Classes have started up again and many students have begun to return to Chapel Hill. As UNC students get back into their routines, some former North Carolina men's basketball players are getting back to work too — but their campus looks a bit different.
Instead of Chapel Hill, they’re staying at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, the location of the NBA's restart bubble. With nine Tar Heels in Orlando competing for a NBA title, here's a look at how a few are doing as the regular season comes to a close.
After posting a 26-39 record before the shutdown in March, there weren't high expectations for the Phoenix Suns entering Orlando. However, with the help of former Tar Heel and rookie forward Cameron Johnson, the Suns have shocked NBA fans by going 7-0 and remain the only undefeated team left standing in the bubble. Johnson worked his way into the starting lineup after Dario Šarić was removed from the final scrimmage with an ankle injury. Since then, the rookie has made some noise, despite the lack of fans in the stands.
Johnson started off by posting double figures against Washington and Dallas, and has been a force on the boards, snagging 12 rebounds against the Indiana Pacers. He shot 4-for-8 from beyond the arc against the Mavericks, which would come at no surprise to most Tar Heel fans, as Johnson has been lethal from the three-point line since his days in Chapel Hill. In a win against the Miami Heat, Johnson became the fastest player in Suns franchise history to reach 100 career three-pointers, surpassing Wesley Person.
Johnson has been playing with a lot of energy in Orlando — setting screens and making quick transitions — which has played a key role in helping the Suns stir things up in the bubble, especially with starting small forward Kelly Oubre Jr. out from a torn meniscus. With their impressive play in the bubble, the Suns have moved into the 10th seed in the Western Conference standings — just half a game behind the 8th place Trailblazers and a spot in the playoffs.
The bubble has been rough for the Utah Jazz, but center Tony Bradley has stepped up in recent games. Bradley put up a double-double, along with one steal and three blocks in 22 minutes played in Utah’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Bradley has seen limited time on the court, but he’s still managing to contribute, posting five points and five rebounds against the Mavericks on Monday.
With a 2-5 record in the bubble, a championship may be out of the picture for the Jazz, but the veteran team could take advantage of the bubble for player development, which will provide a window of opportunity for the 22-year-old Bradley.
After testing positive for the coronavirus and spending time quarantined at home before entering the bubble, Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes seems to be feeling like himself again. Barnes has scored in the double figures and averaged almost 44 percent shooting from beyond the three-point line in the Kings’ last four games. However, with a 2-5 record in the bubble, the Kings have lacked consistency. Barnes, an 8-year NBA veteran, has played a key role in leading a young Kings roster that's looking to improve after being eliminated from playoff contention.
Barnes will enter Thursday's game against the Lakers after posting a game-high 25 points in a win over the Pelicans. After struggling in Orlando, the Kings will miss the playoffs for the 14th year in a row, putting them dangerously close to tying the Clippers’ record for missing the playoffs in 15 consecutive seasons.
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