Indian Pacers forward T.J. Warren may never want to leave Disney World when this is all over.
The NBA bubble’s breakout star continued a legendary stretch of games on Saturday with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Los Angeles Lakers, who showed some concerning structural flaws yet again.
Down 108-107 with less than two minutes remaining, Warren launched a 7-0 run by himself with three straight buckets, capped off by this contested jumper to bury the Lakers:
Warren finished with 39 points on 15-of-22 shooting (5-of-8 from 3-point range) and five rebounds. He is now averaging 34.8 points per game on 61.4 percent shooting in the bubble, which is pretty good for a player the Pacers received as a salary dump from the Phoenix Suns last summer.
The Pacers backcourt of Malcolm Brogdon (24 points on 13 shots) and Victor Oladipo (22 points on 17 shots) also shined late in the game, as the Lakers simply didn’t seem to have the personnel to match the Pacers on the perimeter.
The win moves the 43-27 Pacers ahead of the suddenly Ben Simmons-less Philadelphia 76ers for the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, which could set them up for a first-round series against the Miami Heat.
Are the Lakers in trouble?
On the Lakers side, LeBron James was his usual self with 31 points on 13-of-24 shooting with 8 rebounds and 7 assists, and Dwight Howard (10 points, 12 rebounds) was somehow the best big man on the floor in a game between teams that employ Anthony Davis, Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, who remains out with a significant foot injury. Quinn Cook also had some success on the perimeter, going 5-of-9 from deep for 21 points.
That was the end of the positives for the Lakers.
Davis turned in a complete no-show performance with 8 points on 3-of-14 shooting, and is now averaging 11.3 points on 33.3 percent shooting in his last three games. All told, the non-LeBron portion of the Lakers starting lineup shot 10-of-32. James was the only starter to finish with a positive plus-minus.
The Lakers are now 2-4 in the bubble and have lost three straight. Only two seeding games remain until the first round, at which point they may find themselves facing the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round (the Blazers’ Saturday loss made that somewhat less likely).
If a Pacers team with a strong backcourt and missing an All-Star big man is giving the Lakers trouble, Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic could make for a competitive first round.
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