Few could have imagined the red-hot start that both the Indiana Pacers and Phoenix Suns have gotten off to in the NBA bubble with 3-0 records.
For Pacers forward T.J. Warren, the setting in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, suits him perfectly: all basketball, all the time. Never mind the fact that he’s facing his former team that traded him to Indiana last summer for cash considerations. Warren says he just wants to hoop.
“Even with all that in the past, I was always self-motivated,” Warren told ESPN by phone Wednesday. “Never allowed nobody to put a limit on my talent. No matter what the political stuff was or anything from high school, college to the NBA, you always face adversity, but I feel like it’s how you respond, how you rise to the occasion and I feel like me, personally, I just always feel like I’m able to adapt and respond in a positive way with my game.
“I don’t have no ill blood between anybody. I’m just fortunate enough to be doing what I’m doing, playing basketball at the highest level. With me, it’s all love.”
Warren is currently the NBA’s leading scorer since the restart. He has scored 119 points in three games (39.7 PPG), tied with Jermaine O’Neal for the most points in any three-game span in Pacers NBA history, per ESPN Stats & Information research.
His former teammate Devin Booker is no slouch, either.
Booker nailed a buzzer-beating, turnaround jumper over Paul George to cap a 35-point performance in a 117-115 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Even as impressive as he has been, Booker still finds the time to chat regularly with his old teammate as they’re looking forward to the clash.
“We still communicate. We still talk a lot,” Booker said of Warren. “This relationship, that’s for life. It’s a respectful relationship. I’m happy the situation that he’s in and the opportunity that he’s getting and the way he’s performing.”
Phoenix is chasing a playoff spot, with Booker putting up 30.7 points in these three games on 47% shooting. As Warren continues to play with a massive chip on his shoulder, Thursday will be no different.
He and Booker will continue to be friends after the game, but once the ball is tipped, it’ll be showtime. “Book, he’s a great dude. He’s a great, elite scorer. Can score from all three levels,” Warren said. “For me, just playing with him and for me just playing one-on-one against him, through all my years in Phoenix. I feel like we made each other better, two competitors. We used to get out there and practice in certain workouts. It’s gonna be fun to play against him the next game. I’m looking forward to it.” — Eric Woodyard
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Thursday and Friday, plus everything you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Thursday’s must-see games
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Sacramento Kings | 1:30 p.m. ET
The Pelicans and Kings were set to take the court on March 11 — the night the NBA was suspended — but the game was ultimately postponed just minutes before tipoff because a referee assigned to the game had also been assigned to a Utah Jazz game days before (and thus had come into contact with Rudy Gobert, who tested positive for COVID-19). This is the first of two meetings between the teams in the bubble as they are also set to meet next Tuesday.
The Pelicans will be led by All-Star Brandon Ingram and rookie Zion Williamson, who combined for 47 points in New Orleans’ only win in the bubble over Memphis on Monday. Meanwhile, the Kings have dropped all three games they’ve played and find themselves at the back end of the six-team race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. — Andrew Lopez
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 4 p.m. ET
The Bucks are looking to get back on track after back-to-back losses — a close loss to the Houston Rockets and then another to the Brooklyn Nets, although Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton didn’t play in the second half against the Nets. However, both are expected to get back to their normal minutes Thursday against Miami.
The Heat, meanwhile, could be without guard Jimmy Butler, who sat out Tuesday’s game because of a sprained right ankle. The injury isn’t thought to be serious, but his status for the Bucks game is unknown. The matchup to watch here will be Antetokounmpo against Heat center Bam Adebayo. When the teams met on March 2, Adebayo was pivotal in holding Antetokounmpo to 13 points, tied for his season low, on 6-of-18 shooting. — Lopez
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets | 8 p.m. ET
Both teams here are jockeying for position in their own ways. After a clutch performance by Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday, Portland finds itself 1½ back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Meanwhile, Denver is holding its own as it attempts to wrestle the second seed away from the LA Clippers, potentially earning the right to avoid a matchup with the Lakers until the conference finals. Denver has held the upper hand over Portland this season, picking up victories in the first three matchups by an average score of 116.3 to 99.3. Denver is one of only two teams this season (the Clippers are the other) to hold Portland under an average of 100 points. — Lopez
Full scoreboard for Thursday
Michael Porter Jr. scores from all over the floor on his way to 30 points in the Nuggets’ 132-126 win vs. the Spurs.
The Eastern Conference play-in game participants are all off on Thursday, so our attention shifts squarely to the Western Conference. Four of the contenders for a play-in game scenario are in action as New Orleans and Sacramento will clash in the afternoon, Phoenix will put its undefeated bubble record on the line versus Indiana, and Portland will face the Denver Nuggets in the evening.
7. Brooklyn Nets | 32-36 (.471) | —
8. Orlando Magic | 32-37 (.464) | —
9. Washington Wizards | 24-44 (.353) | 7.5 GB
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-37 (.464) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 31-38 (.449) | 1.0 GB
t-10. San Antonio Spurs | 29-38 (.433) | 2.0 GB
t-10. New Orleans Pelicans | 29-38 (.433) | 2.0 GB
12. Phoenix Suns | 29-39 (.426) | 2.5 GB
13. Sacramento Kings | 28-39 (.418) | 3.0 GB
Friday’s must-see games
Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs | 1 p.m. ET
After such a strong start, time is starting to run out on the Spurs. The margin of error gets thinner by the game, and they face a Jazz team desperate to start rebuilding rhythm and chemistry. Seeding isn’t necessarily a maximum priority for Utah — figuring things out is. — Royce Young
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 4 p.m. ET
Things are starting to get pretty must-win-ish for the Grizzlies. Not only are they at risk of flipping from eighth to ninth, thereby needing two wins in the play-in rather than just one, but they might fall out of it altogether. The Blazers are just one back; the Spurs are two. And the Thunder aren’t exactly an ideal matchup with their size, length and depth. — Young
Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors | 9 p.m. ET
With these teams having a chance to see each other in the second round of the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how both coaches approach it. The Raptors have been extremely impressive in the bubble, and the Celtics bounced back from a tough loss to Miami by dropping a cool 149 on the Nets. — Young
- Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets | 5 p.m. ET
- Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers | 6:30 p.m. ET
- Washington Wizards vs. New Orleans Pelicans | 8 p.m. ET
Analysis and intel
The Celtics will go as far as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum carry them
As expectations evolve in Boston, the Celtics’ final form will be molded by their young wings.
What we’re seeing and hearing inside the NBA bubble
A 22-team breakdown of the latest insights on teams playing in Orlando.
Real or not: Memphis’ playoff chances, Tatum’s trajectory and big restart questions
Our NBA experts weigh in on the biggest trends after the first weekend of basketball.
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