AT the height of the pandemic brought about by the Corona virus, the NBA found ways make innovations and continue a disrupted season without jeopardising and violating health protocols.
With the collected efforts to control the situation NBA opened the Bubble Tournament that salvaged the 2019-2020 season. And it became the model of all sports tournaments during the pandemic around the world. NBA limited the number of participants, only 22 out of the 30 teams were invited and were the ride to a bio-secure location at the Walt Disney World in Bay Lake in Florida.
The tournament lasted from July 22 to October 11, 2020, with three courts being used alternately – the Visa Athletic Center, where non-national (televised) games are being held; the HP Field House, which was used until the conference finals, and the AdventHealth Area, where all nationally televised games including the conference finals and the NBA finals were being held.
NBA spent $190 Million for the bubble tournament, which however, earned the league a whopping $1.5 Billion in revenue.
The Los Angeles Lakers was eventually crowned as champions after defeating the Miami Heat 4-2 in the Finals.
However, the LeBron James haters devalued the crown and named the ring as the “Mickey Mouse Ring,” for the lack of usual factors that may change the game – mainly the crowd, the distractions, and the travels to name.
However, many also believed that there was no merit to that claim as the quality of games increased a notch higher as teams are better and mentally prepared since all players are equally breathing and walking under on the same environment.
The championship was LeBron James’ fourth championship and Anthony Davis’ first and the Lakers’ 17th after defeating the Miami Heat 4-2.
Three seasons later – the bubble protagonists are back in the tug-of-war for the 2022-2023 Season title.
The Lakers vs. the Nuggets in the West and the Celtics and the Heat for the Eastern Conference title, proving that the “Bubble tournament” was no fluke. It just took a little while to assemble the pieces.
And while the Golden State Warriors fans are still ululating for the sudden demise of their beloved team from the hands of the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinal, the West Finals duel will begin on Wednesday (Philippine time) with the first two games to be hosted at the Mile High City.
Can the Lakers score a repeat over the Nuggets this time? Maybe yes, but not absolute! The Lakers need to muster all its strength to beat Denver and make it to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers and the Nuggets were 2-2 during the regular season – Denver winning 110-99 on October 26 and 122-109 last Jan. 9 while Los Angeles won 121-110 on October 30 and 126-108 on Dec. 16.
However, Denver hasn’t played against the re-tooled Lakers, since the acquisition of D’Angelo Russel, Jarred Vanderbilt, Mo Bamba and Malik Beasly came at the trade deadline last February. Rui Hachimura joined Los Angeles two weeks earlier.
Since, the new-look the Lakers were 17-9, second only to the Milwaukee Bucks who were 18-5 after the trade cut-off. Denver was 13-9 after the Feb. 9.
From a 2-10 start, LA has become a legitimate contender as Austin Reaves, Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Schroder flourished alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis and the late comers. They made the Lakers fans believe again.
But Denver could be a stumbling block as it has Nikola Jokic, the 2-time MVP who is hungry for a ring. And he is eager to avenge their 4-1 loss to the Lakers in 2020.
He still remembered how Lakers defense handcuffed him in the bubble. This time, however, Jokic has matured and has gained more experience and there is no Dwight Howard was assigned to slow and wear him down. Jokic is more likely to face Davis most of the time, and maybe occasionally against Vanderbilt or veteran center Tristan Thompson. Now he got has Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., and Jamal Murray and Aaron Gordon on his side.
Jokic was exemplary as he led the Nuggets to a masterful 4-2 elimination of the Phoenix Suns in their own Western Conference semifinal series. Jokic was unstoppable as he logged 34.5 points, 13.2 rebounds and 10.3 assists average in six games, a scary number that the Lakers needed to plug to keep their hopes for another championship run.
Denver is highly favored to win the series not just because they own the homecourt advantage for having the best record after the regular season, but they are preferred because they are younger, with a deeper bench and mainly because of Jokic.
The No.7 Lakers on one hand still has James and Davis, who, when healthy poses huge problem for Denver in offense and defense, plus that Darvin Ham’s magical strategies that always bring surprises in the game.
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