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NBA Bubble Tea: Gran Destino Tower

by Joshua Doering

Since the NBA has so nicely divided its teams into a hotel hierarchy, 110 Sports has decided to take full advantage. To preview the NBA’s return on July 30, the NBA Bubble Tea series will examine the main question surrounding all 22 teams at the Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando. Naturally, the teams will be divided based on the hotel they are staying in. 

The Gran Destino Tower is the temporary home of the eight teams with the best records, including Giannis’ Bucks, LeBron’s Lakers and Kawhi’s Clippers. Consequently, it is hard to imagine a team other than these eight leaving the bubble with an NBA title. The result is an intriguing set of storylines that will go a long way in determining a champion. 

The NBA Bubble Tea series begins with a look at the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers, Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz and Heat. 

Milwaukee Bucks: Did the Bucks learn their lesson from last postseason?

It all started so well for Milwaukee in the 2019 playoffs. Mike Budenholzer’s team swept the Pistons, dispatched the Celtics in five games and held a 2-0 lead on the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then came the four straight losses to Toronto, ending Milwaukee’s season. So what needs to change this time around?

First and foremost, Giannis Antetokounmpo can’t shoot 8.6% worse from the field and average 2.2 fewer points per game in the playoffs than the regular season like he did last year. He has to be ready for teams to clog the lane, which is where his increase in made 3-pointers (up .8 from last season) and 3-point attempts (up 2.0 from last season) per game will come in handy. Even if they don’t all go in, the fact that Giannis is willing to shoot from deep forces teams to defend him differently. 

It’s not just about the Greek Freak though. Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez all averaged over a point per game less in the postseason last year too. Not even Giannis is good enough to get a team to the NBA Finals by himself. Somebody else — specifically Middleton — needs to be contributing 18 to 20 points a night. 

Photo by Erik Drost / Flickr 

Los Angeles Lakers: Can the backcourt hold up with the absence of Avery Bradley and injury to Rajon Rondo? 

Avery Bradley’s decision to opt out of the restart didn’t appear to be a major concern for the Lakers. Not until Rajon Rondo fractured his thumb, that is. Now the Lakers are operating in a world where Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Quinn Cook and J.R. Smith are the primary options at the guard position. 

Both Caldwell-Pope and Smith are capable of providing a spark offensively, but there are serious questions at the other end of the floor. If Rondo is unable to return before the conference finals, the Lakers could very well face a duo of elite guards (Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell in Utah, Chris Paul and Shai Gillegous-Alexander in Oklahoma City or Russell Westbrook and James Harden in Houston) with four guys who are average defenders at best. Losing one guard was not a big deal, but losing your best two defenders at the position — at least for a while — is a cause for concern. 

Photo by Erik Drost / Flickr

Toronto Raptors: Which kind of Raptors team is this?

Even before winning the first title in franchise history, the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and emergence of Pascal Siakam made Toronto title contenders from the get-go last season. This year’s team actually has a better winning percentage than its predecessor, but a worse one than the last squad of the DeMar DeRozan/Kyle Lowry era. The Raptors made it to at least the second round of the playoffs the three years prior to the Leonard trade. They lost to the Cavaliers all three times, winning a total of two games. 

Fred VanVleet (17.6 PPG, 6.6 APG) and Norman Powell (16.4 PPG) have helped fill the void left by Leonard’s departure. But can they produce at that level in the playoffs, and can Siakam be the primary scoring option for a contender? It’s not clear yet whether the 2019-20 Raptors are closer to last season’s squad or to the DeRozan/Lowry teams who never posed a serious threat to LeBron’s Cavs. 

Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

Los Angeles Clippers: What happens when this team’s greatest advantage goes away?

Of the seven players averaging more than eight points per game for the Clippers, only two — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George — are regular starters. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have become one of the best pick-and-roll duos in the league, feasting on the opposition’s second unit. The ridiculous depth at Doc Rivers’ disposal when Harrell and Patrick Beverley return to the bubble is wonderful until teams shorten their rotations and leave their best players on the floor longer. 

Still, Leonard and George automatically make this team one of the favorites to win it all. Add Beverley into the mix and the Clippers have the best trio of perimeter defenders in the league hands down. There is still plenty to like here, and Rivers can dictate the terms of any game with the variety of players he can put on the floor. Williams, Harrell and Co. just need to be ready for a different level of competition than they’re used to. 

Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

Boston Celtics: Is Boston ready to compete for a title?

Ever since the Celtics started reaping the rewards of their 2013 draft night trade with the Nets, the question has been whether Danny Ainge could accumulate enough talent to make a run at a championship. The team lacked a bonafide star, so Boston traded for Kyrie Irving and signed Gordon Hayward to a max contract. Irving never fit in and left to join, of all teams, the Nets, and was replaced by Kemba Walker. 

As Ainge kept toying with the roster, Jayson Tatum was emerging as one of the most promising young players in the league. In nine games after the All-Star break, Tatum averaged 30 points, eight rebounds and three assists while shooting 47% from deep. If that Tatum shows up in Orlando, the quartet of him, a healthy Walker (who is nursing a knee injury right now), Hayward and Jaylen Brown is as good as it gets. If Tatum only provides 20 points per game and Hayward misses the wrong series when he leaves the bubble for the birth of his daughter, Boston could be done by the second round. Tatum’s performance will determine how far this team can go. 

Photo by Erik Drost / Wikimedia Commons

Denver Nuggets: How much of an impact does Nikola Jokić’s improved conditioning have?

It’s hard to imagine Nikola Jokić improving on the 20.2 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists he’s currently averaging, but there’s reason to believe his newly-trimmed body might allow him to do just that. His game has never been built on strength, so the loss of weight is not a cause for concern. Where he may be even better is on the perimeter, both offensively and defensively. 

Theoretically, a skinnier Jokić has a quicker first step, which makes him even more difficult to stay in front of. Additionally, the weight Jokić shed makes him a more effective defender in today’s NBA. In a world of ball screens and switching, being able to stay with a guard half a second longer or recover half a second faster can make the difference between giving up a bucket and getting a stop. It doesn’t change the Nuggets’ ceiling all that much, but skinny Jokić is one of the most interesting storylines when play resumes. 

Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

Utah Jazz: Have Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert really put everything behind them?

During an appearance on Good Morning America on March 16, Donovan Mitchell said it “kind of took a while for me to cool off” after teammate Rudy Gobert’s reckless behavior toward the coronavirus resulted in both players testing positive. They have since recovered, but Mitchell certainly hasn’t forgotten about Gobert’s actions. Just because their relationship appears to be OK for now doesn’t mean it will stay that way. 

Mitchell and Gobert are not just teammates; they are arguably Utah’s two most important players. Any friction between the two almost certainly reduces the Jazz’s small chance of reaching the conference finals to zero. If something were to re-open old wounds, it would spell disaster for Quin Snyder’s team. Only time will tell if the saga is behind Mitchell and Gobert for good. 

Photo by Frenchieinportland / Wikimedia Commons

Miami Heat: Are the young players ready for the postseason?

The last time the Heat made the playoffs back in 2016-17, Bam Adebayo was a rookie averaging 19.8 minutes per game, Kendrick Nunn was an Oakland University Golden Grizzly, Duncan Robinson was coming off the bench for the University of Michigan and Tyler Herro was in high school. Those guys are now the second, fourth, fifth and six-leading scorers for Erik Spoelstra’s team. Outside of Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragić and Andre Iguodala, there is not a whole lot of experience, let alone playoff experience, on this Heat squad.

Miami will need more than Butler to get out of the first round, making Adebayo the team’s most important player. Asking a 22-year-old to produce 16 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the playoffs is a much more daunting task than putting up those numbers in the regular season. Every team the Heat play will be scheming to limit Adebayo’s effectiveness. No matter how things go, Miami is going to learn a great deal about the young core it is building when the pressure ratchets up in Orlando.  

Photo by Keith Allison / Wikimedia Commons

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