Until the end of the NBA’s seeding-game schedule on Aug. 14, Yahoo Sports NBA will deliver a daily bubble primer, complete with up-to-date standings and a breakdown of the schedule, from gambling odds to playoff implications and the biggest storylines. Today marks Day 7 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.
Milwaukee Bucks (54-14)
Toronto Raptors (48-18)
Boston Celtics (44-23)
Miami Heat (43-25)
Indiana Pacers (42-26)
Philadelphia 76ers (40-27)
Brooklyn Nets (32-35)
Orlando Magic (32-36)
Washington Wizards (24-43)
Los Angeles Lakers (51-15)
L.A. Clippers (45-22)
Denver Nuggets (44-23)
Houston Rockets (42-25)
Utah Jazz (42-25)
Oklahoma City Thunder (41-25)
Dallas Mavericks (41-29)
Memphis Grizzlies (32-36)
Portland Trail Blazers (31-38)
San Antonio Spurs (29-37)
New Orleans Pelicans (29-38)
Phoenix Suns (29-39)
Sacramento Kings (28-39)
(All times Eastern)
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Utah Jazz, 2:30 p.m.
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards, 4 p.m. (NBATV)
Denver Nuggets vs. San Antonio Spurs, 4 p.m.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Toronto Raptors vs. Orlando Magic, 8 p.m.
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics, 9 p.m. (ESPN)
Memphis Grizzlies +5.5 (-110)
Utah Jazz -5.5 (-110)
Philadelphia 76ers -10.5 (-110)
Washington Wizards +10.5 (-110)
Denver Nuggets -3.5 (-110)
San Antonio Spurs +3.5 (-110)
Oklahoma City Thunder +6 (-110)
Los Angeles Lakers -6 (-110)
Toronto Raptors -6.5 (-110)
Orlando Magic +6.5 (-110)
Brooklyn Nets +8.5 (-110)
Boston Celtics -8.5 (-110)
Philadelphia 76ers (40-27) vs. Washington Wizards (24-43)
Toronto Raptors (48-18) vs. Orlando Magic (32-36)
Brooklyn Nets (32-35) vs. Boston Celtics (44-23)
The Raptors can clinch the Eastern Conference’s second seed with either a win or a Celtics loss.
Should the Wizards lose to the Sixers, the Nets and Magic can both clinch playoff berths in the East with victories, eliminating Washington from the possibility of forcing a play-in series. If only one of Brooklyn or Orlando wins on Wednesday, the victor will emerge from the day in seventh place. If neither team wins, the Nets will retain a half-game lead on the Magic for seventh place, courtesy of Tuesday’s upset of the Bucks.
Boston and Philadelphia are third and sixth in the East, respectively, which would pit the rivals against each other in the first round. A Celtics win and a Sixers loss increases the odds of that meeting, with two games and both tiebreakers then separating them from fourth-place Miami and fifth-place Indiana. A Philadelphia win and a Boston loss would also draw both teams within a game of possibly meeting in the 4-5 matchup.
Memphis Grizzlies (32-36) vs. Utah Jazz (42-25)
The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the West.
After losing Jaren Jackson Jr. to a season-ending knee injury, Memphis is in danger of falling out of eighth place in the Western Conference. An 0-3 start in Orlando has trimmed its lead on the ninth-place Blazers to 1 1/2 games. Portland has looked like the strongest of six challengers vying for the right to face the Lakers in the first round. The Grizzlies will almost surely be in a play-in series for that eighth seed, but dropping to ninth would force them to win two straight head-to-head games against whichever team eclipses them.
The fifth-place Jazz and sixth-place Thunder are in the Western Conference’s crowded middle. Utah and Houston enter the day both holding a half-game lead over Oklahoma City. Wins by both the Jazz and Thunder would temporarily move them up to the 4-5 battle and push the Rockets to sixth place. If only one of those teams win on Wednesday, the victor would jump to fourth place and the loser would fall to sixth.
Denver Nuggets (44-23) vs. San Antonio Spurs (29-37)
The Nuggets can move within a half-game of the second-place Clippers with a victory over the Spurs. Denver’s two-game advantage for the third seed could also be halved with a loss and a Jazz victory.
San Antonio needs a victory to keep pace with the ninth-place Blazers (31-38), whose built-in win percentage tiebreaker makes their half-game lead over the Spurs equivalent to 1 1/2 games. A loss to the Nuggets would leave San Antonio even with the Pelicans in the standings, just a game up on 13th place.
Who and what to watch
When will the defense come?
Defenses in the bubble clearly have a long way to go to catch up to the offenses. The Celtics and Sixers, in particular, both owned top-six defensive ratings when the season was suspended. They have been the two worst defenses through the first week of seeding games in Orlando. Boston and Philadelphia both have championship aspirations. As currently positioned, the rivals would meet in the first round, and whichever team reaches its defensive potential faster could send the other home before we reach the end of August.
Both teams have the personnel to lock down opponents, but versatility also requires rhythmic rotations. That can be lost over a four-month hiatus. In Philadelphia’s case, it could be more complicated than that. Offensive chemistry issues forced Sixers coach Brett Brown to insert Shake Milton into the starting lineup, hoping his shotmaking would help space the floor for Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The result so far is the NBA’s best offense in Orlando. Philadelphia has been 5.5 points per 100 possessions better offensively in Milton’s 657 minutes this season, the difference between a below-average offense and an elite one.
However, Milton pushed Al Horford’s length and All-Defensive ability to the bench, and the Sixers have been 7.5 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with the second-year point guard on the court, according to Cleaning the Glass. That is the difference between a top-five defense and a bottom-five outfit. Embiid and Simmons are both All-Defensive talents, and together they have the ability to mask Milton’s limitations, but that would require chemistry and commitment from both, two elusive traits in the bubble.
Boston’s rotation is the same it was when the league went on hiatus. The Celtics just need to play better, avoiding the dumb fouls and missed rotations that have plagued them through three games in Orlando. Games against Brooklyn and Washington on Wednesday give both teams a chance to find their rhythm.
How legit are the Thunder?
Oklahoma City has been an overachieving team all season. The Thunder have played more games within five points of their opponent in the final five minutes than any other team this season, and they also own the league’s best net rating in the clutch (plus-26.8 points per 100 possessions) by a wide margin, thanks in large part to the stewardship of veteran All-Star point guard Chris Paul. The question is whether OKC can carry that effectiveness into the playoffs, where any of five teams will await as a tough first-round matchup.
The Lakers present a real test for the Thunder, who have few options to defend LeBron James on the wing, let alone Anthony Davis, assuming both play with the No. 1 seed in the West already clinched. Danilo Gallinari is Oklahoma City’s best and only reliable option at the power forward position, and he is not stopping Davis. Almost all of the Thunder’s potential first-round opponents pose similar matchup problems.
Three-guard lineups have been Oklahoma City’s counter, creating mismatches of their own. With Dennis Schroder on leave for the birth of his child, Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have to dominate against a Lakers team lacking ball-stopping defenders. Wednesday could be a window into whether the Thunder have any hope of being as big of a playoff surprise as they have been during the regular season.
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