.
Bol’s performance was exciting on a number of levels. First, it was just plain fun to watch — especially after the long break from NBA action. Second, Bol simply hasn’t played very much since high school, taking the court for eight G League games this season after playing just nine games as a freshman at Oregon. Third, there’s a real chance that Bol could see minutes during seeding games given the Nuggets’ current lack of bodies.
Looking great in one exhibition game against the worst team in the bubble is obviously no guarantee of future success, but Bol, who has a ridiculous 7-foot-9 wingspan, displayed an intriguing skill set that shows the Nuggets’ second-round gamble might end up paying off in a big way.
A healthy, rested PG-13
As the Clippers’ Robin to Kawhi Leonard’s Batman, Paul George hasn’t consistently looked like himself this season following offseason surgery on both shoulders. It certainly looks like George got healthier over the break though, as he put up 18 points in 19 minutes in Wednesday’s win over the Magic.
George has been in and out of the lineup all season due to various injuries and load management, and his scoring average has dropped considerably from last year, but when he and Leonard are on the court together the Clippers have been nearly unbeatable (plus-11.6 net rating in 760 minutes). They’ll need George to be in top form if they’re going to compete for the title during the restart.
Denver takes “mile-high” quite literally
You may have been confused when you saw five Nuggets standing 6-7 or taller, three of them 6-11 or taller, for the opening tip against the Wizards. You weren’t alone. Due to having only eight players available, Mike Malone started 7-footer Nikola Jokic at point guard, along with four other frontcourt players: Paul Millsap, Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee and Bol Bol.
The lineup looked like something out of Gulliver’s Travels but ended up being pretty effective due to the diverse skill sets of the players involved. Eventually, an actual guard, Troy Daniels, got in the game and lit up the Wizards for a game-high 22 points, but it was fun watching the giganto-lineup do its thing for a while.
The missing players for Denver have been a subject of much confusion throughout “summer camp” thus far, but a few of the players were sitting courtside who hadn’t yet been cleared to play. The Nuggets announcers joked that Jamal Murray, who is in Orlando and healthy, didn’t play because he was fatigued from a recent golf outing. At least we think they were joking.
This was our first look at NBA games with no fans, and it was as strange as expected. You could hear sneakers squeaking, balls bouncing and players talking, while the PA announcer’s voice was much more audible than usual.
After the Clippers’ win, coach Doc Rivers said that one positive is that the lack of crowd noise allowed players to hear their teammates cheering for them, which isn’t normally the case. Lou Williams said that once the game started, he didn’t even notice that there weren’t any fans.
The Miami Heat had fans (kind of) during their game against the Sacramento Kings, as members of the Heat faithful were projected on a large monitor at times for the “home” team.
It will be interesting to see how the lack of fans affects players in the bubble, especially come playoff time.
What would any COVID-related event be without some technical difficulties? The Nuggets ambitiously set up a multi-person broadcast team, with each set up in their own remote studio or home. For the most part, it worked, but it inevitably devolved into an office Zoom call nightmare in the first half. For a few minutes (including during a break in the game), the broadcast sounded like this:
“Can you hear me?””I’ve heard you the whole time.””I’m gonna unmute my computer and see if that works better.””I can put my headphones back on.”
Eventually, they got things figured out, and all credit goes to Chris Marlowe, Scott Hastings, Dan Issel and the entire production team for handling it quite professionally. But this just goes to show the difficulties associated with broadcasting games in this weird NBA situation.
Clippers announcer came to play
It wasn’t just the players who had four months off. Clippers broadcaster Noah Eagle has clearly used his downtime to study up on the team, as he came right out of the gates dropping gems like “Lou Williams leads all Clippers in clutch points with 66” and an incredibly detailed and well-researched story about rapper Sheck Wes’ chart-topper about childhood friend and Orlando Magic center Mo Bamba. Eagle set the bar high in his first game back from the break.
Where Brooklyn at?
The Nets are extremely shorthanded in the bubble with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and Nicolas Claxton all sitting out of the restart for various reasons. They were even more depleted on Wednesday without lineup staple Joe Harris or newly acquired veterans Jamal Crawford, Tyler Johnson and Justin Anderson. As a result, we saw a steady dose of Chris Chiozza, Dzanan Musa, Jeremiah Martin and Lance Thomas.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Brooklyn lost by 31 points to the Zion Williamson-less New Orleans Pelicans. It’s going to be a rough road to the playoffs for the Nets — fortunately for them, the only team that can unseat them is the Washington Wizards, who have problems of their own. They’re going to need a tremendous bubble performance from Caris LeVert, who went 5-for-18 against the Pelicans as the team’s primary offensive weapon, if they’re going to make any noise.
Like riding a bike
Some felt the four-month layoff might affect shooting more than any other skill, particularly given that not all players had access to gyms, trainers and their normal routines. One player not affected: Duncan Robinson. The Heat sharpshooter didn’t miss a beat in his first scrimmage, hitting 4 of 5 3-pointers in less than six minutes to start the game against the Kings.
Robinson, who finished with 18 points on 5 of 8 3-point shooting, is second in the NBA in made 3s this season and is fourth in accuracy at a blistering 44.8 percent. It sure doesn’t seem like shooting is going to be a problem for him in the bubble, either.