The final four seeding games of the NBA restart take place on Friday, although none of them truly mean anything as seven of the eight NBA playoff matchups are already set. Sure, the winner of the Miami Heat-Indiana Pacers game on Friday afternoon gets the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference but the two teams know they’re playing one another in the first round and it’s not as if home-court advantage is really a thing in the bubble outside of having more virtual fans.
The NBA announced earlier this week that it will name a bubble MVP, which isn’t to be confused with the actual NBA MVP, which will likely go to either Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James. Neither is in the running for bubble MVP as that race has essentially come down to three players: Devin Booker, Damian Lillard, and T.J. Warren.
A strong case could be made for each and we’ll take a look at each player as we go through a little countdown on how we think the vote will go.
3. T.J. Warren
Through the first few games of the restart, the no-brainer choice for NBA bubble MVP seemed to be Indiana Pacers star forward T.J. Warren.
In the Pacers’ very first game in Orlando against the Philadelphia 76ers, Warren scored a career-high 53 points, shooting 20-for-29 from the floor, including an incredible 9-for-12 from beyond the arc. He’s scored 30 or more points in four of the six games he’s played (Warren missed the Pacers’ last outing due to plantar fasciitis) and has shot the ball extremely well.
In his six appearances, T.J. Warren has gone 74-for-128 (57.8%) from the floor, including 22-for-42 (52.4%) from the three-point line. He’s averaged 31 points and 6.3 rebounds per game since the restart and has led the Pacers to a 4-2 record leading into today’s final game with rival Jimmy Butler and the Heat. Warren is likely to make the All-Bubble First Team but likely won’t win bubble MVP.
2. Devin Booker
It’s almost a shame that the voting for bubble MVP is taking place ahead of this weekend because if Damian Lillard (spoiler, he’s number one and you knew that) and the Portland Trailblazers don’t get past the Memphis Grizzlies, Devin Booker would have a much stronger case for bubble MVP, which is already pretty darn strong.
For one, Booker led the Phoenix Suns to an amazing 8-0 record in Orlando, which is a new NBA record for the longest winning streak to end a season for a team not going to the playoffs. On an individual level, Booker was outstanding, averaging 27.1 points per game while shooting 52.1% from the floor (75-for-144) and 93.1% from the foul line (54-for-58).
The Suns finished with the same 34-39 record as the Grizzlies but lost the season series to Memphis, winning just one of four games, which is why they’re heading home. But Devin Booker & Co. sure have a lot to look forward to next season. Like T.J. Warren, Booker is essentially a lock for the All-Bubble First Team but won’t win MVP.
1. Damian Lillard
Is anyone really shocked to see Damian Lillard as our pick for NBA bubble MVP? Yes, had the Blazers not gotten to the No. 8 seed, Devin Booker’s chances would have been much higher But Dame has been on absolute fire and has Portland looking like the most dangerous No. 8 seed in history. And, yes, that’s a prediction that the Blazers roll right through the Grizzlies to set up a high-profile matchup with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the LA Lakers next week.
Lillard has been unstoppable in leading the Blazers to a 6-2 record, averaging 37.6 points in the bubble, which includes a 61-point effort against the Dallas Mavericks this past Tuesday night, his third 60-plus-point game of the season. Lillard has shot 50.3% from the floor (83-for-165), including 45.7% from the three-point line (42-for-92), and seems to be the clear choice for bubble MVP. While he might have gotten a few votes already, his performance in Orlando might also get him a few more votes in the overall NBA MVP race.
Damian Lillard and the Blazers will meet the Grizzlies on Saturday and a win for Portland guarantees them a matchup with the Lakers. If Memphis wins, the two teams will play again on Sunday in a winner-take-all game for the No. 8 seed.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference