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Why these games matter for seven underrated NBA title contenders



Last year, a dark horse contender pulled off consecutive upsets to win the NBA championship. Who could be this year’s Raptors?

Friday night’s action featured three of those dark horses: the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics.

Saturday’s games in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, will show us a handful more:

Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets (1 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

New Orleans Pelicans vs. LA Clippers (6 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Indiana Pacers (7 p.m. ET)

Toronto Raptors vs. Los Angeles Lakers (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

We asked our experts to break down the leading contenders outside the big three — the Bucks, Lakers and Clippers. Here’s how these seven teams can break through in Orlando to make a surprise appearance in the NBA Finals.

MORE: Three ways to beat the NBA’s top team

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index (BPI): 7%
FiveThirtyEight: 13%

How the Rockets could crash the NBA Finals
The main reason is a rested James Harden. He looked very fresh Friday, scoring 49 points in 43 minutes during Houston’s opening seeding game. When Harden plays that way, the Rockets are a real threat.

Over the past four regular seasons, Harden’s worst true shooting percentage is .598. In the playoffs, his best mark over that span is .583. Naturally, all players become less efficient against playoff defenses, but this effect has been pronounced for Harden. It’s unclear how much that has to do with Harden’s game being easier to stop with familiarity as compared to the effect of fatigue, but we’ll get a better idea this season with Harden coming into the playoffs more rested. If he’s as dominant as he has been in the regular season, the Rockets will be hard to stop.

Why the Rockets won’t make the Finals
Can Houston really make it through three rounds without encountering a team capable of exposing its small lineup? In particular, the Clippers look like a suboptimal matchup for the Rockets given their ability to match Houston perimeter player for perimeter player and lack of a traditional center to play off the floor.

Given Houston’s previous incarnation appeared incapable of a deep playoff run, it would be a mistake to suggest the Rockets will lose because of going small, but that characteristic might ultimately lead to the team’s demise.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
The extent to which the Rockets can get Harden and Russell Westbrook going at the same time. Westbrook’s surge with better floor spacing matched up with Harden’s game slipping after an MVP-caliber start to the season.

That’s probably not a coincidence.’s game score shows a consistent inverse correlation between Harden’s success and Westbrook’s, with Westbrook’s game score dropping by a third of a point for each point Harden’s game score improves. Can coach Mike D’Antoni find a way to get the best out of both MVPs at the same time? Keeping his job might depend on it.

Friday’s game was encouraging in that regard, as Harden and Westbrook both topped 30 points in the same game for only the sixth time all season. — Kevin Pelton

MORE: Bubble buzz — Giannis’ MVP form; Blazers’ playoff push

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
BPI: 12%

How the Mavericks could crash the NBA Finals
The Mavs exploded for 149 points in an overtime loss on their first night back. But that was no shocker, because Dallas has, statistically speaking, the best offense in NBA history, averaging 115.9 points per 100 possessions this season after Friday’s game.

Luka Doncic, who posted a 28-13-10 triple double Friday, appears to have his early-season burst back after recovering from a twice-sprained ankle and other bumps and bruises. Kristaps Porzingis, now a full-time center, is a major matchup problem who poured in 39 on Friday, one point short of his career high.

The Dallas offense been even more prolific with Seth Curry in the starting lineup (119.9 offensive rating in 131 minutes with that quintet). Curry and Tim Hardaway Jr., the two most efficient, high-volume spot-up shooters in the league this season, benefit from all the attention defenses must pay to the Mavs’ young cornerstones. That potent offense makes Dallas dangerous.

Why the Mavericks won’t make the Finals
The Mavs have been absolutely miserable in crunch time this season, and that cost them Friday’s big game against Houston when Dallas put on a dazzling show for three quarters, built a big lead and fell flat in the fourth on the way to a deflating overtime loss.

That’s why the Mavs sit seventh in the standings despite having the third-best point differential (plus-5.9 per game) in the Western Conference. The Mavs rank 28th in clutch net rating (minus-17.9 points per 100 possessions) primarily because that historically elite offense has been horrible down the stretch of close games.

It’s hard to reasonably believe the young Mavs will dramatically improve that flaw under playoff pressure against elite competition. Doncic has proved himself in high-stakes situations with Real Madrid and the Slovenian national team, but this will be the first taste of the NBA playoffs for Porzingis and him.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
There are some scouts and team executives around the league who are skeptical that Porzingis can be the second-best player on a legitimate title contender. But he certainly looked the part Friday night, just as he did in the six weeks before the season was suspended, averaging 25.2 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in that span.

Porzingis and Doncic have made significant strides in establishing rapport during their first season together, especially since Porzingis shifted to center, putting him in pick-and-rolls on a regular basis. The Mavs believe Porzingis can be an elite two-way big man. If they’re right, Dallas should have an extended window as a contender. — Tim MacMahon

MORE: Doncic — ‘A lot to learn’ after tough loss to Rockets

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
BPI: 11%
FiveThirtyEight: 19%

How the Celtics could crash the NBA Finals
Despite 2-for-18 shooting from Jayson Tatum on Friday, the Celtics held a fourth-quarter lead over Milwaukee and were tied in the final two minutes, an early demonstration of their ability to compete for the East title in Florida.

Boston’s top six provide the talent and positionless versatility to match up with any team’s six-man rotation, thanks to multiple scorers, playmakers and switch-friendly defenders. Tatum and Kemba Walker are stars, a dynamic one-two scoring punch — assuming Tatum polishes off the rust he showed Friday. Jaylen Brown‘s blossoming game and Gordon Hayward‘s return to health give the Celtics more options on both ends. Marcus Smart is one of the league’s toughest defenders, and Daniel Theis has been a revelation as the starting center. If the Celtics can get enough from these six during what promises to be an intense schedule, they can contend for the East crown.

Why the Celtics won’t make the Finals
Boston’s top-end talent is elite — but there isn’t much after it, which leaves this team with little room for error. Walker’s balky knee is a problem if it continues to bother him; he was limited to 19 minutes in Friday’s game. So, too, is the looming absence of Hayward during the playoffs due to the impending birth of his child. When the Celtics have all of their pieces, they are as good as any team. But take away any of those links in the chain, and things could quickly fall apart against top-end opponents.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
Who will step up to support the top-line talent? The seeding games will be used as a ramp-up period for Boston, which is pretty locked in to the third seed in the East. That means Brad Wanamaker, Romeo Langford, Semi Ojeleye, Grant Williams, Enes Kanter and Robert Williams III will be battling for spots in the playoff rotation. If any of them can earn coach Brad Stevens’ trust, that will be a boon to Boston’s chances of making a deep playoff run. — Tim Bontemps

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
BPI: 5%
FiveThirtyEight: 3%

How the Nuggets could crash the NBA Finals
Two words: Skinny Jokic. Aside from his inexplicably lethargic start to this season, I’ve always found the concern over Nikola Jokic‘s physique a little overwrought. But if getting in better shape during the NBA’s stoppage of play makes Jokic more mobile defensively, giving coach Michael Malone more options for defending pick-and-rolls without the kind of aggressive coverages the Nuggets have favored (per Second Spectrum data, only the Chicago Bulls used either blitz or show defense more frequently than Denver during the regular season), it could make the Nuggets more dangerous.

Why the Nuggets won’t make the Finals
They just haven’t played well enough this season. Denver’s plus-3.0 differential ranks sixth in the Western Conference, and I’m not sure the Nuggets would be in this group if they were sixth in the standings rather than third. The only team since 1999 to make the NBA Finals with a differential as weak as this season’s Nuggets was the 2017-18 Cleveland Cavaliers, and I don’t think that team — which had appeared in the three previous Finals and played in a weak Eastern Conference — is a reasonable comparison.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
Sadly, probably not “Point Bol Bol” now that Denver is at relatively full strength. So instead I’ll be keeping an eye on the Nuggets’ other rookie, Michael Porter Jr. Presumably, part of the logic behind trading Malik Beasley and Juancho Hernangomez was clearing more playing time for Porter after he averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds in 21.4 minutes per game in January due to injuries. However, Porter’s minutes were still limited to 12.7 per game when he returned from injury after the All-Star break. I’m curious whether he can earn more minutes in these seeding games. — Pelton

MORE: Continuity Rankings — teams with an edge in Orlando

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
BPI: 12%
FiveThirtyEight: 10%

How the Raptors could crash the NBA Finals
The Raptors’ experience on the big stage — not only having won the NBA Finals last year, but also beating a well-oiled Milwaukee machine to do so — shouldn’t be discounted. Though Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are out of the picture, the Raptors still rated fourth in our recent NBA continuity rankings.

Any reigning champion that was on a nearly 60-win pace and has the likely Coach of the Year in Nick Nurse — especially a team that’s dealt with the ungodly number of injuries Toronto has — should be seen as a contender, especially now that the Raps will finally be at full strength.

Why the Raptors won’t make the Finals
As wonderful a player as Pascal Siakam is (and he’s a legit star), he’s still growing into the role of a true No. 1 option on offense. And not only is Leonard no longer available to get big buckets, he also made life difficult on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Beyond that, Toronto built most of its impressive record by beating up on subpar competition (35-4 vs sub-.500 teams). So it’s fair to wonder whether the Raptors — even at full strength — have enough to put them over versus elite teams (11-14 vs. teams .500 or better this season) in a playoff setting.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
After all the injuries Toronto has been through this season, how will the club deal with having a full deck? Will Nurse tighten up his rotation? How will the players, after so many have taken on big roles this season, deal with those changes? Stability should help things. But now that the competition has ratcheted up, with only playoff-contending teams, perhaps we shouldn’t assume that the Raptors will do far better than before simply because they’re healthy now. — Chris Herring

MORE: Lowe’s picks for All-NBA, All-Defensive and All-Rookie

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
BPI: 6%

How the Jazz could crash the NBA Finals
The Jazz are comfortable in close games, going 26-11 in games that are within five points in the final five minutes. Only the Thunder (29-13) had more clutch wins, and only the Bucks (15-4, .789) had a higher winning percentage in those games. As he displayed in the restart opener, Donovan Mitchell has the combination of cool and the ability to create offense required to be a go-to guy with the game on the line. And two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert frequently rises to the occasion with game-saving stops.

Why the Jazz won’t make the Finals
The loss of Bojan Bogdanovic, who underwent season-ending wrist surgery during the hiatus, leaves a huge void. It’s really hard to replace an efficient 20-PPG scorer, but it’s not just about all the buckets Bogdanovic would get on a consistent basis. As an elite shooter (41.4% on 7.3 3-point attempts per game), Bogdanovic opened the floor for his teammates. Utah averaged 113.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor and only 105.0 when he sat — the difference between being the second-best and second-worst offense in the league.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
How can you ignore the dynamic between the Jazz’s two franchise cornerstones after the tension exposed and created since March 11? On the bright side, everything we’ve seen so far in the bubble backs up the belief throughout the organization that Gobert and Mitchell can continue to be one of the NBA’s most productive partnerships. Mitchell assisted Gobert three and four times, respectively, in the Jazz’s past two scrimmages. To put that in perspective, Mitchell had three assists to Gobert in a game only once previously this season. And Mitchell’s feed to Gobert led to the winning free throws in Thursday’s victory. — MacMahon

MORE: 16 things we can’t wait to watch now that basketball is back

Chances of reaching NBA Finals
BPI: 2%
FiveThirtyEight: 33%

How the Sixers could crash the NBA Finals
The 76ers are the team in the East best suited to beat the Milwaukee Bucks using the strategy the Raptors demonstrated in last season’s playoffs: Have a long, strong, athletic wing defender play up on Giannis Antetokounmpo and funnel him into layers of large, defensive-minded bigs to limit his ability to break down the defense and finish at the rim. Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Al Horford and Tobias Harris could implement this approach, and if it again slows the Bucks’ offense, the Sixers would have a legitimate chance to topple the best team in the East.

Why the Sixers won’t make the Finals
The 76ers have not shown the high-level consistency, at either end, to demonstrate their readiness to topple a juggernaut like Milwaukee. Beating the Bucks requires teams to implement and execute a perfect defensive scheme while simultaneously knocking down shots at a high clip against the Bucks’ top-rated defense. The Sixers have the size and ability to do the former and the individual offensive talent to do the latter on nights when shots are falling, but after an up-and-down season, putting together such complete efforts four times in seven games seems unlikely.

What we’re watching most closely in the seeding games
The 76ers need to show that they can consistently score efficiently, particularly from the outside. Shooting and spacing have been weaknesses all season, particularly when they played their big lineup with Simmons at the point and Horford at power forward. Coach Brett Brown has moved Horford to the bench in favor of point guard Shake Milton, with Simmons nominally moving to power forward. The 76ers need to show that this adjustment is enough to generate better shooting and spacing — and ultimately to give Embiid the room to dominate the interior — if they want to legitimately contend. — Andre Snellings

MORE: The Sixers are the most enticing underdog in the NBA restart

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Coach Monty Williams proud of his ‘scrappy team,’ as Suns keep streaking during NBA restart



As the Phoenix Suns continue riding the momentum that comes with being the hottest team in basketball — the only remaining undefeated team in the NBA’s bubble after winning their fifth straight game over the Miami Heat on Saturday night — star point guard Devin Booker said he believes the franchise is finally heading in the right direction after years of futility and unfulfilled promise.

“I think this is just kind of a turning point for us,” Booker said after scoring 35 points and dishing out six assists in the 119-112 victory. “We had stretches in the season where we played very well, but as what happens to a young team throughout the season, you have your ups and downs. I think if we stay consistent and stick with our principles — the communication on defense, just getting more comfortable in these situations of games and meaningful games that matter for us.”

Most important for the Suns, their stunning surge has pulled them to just a half-game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the ninth seed in the West and just two games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the eighth spot with three seeding games left to play.

Suns coach Monty Williams had to chuckle when asked why his young team’s focus has been so good since the season restarted at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, last month.

“You’re really giving me a lot of credit, man,” Willams said. “I don’t really know. I could give you some coach-speak, but I don’t know. I just think we have a group that wanted to come here and prove to the world that they were worthy of being here. They heard a lot of the stuff being said. I think when people say stuff about you, you want to prove them wrong. If I had to guess that would be it, but this is who we are.

“We’ve been competitive all year; we’ve been a scrappy team. We play teams hard, we share the ball, we try to make the right plays. We’ve tried to stick to our DNA and not get outside of that.”

Many people around the league questioned the Suns’ inclusion when the NBA announced its 22-team restart. The Suns were 26-39 when the season was suspended on March 11 and appeared too far away to even have a chance at a playoff berth. But Booker’s scoring prowess coupled with a renewed cohesion and contributions up and down the roster from the young group has made the Suns the darlings of the league over the past two weeks.

For Booker, the winning has been even sweeter, given some of the criticism he’s dealt with over the past few years because of all the losing. Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green said on Friday’s edition of “Inside the NBA” that “it’s not good for [Booker’s] career” to stay in Phoenix.

“I feel like that’s important for this organization, for the fans that have stuck by us for this long and still do so,” Booker said when asked about Green’s comments. “Since I’ve been in Phoenix, we haven’t had the win success that we had, but the support’s been there. And this is what we owe to the fans, we owe to the organization. It’s been a long time for us and I think this bubble opportunity was big for us, and we’re taking advantage of it.”

One of the reasons the Suns pulled off the win on Saturday night was because of the dogged play of guard Jevon Carter. The West Virginia alum had 20 points — hitting six 3-pointers — while earning rave reviews from his teammates and coach.

“JC, he’s the bulldog of the team,” Williams said. “He had not shot the ball well the last few games and he remarked to one of the coaches that he was going to hit five or something like that. We didn’t know, but he’s a gamer.”

The Suns — who have now won five straight for the first time since December 2014, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — head into a Monday showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder hopeful that they can continue their torrid play.

“A lot of guys grew up in these three or four months,” Suns point guard Ricky Rubio said. “It seems like a second season with all of them with the same coach, and it helps to see the growth with this team. We have more room to improve … but we have eight games, and we know we have to go 8-0.”

ESPN staff writer Tim Bontemps contributed to this report.

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Luka Doncic’s 19 assists steal the show as Mavericks top Bucks



LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — With just over a minute to go in overtime Saturday night, Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic took the ball from Kristaps Porzingis and began dribbling to the left side of the lane, with Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo — the reigning NBA MVP and the presumptive winner of both that award and Defensive Player of the Year this season — watching him like a hawk.

Then, out of nowhere, Doncic — using his left (non-shooting) hand — suddenly slipped the ball between his legs and past Antetokounmpo, right into the hands of teammate Maxi Kleber, who caught the ball on the move and, all in one motion, leapt into the air and slammed the ball home — and got fouled on the play, to boot.

The play was the last of Doncic’s career-high 19 assists, to go along with 36 points, 14 rebounds and just two turnovers in 42 minutes, as the Mavericks beat the Bucks 136-132 in overtime inside the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort.

“I clapped,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “I applauded. I thought it was phenomenal. The sign of a great player, a truly great player, is the ability to pull off something like that against a team like Milwaukee, that gives up virtually nothing in the paint.

“We’re seeing more things all the time. Luka is not only a great basketball player, he’s a great performer. I’d pay money to watch him play. I don’t say that about a lot of players, but he’s really special.”

Doncic certainly showed how special he both is, and could be, on this night, going toe-to-toe with Antetokounmpo — who was no slouch himself, finishing with 34 points and 13 rebounds in 33 minutes before fouling out in overtime — and coming out on top.

“It’s amazing,” Antetokounmpo said. “He’s playing great basketball. He’s a great basketball player, makes his teammates better. Talented … really talented. One of the most talented guys I’ve ever played against.

“He’s making the whole team better, and he’s going to keep getting better. As long as he makes his team better, they’re going to be tough to beat.”

But all anyone could talk about afterward was The Pass.

“With Luka,” Kleber said, “you always have to expect to get a pass.”

“Unbelievable,” said Porzingis, who had 24 points and 13 rebounds before he also fouled out in overtime. “Not only the way the pass was, but also at the moment in the game. To make that pass and to have the — what’s a good word — to have the courage to do it?

“That’s just who Luka is.”

The only person who didn’t have much to say about it was Doncic himself.

“I don’t know why I did it,” Doncic said. “I just did it. I didn’t think about it.

“I saw it, and I didn’t think about it before right in the moment.”

That play was just one of many both spectacular and critical moments from Doncic throughout this game, including hitting a pair of free throws late in regulation to tie the game and knocking down a floater on the possession after Kleber’s dunk to salt the game away.

For Dallas to be able to close out a game like this, particularly against a team as good as the league-leading Bucks, was something Carlisle was thrilled about afterward — especially after the Mavericks had already blown fourth-quarter leads against the Houston Rockets and Phoenix Suns in their first two games inside the bubble.

“This is a game where the team showed great resiliency,” Carlisle said. “A lot of the demons of our past bubble games were staring us in the face.”

This time, though, the Mavericks succeeded where they had previously failed. And they did so because Doncic made sure to lead them there.

The Mavericks had the best offense in NBA history by offensive rating this season, and watching this game — against one of the best defenses in the league — it was easy to see why. Doncic carved the Bucks up throughout the game, spraying one pass after another out to shooters on the perimeter — particularly Dorian Finney-Smith, who was assisted on all six of his 3-pointers in the game by Doncic.

Doncic’s performance earned him his 17th triple-double of the season — the most in the NBA — and assured that he would not be caught in that category. That will make him the youngest player in NBA history to lead the league in triple-doubles, surpassing Magic Johnson — who was a couple of months older when he led the NBA with six triple-doubles in 1980-81, also his second NBA season.

“As a guard with the ball in his hands as much as it is, there’s nobody that jumps to my mind,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said, when asked whom Doncic reminds him of at this age. “I mean, Tim Duncan as a second-year player was pretty amazing. Tim Duncan as a first-year player, but they’re built very differently. So there’s been some great players come into our league and done special things in their first year or two, but with the ball in his hands, the way it is, to do the things he does is very impressive.”

Both Doncic and the Mavericks are far from finished products. He won’t turn 22 until 2021 — the same year Dallas will hope to strike it rich in free agency and lure another star, with a list of candidates led by Antetokounmpo, to come play alongside Doncic and Porzingis. But Doncic is good enough now that the Mavericks will make the playoffs in his second season in the league — something players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant were unable to do.

Nights like this one — and plays like the pass Doncic made to Kleber — are examples of why that’s the case.

“He knows where everybody is, not only on offense, but defense, and that’s the sign of a savant-type guy,” Carlisle said. “I’ve played with Larry Bird. He could see everything like that. I had the privilege of coaching Jason Kidd. He could see everything like that. Luka is in that same mold.”

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The Giannis-Luka rivalry can define the NBA’s future



During the final moments of the first five-minute quarter of the Milwaukee Bucks’ first five-on-five scrimmage since the NBA’s shutdown in March, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team found itself down a bucket. When a long miss by the opposing team caromed off the rim and floated toward the baseline, Antetokounmpo launched himself with both feet, and splayed himself horizontally across the baseline plane to lunge for the loose ball.

Upon watching their leader risk bodily harm in pursuit of an inconsequential possession, teammates gasped collectively. The practice court in the bubble is mounted a few inches above the floor, an awkward margin that should give anyone, let alone a superstar, pause. The team had all but sewn up the East’s No. 1 seed, with little riding on the final regular season games other than re-finding their rhythm and arriving into the postseason healthy.

But there was Antetokounmpo, behaving as if a title was on the line, injuries be damned. He snared the ball before it fell to the hardwood, and tipped it back to Kyle Korver.

“What he does is insane,” says Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer. “It’s a level of competitiveness that sets a tone for everyone — not just players, but the staff and the entire organization.”

Giannis’ team ultimately won the scrimmage, though it was a result that wasn’t recorded and largely forgotten by all present. What they did remember was Antetokounmpo’s dive. Over the next week, Wes Matthews, Marvin Williams and others, have laid out themselves for seemingly inconsequential possessions. Antetokounmpo set the bar that first scrimmage, and the Bucks have cleared it.

Over in the Dallas Mavericks’ camp, the team was reacquainting itself with its top-ranked offense. As an exercise in recall that’s not uncommon in Dallas, head coach Rick Carlisle drew one of the Mavericks’ sets on a whiteboard, and asked the players to identify it by name.

The group included several veteran players, a couple of whom had been in Dallas for a few seasons. But it was Luka Doncic who called out the play, even though the Mavericks hadn’t run it with any regularity since the opening weeks of the season. Only Doncic didn’t use the play’s 2019-20 name, but rather its designated name from the previous season.

“This is the way his computer works,” says Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle. “He can remember everything from this year and last year. His basketball recall is part of his brilliant basketball mind.”

While Antetokounmpo and Doncic certainly aren’t the only NBA players who will abandon caution in practice to set a tone, or possess computer-like brains that can simulate NBA basketball on a whim, they are extreme outliers in a league of outliers. These qualities are essential ingredients in their respective stardoms, which were on display Saturday night in Orlando, just the third meeting between them.

Doncic’s Mavericks prevailed 136-132 in overtime, but the game revealed a glimpse of a future that seems inevitable: a rivalry that could define the NBA for a generation with parallel career paths, potential Finals showdowns, and a co-branding partnership of sorts that could represent the NBA the world over.

While both came to the NBA as European teenagers, Antetokounmpo and Doncic achieved their superstardom quite differently. Antetokounmpo was a 19-year-old playing in a second-tier Greek league, averaging fewer than 10 points per game. Even on the eve of the NBA draft, only a small handful of NBA teams had seen him play live basketball. By the time Doncic was 17, he was named the ACB’s Player of the Week after putting up 23 points and 11 assists for one of the preeminent professional basketball teams in the world. If Antetokounmpo was a curio, Doncic was the Second Coming.

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