Mikal Bridges

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. β€” Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Three Things to Know: Luka Doncic, Devin Booker show bubble is for the young

Luka Doncic Devin Booker
Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack β€” especially with games spread out every day in the bubble β€” so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Devin Booker drains game-winner, bubble Suns undefeated

Devin Booker desperately wants to be mentioned among the best guards in the league β€” and he puts up the raw numbers to be in that club. It has been his defense and the fact his team is still woeful that has kept him from getting membership.

Not in the bubble.

Phoenix is 3-0 at the NBA restart after Booker drained a turnaround game-winner over Paul George β€” giving Booker 35 points on the night β€” to beat the Clippers.

The Clippers helped beat themselves. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers β€” Kawhi Leonard in particular β€” defended them well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Ivica Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot. Then, on that shot, Zubac came out high to double, giving a lane to Booker to drive, and the rest is history. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble and not impressing anyone.

The Suns and Booker are impressing everyone.

2) Luka Doncic‘s historic triple-double reminder Mavericks are playoff threat

Those stumbling Clippers mentioned above most likely will face the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the playoffs β€” and that has upset potential. In part because the Clippers have yet to find the chemistry and cohesion in the bubble β€” or have their key players all together β€” that they had the weeks before the league was shut down.

And in part because Luka Doncic can take over a game β€” and maybe a series. Doncic put up a ridiculous line of 34 points, 20 rebounds, and 12 assists, leading the Mavericks to an overtime win against the Kings. Doncic, at age 21, became the youngest NBA player ever with a 30-20-10 stat line, beating Oscar Robertson (23).

Doncic will be an All-NBA player this year (first or second team) and will get bottom-of-the-ballot MVP votes β€” he is an elite, franchise cornerstone player. Dallas is building a dangerous team around him (Kristaps Porzingis as the pick-and-pop partner, Tim Hardaway and Seth Curry as shooters, Dwight Powell doing the dirty work, and more) that seems a year or two away. But if youth is being served in the bubble, maybe not.

3) Jaren Jackson Jr.‘s injury changes feel of race for eighth in West.

The Memphis Grizzlies entered the restart with huge advantages β€” a 3.5 game lead for the eighth seed in the West, plus only having to win one-of-two games in a play-in series.

However, Memphis has started 0-3 in the bubble, and now this β€” young star center Jaren Jackson Jr. is out for the rest of the season with a torn meniscus in his left knee. It’s a blow to the Grizzlies, who have been competitive in those losses but now have lost their second-best player.

Memphis suddenly doesn’t feel safe as the eighth seed, not after Carmelo Anthony‘s dagger helped Portland beat Houston Tuesday night.

Portland is now just 1.5 games back of ailing Memphis for the eighth seed, with San Antonio (2 games behind Memphis) and New Orleans (2.5 back) lurking. Portland has three tough games coming up β€” Nuggets, Clippers, 76ers β€” while New Orleans has Zion Williamson playing more minutes and a soft schedule ahead. The race for the eighth spot in the West β€” the only real race in the bubble β€” feels wide open with five games to play.

And youth may be served.

Watch Devin Booker drain turnaround game-winner to beat Clippers

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Devin Booker is a serious problem.

The Suns All-Star guard scored his 34th and 35th points of the night on a turnaround game-winner at the buzzer= over Paul George β€” who defended him well. He called game.

Ivica Zubac opened the door for Booker to win it. The Suns had the ball with 31 seconds to go and the Clippers β€” Kawhi Leonard in particular β€” defended it well, forcing Ricky Rubio into a difficult, high-arcing shot he missed. Zubac did a good job grabbing the rebound, but then he hurried the outlet pass and Mikal Bridges tipped it, Deandre Ayton grabbed it, and the Suns got to reset and take one more shot.

Devin Booker took the final shot, a game-winner. That man is a problem.

The bubble Suns are now 3-0.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Warriors, Clippers, Lakers, Suns, Kings

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division and the Central Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Pacific:

Golden State Warriors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: The Warriors have their core together with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins. Ky Bowman, Marquese Chriss, Damion Lee and Eric Paschall provide value on minimum contracts. That’s all the Warriors need to protect.

Golden State wouldn’t mind seeing Kevon Looney or Jordan Poole selected to get the salaries off the cap sheet. The rest of the players are ones the Warriors won’t lose any sleep over if they’re drafted.

L.A. Clippers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: L.A. has its main guys with four starters under contract. They aren’t being exposed here. The other three players are key bench contributors on good contracts. And Kabengele and Mann were just drafted. Easy decisions across the board for the Clippers.

L.A. could lose Green as a free agent. The Clippers also bet he does undrafted and could return. Rodney McGruder makes too much money for his role.

Los Angeles Lakers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 5

Analysis: The Lakers and Anthony Davis will work out that he’ll opt out before the expansion draft, which makes him ineligible. The rest of the players are role players that Los Angeles would rather keep around LeBron James than risk losing.

Los Angeles won’t be upset to see Quinn Cook or Rajon Rondo selected. They’re both replacement-level players for the Lakers at this point.

Phoenix Suns

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 1

Analysis: Phoenix keeps it simple and protects all the guys who are part of its core. The Suns could have left Dario Saric unprotected, but by protecting Saric, they keep the flexibility to re-sign him as a restricted free agent. The rest are all easy decisions.

Of the unprotected players, none of have established themselves as NBA rotation players. If any are selected, Phoenix won’t lose any sleep over it.

Sacramento Kings

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 2

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Kings will protect their five starters and three key reserves. Cory Joseph is a decision-point, but considering De’Aaron Fox’s injury issues, Joseph is too valuable to let walk away.

Sacramento won’t mind if Jabari Parker is selected, but they aren’t going to pay anyone to do it. Justin James has been an interesting prospect, but the Kings won’t stress if he gets selected.