11 CANADIANS ON PLAYOFF ROSTERS AS 2019-20 NBA POSTSEASON BEGIN TODAY
By: Holly MacKenzie
TORONTO, Ont. (August 17, 2020) -- The 2019-20 NBA Playoffs kick off on Monday, Aug. 17 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida. Inside the NBA Bubble, it will be a postseason unlike any other. After two weeks of seeding games to finish out the resumption of the regular season following a four-month layoff due to the coronavirus pandemic, the slate is set and action begins on Monday at 1:30 p.m. ET.
With all 16 teams enclosed within the bubble, the first thing that comes to mind is that this year’s postseason will be played without fans. Of course this is true, but another thing that will be different is a postseason without any travel or true home court advantages. How will players take advantage of not having to fly coast-to-coast? The additional rest that already being where you need to be will provide? What will it be like without the true home experience of your own locker room (and fans)? How about not having that familiar game-day routine that becomes second nature over the years? Starting Monday, we’ll find out.
Now, a quick look at the 11 Canadian hoopers who will be participating in the postseason bubble.
In the Eastern Conference, Chris Boucher and Oshae Brissett will help the Toronto Raptors try to defend their 2019 NBA Championship. The Raptors are the No. 2 seed in the East, with a 53-19 record, second only to the Milwaukee Bucks. This is Toronto’s fifth consecutive 50-win season. Toronto will face the No. 7 seed Brooklyn Nets in the opening round.
This match-up will likely be even more of a challenge than expected for Brooklyn as the Nets went to Orlando without the services of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Nicolas Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler. Boucher has been a bright spot for the Raptors in the team’s first eight games in the bubble, turning in a 25-point, 11-rebound, 2-assist, 2-block, 2-steal performance against the Milwaukee Bucks, as well as a 19-point, 9,rebound, 4-block performance against the Philadelphia 76ers. While Boucher has taken advantage of his minutes, Brissett has only played in four of Toronto’s eight games in Orlando due to a knee injury, but his energy off the bench is always an asset.
Next up in the East is Naz Mitrou-Long and the No. 4 seed Indiana Pacers. The Pacers will face the No. 5 seed Miami Heat in the opening round of postseason action. Despite losing Domantas Sabonis early in Orlando due to plantar fasciitis, the Pacers were one of the best teams in the bubble, going 6-2 in seeding games. While Indiana lost Sabonis to injury, Victor Oladipo made his return from injury in Orlando. Though Mitrou-Long appeared in just two games in the bubble, after a season split between the G League and the Pacers, being with Indiana through the playoffs is a nice step forward for the second-year player.
Mitrou-Long and the Pacers will see a few familiar faces as they go against Kelly Olynyk, Kyle Alexander and the Miami Heat. While one of the biggest stories in the bubble has been the play of Indiana’s T.J. Warren -- not to mention Warren’s war of words with Miami’s Jimmy Butler -- Olynyk’s dependability as one of the longest-tenured members of the Heat will be valued in the postseason. Olynyk enters the postseason averaging 8.2 points, and 4.6 rebounds in 19.4 minutes per game. Though Alexander has appeared in just two games for the Heat in Orlando, like Mitrou-Long, just getting to witness the postseason up close is always beneficial for young players.
Rounding out the Eastern Conference Canadians is Marial Shayok with the No. 6 seed Philadelphia 76ers and Khem Birch of the No. 8 seed Orlando Magic. The Sixers have had a rough bubble experience so far, losing Ben Simmons for the rest of the season with a dislocated knee, and having Joel Embiid battle various injuries in Orlando. Philadelphia’s injury woes led to an opportunity for Shayok in the team’s final two seeding games. After having a fantastic season with the Delaware Blue Coats in the G League, Shayok looks ready to make the most of any opportunity given.
Like Philadelphia, the Magic were hit hard by injuries in the bubble, losing Jonathan Isaac for the remainder of the season to a torn ACL. The Magic also lost Mo Bamba when he had to exit the bubble for a comprehensive post-coronavirus evaluation, while Michael Carter-Williams is dealing with a strained foot and Aaron Gordon continues to recover from a strained hamstring. Orlando will face Milwaukee, the top seed in the East in the first round. With Isaac Bamba out, veteran Khem Birch will play an even bigger role for the Magic as they attempt to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks squad.
As the No. 3 seed Denver Nuggets take on the No. 6 Utah Jazz, Canadian Jamal Murray hopes to have a few repeat showings of his bubble performance in a 134-132 double-overtime victory against the Jazz where he finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. The Nuggets enter the postseason with a 47-27 record, Murray and Nikola Jokic both ready to go and rookie Michael Porter Jr. having a breakout performance in Denver’s eight seeding games.
Rounding out the Canadian content in this season’s NBA playoffs are Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort with the No. 5 seed Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder will face James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the No. 4 seed Houston Rockets. The Thunder have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch this season and Gilgeous-Alexander, in his first season with Oklahoma City, has been fantastic in his sophomore season in the NBA. Learning from -- and playing alongside -- teammate Chris Paul has only accelerated Gilgeous-Alexander’s NBA education as he’s nearly doubled his scoring average this season, averaging 19.0 points to go along with 5.9 rebounds and 3.3 assists in 34.7 minutes per contest. Fellow Canadian Luguentz Dort is also on the Thunder roster, though he is out for Game 1 with a knee injury and his status beyond Game 1 is unknown.
Though the Mavericks have Canadian Dwight Powell on their roster, he isn’t expected to participate in the restart after tearing his Achilles earlier this season.