Blazers' Damian Lillard Named Unanimous NBA Bubble MVP for Seeding Games

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

Portland Trail Blazers' Damian Lillard (0) dribbles during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)
Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

Giannis Antetokounmpo or LeBron James can have the regular-season MVP. Damian Lillard just earned something that may never be given out again in NBA history.

The Portland Trail Blazers star was unanimously voted MVP of the league's seeding games at Walt Disney World Resort on Saturday after thriving in the campus-like environment that was set up to resume the season after it was suspended in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press shared all of the NBA bubble award winners:

Each team played eight seeding games with playoff positioning and spots on the line, and Lillard was one of a number of players who stood out in the unusual circumstances.

There really didn't seem to be a much competition for the MVP award. The Blazers entered the season restart with a 29-37 record, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. 

Lillard averaged 37.6 points and 9.6 assists during the eight seeding games, shot 43.6 percent from three-point range and led the Blazers to a 6-2 record.

Portland, which moved into the No. 8 seed, will play Memphis in the play-in-series starting on Saturday. If the Blazers win on either Saturday or Sunday, they will advance to the postseason to take on the Los Angeles Lakers

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Few individuals captured the attention of the nation quite like Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren, who has largely been a role player or someone who didn't get much national recognition playing on Phoenix Suns teams that underperformed throughout his career.

The Pacers traded for him this offseason, and he led the team in scoring during the season with Victor Oladipo bouncing in and out of the lineup. He took that scoring to another level in the bubble, exploding for 53 points in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers and more than 30 three other times.

Warren gives Indiana another scoring threat who can take over a game at a moment's notice heading into the postseason and figures to take some of the playoff pressure off Oladipo's shoulders.

The bubble didn't just belong to the overlooked players, though, as Lillard, Luka Doncic, Devin Booker and James Harden were all brilliant for stretches.

Harden and Doncic unleashed dazzling passes and step-back three-pointers whenever the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, respectively, took the court. They also worked into angles when attacking the basket and knew when to step aside to let Russell Westbrook and Kristaps Porzingis impact games, as well.

None of them were playing under as much pressure as Lillard and Booker.

When the NBA decided to restart the season, it put into place a system that would create a play-in tournament if the No. 9 seed was within four games of the No. 8 seed following the seeding games.

The Memphis Grizzlies struggled to the finish line, which allowed the Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs opportunities to charge toward the playoffs.

Nobody turned things around quicker than the Suns, who went 8-0 with Booker leading the way.

The University of Kentucky product scored 30 or more points in five of his team's games and realized the young and talented Suns can build on their experience moving forward.

"We came in, we locked in, and made the sacrifices that we need to make, so I don't think there's going to be any sad faces around here, whether we leave here in the playoffs or not," he said, per Nick Friedell of ESPN. "We've put the work in and we've grown as a team. We've took tremendous strides that I think will build for us for continuing years to come."

Phoenix could be battling with Portland for years to come for Western Conference playoff positioning, which could set the stage for individual showdowns between Booker and Lillard.

But Lillard brought Dame Time to Florida, scoring 51 in a win over the 76ers, 45 in a win over the Denver Nuggets and 61 in a win over the Mavericks.