Bubble’s top scorer Warren ‘on different planet’on August 9, 2020 at 7:01 am

The NBA’s leading scorer since restarting a little more than a week ago? Not James Harden. Not LeBron James. Not Giannis Antetokounmpo.

With 39 more points on 15-of-22 shooting in a 116-111 win against the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday, it’s Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren, who bumped his average to 34.8 points on a scalding 60.5% shooting, including 55.6% from 3.

Pacers star Victor Oladipo said his teammate is “on a different planet right now,” but Warren has a much more grounded explanation for his recent success.

“It’s me just putting in the time and work in the offseason,” Warren said. “During the time off just staying locked, staying in love with the game and just being myself when I’m out there. I’ve got a good supporting cast, good family and friends, so that helps a lot. And the organization, the Pacers welcomed me in with open arms and brought me in, so I’m just grateful for everything right now.”

Warren dropped a bubble-high 53 in the Pacers’ opening game, and he has scored at least 30 in four of the five games the Pacers have played. Other than the one “off” game in which he scored 16 points on 7-of-20 shooting — in the Pacers’ only loss so far — Warren is averaging 39.5 points on an outrageous 66% shooting.

Against the Lakers, Warren did it on both ends, defending Anthony Davis for the majority of the game while also leading the Pacers again in scoring. And Warren went on a 7-0 run by himself in the final 90 seconds, including the dagger 3 to put the Pacers up six with 10.6 seconds remaining.

“At the end of the day, I could’ve done something and made a play, but you’ve got to feed the hot hand; this is basketball,” Oladipo said. “If a guy is playing well on our team, give him the ball, give him the opportunity and let him know I have the trust in him to make a play down the stretch. Once that happens, who you gonna guard now?”

What is up with the bubble version of T.J. Warren? Does he have a new routine? Is he eating differently?

“I’ve really just been taking more time for myself,” Warren said. “Meditating more.”

The Pacers’ next game is against the Miami Heat, a rematch of a game that featured some prior beef between Warren and Jimmy Butler. In January, the two scuffled and talked serious trash to each other, with Warren getting ejected while Butler blew him kisses as he left the court. So with that context in mind, Oladipo was asked if going up against Butler and the Heat could crank Warren’s motivation to another level.

“Hey look, T.J. Warren is on a different planet right now,” Oladipo said. “It don’t matter what I say, it don’t matter what you say, it don’t matter what somebody down the street say — Johnny, Barley, Ms. Susie — he locked in right now. I don’t need to encourage him to do anything; he’s going to put the ball in the rim regardless of who’s out there.”

The game against the Heat is significant, at least in terms of numerical seeding in the Eastern Conference, with the Pacers and Heat having identical records. With Warren’s scorching scoring and his recent beef with Butler — on top of the implications and a possible future matchup in a playoff series — Monday’s game against Miami will be one to watch.

With Domantas Sabonis out with a foot injury and the initial uncertainty around Oladipo’s health and status, the Pacers are quietly one of the bubble’s biggest surprises — largely because of Warren’s rise to bubble stardom. It’s not as if it has come completely out of nowhere. Warren averaged 19 points a game and had five 30-point games before the restart. He has always been a capable, high-volume scorer, but the big change is the Pacers actively looking to Warren to be a primary scorer.

“He’s just playing in the flow of the game,” Indiana coach Nate McMillan said. “He’s not forcing anything. He’s taking shots he can make.”

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