Feb 10, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Monte Morris (11) drives to the net against San Antonio Spurs guard Lonnie Walker IV (1) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
The longest 141-day wait of basketball fans’ lives is approaching its end.
As of Thursday, it will have been 141 days since the National Basketball Association halted its season on March 11 as the result of the Utah Jazz’s Rody Gobert testing positive for COVID-19, instantly turning the sports world upside down.
Much in our world has changed during that 141 days span. Roughly 150,000 people have lost their lives across the United States as a result of the pandemic that shook the world. Civil rights, Black Lives Matter and social justice took center stage after George Floyd’s death under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis sparked protests, peaceful and otherwise, from coast-to-coast.
All the while, the basketball world watched and waited for its opportunity to return in the best and safest way it possibly could. Enter “the bubble” – a massive compound on the campus of DisneyWorld in Orlando, Fla. spread across three hotels with daily COVID-19 testing, mandatory quarantine periods and the vibe of a basketball summer camp for millionaires.
Thursday night, the Utah Jazz and New Orleans Pelicans will tip-off on TNT in the first of what the NBA is calling seeding games to complete the 2020 regular season. That contest will be followed by a potential Western Conference Finals preview between the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.
The two contests will feature major star power from LeBron James to Zion Williamson and Anthony Davis to Kawhi Leonard. Above all else, for us at Cyclone Fanatic, each game will feature one former Cyclone with the Jazz’s Georges Niang and the Lakers’ Talen Horton-Tucker.
What will follow will be a complete breakdown of all the Cyclones in the NBA bubble, their teams’ spots in the standings and when exactly you will be able to catch them on TV during their eight seeding games.
The 141 days since Iowa State’s 2019-20 season ended with a 72-71 loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Tournament and the NBA season was put to a halt have seemed to last a lifetime.
But, finally, finally, basketball will officially be back.
The Cyclones in the bubble
Monte Morris, Denver Nuggets
The last former Cyclone to arrive in the bubble, Morris joined the Nuggets for official team activities on Monday after completing his league-mandated quarantine period. Iowa State’s all-time leader in assists and steals is undoubtedly the most important former Cyclone to his professional team’s success.
Morris has appeared in 65 games so far this season for the third-place in the West Nuggets, primarily as the backup point guard, but also starting eight contests while averaging 8.4 points and 3.5 assists in 21.6 minutes per game.
This should come as no surprise to any Cyclone fan, but the Flint, Mich. native leads all players averaging more than 20 minutes per game with a 5.1 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is a full point ahead of second-place.
Some things never change.
Georges Niang, Utah Jazz
Iowa State’s second all-time leading scorer has enjoyed the best season of his career for the Jazz while averaging career-highs in points (5.8), rebounds (1.9) and minutes (13.3) in 58 games. He currently sits at No. 11 in the league in 3-point percentage, hitting 41.6 percent of his shots from deep for Utah, who enters the bubble as the No. 4 team in the West, just 1.5 games behind the Nuggets.
Matt Thomas, Toronto Raptors
Thomas making an impact off the bench as a lethal sharpshooter seemed like an inevitability to those of us who watched him at Iowa State and remembered his 23-point on 5-of-5 shooting performance from deep during the Lakers’ 2017 NBA Summer League title game victory. But, the Onalaska, Wis. native opted to spend two years in Spain rather than bouncing around the NBA G-League.
That plan worked out when Thomas signed a 3-year deal worth $4.2 million with the Raptors last summer. He played sparingly early in the year, appearing in just 33 games and averaging 4.5 points per game, but shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range.
Don’t let that fool you, though. Thomas is making a serious case for more playing time with the defending champions, who are the East’s surprise team sitting at No. 2 in the conference standings despite losing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard after last year. Just look at Thomas’ performance in the Raptors’ second pre-seeding games scrimmage on Sunday when he scored 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point range in 18 minutes.
If I had to pick a player to burst onto the scene and become more of a notable name in the bubble with the added exposure, Thomas could end up having a good case.
Abdel Nader, Oklahoma City Thunder
Another former Cyclone enjoying the best season of his career, Nader is averaging a career-high 6 points per game on career-high shooting splits of 45.5 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from 3-point range in another career-high 15.8 minutes per game.
He’s played in 48 games, starting five, this season for the surprise fifth-place in the West Thunder, but is currently day-to-day while going through concussion protocol with no timetable for a return.
Deonte Burton, Oklahoma City Thunder
Burton has appeared in a career-high 34 games, averaging career-highs in minutes (8.4) and points (2.8). His performance in the bubble will be one to monitor as he has a team-option worth $1.7 million for the 2020-21 season.
Marial Shayok, Philadelphia 76ers
The 2019 Big 12 Tournament Most Outstanding Player, who has appeared in two games for the Sixers, scoring three points and three rebounds, total, made his biggest mark as a rookie for the franchise’s G-League affiliate in Delaware. There he proved again to be a walking bucket and was named third-team All-G-League after scoring 22.4 points, grabbing 5.8 rebounds and dishing 3.7 assists per game.
Shayok, who some Sixers fans on Twitter have lovingly referred to at times as “The Canadian Kevin Durant,” is unlikely to make a major impact for sixth-place in the East Philadelphia during the bubble unless there is some sort of other circumstances like an injury at play, but he made a good case for why he should be in the team’s future plans as a rookie.
Naz Mitrou-Long, Indiana Pacers
The 3sus of Nazareth has appeared in only three games for the Pacers this season, scoring 4.7 points, dishing 2.3 assists and grabbing 2.0 rebounds in those contests. There was a chance more playing time could have been in the cards for Naz if Pacers star guard Victor Oladipo opted out of playing in the bubble, but Oladipo did decide to play and Naz will more than likely be locked into a role at the end of the bench.
Talen Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles Lakers
Much like Naz, decisions and circumstances involving other players could (heavy on the could due to unlikeliness) have potentially pushed THT into some sort of (again) unlikely spot role for the West’s top team after Avery Bradley opted out of the bubble and Rajon Rondo injured his hand, but the team’s additions of J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters will keep the 19-year-old rookie in what more or less amounts to an evaluation role in practice. He’s appeared in two games for the Lakers this season, playing five total minutes, and is still seeking his first NBA points.
Cyclones in the bubble schedule
*Time – TV – Game – Cyclones
** TBD game times and TV information will be announced at a later based on seeding implications
5:30 p.m. CST – TNT – Utah vs. New Orleans (Georges Niang)
8:00 p.m. CST – TNT – Clippers vs. Lakers (Talen Horton-Tucker)
12:00 p.m. CST – ESPN – Miami vs. Denver (Monte Morris)
2:30 p.m. CST – ESPN – Utah vs. OKC (Niang vs. Deonte Burton & Abdel Nader)
6:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Philadelphia vs. Indiana (Marial Shayok vs. Naz Mitrou-Long)
7:30 p.m. CST – ESPN – Lakers vs. Toronto (THT vs. Matt Thomas)
12:30 p.m. CST – NBA TV – Toronto vs. Miami (Thomas)
3:00 p.m. CST – NBA TV – Denver vs. OKC (Morris vs. Burton & Nader)
3:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Indiana vs. Washington (Mitrou-Long)
7:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – San Antonio vs. Philadelphia (Shayok)
8:00 p.m. CST – ESPN – Lakers vs. Utah (THT vs. Niang)
5:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Orlando vs. Indiana (Mitrou-Long)
1:30 p.m. CST – League Pass – Memphis vs. Utah (Niang)
3:00 p.m. CST – NBA TV – Philadelphis vs. Washington (Shayok)
3:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Denver vs. San Antonio (Morris)
5:30 p.m. CST – ESPN – OKC vs. Lakers (Burton & Nader vs. THT)
7:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Toronto vs. Orlando (Thomas)
3:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Indiana vs. Phoenix (Mitrou-Long)
7:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Portland vs. Denver (Morris)
8:00 p.m. CST – TNT – Lakers vs. Hourton (THT)
12:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Utah vs. San Antonio (Niang)
3:00 p.m. CST – NBA TV – OKC vs. Memphis (Burton & Nader)
5:30 p.m. CST – TNT – Orlando vs. Philadelphia (Shayok)
8:00 p.m. CST – TNT – Boston vs. Toronto (Thomas)
2:30 p.m. CST – TNT – Utah vs. Denver (Niang vs. Morris)
5:00 p.m. CST – TNT – Lakers vs. Indiana (THT vs. Mitrou-Long)
11:30 a.m. CST – League Pass – Washington vs. OKC (Burton & Nader)
1:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Memphis vs. Toronto (Thomas)
5:30 p.m. CST – NBA TV – Philadelphia vs. Portland (Shayok)
1:30 p.m. CST – League Pass – OKC vs. Phoenix (Burton & Nader)
2:00 p.m. CST – NBA TV – Dallas vs. Utah (Niang)
5:30 p.m. CST – ESPN – Toronto vs. Milwaukee (Thomas)
7 p.m. CST – League Pass – Indiana vs. Miami (Mitrou-Long)
8:00 p.m. CST – TNT – Denver vs. Lakers (Morris vs. THT)
3:30 p.m. CST – League Pass – Phoenix vs. Philadelphia (Shayok)
3:00 p.m. CST – NBA TV – Indiana vs. Houston (Mitrou-Long)
5:30 p.m. CST – ESPN – Toronto vs. Philadelphia (Thomas vs. Shayok)
7:00 p.m. CST – League Pass – Miami vs. OKC (Burton & Nader)
8:00 p.m. CST – ESPN – Clippers vs. Denver (Morris)
TBD – League Pass – Sacramento vs. Lakers (THT)
TBD – League Pass – San Antonio vs. Utah (Niang)
TBD – League Pass – Philadelphia vs. Houston (Shayok)
TBD – League Pass – Miami vs. Indiana (Mitrou-Long)
TBD – League Pass – OKC vs. Clippers (Burton & Nader)
TBD – League Pass – Denver vs. Toronto (Morris vs. Thomas)