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    Benched in bubble: When you’re in NBA site but not really playing

    Sep 2, 2020
    PHOTO: ap

    LAKE BUENA VISTA, Florida — Tyson Chandler figured sitting on the bench was better than sitting on the couch.

    He waited almost until the last minute before deciding he would join his Houston Rockets teammates for the restart. He was bored at home and wasn't going to feel any better if his team won a championship and he was watching it on TV.

    Then he came to Disney and got so sick he thought he had contracted the coronavirus he had spent all spring at home to avoid.

    "The first 48 hours, I was going like, 'What the ... did you do?'" Chandler said. "I was like, 'Come on, man.'"

    His health got better and eventually so did the experience. He's glad he came.

    But for players like Chandler, guys at the end of the bench, being inside the bubble is challenging on several levels. While stars like James Harden and LeBron James deal with the same mental fatigue being at Disney presents, they know when the game starts and the lights come on what time it is. Chandler has no idea if his number will even be called, so he has to constantly be in a state of readiness.

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    Tacko Fall can relate.

    The Boston Celtics rookie throws himself into the extra postseason basketball opportunities that are unusual for an undrafted player on a two-way contract. He gets in work with Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga. Fall believes his game is getting better and he has also picked up a swimming tip or two along the way.

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    "Just got to try to stay positive and make the most out of it," Fall said. "I've been very fortunate to be on a great team where our teammates are very close with each other."

    All of the players who get limited — and often no — playing time understand that they can't lose sight of why they're here.

    Frank Mason III had played in just four games at Disney for the Milwaukee Bucks, but then in the first quarter of Game One of their second-round series against the Miami Heat, it was his time.

    Fall has made only two brief game appearances in the bubble, but there's plenty of basketball left in his career. Time is running out for Chandler.

    At 37 and in his 19th season, he's been the starting center on a team that won an NBA championship and an Olympic gold medal. He certainly doesn't need the bubble, especially knowing how little he would play. The Rockets went all-in on playing small ball months ago, so the only action the 7-footer had gotten since mid-January was a 1-second stint to defend an inbounds pass.

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    He's played in one game in the bubble — and actually got even less playing time. When P.J. Tucker was ejected after getting fouled by Dennis Schroder in Game Five, Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan got to pick a Rockets player to shoot the free throws. He chose Chandler, who missed the two shots and went right back to the bench.

    He considered his limited role when talking to his family, agent and the organization before deciding that he wanted to come anyway. His wife and kids were safe and his teammates might need him.

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    It's part of the range of emotions Chandler and Fall have experienced over nearly two months with nobody to spend time around but their teammates, and that was before some players' family members and friends have been allowed inside the bubble.

    "I won't say it's easy because I'd be lying, just the bubble and not being able to see family or friends," Fall said. "And especially me, I spent seven years in Orlando. I know a lot of people here."

    And, like many who learn an acquaintance is in town, they want to hang out. The native of Senegal played in the area first at Liberty Christian Prep and then UCF. 4 Rivers Smokehouse, one of his favorite restaurants, is nearby, and 7-foot-5, 310-pound giants like to eat.

    "It's one of the best barbecue places in the whole state I would think, because I've been to a lot of barbecue places and 4 Rivers is definitely one of them," Fall said. "And my host family is not far from here, my coaches from UCF. I have a few friends here and there that I know. They would love to come and see me but just, they can't right now."

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    The Celtics rookie has smiled his way through the restart, on and off the court or in the pool with teammates Jaylen Brown and Enes Kanter, who gave him a swimming lesson Kanter shared on social media.

    But despite those jovial moments, there was no way for Chandler to predict how hard the bubble could be, especially when his first day of it was spent in the bathroom with what turned out to be food poisoning.

    "I thought I had got the virus," Chandler said. "I'm like, I went through dodging this virus, doing my quarantine thing and doing all that, I get here, I'm not even here eight hours and I already got the damn virus?

    "So the first week I was like, worst decision of my life. And then once I started getting past it, third week I was like, worst decision of my life."

    He started drawing again to pass the down time, which would end this week if the Rockets lose Game Seven to the Thunder on Wednesday night.

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    "Now I'm happy that I came because we're in the playoffs. Things are a little more normal and consistent and now it's like, all right we're close," Chandler said. "We're either going to win a championship, we're going to get to the championship, or we're going to be going home. Either way."

    Such is life in the bubble.

    Game One in the Nuggets-Clippers series is on Thursday.

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