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NBA teams that keep focused on their game thriving in the bubble

By Dan Woike, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Basketball

ORLANDO, Fla. - In the hallways outside the convention center ballroom that the NBA has turned into a practice court, Boston coach Brad Stevens swatted away a question like he was Bam Adebayo waiting for Jayson Tatum.

Down 1-0 to Miami, the reporter wondered, could his young core of Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart play with even more confidence knowing that they had been tested in meaningful playoff games long before the birth of this bubble.

"I think that all that stuff is helpful but you know, when the ball tips off tomorrow, probably meaningless. You've just got to play well tomorrow," he said dryly. "None of the stuff you've lived in the past matters. None of the stuff that you dream of in the future matters. It's just about what you need to do on this possession right now. I know that sounds cliche, but that's really the only way to go through these things. Two years ago, we kept saying there was a power of naivete. So now we don't have that. So, whatever.

"Spin it however we want to. We've just got to play well tomorrow."

Simplicity is a bit of a theme here inside the NBA bubble, where days repeat like the chorus of an annoying song. Finding it is tough, staying with it even harder and bouncing in and out of complexities a must.

"There's nothing to do here," a clearly sullen Dwight Howard said after the Lakers wrapped their first practice preparing for the Denver Nuggets.

 

There's only basketball, and for those truly invested, it can be wonderful. Before his team exited the bubble, Toronto coach Nick Nurse, the NBA's Coach of the Year, said he loved it. He played music, rode a bike around campus in the Florida sunshine and he got to compete and coach basketball games every other day.

Consider who Nurse is, though - someone who loves basketball so much that he spent much of his adult life chasing it around gyms in England, Belgium and America's minor leagues. That hustle was rewarded Tuesday with a multi-year extension with the Raptors.

The bubble can be an immersive basketball experience if you want it to be, and the teams that are left have bought into it. They've been adept at promoting social justice while still playing, about being heard but still performing.

Howard's mood notwithstanding, the Lakers are typically a joyful group of people on the court. For the portion of practice open to the media on Wednesday, LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Quinn Cook competed in a shooting contest with assistant coach Jason Kidd and general manager Rob Pelinka grabbing rebounds.

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