NBA Playoff Preview For 8/31/2020

Milwaukee and Miami begin their playoff series; Rockets look to close out the Thunder

Milwaukee Bucks (-5.5) vs. Miami Heat (+5.5) Game One at 6:30 PM EST

The Heat and Bucks will meet for the first game of their Eastern Conference Semi-Final matchup. Despite losing the first game of their series against the Magic, the Bucks were able to put together a four-game win-streak to bounce Orlando out of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Heat come into this series with a chip on their shoulder after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in four games. I think that this series will be one of the best of the 2020 playoffs.

These squads have faced off three times so far this season. Two of the matchups came before the NBA season was paused in mid-March. The Heat were able to sweep the regular-season series. Miami and Milwaukee did meet once more in the NBA Bubble. The Bucks wound up winning that game 130-116, clinching the top seed in the East. Now, these two franchises will meet in a best-of-seven series with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals on the line.

The biggest storyline coming into this series is the head-to-head battles that will likely take place between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler. It is worth noting that the Miami Heat were able to win the season series against the Bucks even though Jimmy Butler only played in one game against Milwaukee. In that game, which the Heat won 105-89, Giannis was held to just 13 points on a night where he shot 33% from the field. Also, the Greek Freak finished the game with a +/- of -16, which is unacceptable for a former MVP. On the other side, Jimmy Butler played one of his best games of the season when he faced off against Giannis on March 2nd. Butler finished with 18 points, seven assists, six rebounds, and a +/- of +14. You can guarantee that Jimmy Butler is going to make life difficult for Giannis.

When I look at this series, I like the Bucks to win, but I still believe Miami is going to push this to six or seven games. Jimmy Butler can contain Giannis, that fact has already been proven. Furthermore, I think Bam Adebayo will give the Bucks fits down-low. Plus, Goran Dragic has been excellent in the postseason, averaging 22.8 points, five assists, and four rebounds per game. I think Miami is going to come out with a head full of steam and get off to a hot start, especially because they are well-rested. They’ll ride that momentum to an eventual victory. I’m worried Milwaukee can get a little complacent at times. We saw that in the last series when they lost their opening game against the Magic. Like I said, I think the Bucks win the series, but I like the Heat to take game one.

Heat 113 – Bucks 108

Houston Rockets (-5.0) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (+5.0) Game Six at 9:00 PM EST

The Oklahoma City Thunder have their backs up against the wall. After losing the first two games of the series, OKC literally stormed back (HA!) in games three and four to tie the series at two games apiece. The most recent matchup in this series was a blowout though. Houston beat down the Thunder 114-80 to take a 3-2 lead. Now, the Thunder are on the brink of elimination as they look to bounce back and push this series to seven games.

It should come as no surprise that James Harden has been incredible in the playoffs. In the Conference Quarterfinals, he has averaged 31.8 points, eight assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game against the Thunder. These numbers become even more impressive once you realize that Russell Westbrook has only played in one game so far this series. At this time, ESPN has listed Westbrook out for this game, so James Harden will have to put up at least 30 points if the Rockets hope to close out the Thunder.

Guard play has been the catalyst for OKC’s success in the playoffs this season. In fact, the trio of OKC Guards (Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) currently rank first, second, and third on the team in points per game. With Russell Westbrook listed as out for Game Six, I think this three-headed monster will be too much for James harden to handle by himself. That’s why I am feeling confident in OKC today.

Furthermore, I don’t believe Chris Paul is going to let OKC get bounced out tonight. The 10-time NBA All-Star has a clear chip on his shoulder after being traded out of Houston to Oklahoma last year. With no Russell Westbrook on the floor to counter Chris Paul, I would not be surprised to see him go for 25+ points and 10+ assists in this game.

This is a classic NBA playoff story. A player gets traded away from one team and then takes his new team to the playoffs where they face off against his old team. Right now, Chris Paul is the main character of this story. I believe he will personally drag the Thunder to a game seven, even if he has to do it by himself. I would pick the Rockets if Westbrook plays, but with him being ruled out due to injury, I am picking the Thunder to win tonight and force a game seven.

Thunder 109 – Rockets 107

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/11/2020

Spurs take on the Rockets; Grizzlies look to stay alive against Celtics; Trail Blazers face the Mavericks

We have just four days left of Bubble basketball before the playoffs start, and things are heating up. In the West, there is a four-way race between the Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, and Grizzlies for the final spot in the conference. At this point, a play-in series is guaranteed in the West. Meanwhile, teams are still battling things out in the East to see where everybody ends up being seeded when the playoffs begin. Either way, things are getting crazy, and fans will be getting more meaningful basketball games because of it.

All four teams competing for the Western Conference’s eighth seed will be playing today. The Spurs will face off against the Rockets in a battle for the Lone Star state. Later on, the Grizzlies and Celtics will go head-to-head. Lastly, the Trail Blazers look to stay alive in the hunt for the playoffs with a game against the Mavericks tonight. This is going to be a great day of NBA action.

San Antonio Spurs (-2.5) vs. Houston Rockets (+2.5) at 2:00 PM EST

The motivated San Antonio Spurs will be taking on the Houston Rockets for the third and final time this season later today. The only way these teams will meet again is if they both end up qualifying for the playoffs. The Rockets look to have a comfortable position in the postseason, but the Spurs will have to work their tails off over the next few days to ensure they reach the playoffs.

Despite being 31-38, the Spurs only find themselves two games back from the Memphis Grizzlies. San Antonio has been one of the better teams in the NBA bubble. Since resuming play on July 31st, the Spurs have gone a respectable 4-2, with their only losses coming against the 76ers by two points and the Nuggets by six points. The Spurs have been able to answer the call every other time they have taken the court. This includes head-to-head victories over the Kings, Pelicans, Grizzlies, and Jazz. With a two-game win-streak headed into today, the Spurs have to make sure they play mistake-free basketball if they want to steal a win from the Rockets.

Unfortunately for Houston, the Rockets will be missing two of their best players today. The team announced that it expects Eric Gordon to be out again today after the guard suffered an ankle injury two weeks ago. This was seen as a big blow to the Rockets’ chances in the bubble, but the squad has been able to survive his absence, posting a 4-1 record since NBA action picked back up again. Houston’s bigger issue is that they will not have James Harden available to play today after the team announced on Monday that he would not play in this game. This is a huge blow for the Rockets, who desperately need Harden’s 34.3 points per game to stay competitive in the ruthless Western Conference. With Harden out, I have total confidence in the Spurs to get the job done today against the Rockets.

Everything in this game is pointing me towards the Spurs. San Antonio is desperate and must continue to wrack up wins if they want to make the postseason. Meanwhile, the Rockets already have a comfortable spot in the playoffs and will be without their best player later today. I am shocked that the Spurs are only getting 2.5 points in this one considering James Harden won’t play. San Antonio wins and has no problem covering the spread.

Spurs 111 – Rockets 100

Boston Celtics (-3.5) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (+3.5) at 5:00 PM EST

Our second exciting matchup of the day features one of the best teams in the East going up against the current eighth seed in the West. The Memphis Grizzlies come into this one needing a win as they look to stay afloat in a crowded Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Celtics are looking for their fourth-straight win in bubble play.

This may be the most important game of the NBA season so far. There are so many different things riding on this game. The Trail Blazers, Suns, and Spurs will all be watching this matchup in Celtics gear because all three teams need the Grizzlies to lose so they can continue to climb up the playoff rankings. As for the Grizzlies, they need a win to ensure they remain the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race for another day. All eyes will be on Celtics-Grizzlies when the game tips-off at 5:00 PM.

This is quite an unusual matchup. It isn’t often you see teams from different conferences play in such meaningful games outside the NBA finals. The Celtics were able to blow the doors off the Grizzlies in the only head-to-head matchup between these teams this season. Six Boston players put up double-digit scoring figures on their way to a 119-95 victory back in January. However, I think today’s game will be much closer because Memphis’ rookie sensation, Ja Morant, was held to just two points in that game. I don’t see that happening again today.

I am very tempted to take the Boston Celtics in this one. They have better coaching and a more complete roster top-to-bottom. My only concern is that the Grizzlies NEED this game if they want their postseason hopes to stay alive. Meanwhile, the Celtics have already clinched a playoff spot and are now looking to just improve their seeding. This game means very little to Boston and everything to Memphis. That is why I am picking Memphis to win a close game.

Grizzlies 106 – Celtics 102

Portland Trail Blazers (-4.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+4.5) at 6:30 PM EST

Our last meaningful basketball game of the day will be played at 6:30 PM between the Trail Blazers and the Mavericks. I don’t want to offend any fans of the Bucks, Kings, Wizards, or Pelicans, but Milwaukee has solidified its position as the top seed in the East while those other three teams have all been eliminated from playoff contention. As a result, we look to the Trail Blazers and Mavericks to provide us with the last bit of entertaining NBA action to close out the day.

Both squads come into this one with something to prove. On one hand, you have the Portland Trail Blazers. Here you have a team that came into the bubble with a 30-37 record. Since then, the Blazers have managed to go 4-2 in the bubble and now find themselves just a half-game back from the Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff race. On the other hand, you have the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavs are a team that is better than their record indicates. However, playing in a stacked Western Conference has given them a 43-30 record as well as control of the seventh seed in the West. A win for the Mavericks could certainly help their postseason push because the team is only one game back from the Jazz for the sixth seed in the conference. Both teams will have a lot to play for today when they take the court at 6:30.

These common Western Conference foes have already faced off three times this season. As things stand, the Mavericks currently lead the season series two games to one. The Trail Blazers were able to squeak past the Mavericks the first time they played for a 121-119 victory. However, the Mavericks would win the next two games against Portland, giving them a 2-1 series lead on the season. Now, when these teams play tonight, it will arguably be their most important matchup of the year as both squads look to solidify a spot for themselves in the 2020 NBA Playoffs.

I would be a fool to pick against Damian Lillard, who is a top ten (maybe top five) basketball player in the world right now. In Dame’s last five games, he has averaged 22.4 points per contest. This number shoots all the way up to 36.3 points per game in three matchups against the Mavericks. Dame clearly balls out when he faces Dallas, so I like Portland’s chances. Furthermore, ESPN lists Luka Doncic and Kritspas Porzingis as day-to-day with various minor injuries. If Luka is even slightly off, then I have no issue taking the Trail Blazers. I like Portland to win, but the Mavericks cover the 4.5 point spread.

Trail Blazers 121 – Mavericks 117

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/6/2020

Heat play the Bucks, Clippers take on Dallas, and Lakers face the Rockets

Things are getting weird in the NBA Bubble. The Phoenix Suns have managed to win every game they have played in Orlando since the restart. The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Lakers by 29 points yesterday! And let’s not forget the Bucks losing to the G-league Nets. The chaos and uncertainty coming out of Orlando is intoxicating. Every game matters and nobody is quite sure who is going to win on a day-to-day basis. This may be the most interesting season in the history of the NBA.

As usual, six games are being played today starting at 1:30 PM and running all the way through 11 o’clock at night. All the matchups carry some weight and importance. However, I decided that we will try to focus on games that featured the NBA’s best and most interesting teams. That is why we will preview Heat-Bucks, Clippers-Mavericks, and briefly glance over Lakers-Rockets.

Milwaukee Bucks (-8.5) vs. Miami Heat (+8.5) at 4:00 PM EST

Is it safe to say that the bubble has not been kind to Milwaukee? The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth this season. Also, they finished with the best regular-season record in the NBA. Yet, the Bucks cannot seem to get out of their own way as they have dropped their last two games to fall to 1-2 since NBA play restarted.

Milwaukee looked sharp in their first game back. The Bucks were able to top the Celtics 119-112 on July 31st. However, some would argue that referees handed the Bucks that victory by not calling late fouls on Giannis. Either way, Milwaukee barely got out of that game with the victory. Since then, things have only gotten worse for the Bucks. Following the win, Milwaukee lost to the Houston Rockets on Sunday by a score of 120-116. I am not a person that makes excuses for a team with high expectations, but I can forgive the Bucks for this loss. Houston is the second-highest scoring team in the NBA, and they are no stranger to meaningful basketball games. It’s acceptable to have a one-time loss to an out-of-conference opponent. However, I cannot justify Milwaukee’s loss to the Nets. Granted, Giannis only played in half the game, but when the Nets are missing at least five starters, I expect your team to beat them, especially when your squad averaged the most points per game in the NBA this season! In the end, the Nets won 119-116 for the largest upset victory in the NBA since the mid-90s. I have a feeling the Bucks are mad and feel embarrassed about that loss, so I could see them making a strong comeback tonight.

On the other side of the court, you have the Miami Heat, who are playing wonderfully. The Heat have played three teams so far and have a 2-1 record to show for it against three of the better-run franchises in the NBA. Their only loss in the bubble came against the defending NBA Champions by four points. Miami may be the hungrier team, but I think Milwaukee is going to come out with something to prove today after that embarrassment (and it was an embarrassment) against the Nets.

I am taking Milwaukee in this one, but 8.5 is a ridiculous spread. I am not sure if Vegas is very confident in the Bucks or not confident at all in the Heat. I’ll tell you this, I think both teams can make deep postseason runs. Unfortunately, Goran Dragic’s status for the game is up in the air. It will be huge if Dragic is unavailable because he is averaging 20 points, six rebounds, and five assists per game this season against the Bucks. If Dragic is unable to play or is even a little off, then I think this motivated Bucks team will be able to get the win. Milwaukee wins, but the Heat cover the point spread.

Bucks 120 – Heat 113

Los Angeles Clippers (-4.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+4.5) at 6:30 PM EST

Our second game of the day will be a matchup between one of the NBA’s preseason favorites and one of the league’s most exciting up-and-coming teams. The Los Angeles Clippers are looking to bounce back after a last-second loss to the Phoenix Suns. On the other side, the Dallas Mavericks are hoping to build momentum as they look for their first postseason birth since 2016.

The Milwaukee Bucks have arguably been the most disappointing team in the NBA bubble, but the Clippers are making a strong case as the second-most disappointing team in the bubble. Before the season began, the Clippers were given the best odds out of any team in the league to win the NBA championship at 7/2. The Clips have now fallen out of the top spot and have the third-highest odds out of any team in the bubble to win the NBA Championship. That’s not bad, but I think it is safe to say that the Clips have not yet been able to live up to all the expectations they had before the season began.

Simply put, the Clippers have not been impressive in the bubble. Their only win has come against a New Orleans Pelicans team that isn’t even one of the eight best teams in the Western Conference right now. Furthermore, they have lost close games to the Lakers and the Phoenix Suns (a team that hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2010). The Clippers are a very good team, but they have a lot left to prove in the Bubble, and I think they are now starting to realize that. I imagine their frustrations will be taken out on the Mavericks tonight.

Since the season began, the Dallas Mavericks have been considered “must-see-TV” because of their budding young star and play-style. The Mavs are the third-highest scoring team in the NBA. They also manage to shoot exceptionally well from beyond the arc. Furthermore, Luka Doncic has emerged as an NBA superstar, averaging 29 points, 9.5 rebounds, and 8.8 assists per game. A casual watcher of basketball would love getting a chance to see the Mavs play.

Unfortunately, Dallas is not a complete team. They have the offensive firepower to win games. However, the team has not been able to put the clamps down on anybody defensively towards the end of games. That’s why they have lost two matchups in overtime so far. They simply surrender too many points. I think Dallas’ defensive woes will be put on full display tonight when an angry (and dare I say, embarrassed) Kawhi Leonard takes the court looking to make up for the game-winning basket he allowed Devin Booker to make.

The Clippers are favored in this one, as they should be. Los Angeles is still one of the most talented teams in the NBA top to bottom. I think their defensive energies will be focused on making other players on Dallas not named Luka Doncic beat you. This game will be close, in typical Dallas fashion, but the Mavericks will end up losing the game, in typical Dallas fashion.

Clippers 119 – Maverics 115

Los Angeles Lakers (-1) vs Houston Rockets (+1) at 9:00 PM EST

I am going to try and keep this preview brief because you are probably sick of hearing me talk, or write, or whatever. The Los Angeles Lakers come into this game as just one-point favorites over the Houston Rockets. Both of these teams have looked great in the bubble. Houston has managed to pull off impressive wins over Dallas and Milwaukee. Meanwhile, the Lakers have already clinched the top seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

One of these teams has something to play tonight for while the other doesn’t. The Lakers are going to take their foot off the gas now that they have locked up the top seed in the West. You could see how lax their approach was yesterday after they lost to the Thunder by 29 points! LeBron was held to just 19 points on a night where LA shot the ball a little over 35% from the field.

Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets are still fighting and clawing their way into a position to steal the second seed from the Clippers. A victory tonight will go a long way in helping the Rockets’ playoff standings. Russell Westbrook is a little banged up, but I still expect Houston to come out in full force while the Lakers just coast by until the playoffs actually begin. The Rockets are going to rout the Lakers tonight. Get your popcorn ready because we are in for a clinic in how to score.

Rockets 131 – Lakers 100

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/4/2020

Celtics going up against the Heat; Rockets will take on the Trail Blazers

Yesterday was the first time since NBA action started back up again that I feel I nailed my picks. I was able to predict that the Toronto Raptors would beat the Miami Heat, and my pick of Lakers over the Jazz was also correct. I’m not here to brag though. I’m just saying that it had been a rough couple of days for my picks, so it’s nice to see that I actually got a few right. That’s all in the past now. I start a new day with a record of zero wins and zero losses as we look ahead to a pair of potential Conference Finals matchups.

As usual, we have six games on the NBA schedule today. We are going to focus our predictions on the two later games on TNT. The first matchup pits the Boston Celtics against the Miami Heat. After that, the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers go head-to-head as both teams look to climb up the Western Conference playoff standings.

Boston Celtics (-3.5) vs. Miami Heat (+3.5) at 6:30 PM EST

This may not be the sexiest game in the world because it is not littered with former MVPs or superstars like the later game, but I think this will be the best matchup in the NBA Bubble so far. The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics are two well-coached teams that are not afraid to go to their bench or role players to find scoring. I think the winning team will need a star player to score at least 30 points while other role players on the team put up double-digit scoring figures. A full-team effort will be needed from either side to win this game.

Boston and Miami currently have the same record since entering the NBA Bubble. Both teams are 1-1 since play restarted. Miami was able to beat up the Nuggets by 20 points for a 125-105 win in the team’s first bubble game. However, the Heat were edged out by four points yesterday against the Toronto Raptors to give them their first loss of the NBA restart. The Celtics’ experience in the bubble has been the complete opposite. The C’s lost their first game and ended up winning their second game. A victory for either team will go a long way in determining where these squads end up in the NBA playoff seeding.

The Celtics currently lead the season series against the Heat two games to none. The first victory came back in December when Boston played host to Miami. Statistically speaking, the first game between these two was incredibly balanced. The teams finished with near-identical three-point shooting percentages as well as field-goal percentages. However, the Heat turned the ball over eight more times than the Celtics, which allowed Boston to come away with the 112-93 victory. The second game between these two was much closer, but the result was still the same. The Celtics came out with the victory 109-101. Regardless, that goes out the window today as these teams face off for the first time in almost seven months.

The team that has gotten in Boston’s way the most is Boston. For example, the Celtics lost their game against the Bucks, but it easily could have been won. So why didn’t Boston beat Milwaukee? They missed every shot in the final 1:58 of the game. Furthermore, Boston went into halftime of their previous game up by 19 against the Trail Blazers. So the Celtics finished the game strong and snagged the blowout victory of Portland, right? Wrong. In fact, the Celtics allowed the Trail Blazers to come back into the game and take a four-point lead in the fourth quarter. Boston did end up eventually winning the game, but the victory should have come by way more than four points and should not have been as stressful as it was.

As for the Miami Heat, I think they are playing with house money. Over the last couple of years (since LeBron James left the Eastern Conference), there has been an expectation that the Boston Celtics would take the step forward and become the best team in the East. Instead, Boston was bounced out of the playoffs in the Conference finals in 2018 and the conference semifinals in 2019. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat have made the playoffs three times in the last six years and have continued to build and develop their roster with new, young talent. The unspoken pressure on the Celtics will be a little bit too much for them while the Heat will walk into this game relaxed and poised knowing they don’t have to prove themselves to anybody.

The numbers indicate that this will be an ugly, grind-it-out game. Both teams are respectable on offense, but defense is where they really shine. Celtics are third in scoring defense while the Heat are ranked 11th. With that in mind, I like the Heat to get the upset win. Miami is better at shooting the ball and is way better than Boston at passing the ball. That teamwork is going to play a huge role in the eventual win. I think the Heat have the guys to close out the Celtics down the line. I like Miami to win the game outright.

Heat 104 – Celtics 100

Houston Rockets (-4.0) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (+4.0) at 9:00 PM EST

Our last game of the day will be a star-studded matchup between Houston and Portland. The Trail Blazers are still looking to climb up the postseason rankings to solidify a spot for themselves in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Rockets hope to improve their standing and compete for the number two spot in the West. This game will certainly be exciting and high-scoring.

The Houston Rockets have looked like the most impressive team in the NBA Bubble since the season restarted. In their first game, Houston scored 153 points on its way to a four-point overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks. Houston looked even better in their next outing as they beat the Milwaukee Bucks 120-116. Those two victories, one against an up-and-coming team and another against the best team in the NBA, have been the most impressive in Orlando so far. A third-straight win could be a huge factor in determining if the Rockets will be able to leapfrog the Nuggets or Clippers for the number two spot in the West.

Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, they still appear to be on the outside looking in. With two matchups under their belt, Portland only has six games left to jump the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. In a normal NBA season, fans would be up-in-arms complaining that the Trail Blazers would be a playoff team if they were in the Eastern Conference. However, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic still affecting people’s day-to-day lives, that conversation takes a backseat as teams duke it out for the eighth seed in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

I believe that this game will be one of the most interesting in the NBA Bubble. The complexion of these teams is very similar. Houston is led by a tandem of all-star guards while Portland is also led by a tandem of all-star guards. Both teams put up a lot of points, but they give up a lot of points as well. However, the reason the Rockets are a better offensive team is because they take more chances from beyond the arc than anybody in the NBA. In fact, the Rockets attempt 44.6 three-pointers per game, which is three more on average than the next closest team. They’re a below-average three-point shooting team, but they attempt so many threes that they eventually hit some of them. Houston is the definition of a high-volume scoring team. Sure they will have a lot of misses, but they will also have a lot of makes because they have the green light to pull up from anywhere on the court.

My heart says the Rockets will win, but my gut wants to pick Portland because they are the more desperate team at the moment. Houston is good, but I think they will struggle against Portland. The Trail Blazers have a ferocious rebounder in Hassan Whiteside. Also, Portland big-man Jusuf Nurkic is averaging 24 points per game in the bubble. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers have two guards in McCollum and Lillard that can go shot for shot with James Harden and Russell Westbrook. I think Portland just barely edges out the Rockets thanks to a signature clutch moment from Damian Lillard.

Trail Blazers 121 – Rockets 119

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/2/2020

Celtics look to bounce back against Portland; Bucks & Rockets face-off in a battle of the league’s best offenses

Okay, so let’s talk about it. I got every basketball pick wrong yesterday. I picked the Jazz, 76ers, and Lakers. Instead, the Raptors, Thunder, and Pacers all came out victorious following yesterday’s games. You can’t get every prediction right all the time, but that’s not going to stop me from previewing today’s games. However, I will post a link to a tweet I sent out highlighting just how bad my picks were yesterday.

https://twitter.com/mgideon9/status/1289668144785653761
You have to be able to laugh at yourself

Anyway, there are six games on the NBA schedule today. I have decided that I will be previewing just two of them. The first game up is a fascinating matchup between two uncommon foes as the Portland Trail Blazers get set to take on the Boston Celtics. Later on tonight, the Bucks will face the Rockets as both teams look for their second win of the NBA Restart. At the moment, I am like the Eastern Conference teams over the Western Conference teams in these matchups.

Boston Celtics (-4.5) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (+4.5) at 3:30 PM EST

Our first exciting game of the day pits the Trail Blazers against the Celtics. Boston is hoping to bounce back from the tough loss they suffered at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. Many Boston fans will tell you that they were robbed by the refs in the game, but a loss is still a loss. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers come into this game with a chip on their shoulder as they look to solidify a spot for themselves in the Western Conference playoffs.

These squads have been fairly evenly matched when facing off head-to-head in recent outings. The Celtics swept the two-game season series in 2018, but the Trail Blazers turned things around and won both games against Boston last year. Due to the NBA pause back in March, these teams have only played each other once this season. The Celtics were able to win the game 118-106 on the road, but I think the complexion of today’s matchup will be somewhat different because Damian Lillard did not play the first time these teams faced off.

Boston seems to have a better roster than Portland. Their overall records prove that fact. The Trail Blazers only managed to put up a 30-37 record before the season was paused. At the time of the NBA’s season suspension, Portland was the ninth-seeded team in the West. On the other hand, the Celtics entered the bubble as the third overall seed in the East with a 43-22 record. All that goes out the window though as these squads face off for the second time this year.

Portland comes into this one riding a strong win over the Memphis Grizzlies, who are also competing with the Trail Blazers and several other teams for one of the final spots in the Western Conference playoff race. It should come as no surprise that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum exploded for 62 combined points in that game. However, the Trail Blazers were only able to beat the Grizzlies by five points in overtime. Portland allowed Jaren Jackson Jr to light them up for 33 points. This has me concerned about how the Trail Blazers’ defense will be able to contain a Celtics team that has a better and more explosive roster than the Grizzlies, especially in the frontcourt.

The Celtics and the Trail Blazers have similar offensive numbers. Portland puts up 114 points per game while Boston puts up 113. The Trail Blazers average almost 45.5 rebounds per game while the C’s average 46 boards per game. These teams even score at similar rates. Boston is 19th in Field Goal Percentage while Portland is 14th.

Defense is going to be the x-factor in this game. The numbers clearly favor Boston in that regard. The Celtics have the third-best scoring defense in the league. Meanwhile, the Portland Trail Blazers finished the regular season as the fifth-worst defensive scoring team in the league. Furthermore, the Celtics come into this one with the fourth-best shooting defense in the NBA and the third-best three-point defense in the league. As for Portland, they allowed opponents to make 37.6% of their three-pointers this season, which is the fourth-highest mark in the NBA. The Celtics’ defense will be able to close out the game when it counts as Boston covers the spread.

Celtics 108 – Trail Blazers 102

Milwaukee Bucks (-4.5) vs. Houston Rockets (+4.5) at 8:30 PM EST

The other matchup we are previewing today features a pair of teams that won their first games in the NBA Bubble. On Friday evening, the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Boston Celtics in a nail-biter 119-112. Later on, the Houston Rockets were able to edge out the Dallas Mavericks in Overtime for a 153-149 victory. I have a feeling that tonight’s game between these squads will be another high-scoring affair.

This will be the second game of the season between Milwaukee and Houston. The only other time these teams played was back in October when the Bucks traveled to Houston. Superstar guard Russell Westbrook made his debut in a Rockets uniform that night and was able to put up 24 points. However, James Harden was limited to less than 20 points while seven players on Milwaukee put up double-digit scoring figures. Despite trailing in the fourth quarter, Milwaukee would go on to win the game 117-111. I am expecting a similar result this evening.

The Rockets and the Bucks are currently the highest-scoring teams in the NBA. Both franchises are averaging 118.7 points per game, which has them tied as the top two scoring offenses in basketball. However, when you go down the stat sheet, you notice that there are many stark differences between these squads beyond how many points they are able to put up.

The Milwaukee Bucks are a better team statistically if you ask me, which you are because you’re reading this. The Bucks pretty much dominate every other meaningful statistical category beyond scoring offense. Milwaukee has a better scoring defense and a better shooting percentage from the field than Houston. Also, the Bucks average more assists and rebounds per game than Houston. The only category where the Rockets have a statistical advantage over Milwaukee is in steals per game. Beyond that, Milwaukee is much better than Houston.

Houston relies too much on high-volume scoring. Unlike their last game, I don’t think they will be able to put up 150+ points, especially not against the fourth-best defensive scoring team in the league. Furthermore, I think the Bucks will have an easier time limiting Houston’s role players as opposed to Boston’s role players. I do think that the Rockets will cover the 4.5 point spread, but I think the Bucks will be able to squeak out the close victory like they did against Boston the other day.

Bucks 121 – Rockets 117

NBA Bubble Preview For 7/31/2020

Bucks-Celtics and Rockets-Mavs highlight the six NBA games scheduled for today

Basketball’s return was an unprecedented success. Yesterday, the NBA restart went off without a hitch. Both games came down to the wire. The Utah Jazz notched a win over the New Orleans Pelicans thanks to a pair of late free throws from Rudy Gobert. After that, LeBron James put the clamps on Kawhi and Paul George to give the Lakers a 103-101 victory over the Clippers.

With the first two games of the NBA restart in the books, it looks like the league is finally ready to unleash its full slate of games. There will be six NBA games played today in Orlando. Action starts at 2:30 PM EST, but the real excitement won’t begin until the evening. The Milwaukee Bucks will take on the Boston Celtics at 6:30 PM EST. After that, the Houston Rockets face off against the Dallas Mavericks at 9:00 PM EST. Those are the two best games of the day, so those are the ones that I will be previewing for today. Sorry NBA fans, you’ll have to go elsewhere if you want a preview of Nets vs. Magic or Suns vs. Wizards.

Milwaukee Bucks (-4.5) vs. Boston Celtics (+4.5) at 6:30 PM EST

After top teams in the Western Conference clashed last night, it only makes sense that some of the best teams in the East would go head-to-head today. When the season was paused back in March, the Bucks were the best team in the NBA with a 53-12 record. Meanwhile, the Celtics come into this matchup with a 43-21 record. Even though the Bucks’ regular-season record was significantly better than Boston’s, I still think this will be a close game.

Anybody that has watched the NBA over the last two years knows that Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the best, if not the best, players in the league. The Greek Freak was named league MVP last season. However, he is having a better season statistically this year. The Greek Freak is averaging more points and rebounds per game in fewer minutes this year compared to last year. As a result, the Bucks currently stand alone with the best record in the NBA. Giannis has been excellent this season for the Bucks (and deserves to be named MVP), but Milwaukee has made it this far because they are playing well as a whole team.

Giannis is third in the NBA in points and rebounds per game this season, but the Greek Freak has had a lot of help from his teammates. Milwaukee enters the NBA restart with the number one scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 118.6 points per game. Furthermore, the defensive side of the ball has been getting the job done for the Bucks, who are currently fifth in the NBA in points allowed per game. Furthermore, Khris Middleton has continued to prove his worth, putting up over 21 points per game this season and earning a second straight invite to the NBA’s All-Star weekend. The Bucks have a terrific starting five, plus a great sixth man coming off the bench in George Hill. Milwaukee will go far in the playoffs this year, but they may not have the easiest time getting off to a hot start against a team that is loaded top to bottom like the Celtics.

The Boston Celtics seem like mirrored opposites of the Milwaukee Bucks. Milwaukee is led by an MVP candidate who makes every player around him better. Meanwhile, the Celtics have an arsenal of talented players that can take over a game. The C’s seem to have a different person leading the team every night because there is no shortage of scorers in Boston.

The top five players on the Celtics all average more than ten points per game. This is further exemplified by the fact that the top three scorers on the team all average over 20 points per game. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker make up the three-headed monster that leads the Celtics into Orlando. Furthermore, Tatum and Walker have already faced off against the Bucks and have proven they know how to score when going up against an elite team. Also, this game marks the first start Jaylen Brown will make against the Bucks this season, so I am confident he will be a difference-maker in tonight’s matchup.

I am leaning towards the Celtics right now. I love Giannis and think he will win MVP. However, the Celtics have a more complete roster top-to-bottom with more players that can score. Also, I think the Celtics will greatly benefit from having Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker all playing on the court at the same time. With those three guys out there, as well as lock-down defenders like Marcus Smart, Daniel Theis, and Enes Kanter, I think it will be hard for everybody else on the Bucks (besides Giannis) to get the job done against their opponent and win their matchup. I like the Celtics to win this game outright.

Celtics 108 – Bucks 105

Dallas Mavericks (-1.5) vs. Houston Rockets (+1.5) at 9:00 PM EST

The second exciting game of the day will be a late-night matchup between two teams from the Lone Star state. The Houston Rockets are hoping that their small-ball approach to the game of basketball will bring the team its first championship since 1995. Meanwhile, the Mavs are hoping Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can help Dallas earn its first playoff-birth since 2016.

Even though this game is littered with stars and NBA greats, I believe that the most interesting player in this matchup is Luka Doncic. The 21-year-old Slovenian has taken one of the biggest leaps from rookie year to second-year I have ever seen. Luka averaged more points, assists, rebounds per game all while making his shots at a higher percentage than last year. I am never a person to say that things in the world of sports are a guarantee. However, I think Luka Doncic is a lock to win Most Improved Player in the League this season.

Kristaps Porzingis will also have to be a big factor in the Mavericks’ game plan if Dallas wants to make a deep playoff push. The Mavs have been blessed with two lanky, European big men that can score from anywhere on the court and get the ball to anybody. If Dallas wants to win, Luka and Kristaps will both have to score over 25 in this one and Porzingis will likely need to record a double-double.

On the other side of the ball, you have a team that is no stranger to the postseason and making deep playoff pushes. 2016 marked the last time the Houston Rockets did not win a playoff series. Offense has been the main reason why the Rockets have had so much success over the last few years. The Rockets have finished with the second-ranked scoring offense in the NBA three of the last four years.

The Rockets tandem of Westbrook and Harden is as good as any duo in the NBA. Harden is first on the team in scoring while Westbrook is second. Both players also lead the team in steals as well as assists. In fact, the Rockets are the only team this season that finished with two players ranked in the top ten in points per game. I am not worried about Westbrook and Harden getting the job done against the Mavs.

To be honest, there are only two factors that are making it hard for me to pick the Rockets with confidence. The first issue is that the Rockets do not have the services of Eric Gordon for about two weeks. Gordon will certainly be missed since he is third on the team in points per game. The other issue is that the Rockets play small ball, and that works to the Mavericks’ advantage. When your two best players are tall, lanky Europeans that can move the ball all over the court and shoot from three, then you should have little issue taking advantage of the small defenders on Houston’s side. I want to pick the Mavs, but I feel the Rockets are a little bit more used to the spotlight of the playoffs and big games. Houston will win this game outright.

Rockets 115 – Mavericks 114

Russell Westbrook Tests Positive For Coronavirus

Rockets’ Guard announced positive test results before the team departed for Orlando

Before the season restart has even begun, one of the NBA’s best players has tested positive for COVID-19. Earlier today, former MVP Russell Westbrook announced he tested positive for Coronavirus. The positive test results came before the Rockets departed for the NBA season restart that is scheduled to take place later this month in Orlando, Florida.

Russell Westbrook addressed the test results on Twitter. He confirmed that he tested positive for COVID-19 and that he is now in quarantine. The nine-time NBA All-Star said he is feeling well despite the positive test results.

Westbrook now joins James Harden and Luc Mbah a Moute as the three players that did not travel with the Rockets when they left for Orlando. Yesterday, Rockets’ Head Coach Mike D’Antoni said that he hopes all three players will be able to arrive at the NBA’s bubble-atmosphere at Walt Disney World within the next three or four days.

Russell Westbrook is in his first season with the Houston Rockets after spending the first 11 seasons of his career with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Westbrook was averaging 27.5 points per game, 8 rebounds per game, and 7 assists per game before the 2019-20 NBA season was suspended.