NBA Bubble Preview For 8/10/2020

West gets a play-in game; Some series set in the East

We finally have some clarity on how the NBA playoffs might look. Yesterday, the Portland Trail Blazers’ victory over the 76ers eliminated the Pelicans and the Kings from the 2020 playoffs, effectively ending their seasons. The Spurs, Suns, Trail Blazers, and Grizzlies will be the four teams competing for the final spot in the Western Conference playoffs. As a result, a play-in series is guaranteed to take place in the West. It has still not been determined which teams will participate in that game. Today’s matchups will go a long way in deciding who gets to battle for that eighth seed in the West.

Two key games are being played today that will directly impact the playoffs. The first matchup is between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Phoenix Suns, who have not yet lost a game in the NBA bubble. After that, the Pacers and Heat will go head-to-head in a battle for the fourth spot in the East. These closely contested playoff races almost certainly make up for basketball’s near five-month absence.

Phoenix Suns (-5.0) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (+5.0) at 2:30 PM EST

These squads are both making a mad dash towards the end of bubble play with near opposite goals in mind. The Suns are looking to take their five-game win streak into the play-in series so they can qualify for the Western Conference playoffs as the eighth seed. As for the Thunder, they are looking to snag another win as they hope to challenge the Houston Rockets for one of the top seeds in the West. Either way, both teams will be entering today’s game hungry.

The Phoenix Suns have been the most surprising team in the NBA Bubble. It is no secret that the Suns have been basement-dwellers for the better part of a decade. The franchise has been at or towards the bottom of the NBA standings basically every year since they last made the playoffs in 2010. Despite this newfound tradition of losing, the Suns have managed to make the most of their bubble invitation, winning five straight games to put them in the conversation as one of the final teams to potentially make the NBA playoffs. If they hope to keep their postseason alive, then they will have to likely win all of their remaining games while also getting help from some other teams. As weird as this is to say, I actually have confidence in the Suns to win their games. I just don’t know if they are going to be able to get the losses they need from the Grizzlies and the Trail Blazers. Still, crazier things have happened.

The Oklahoma City Thunder have been a middle-of-the-road team since entering the bubble. They’re not bad, but I am not going to say they are great either. They’re 3-2 record has featured impressive wins over the Lakers, Jazz, and Wizards. However, they have also suffered untimely losses to the Grizzlies and Nuggets. As a result, they find themselves just one game behind the Rockets for the fourth spot in the West. I find this to be an impressive accomplishment since the Thunder got rid of former MVP Russell Westbrook for an aging superstar in Chris Paul. Still, the Thunder are hungry and determined to go out and get the job done today as they look to overtake the Rockets. With Billy Donovan at the helm, the Thunder will be able to make this an interesting game.

Besides TJ Warren, Suns’ Guard Devin Booker has been the best player since play began in the NBA Bubble. In five starts, Booker has averaged 29.4 points, 6.4 assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game. I think the most impressive part about this run is that Booker has not been all that good from beyond the arc. This means that he has had to rely on efficient two-point field goals to get the job done. If Booker can find some rhythm from three-point land, then this team could be a lot of trouble for whoever they go up against in the coming days.

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a little banged up, but that did not stop them from finding a win last time they played. Even though the Thunder were missing Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel, they still managed to top the Washington Wizards by a final score of 121-103. You have to give credit to OKC head coach Billy Donovan for the win. The Thunder were down two of their best big men, so they changed their approach and started shooting the ball from three. The team ended up going over 46% from beyond the arc on their way to 18 three-pointers in the game. Normally, I would have reservations about picking a team with injuries to key big men, but OKC’s excellent coaching makes it hard to go against them.

With all this in mind, I still have to pick the Phoenix Suns to win this game. I would be silly if I went against a team that has yet to lose since NBA action started back up. I am very impressed with the Oklahoma City Thunder. However, I think the Suns are on a mission to get to the playoffs and make themselves relevant again. I don’t know if they will get the outside losses they need to reach the postseason, but I am certain the Suns will be able to take care of business today on their way to a sixth straight victory. Thunder cover the spread, but the Suns still win

Suns 115 – Thunder 111

Miami Heat (-3.5) vs. Indiana Pacers (+3.5) at 8:00 PM EST

Our second game of the day features one of the most-highly anticipated head-to-head matchups of the NBA Bubble. The Miami Heat come into this game tied with the Indiana Pacers for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The game will feature TJ Warren, the most exciting player in the NBA Bubble, taking on Jimmy Butler, the NBA’s most vicious trash talker. This showdown will surely be epic.

These teams have faced off twice so far this season. The Heat emerged victorious both times. The first game, Miami was able to edge out the Pacers by one point for a 113-112 win thanks to a go-ahead layup from Goran Dragic. The next time these teams played, the matchup was not as close, but the storylines coming out of the game were incredible. Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren exchanged words and elbows on the court as the Heat routed the Pacers 122-108. However, the jawing did not stop there. Butler used some harsh language to explain how he felt he was far better than TJ Warren after the game. Now, almost seven months later to the day, Butler will have a chance to back up his talk when he faces off against TJ Warren and the red-hot Pacers tonight.

“He’s soft… He’s not even in my f—ing league. Nowhere near me. If I was their coach, I would never put him on me. Ever again… He’s trash.”

Jimmy Butler On Indiana’s TJ Warren following a game in January

Jimmy Butler may have much more difficulty containing TJ Warren this time around. The 26-year-old Small Forward has been the best player in the NBA Bubble so far. The former first-round pick has averaged 34.8 points in five games in the Orlando Bubble. As a result, the Pacers have gone 4-1, which ties them with Toronto for the best record amongst Eastern Conference teams in the Bubble. Warren will have to have another 30+ point outing if the Pacers want to come out of this one on top.

The matchup between Jimmy Butler and TJ Warren will obviously be the most important matchup in the game. However, I believe the winner will be determined by role players because you can almost guarantee that both these stars will put up gaudy numbers today. Nobody has been able to stop either one of them yet, and I don’t see that changing tonight.

The numbers coming into this one slightly favor the Heat. Miami scores more points per game than Indiana while also average more assists and rebounds. However, the Pacers come into this one with a better overall shooting percentage and a better scoring defense. We have to go further down the lineup to determine who will end up winning this game.

I am favoring the Heat right now. Indiana has been able to survive without Domantas Sabonis because TJ Warren has been able to make up for that lack of scoring. However, Miami has one of the best big men in the NBA in Bam Adebayo, who has averaged a double-double in every game this season. I think this is going to be one of those games where Butler and Bam combine for somewhere between 50 and 60 points. I think the Heat just cover the 3.5 point spread on their way to yet another victory.

Heat 111 – Pacers 106

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/1/2020

Jazz-Thunder, 76ers-Pacers, and Lakers-Raptors headline today’s matchups

Boy was last night exciting! Early on, you had reigning-MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo leading the Bucks against the Boston Celtics. With a little over two minutes left and the game tied, the Greek Freak was able to push the Bucks past the Celtics for a 119-112 win. The game was not without controversy though. Some fans felt that Giannis should have fouled out in the fourth quarter after executing a questionable “move” on Daniel Theiss. The foul went uncalled and in the end, Giannis and Khris Middleton were able to close out the game on a 12-5 run, giving Milwaukee the victory.

After the Bucks-Celtics game came one of the intense, high-scoring matchups of the season. In a battle for Texas, the Houston Rockets managed to outlast the Dallas Mavericks in overtime for a 153-149 victory. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 67 points last night. However, it was not enough to stop the Rockets’ offense. Houston’s all-star duo of Westbrook and James Harden outplayed Dallas’ big men, scoring 80 total points. Despite a spectacular effort from the Mavs, Houston just wanted the win a little bit more and came out with the victory.

With the first two days of the NBA Restart in the books, let’s look ahead at today’s schedule. There is an interesting story-line surrounding almost every game, but I am going to pick three specific contests to cover for today. The first game on my radar is the matchup between the Thunder and the Jazz. After that, the 76ers take on the Pacers. Finally, the Lakers will close out the evening with a game against the Raptors.

Oklahoma City Thunder (-2.0) vs. Utah Jazz (+2.0) at 3:30 PM EST

The first game we will be covering features two of the best teams in the Northwestern Division. The Jazz will play their second game in the NBA Bubble while this matchup will be the first official game for the Thunder since the season restarted. The Jazz are looking to snag their second win of the restart and remain undefeated, but it won’t be easy since they have to play an opponent that is familiar with them and their play style.

The season series is tied at one game apiece between these two teams. Utah and Oklahoma City first faced off all the way back in October. The Jazz were able to squeak past the Thunder for a 100-95 victory. The second game between these squads was not nearly as close. The Thunder were able to snag a victory 104-90. Today’s game will be the last matchup between these two teams this season unless they face off against each other in the first round of the playoffs.

I am a little more confident in the Jazz than I am in the Thunder. The main reason for my confidence is that the Jazz have already played and won a game in the bubble. Chris Paul is a great leader and will have his fellow OKC teammates focused on the game. However, I just like the way the Jazz were able to take care of business the other day. I don’t think OKC has a player nearly as explosive as Zion Williamson, so I am confident that the Jazz will be able to put the clamps on OKC’s offense. I like the Jazz to win and cover the spread.

Jazz 104 – Thunder 100

Philadelphia 76ers (-6.0) vs. Indiana Pacers (+6.0) at 7:00 PM EST

The next game we will be previewing is a matchup between two middle-of-the-road Eastern Conference teams. Both Philly and Indiana have identical 39-26 records. However, these teams seem to be trending in opposite directions right now.

The Indiana Pacers are one of the most injured and under-prepared teams invited to the bubble. The only team that has a worse roster right now in the bubble is Brooklyn. At the moment, the Pacers will be without Domantas Sabonis, who was second on the team in points per game during the regular season. Plus, it is expected that Indiana will not have the services of Malcolm Brogdon or Victor Oladipo in today’s game. Basically, the Indiana Pacers enter today’s game without their second, third, or fourth-leading scorer. I expect today’s game to get ugly in a hurry.

On the other side, it finally appears that the Philadelphia 76ers are fully healthy. ESPN is reporting that all-star Guard Ben Simmons has completely healed from a back injury that sidelined him earlier in the season. Furthermore, big man Joel Embiid seems to have finally recovered from a leg injury and is expected to play tonight. The 76ers look like a team that is ready to make a deep push in the postseason. They are healthy and playing great defense, which is an excellent formula to win a championship.

I think Philly is going to blow the doors off the Pacers in today’s game. In their scrimmages, the 76ers looked like they had the best defensive starting five in the NBA. If Simmons and Embiid can get their numbers while also making sure to get other players like Al Horford and Tobias Harris involved, then I am sure the 76ers will win this game by at least ten points. The 76ers are at full strength while the Pacers seemed to limp into the NBA Bubble. Philly wins the game and covers the spread.

76ers 111 – Pacers 100

Los Angeles Lakers (-2.5) vs. Toronto Raptors (+2.5) at 8:30 PM EST

Our last game of the day is probably our best. The Toronto Raptors, who finished the regular season as the second-best team in the East, will be taking on the Lakers, who are currently the top team in the West. This will be the second and final game of the season between LA and Toronto. After this game, the only way these teams will meet again this postseason would be if they faced off in the NBA Finals.

The Raptors were able to beat the Lakers in the lone head-to-head matchup between these two teams earlier this season. The game was tied 78-78 at the end of the third quarter. The Raptors would take a lead early in the fourth and never look back as they would go on to win the game 113-104. Toronto ended up outscoring the Lakers 35 to 26 in the fourth quarter.

Statistically speaking, these teams are very similar. LA averages over 114 points per game while the Raptors average over 113 points. Furthermore, both teams hold their opponents to less than 107 points per game. The Lakers and Raptors also put up near-identical team rebounding and team stealing numbers. It is hard to pick a winner based solely on stats, so I will have to go with my gut on this one.

I like the Lakers to win their second straight game of the restart. I really am impressed with the Raptors. Nick Nurse is a clear front-runner for coach of the year after leading Toronto to the second-best record in the Eastern Conference despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard last off-season. The Lakers have too much talent in their starting five for me to pick the Raptors. Anthony Davis and LeBron James are playing better basketball right now than Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka, so I think they will be able to control the tempo and momentum of the game. I think the Lakers have the defense to contain Toronto’s big men, which will give LA the eventual win. Lakers win the game and cover the spread.

Lakers 100 – Raptors 95