Our friends at DraftKings are in the holiday spirit!
New users who make a deposit between Dec. 23-25 get a $25 ticket for Christmas Day Millionaire contest!
Click on the image below to enter.
Our friends at DraftKings are in the holiday spirit!
New users who make a deposit between Dec. 23-25 get a $25 ticket for Christmas Day Millionaire contest!
Click on the image below to enter.
The NBA is (almost) back! On Dec. 22 the 2020-21 regular season tips off with two exciting contests: the Warriors in Brooklyn against the Nets and then the defending champion Lakers host the Clippers in a battle for Los Angeles.
Our friends at DraftKings have some great offers for Opening Night. New users who make a deposit get a $15 ticket for their Opening Night Millionaire contest.
Moments before the 2020 NBA Draft began on Wednesday night, shocking news broke that Golden State Warriors supertstar star guard Klay Thompson suffered a season-ending Achilles tendon tear.
Thompson missed all of last year rehabbing a torn ACL in his left knee. This injury happened in his right leg, reportedly while playing with several other NBA players in Los Angeles.
The Warriors had three picks in the 2020 NBA Draft. They selected Memphis center James Wiseman second overall. In the second round they picked guards Nico Mannion out of Arizona and Boise State’s Justinian Jessup.
The Warriors odds of winning the NBA championship dropped from +700 to +2000 overnight.
The injury news and player movement in and around the draft provided a bump to two other teams in the Western Conference. The Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks both improved from +2500 to +2200.
When the NBA lifted its trade freeze on Monday, three trades caused significant movement in the NBA futures market.
On Monday, the Milwaukee Bucks acquired guard Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans in exchange for guards Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, three first-round picks and picks swaps. Holiday, 30, averaged 19.1 points, 6.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds for the Pelicans and is an excellent defender.
The Bucks then acquired Bogdan Bogdanovic and Justin James from the Sacramento Kings for a package of Donte DiVincenzo, D.J. Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova. The versatile Bogdanovic, 28, averaged 15.1 points, 3.4 assists and 3.4 rebounds in 29 minutes per game for Sacramento last year. He also averaged nine 3-point attempts per 36 minutes last year, shooting 37.2% from deep.
These deals are specifically to make reigning back-to-back MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo believe Milwaukee can not only win the Eastern Conference, but also ultimately win a championship.
They didn’t. Before the trade freeze lifted, the Bucks were running +600 to win the NBA championship. One day and two significant trades later, they’re still at +600.
The Pelicans odds also stayed flat at +5000.
Sacramento’s odds dipped from +15000 to +25000, now tied for the worst in the NBA.
However, those odds staying flat actually shows a relative improvement in a market that saw major movement for other teams.
On Monday, the Oklahoma City Thunder traded veteran point guard Chris Paul and forward Abdel Nader to the Phoenix Suns for Kelly Oubre Jr., Ricky Rubio, Ty Jerome, Jalen Lecque and a protected 2022 first-round pick. Paul, 35, averaged 17.6 points, 6.7 assists and 5.0 rebounds in 70 games for the Thunder last season.
Like Milwaukee’s deals, Phoenix is catering to its superstar leader. Paul will join Devin Booker in the Suns backcourt and provide veteran leadership to a young roster.
Phoenix saw its odds improve from +10000 to +4000.
Oklahoma City’s odds plummeted from +8000 to +20000 after the trade.
The 2020 NBA Finals will commence this Wednesday, September 30, 2020. This year’s matchup will feature the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat. Following an offseason in which they traded for Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers were one of the odds-on favorites to win it all.
On the other side of the coin, the Miami Heat were not considered one of the teams that would come out of the Eastern Conference, but here we are. So, which of these teams will win take home the Larry O’Brien trophy? Let’s look at the tale of the tape before we attempt to answer this question.
First, we will look at the Miami Heat. The Heat finished with the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference, but again, the chances of them having a deep postseason run weren’t all that great. Miami knocked off the Indiana Pacers in four straight games. In the conference semifinals, they would face to the team with the best record in the league – the Milwaukee Bucks.
They went on to beat the Bucks in five games, setting up a matchup with the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. And in a series in which both teams were evenly matched across the board, the Heat emerged victorious, defeating the Celtics in six games. On the heels of their recent victory, the Heat returned to NBA Finals for the first time since 2014. Ironically, this was the last year that LeBron James was on the roster before he returned to Cleveland.
From the Lakers’ standpoint, well again, they were expected to be here despite missing the playoffs in each of the last six seasons. After finishing with the best record in the Western Conference, the Lakers began the playoffs with a loss against the Portland Trail Blazers. However, order was quickly restored as Los Angeles went on to win the series in five games.
The Lakers were stunned again by the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the semifinals before closing out that series in five games. In the conference finals, the Lakers matched up against the Denver Nuggets. This was an opponent the Lakers could not afford to take for granted, given the fact that the Nuggets became the only team in NBA history to overcome a pair of 3-1 deficits in the same postseason.
While the Lakers managed to close out that series in five games, getting past the Nuggets was no easy task. With the series win over Denver, the Lakers are playing in the Finals for the first time since 2010, which is also the year of their last title run.
On the Miami side, one of the keys to their success during the postseason has to do with 3-point shooting. Before their series against Boston, the Heat had the second-best conversion rate from beyond the arc. Following that series, they fell to 11th in this category. As was evidenced in Game 5 of the ECF – a game in which the Heat shot 7-for-36 from deep – the long ball is a big part of what Miami likes to do from an offensive standpoint.
When they’re falling, it’s great but when that isn’t the case, they tend to struggle a bit. Another key question is the point guard position. Goran Dragic is the team’s leading scorer, but he struggled a bit when the Celtics opted to defend him with Marcus Smart at various stretches. Dragic is Miami’s leading scorer in the postseason so getting him going early and often will be critical.
Now from the Lakers’ side of things, the story is different. This roster is built around LeBron James (who is making his 10th Finals appearance) and Anthony Davis. James is second on the team in scoring (26.7 PPG) but leads the team in rebounds (10.3) and assists (8.9).
Meanwhile, AD leads the team in scoring (28.8 PPG) and blocks (1.2). Additionally, the Lakers are the third-highest scoring team in the playoffs and they have the best overall shooting percentage, converting nearly 50 percent of their shot attempts. One question for the Lakers is can Kyle Kuzma be a consistent third scoring option.
Another key area has to do with the frontcourt. Heat forward Bam Adebayo has been playing well in these playoffs. In fact, he finished with a stat line of 32 points, 14 rebounds, and five assists in the series finale against the Boston Celtics. Taking that into consideration, it will be interesting to see if Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee can find a way to limit his production somewhat.
Make no mistake, this is going to be a competitive series. One that will go at least six games. At the end of the day, though, the Lakers will come out on top, winning their 17th title in the process.
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.
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.
Well, here we are. Almost every postseason series matchup has been set for the 2020 NBA playoffs. With just two days left of Bubble action, there is a huge race at the bottom of the Western Conference for the eighth seed in the playoffs. Four teams are currently in contention for that last playoff spot: the Suns, Spurs, Trail Blazers, and Grizzlies. All four teams play today, so we will have to cover all of those games.
The four games that affect the final playoff standings all take place back-to-back-to-back. At four, the Grizzlies hope to stay alive as they take on the Bucks. At the same time, the Suns will face off against the Mavericks. After that, the Spurs and Jazz go head-to-head on TNT. Lastly, the Trail Blazers look to hold on to the eighth seed with a game against the Nets. It’s going to be one hell of a busy day.
There are no guarantees in sports. They are completely random and out of our control. My good friend Nathan is a fan of the WWE, and a quote he once gave me has stuck with me for quite some time. He said, “if your favorite wrestler loses, then you can just blame the writers or Vince McMahon. But if your team loses in a sport like football or hockey, that just means God hates you.” Truer words have never been spoken. In the unforgiving world of professional sports, you cannot bet on anything. However, I would be willing to bet that the Grizzlies easily win this game today against the Bucks.
The Milwaukee Bucks have looked like one of the most overrated and unconcerned teams in the bubble. They won their first game against the Boston Celtics, but they have only managed to win two other matchups since then. This is a massive step back for a team that finished the regular season with the best record in the NBA. It is certainly possible that Milwaukee was unmotivated because they only needed a win or two to clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but that is beside the point. If you are one of the best teams in the NBA, you go out and you give your best effort every night. You don’t allow the Nets to beat you or the Mavs to score 136 points on you. Teams that coast into the playoffs never make it to the Championship round. But that is what the Bucks have done, and they look completely unprepared for the beginning of the playoffs as a result.
The Grizzlies are easily going to win this game. Milwaukee has absolutely nothing to gain by giving a truly concerted effort to win the game. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ season is effectively ended with a loss today. Furthermore, Giannis will be out in this game after his head-butting incident against the Wizards two days ago. The Milwaukee Bucks without Giannis are about as good as the Brooklyn Nets without Durant (not good). The Grizzlies solidify a spot for themselves in the Western Conference playoff game on their way to a win.
I don’t want anything to get lost in translation here, so I am going to come out and say it. The Phoenix Suns are a garbage franchise. They are the New York Jets of the NBA, and I consider that an insult to the Jets. At least Gang Green has won a championship! In 52 seasons, the Suns have reached the NBA Finals once and have zero championships to show for 29 playoff appearances. The team has also gone through seven coaches since they last made the playoffs in 2009-2010. The only reason they are undefeated in the bubble is that they actually care enough to go full-speed every game. If the Suns made the playoffs or went up against an opponent that actually had something to play for, then they would get their doors blown off every single night. Phoenix is one of the worst-run franchises in American sports. I am actively rooting for them to go undefeated just so the Trail Blazers and Grizzlies can win their games and knock them out of the playoffs anyway. A team that was 26-39 does not deserve a spot in the postseason. They could win 15 consecutive games, you still wouldn’t be able to convince me that the Suns are a good team. I simply refer to my dear friend Greta Rogers for more on the Suns.
With that being said, I am still picking Phoenix to win this game. They may be a horrendous joke of a franchise with ownership that is worse than the New York Knicks or the Washington football team, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t playing decent basketball right now. As for the Mavericks, they have absolutely nothing to play for in today’s game. The Mavs will likely rest Kristaps Porzingis today so he is ready for the playoffs. Dallas will keep this game close because the Suns are terrible and still can’t defend anybody. However, Phoenix wins the game when all is said and done, but they don’t cover the spread.
The San Antonio Spurs are the exact opposite of the Phoenix Suns in so many ways. They have had the same coach for nearly two decades. They are a respected franchise that has proven they can win championships time and time again, regardless of who is on the team. Hell, they even play in the same division and have made the playoffs every year for almost 20 years while the Suns have wallowed in pity at the bottom of the conference for the better part of five years. If the Phoenix Suns are the example of a bad organization, then the San Antonio Spurs are the antithesis of a good professional sports team.
The Spurs can still reach the play-in game, but they will need a few things to go their way. First and most importantly, they have to beat the Utah Jazz. This is not something I am too worried about. Pop is a Hall of Fame coach that will find a way to lead his guys to victory at the end of the day. The problem for the Spurs is that they will need outside help if they want a chance to participate in the play-in game. As long as the Spurs win and two of the three teams still in the running for the final playoff spot lose (Trail Blazers, Suns, or Grizzlies), then they will reach the postseason for a 23rd consecutive season.
The way this game is shaking out favors the Spurs. I am slightly concerned about the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, but I have confidence in Gregg Popovich to coach his guys up without one of the team’s best players. Furthermore, it is looking like Mike Conley and Rudy Gobert are both a little banged up heading into this game. If Conley and Gobert are not fully effective, then I like the Spurs’ chances. I think they win without covering the eight-point spread.
The final and most important game of the day will be taking place between the Portland Trail Blazers and the unimpressive, bubble-version of the Brooklyn Nets. This game carries a lot of weight since a win for Portland would almost guarantee them the eighth seed in the Western Conference. I fully expect Dame and the Blazers to go out there and thrash the Nets.
You guys can rave about cute players like Devin Booker or TJ Warren, but the Bubble MVP is Damian Lillard. This dude is absolutely right. We need to start putting some respect on his name. I’ll start. *Clears throat* DAMIAN LILLARD IS THE BEST POINT GUARD IN THE NBA TODAY! The man single-handedly carries his team to the playoffs every year while sending other, lesser Western Conference opponents packing in the postseason. Just ask an Oklahoma City Thunder fan. This man is averaging 37 points per game in the bubble. And last time he played, he put up 61 points on a night where he shot the ball over 50% from the field. I believe that Damian Lillard is the most ruthless player in the NBA today. He is a guy that wants to step on your throat and make sure you know that he was the one who choked you out.
It should be worth noting that Damian Lillard scored 60 points in his only matchup against the Nets this season. Meanwhile, the Nets will be without the services of one of their best bubble players in Jamal Crawford. You would have to be an insane person if you think you are going to stand in the way of Damian Lillard’s playoff run. The Trail Blazers don’t win by ten, but they win the game, and that’s what really matters.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Yesterday was an incredibly interesting and dramatic day for NBA fans. It all started in the early afternoon when players for the Clippers started jawing back and forth with Portland’s Damian Lillard following 122-117 victory over the Trail Blazers. Things only continued to get stranger as the Pacers beat the Lakers, the Suns beat the Heat, and the Mavs beat the Bucks. The bubble is unpredictable and unforgiving. That is why a dumpster-fire franchise like the Phoenix Suns can be undefeated so far through five games. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the NBA bubble has been the most exciting form of sports entertainment I have seen in years.
As we look ahead to today, there aren’t that many marquee matchups on the schedule. I expect Rockets-Kings and Nets-Clippers to be blowouts, so I am not sure why they are showing those games in primetime. The two contests I am focused on today are Spurs vs. Pelicans and 76ers vs. Trail Blazers.
While I love all the action going on in the bubble, I do have one stark criticism of the NBA at the moment. I believe the league wanted to get Zion Williamson into the playoffs, so they gave New Orleans a much easier bubble schedule than the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Pelicans began their bubble stint with two games against teams with winning records. The Pels ended up losing both of those games. However, New Orleans’ schedule has them playing zero teams with a winning record from August 2nd all the way to their last possible game on August 13th. This is unacceptable and unfair, especially when you compare that schedule to Memphis’. The Grizzlies close out their schedule with FIVE STRAIGHT GAMES AGAINST TEAMS WITH WINNING RECORDS. That doesn’t seem very fair considering the Grizzlies were the higher-seeded team coming into the NBA bubble. Shouldn’t the team that had the better record have the easier schedule? The Grizzlies are getting screwed by the NBA because the league wants people to be able to see Zion Williamson in the playoffs. As a result, I am actively rooting against New Orleans to make it. The Grizzlies have been the better team all year, and they deserve to have as easy a schedule as New Orleans.
Either way, today’s matchup is not about the Pelicans and the Grizzlies. Today’s game is all about the Spurs and New Orleans. The Spurs have been able to take advantage of the weaker opponents on their schedule thus far. Their only losses have come against the Nuggets and the 76ers. Meanwhile, the Pelicans have not looked any better. In fact, they have a 2-3 record with losses coming against the Clippers, Jazz, and the unimpressive Sacramento Kings.
These teams have only faced off once this season. This is quite unusual considering these squads both play in the Southwest Division. But in a season that has been thrown through the wringer due to a global Pandemic, I guess a funky basketball schedule should be the least of our worries. Anyway, the San Antonio Spurs won the only game of the season against the Pelicans back in January. San Antonio was able to outlast the Pelicans 121-117 despite 22 points and 7 rebounds from Zion Williamson. Coaching played a huge role in that game, and I expect it to do the same later today. Pop will have his guys prepared for the mentally weak Pelicans.
If you couldn’t tell, I am rooting for the San Antonio Spurs. I know sportswriters are not supposed to have a bias, but the NBA should have put a little more thought into making the NBA bubble schedule equally fair for all participants. A team does not earn a free pass to the playoffs because they have a superstar. They have to earn it! Just ask LeBron James last year. The Grizzlies deserve an easier schedule for winning more games in the regular-season, not the Pelicans. The Spurs were able to put the clamps down on Zion the last time they played. I expect Gregg Popovich to have his guys ready to do the same thing again tonight. The Spurs will win this game outright.
Now, this is the real game of the day. Let’s not kid ourselves, a matchup between the Spurs and Pelicans will not be nearly as interesting as this game between the 76ers and Trail Blazers. On one side, you have a furious Damian Lillard who was embarrassed yesterday and is looking to take his frustrations out on some poor, unsuspecting team. On the other side, you have the Philadelphia 76ers who are desperately searching for a new identity without Ben Simmons in the lineup.
Yesterday may have been the worst day in the bubble for both squads. After missing two important free throws late in yesterday’s game, players on the Clippers began to openly mock Damian Lillard. In a post-game press conference, Dame decided to go after the Clippers. What resulted was a beautiful and ferocious war of words across multiple social media platforms. Damian Lillard is now furious after going through a public battle with a team that outplayed him. This will spell disaster for the 76ers because Lillard is going to go off today as he looks to redeem his good name as one of the most vicious and clutch players in basketball.
“Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who I sent him home before at the end of a game. Paul George is a guy sent home by me last year in the playoffs, so they know. The reason they reacting like that is because of what they expecting from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I have done at a high clip more times than not. I am not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.”Damian Lillard reacts to Patrick Beverley and Paul George’s insults
Meanwhile, reports indicate the Philadelphia 76ers learned that all-star Guard Ben Simmons is likely going to miss the remainder of the NBA season. According to ESPN’s sources, Simmons is expected to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his knee soon, effectively ending his 2019-2020 campaign. This is a nightmare scenario for the Sixers. The only other player more important than Ben Simmons to Philadelphia’s success is Joel Embiid. Thankfully, he is still going to be a part of the starting lineup. However, the loss of the team’s offensive leader and “point guard” will destroy the flow and rhythm that the 76ers have been establishing since play picked back up.
So what is Philadelphia’s plan to replace Ben Simmons? A guy that is third in points on the team, first in steals, second in rebounds, and first in assists. They plan to replace him with (checks notes) Shake Milton. Granted, Shake was able to hit a clutch shot earlier in the bubble. However, he will not be nearly as effective when Damian Lillard is focusing all his energy on him. The Trail Blazers are hungry and angry. The 76ers are a team that usually crumbles when Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons misses time with an injury. This is a no-brainer. The Trail Blazers are going to blow the doors off the 76ers today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The bubble has been absolutely excellent so far. With the scheduling and intensity behind every game, it feels like the NBA is in a perpetual state of March Madness. Every game counts and there always seems to be basketball on the television. The National Basketball Association is clearly the best run professional sports league in the United States.
There are six games on the NBA docket today. I will be covering just two of them. First, the Raptors and Heat go head-to-head in a game that will have major implications on playoff seeding in the East. Later on in the evening, the Lakers take on the Utah Jazz.
Our first game of the day features two of the most evenly matched teams in the Eastern Conference. On one side, you have the Toronto Raptors, who are looking for their second straight win in the bubble. Meanwhile, the Miami Heat are hoping to build on their first win against the Nuggets. This will surely be an excellent matchup.
These teams have several similarities, but that didn’t stop Miami from winning the first two games of the season series against Toronto. The Heat were able to beat the Raptors 121-110 in the first game they played against each other this season. The second time these teams faced off was a much more defensive battle. The Heat would limit the Raptors to just 76 points for an 84-76 victory. I expect tonight’s game to have a different outcome.
I think this is going to be one of those games where coaching plays a huge role in who comes out victorious. Erik Spoelstra has proven time and time again that he is an excellent leader. Spoelstra famously led Miami to back-to-back NBA Titles during the Heat’s big-three era with D-Wade, LeBron, and Chris Bosh. He has been able to have success beyond that four-year stretch too, leading the Heat to the playoffs in 2016, 2018, and this year. Erik Spoelstra has earned our respect as a head coach in the NBA.
With that being said, I still believe Nick Nurse is a better coach than Spoelstra. Toronto’s head coach was just recently named a Finalist for the Coach of the Year award, and he definitely seems deserving. Nurse was able to lead the Raptors to their first NBA Championship last season. Following that victory, the team’s best player decided to leave the franchise to go play basketball for the Clippers. So how did Nick Nurse respond? By leading Toronto to a 47-18 record, giving the Raptors a higher winning percentage than last year. Do you get what I am saying? Nick Nurse lost the team’s best player and led the Raptors to a better record this year than last year. I could heap praise on to Nick Nurse all day long. I think he has a slight advantage in the coaching department.
The numbers indicate that this will be a close game. The Heat average 112.3 points per game while the Raps average 112.9. Also, both these teams have tremendous defenses. Toronto is the best defensive team in the NBA while Miami is ranked 11th. The Raptors have an edge in rebounds per game, but the Heat come into this with an advantage in the assists category. These teams are so evenly matched that I think the deciding factor in this game will come down to a few key individuals.
The complexion of these teams is incredibly similar. Both franchises are coached by an excellent leader that knows how to win Championships. Furthermore, both teams are fueled by the production that comes from their three-headed monster. The Heat are led by Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Kendrick Nunn. Meanwhile, the Raptors have been able to replicate their success from last year with Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, and Fred VanVleet.
When all is said and done, I think the Raptors have a little more talent than the Heat, which will probably lead them to the win. I really like Butler and Adebayo, but my confidence in this team goes down tremendously once you get past those guys. On the other hand, the Raptors have proven that they can beat anybody in the league (regardless of talent) and look to have a hot hand right now. Miami covers the spread, but Toronto still wins.
The other game of the day we will be previewing pits two of the top teams in the Western Conference against one another. However, both teams will be coming into tonight’s game motivated after suffering tough losses over the weekend. The Lakers were beaten by the Raptors 107-92 on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Thunder were able to beat the Jazz two days ago by a final score of 110-94. Thankfully, one of these teams will be able to break their skid with a victory tonight.
These teams are no strangers to one another. Prior to the NBA pause, these squads faced off twice in the 2019-20 season, and the Lakers managed to win both games. The first victory came back in October when LA beat Utah 95-86 thanks to 53 combined points from LeBron and Anthony Davis. The second time these teams faced off, the game was an even bigger blowout. LA ended up putting the hurt on Utah 121-96. The Lakers have had more talent than the Jazz all year long. This fact will be proven tonight when LA beats Utah for the third time this year.
The Utah Jazz are an enigma. As things stand right now, Utah is the fifth-seeded team in the Western Conference and has the ninth-best overall record in the NBA. However, Utah has had struggles against good teams in recent outings. The Jazz did beat the Pelicans, but that victory was sandwiched between two rough losses to two of the better teams in the NBA, the Raptors and Thunder. I worry the Jazz will not have enough gas in the tank ton upset the Lakers.
I think the Utah Jazz are a playoff-caliber team. I am not willing to say they are a Championship team though. Their star players don’t wow me in clutch moments, and the Jazz have not made deep postseason runs over the last couple of years. Utah will give the Lakers fits, but I still think LA comes out of this one victorious.
Both squads have been relying on defense to get the job done in the bubble. The Lakers and Jazz have limited opponents to about 100 points per game while also averaging around 100 points per game on offense. At the end of the day, I just trust the Lakers more to find the bottom of the basket when they shoot the ball. With a field goal percentage of 48.1%, the Lakers are the most accurate shooting team in the NBA. I also believe that LeBron, AD, and the rest of LA’s big men will be too much for Utah to handle. The Jazz cover the point spread, but the Lakers hold on for the eventual win.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By: Harry Gagnon
Major League Baseball has been back for a week now, the National Hockey League is back on Saturday and the National Basketball Association starts today! (July 30). The NBA has done it right with COVID testing and everyone has passed which means we will have a basketball season after all.
|+280 BET||+280 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+240 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+275 BET|
|+250 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+260 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+250 BET||+180 BET|
|+325 BET||+325 BET||+300 BET||+300 BET||+320 BET||+330 BET||+333 BET||+333 BET||+325 BET|
|+1200 BET||+1200 BET||+1200 BET||+1400 BET||+1700 BET||+1400 BET||+1400 BET||+1400 BET||+1200 BET|
|+1800 BET||+1800 BET||+1600 BET||+2000 BET||+1800 BET||+1800 BET||+2000 BET||+2000 BET||+1500 BET|
|+2200 BET||+2200 BET||+2000 BET||+1800 BET||+2000 BET||+2000 BET||+1800 BET||+1800 BET||+1700 BET|
|+2500 BET||+2500 BET||+2000 BET||+2000 BET||+2000 BET||+2500 BET||+2000 BET||+2000 BET||+2500 BET|
|+2200 BET||+2200 BET||+2500 BET||+2500 BET||+2700 BET||+2500 BET||+2500 BET||+2500 BET||+1800 BET|
|+2500 BET||+2500 BET||+3000 BET||+3000 BET||+3300 BET||+3000 BET||+3000 BET||+3000 BET||+4000 BET|
|+2500 BET||+2500 BET||+4000 BET||+3300 BET||+3300 BET||+3500 BET||+3300 BET||+3300 BET||+6000 BET|
|+3000 BET||+3000 BET||+4000 BET||+4500 BET||+3800 BET||+4000 BET||+4500 BET||+4500 BET||+3500 BET|
|+10000 BET||+10000 BET||+8000 BET||+10000 BET||+13000 BET||+10000 BET||+10000 BET||+10000 BET||+12500 BET|
|+8000 BET||+8000 BET||+10000 BET||+8000 BET||+8500 BET||+10000 BET||+8000 BET||+8000 BET||+6000 BET|
|+12500 BET||+12500 BET||+12500 BET||+10000 BET||+10000 BET||+12500 BET||+10000 BET||+10000 BET||+5000 BET|
|+15000 BET||+15000 BET||+15000 BET||+8000 BET||+16000 BET||+15000 BET||+8000 BET||+8000 BET||+7500 BET|
|+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+15000 BET||+20000 BET||+21000 BET||+15000 BET||+20000 BET||+20000 BET||+50000 BET|
|+15000 BET||+15000 BET||+20000 BET||+15000 BET||+19000 BET||+15000 BET||+15000 BET||+15000 BET||+15000 BET|
|+25000 BET||+25000 BET||+25000 BET||+30000 BET||+25000 BET||+25000 BET||+30000 BET||+30000 BET||+50000 BET|
|+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+25000 BET||+50000 BET||+25000 BET||+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+200000 BET|
|+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+30000 BET||+21000 BET||+50000 BET||+30000 BET||+30000 BET||+100000 BET|
|+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+100000 BET||+30000 BET||+25000 BET||+50000 BET||+30000 BET||+30000 BET||+100000 BET|
|+100000 BET||+100000 BET||+100000 BET||+50000 BET||+25000 BET||+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+50000 BET||+50000 BET|
Before we think about playoffs, we have an eight-game season with some over/under games won by teams plus other possible props. Remember, the Bucks are currently the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and the Lakers are the same in the West. Here are a few of my best plays for the rest of the regular season and for when the playoffs actually become reality and start.
NBA Over/Under on Teams Wins
-145 Orlando Magic Over Wins: 3
Aaron Gordon is more than just a great dunker and he has really rounded into a better NBA player throughout the season. The Magic do get the extremely depleted Brooklyn Nets not once but twice during this eight-game stretch.
The Magic also get a Sacramento Kings team that doesn’t have a lot to play for either, so if Orlando pulls out those three games you get a free roll to win just one game in five attempts. They can do it.
Harry’s Magic Over/Under Wins: Over
-105 Philadelphia 76ers Under: 5
The Philadelphia 76ers were a disappointing 10-24 on the road this season. In fact, the Sixers have the largest difference between home and road win percentage since the 1967-68 season. The real question is can Joel Embiid step it up during the playoffs and maybe he can, but not during these games that don’t matter a lot to Philadelphia.
76ers Over/Under Win from the Bubble: Under
-135 Utah Jazz Over 3.5
Donovan Mitchell is a star and averages 24 points a game. He will have to get along with Rudy Gobert and both will have to produce for the Jazz to make a deep run in the playoffs. The Jazz get the Spurs twice in their eight games so win those and all you would need is two more in six games. I’ll take those chances with a very talented team.
Jazz Over/Under Wins from the NBA Bubble: Over
-125 Toronto Raptors Over 4.5
Let’s not forget that the Raptors are the defending champs and that they are still top dogs until the Bucks “buck” them from the playoffs. Even with the departure of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors actually have a better winning percentage than the season before.
Kyle Lowry is the straw that stirs the milk for the Raptors, averaging 20 points a game and eight assists. Toronto also has a better scoring margin (+6.5) per game average than they did in their title run.
Raptors Over/Under Wins Pick: Over
-115 Indiana Pacers Under 4
The Pacers are a good squad, but this might be a spot where playing a tough schedule and having a questionable situation with the return of Victor Oladipo might be too much for them. The Pacers have to play the Heat twice and they also have the Lakers, Sixers, and the Rockets on their schedule.
Indiana Pacers Over/Under Wins Pick: Over
+700 Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference Champs
+200 Los Angeles Clippers Western Conference Champs
+325 Clippers NBA Champions
The Raptors were the first team to make it to Florida and they have a heck of a chance now that they won’t have to beat Milwaukee on the road where the Bucks were 28-3 at home. Pascal Siakam is averaging 24 points a game and the Raptors still have long range weapon in Fred VanVleet. The Raptors are the champs until they get knocked off and playing on a neutral court favors them the most.
When the Clippers are fully healthy no one has a better team and that includes the Lakers. The Clippers have led the NBA is bench scoring in each of the last two seasons. Leonard and Paul George are superstar scorers, but it is really their bench that is their secret and the main reason why they will be the champions of “Bubble Ball 2020.”
We’re a long way from March 11th. I distinctly remember sitting in my apartment and getting the tweet sent to my phone that said the NBA season was being suspended. I was in disbelief. Sports seemed untouchable from the outside world. Unfortunately, I was wrong. It’s been about five months since the last meaningful NBA game was played. Tomorrow, it all goes out the window and the race to crown an NBA champion begins.
There are two games on the NBA schedule tomorrow. Both games will air on TNT. First, the New Orleans Pelicans will face off against the Utah Jazz. After that, the Lakers and Clippers will square off in a battle between the top teams in the Western Conference.
Bubble play begins tomorrow when the Pelicans face off against the Jazz as 1.5 point favorites. Following the season’s suspension, the Utah Jazz were the fourth-place team in the Western Conference with a 41-23 record. On the other side, the Pelicans were an unimpressive 28-36. However, it should be known that Zion Williamson only played in 19 regular-season games this year before the season was suspended.
Zion will be a clear difference-maker in this game. In limited action, he averaged 23.6 points and 6.8 rebounds per contest. It should be noted that the former number one overall pick has never played in a regular-season game against the Jazz, so it’ll be interesting to see how the young man responds to Utah’s defensive prowess. I know Zion is going to get his numbers, but I don’t know if the rest of the Pelicans have it in them to beat the Jazz.
As things stand, the Jazz lead this series two games to one. The Jazz have usually been able to hold their own defensively in games this season, but when Utah has gone up against the Pelicans, the score has always been high. In three games, the Pelicans have averaged 128 points while the Jazz averaged 129.3 points per game. However, the total number of points scored in the series this season favors Utah just slightly 388 to 384.
I’m picking the Jazz in this one. The New Orleans Pelicans are obviously a sexy pick with Zion Williamson in the lineup. However, I am worried the young man may be a little rusty since he arrived at the bubble so late. Furthermore, I don’t know how well New Orleans will play since they’re not used to having Zion in the starting lineup. I like the Jazz to win outright because I just think they play better team ball.
Our second game of the NBA restart pits the Western Conference’s top two teams against each other. At 49-14, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are hoping to take the Lakers back to the promised land. Meanwhile, the second-seeded Clippers are hoping Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can bring the organization its first championship.
The Clippers currently lead the season series two games to one. The Lakers average 114.3 ppg while the Clippers put up 116.2 points per game. Furthermore, the average margin of victory in these games has been eight points. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is a pretty significant margin in the gambling world.
I really like the Bubble-based roster additions the Lakers have. Dion Waiters and JR Smith are two excellent players to have coming off the bench for your team. All you have to do is look at LA’s recent scrimmage against the Wizards. JR Smith finished with 20 points after going six for seven from beyond the arc. On top of that, Dion Waiters added 18 more points and six assists. They did all of this WITHOUT LEBRON JAMES OR ANTHONY DAVIS IN THE LINEUP! Both of those players can be incredibly effective for the purple and gold coming off the bench.
There seems to be a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Clippers’ opening night roster, which has me favoring the Lakers. It’s looking like the Clips will be without Montrezl Harrell on opening night. Furthermore, the status of Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams remains up in the air. Williams and Harrell were the third and fourth leading scorers on the team before the season was paused in March. Without those two in the lineup, I don’t see how the Clippers’ bench will be able to keep up with the Lakers. The Lakers will win this game outright and just barely cover the spread.
It looks like the NFL will jump right into the Regular Season this year. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is reporting that the NFL has sent a proposal to the players’ union that features zero preseason games in 2020. This news comes after Training Camps began this week.
The NFL preseason usually lasts four weeks and has every team participate in four games. The league originally proposed playing two preseason games, but the players pushed for zero games. The first game of the preseason, the NFL Hall of Fame Game, has already been canceled this year.
The National Football League now has a plan in place to test for and contain the potential spread of COVID-19 this season. In a conference call yesterday, the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer said that the league will test all players every day for the first two weeks of Training Camps. Players will also need more than one negative test result to enter team facilities. The protocols were agreed upon by the NFL and the players’ union yesterday.
The protocols also state that after two weeks, the rate of positive tests will be examined. If this rate is below five percent, the league will move testing to every other day. Veterans are scheduled to report to Training Camps on July 28th.
It looks like the NBA has the Coronavirus Pandemic under control. Yesterday, the league officially announced that zero players out of 346 have tested positive for COVID-19 since July 13th. The league is saying that if a player does end up recording a positive test on the NBA campus in Orlando, then that individual will have to self-isolate until he has been cleared by league protocols.
The NHL has some good news about their most recent round of COVID-19 testing. Yesterday, the National Hockey League announced that only two players have tested positive for the Coronavirus since camps opened on July 13th. The identities of the two players have not been revealed as per NHLPA policy.
In a statement, the league said that it completed the first five days of Phase Three testing from July 13th to July 17th. The statement also explained that 2,618 tests were administered to over 800 players, but only two players tested positive for the disease. At this time, both players are self-isolating. There is no clear timeline as to when the unnamed individuals will be able to return to practice.
The reigning World Series Champions will have a very special guest at their home opener. Yesterday, the Washington Nationals announced that Dr. Anthony Fauci will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the team’s home opening game against the New York Yankees. The Nats and the Yankees are scheduled to face off Thursday night.
“Dr. Fauci has been a true champion for our country during the COVID-19 pandemic and throughout his distinguished career, so it is only fitting that we honor him as we kick off the 2020 season…”Washington Nationals’ Statement on Dr. Anthony Fauci
Continue checking oddsusa.com for more updates on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
By: Field Level Media
UTAH JAZZ (41-23), 4th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The Jazz find themselves in a four-team duel for seeds 3-thru-6 in the West, the significance of which is two-fold: 1) Is there an opponent among the four that Utah would prefer to draw in the first round? And 2) Between the top-seeded Lakers and second-seeded Clippers, is there an opponent the Jazz would like to try to avoid in Round 2?
Utah will be the first to return to play, drawing the Pelicans in the nationally televised bubble curtain-raiser on July 30. They will take the court 1½ games behind third-seeded Denver (43-22), and one game ahead of both Oklahoma City (40-24) and Houston (40-24), who are currently tied for fifth. Among the four, the Jazz (.556) has the easiest remaining schedule in terms of cumulative winning percentage of opponents, followed by the Thunder (.583), Rockets (.587) and Nuggets (.618). Utah has one game remaining against Oklahoma City (Aug. 1) and Denver (Aug. 8), but none against Houston.
The Jazz were a streaky bunch in the regular season, going 19-2 in one stretch that included a 10-game winning streak, but also enduring four- and five-game losing skids. They went into the All-Star break with a club-record 36 wins. However, they were staggering in February and March, having just split their last 18 games before Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus and the NBA went on shutdown.
Those first 64 games showcased a different-looking Utah team, one much more offensively focused and defensively challenged. Who’d have guessed that the Jazz would lead the NBA in scoring after Jan. 1 (116.6 points per game), and also allow 100 or more points 13 consecutive times in the month of December? Utah ranked second in the NBA in 3-point shooting percentage (38.3) and fourth in overall field goal percentage (47.5), but just 11th in points allowed (108.8) per 100 possessions.
Believe it or not, the Jazz return to play with bigger problems than Gobert’s frosty relationship with fellow All-Star Donovan Mitchell. That’s because Bojan Bogdanovic, who played through the pain of a wrist injury suffered in January, elected to undergo season-ending surgery over the break, taking his 20.2 points per game to the hospital with him.
“We’ll have to make adjustments in some of the stuff we run,” noted Joe Ingles, who is expected to take Bogdanovic’s starting spot. “Some of the stuff we ran for him, we can run for other guys on our team. We’ll have someone like Mike (Conley) to have the ball more and he’ll be able to do what he’s done his whole career.”
Conley, who started slowly in his first season with the Jazz, was on a nice roll before the coronavirus break, averaging 16.5 points on 45.8-percent shooting in his last 13 games. And he stayed hot during the layoff, winning ESPN’s nationally televised H-O-R-S-E competition.
As for Gobert and Mitchell, they’d like to believe the standout guard’s criticism over the big guy’s handling of the coronavirus situation is no longer a major issue.
“As long as we respect one another and both share the same goals and we both do what’s best for the team,” Gobert insisted, “that’s what matters.”
The Jazz have clinched their fourth consecutive playoff berth. Their path to a probable second-round matchup with either the Lakers or Clippers almost surely will have to go through either Denver, Oklahoma City or Houston, and each figures to be a rocky road.
Utah went a combined 2-5 against those three, losing two straight to the Nuggets and two of three to the Rockets. The Jazz split a pair with the Thunder, but the loss (104-90) was a lot more one-sided than the win (100-95).
And that was before losing Bogdanovic.
Utah Jazz Best Bet for the NBA Bubble: Jazz (plus-2½ on FanDuel)) over Pelicans on July 30. America loves Zion Williamson and hates Gobert. How else do you explain a 28-win team being favored, on a neutral site, over a 41-win club? Note the clubs met three times earlier this season; the Pelicans never won by more than two points.
–Field Level Media
By: Field Level Media
SAN ANTONIO SPURS (27-36), 12th in Western Conference
Where are they now: They’re without injured LaMarcus Aldridge and buried five-deep in the six-team battle for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference, but assuming the Spurs’ historic run of consecutive playoff appearances is over might be a bit premature. There is, after all, that history of 22 straight years of postseason play, and the need to be within just four games of the No. 8 spot — they currently trail Memphis (32-33) by 4½ — to keep their hopes alive.
The Spurs get a shot at three of the four teams ahead of them in the bottom-of-the-West logjam, including the team they’re all chasing — the Grizzlies. And ground could be made up quickly in Florida. San Antonio is a win over ailing Sacramento (28-36) in the re-opener and losses by New Orleans (28-36) to Utah and Portland (29-37) to Memphis from leap-frogging three teams and becoming the Grizzlies’ chief competition within 48 minutes of bubble action.
The Spurs opened the season with the youngest Gregg Popovich edition (average age: 26.3) since 2010. And they played like it early on, going 2-11 after a 3-0 start. But they did enough right — including leading the league in fewest turnovers (12.3) and ranking in the top eight in all three of the major shooting categories (field goal, 3-pointers and free throws) to earn a guest pass to the Walt Disney World Resort.
They’ll have to hope they didn’t pack their un-Popovich-like defense, one that was historically bad (in franchise history, anyway) in field goal percentage (46.9, worst since 1997), 3-point field goal percentage (37.6, worst since 2009) and points allowed per 100 possessions (110.5, most ever).
“We’re defensively challenged,” the blunt Popovich has admitted.
Aldridge averaged 21.3 points in Spurs wins and 17.1 in losses, which demonstrates his importance to a relatively young team. And now he’s out for the season after shoulder surgery, which can’t be a good thing.
Or can it? The Spurs went a respectable 4-6 in Aldridge’s absences earlier this season, a .400 winning percentage that’s not far from the club’s .429 overall mark. Three of the four wins came against teams that also earned trips to the extended season — Houston, Utah and Orlando.
Co-star DeMar DeRozan was a lot better player in the team’s final 36 games (23.4 PPG, 55.2% FG, 6.2 assists) than in the first 27 (20.6 PPG, 49.4% FG, 4.8 assists). Not coincidentally, eight of those final 36 games were played without Aldridge, with whom DeRozan has had trouble meshing since being imported from Toronto.
Without Aldridge and Trey Lyles, who underwent a season-ending appendectomy earlier this month, the Spurs are left with DeRozan, veteran Patty Mills and a collection of eager-to-proved-themselves guards, including Lonnie Walker IV, the second-youngest player ever to suit up for San Antonio.
“We’re a young, athletic group that wants to play defense,” Walker reported from the NBA bubble. “We’re starving, we’re ready to play, we’re ready to win.”
Popovich will trot out a Spurs squad that won’t resemble the group teams got used to beating before the break. That could work to San Antonio’s advantage over the short haul, especially with the league’s most accomplished coach pulling the strings.
One problem: The schedule. It starts reasonably enough (Kings, Grizzlies), but then there are no softies in a run of 76ers, Nuggets, Jazz, Pelicans, Rockets and Jazz again. If the Spurs need to do better than 4-4 to reach the play-in tournament (remember, they were 4-6 without Aldridge earlier), it might be too much to ask.
San Antonio Spurs Best Bet for the NBA Bubble: Spurs (minus-143 on SugarHouse) to win more than 2½ remaining games. You have to wonder how long the bubble’s weaker teams will stay focused as the season’s end comes mercifully within sight. That’s never a concern for a Popovich team. Meaningless game(s)? No such thing.
–Field Level Media
By: Field Level Media
SACRAMENTO KINGS (28-36), tied for 10th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The standings indicate the Kings are 3½ games out of the final playoff spot in the West, but don’t be misled. Everyone within four games of eighth place at regular season’s conclusion will get a shot at the new play-in tournament, so in essence, Sacramento enters its final eight contests with a half-game cushion.
Then there’s the remaining schedule, which doesn’t feature a single heavyweight until going up against the Lakers in the final game. And by then, LeBron & Co. could be resting up for the upcoming playoffs. Sacramento’s remaining opponents have a cumulative .529 winning percentage, the second-lowest among Western teams behind New Orleans (.495)
The Kings started 0-5 and lost 15 of 18 at one point, which appeared to have them fast-tracked to a 14th consecutive trip to the NBA Lottery. But a switch of Bogdan Bogdanovic to the starting lineup and Buddy Hield to the bench helped turn the season around, with the Kings having gone 13-7 since Jan. 24, the NBA’s seventh-best record during that span.
“Watching those games and just feeling those games before this hiatus, I could feel and see that we had gotten to the consistency part that I was talking about,” Kings coach Luke Walton assessed recently. “I think our future is bright. I think we have a great group of guys.
“Winning consistently in any pro sport is hard. But when you get a good group of guys that works hard and likes each other and is willing to trust each other, (this) is how you make that happen.”
Three-point shooting has triggered the turnaround. The Kings went from 18th in the NBA (35.3 percent) in their first 44 games to fifth (38.8 percent) in their last 20 games, twice burying a franchise-record 21 3’s in a game during the January/February/March flurry.
Key players have opted out of the NBA’s return. Others have gotten hurt, or were already ruled out for the season. But no team has taken a bigger hit in the past four months than the Kings, who have had four players test positive for the coronavirus, including Harrison Barnes on the eve of entering the bubble. Hield, Alex Len and Jabari Parker all tested positive in June.
The pressure could fall upon De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III, both of whom endured painful starts to the season. When last seen, Fox had recovered well from a broken right thumb, averaging 22.3 points on 48-percent shooting in his last 29 games, but he suffered a sprained ankle at a bubble workout. Bagley also played well when healthy (double-figure scoring in all 13 of his games) but broke his thumb in the season opener and later was sidelined with a midfoot sprain, the latter preventing him from playing after Jan. 20.
The emergence of Harry Giles and in-season acquisition of Kent Bazemore added much-needed depth, allowing Walton to experiment with different combinations and eventually come up with the successful Bogdanovic/Hield flip-flop.
Now, with coronavirus issues, Walton finds himself tinkering again.
“We have to prepare as if we’re not going to have either one of those guys,” he told reporters recently of Barnes and Len. “That’s just getting ready for what worst-case scenario would be. And there’s a reality that might be it.”
Fox, Bagley, Bogdanovic, Hield, Giles and Len have something in common. They’ve never made the playoffs. And don’t look now, but fate once again isn’t smiling on the Kings as they attempt to end the NBA’s longest active drought at 13 years.
The remaining schedule is enticing, starting with a matchup against the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Spurs that could be a springboard to a late run. They even get two more shots at the Pelicans, a popular choice to overtake Memphis for the eighth spot in the West. Simply beating the Spurs, Magic, Nets and Pelicans once could be enough to earn a spot in the play-in affair, but history warns not to count upon it.
Sacramento Kings Best Bets for the NBA Bubble: Spurs (plus-550 on FanDuel) to beat Kings by at least 11 points on July 31. The pressure is on the Kings to win their bubble opener, whereas the Spurs went to Florida with little more than pride at stake. It says here: Spurs pride trumps Kings nerves by way more than 11 points.
–Field Level Media
By: Field Level Media
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (29-37), ninth place, Western Conference
Where are they now: The Trail Blazers are 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and just percentage points ahead of the 10th-place New Orleans Pelicans. The No. 9 team would earn a play-in opportunity for the playoffs if it finishes within four games of the No. 8 spot.
Damian Lillard played like an MVP for stretches of the season, allowing Portland to keep pace just behind the playoff contenders despite injuries to big men Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic. In the six games Lillard was out with a groin injury just before the All-Star Game, Portland was just 2-4.
Just before he was sidelined, Lillard had a mind-boggling six-game stretch where he scored 48.8 points per game with 10.2 assists and 7.2 rebounds. Carmelo Anthony made for an intriguing addition in November, scoring a serviceable 15.3 points per game with 6.3 rebounds.
“Everybody is going to be rusty,” Lillard told reporters. “We can’t feel it out, we can’t come out there and think we just have time because any other time we have this type of break and come back, it’s like training camp, preseason, beginning of a long season. This is basically an eight-game season and we’re starting off behind. We got to come there and hit the ground running, not just physically trying to force that, but we’ve got to have it in our minds like, we don’t have time to ease our way in.”
Lillard is the key and the recent stoppage of play might have helped him to return to form. It at least helped him heal from the last of his groin injury. He played in just four games before the stoppage of play, scoring 20.8 points per contest, well below his 28.8 season average. Portland went just 2-2 in those games. The soonest Lillard knocks off the rust the better.
Nurkic has not played all season because of a broken left leg, but is back now as the Trail Blazers look more like the team that advanced all the way to last year’s Western Conference finals. Collins played in just three games before a shoulder injury and the starting forward figures to contribute right away.
“We’re going to be a different looking team,” head coach Terry Stotts said, noting that there will be more of a physical nature when the Trail Blazers return to the court. “It’s not dirty or anything but it’s a lot of big bodies.”
Veteran Trevor Ariza opted out of the restart, while Rodney Hood is out after Achilles surgery.
The 10th-place Pelicans, with all of their young star power, are the sexy pick for the final Western Conference playoff spot, but the Trail Blazers like their chances too. If Nurkic and Collins get back to form quickly, Portland will be tough to beat and there are signs that the duo is ready to produce.
“They both looked like the way we remembered them,” Stotts said. “I told Nurk … he’s the Nurk I remember playing at both ends of the floor. He (has) made some real good passes, good rebounds. And Zach (has been) full of energy. You couldn’t tell either one of them missed time. It was very encouraging.”
While smaller lineups are all the rage in the NBA (see the Houston Rockets), the expectation from the Trail Blazers is that the 6-foot-8 Anthony moves into more of a shooter’s role, while the 7-foot Nurkic, the 6-foot-11 Collins and the 7-foot Hassan Whiteside eat up space down low.
Portland Trail Blazers Best Bets in the Bubble: According to FanDuel Sportsbook, the Trail Blazers are +480 to earn the No. 8 seed, trailing both the Pelicans (+270) and the Grizzlies (-140).
Also at FanDuel, Lillard is +10000 to win the NBA MVP Award, even with the Lakers’ Anthony Davis, the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic and the Rockets’ Russell Westbrook. Just five payers have shorter MVP odds: Giannis Antetokounmpo (-2400), LeBron James (+1100), James Harden and Luka Doncic (+8000) and Kawhi Leonard (+9500).
–Field Level Media
By: Field Level Media
PHOENIX SUNS (26-39), 13th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The Suns are healthier than they’ve been all season and get a matchup with the weakest team in the NBA bubble – the Wizards – right off the bat. Yes, things surprisingly are looking up for the team farthest out of playoff position (the Suns are six games back of Memphis) with just eight games to play.
The problem is: The Suns get no head-to-heads with the five teams immediately ahead of them in the West, which is especially painful in that they need to make up at least two games on Memphis in order to get a crack at the play-in tournament.
They do open with that gimme against Washington and overall have an easier collection of foes (.589 cumulative record) than the Grizzlies (.597). But likely they won’t be favored to win any of their final seven games against the Mavericks (twice), Clippers, Pacers, Heat, Thunder and 76ers.
Devin Booker continued at an historic pace for a 23-year-old, Deandre Ayton was brilliant at age 21 and Ricky Rubio, at 29, turned back the clock. Youngsters Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson began to live up to their college clippings, Kelly Oubre Jr. put himself on the wish list of NBA clubs this off-season, and even Aron Baynes was playing at a career-best level when play was stopped in March.
So why the 26-39 record?
Clearly, this was not a team whose result was a sum of its parts. Injuries, suspensions and youth played equal roles in the shortcoming, especially the 25-game Ayton ban forced upon Ayton after he failed a drug test one game into the season. The Suns were in the midst of a season-dooming, eight-game losing streak when Ayton returned, before losing Oubre for the season (including the upcoming games) during arguably their high point of the year — a 20-point win at Utah on Feb. 24.
Whether they win another game or not, the Suns can be comforted in the knowledge that they made it this far despite beginning the season with the youngest Opening Night roster in the league.
Among the encouraging individual highlights in the first 65 games:
Booker (26.1 PPG, 6.6 assists) appeared headed toward a second straight 26/6 season, which if completed would allow him to join Oscar Robertson and LeBron James as the only in NBA history to complete the double twice before the age of 24.
Ayton (19.0 PPG, 12.0 rebounds, 1.7 blocks) put himself in position to become just the second 21-year-old in history to complete a 19/12/1.5 season, joining Shaquille O’Neal in that distinction.
And Rubio, desperate for a break after a long summer that included winning MVP honors at the FIBA World Cup, was last seen on March 8 stuffing 25 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists into his boxscore line … against the Bucks, no less.
Surely, each would be happy to rest upon those laurels. But Coach Monty Williams, for one, was happy his club made the cut and will get eight more chances to pad stats inside the NBA bubble.
“We have the most to gain from this outside the teams that are right there playing for a championship,” Williams gushed to reporters before the flight to Florida, “just because we get a chance to be together and talk.”
The Suns likely need at least six wins to get into the Western play-in tournament. Being that they never won more than five of eight before the break, it’s not surprising that the oddsmakers at SugarHouse have made them a 2-for-1 underdog to even reach three wins in the bubble.
So it’s all about the experience, noted Booker, who hopes he and Ayton can blossom into the type of Kobe Bryant/Shaq combination of big and small that the NBA currently lacks.
“It’s a growing relationship that we’re still working on,” he told reporters in Florida. “Obviously, we’re still both pretty young in this league. We’re both trying to solidify ourselves and we know that comes with the success of the team.”
Phoenix Suns Best Bet: Suns (minus-305 on SugarHouse) to beat Wizards on July 31. The fact that the Suns are a 7½-point favorite in this game tells you all you need to know about the current state of the wounded Wizards. All Phoenix has to do is win this game to get the money, and the oddsmakers are basically telling you that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Easily.
By: Field Level Media
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (40-24), tied for 5th in Western Conference
Where are they now: The Thunder enter the final eight games of the regular season at the bottom of a four-team logjam of clubs dueling for third seeding in the Western Conference. Not that Denver, Utah or Houston wouldn’t trade places with them. Of the four, only Oklahoma City has gotten through the coronavirus pandemic unscathed. So far, anyway.
The immediate schedule, on paper, appears to be a bear as the 2020 surprise team attempts to make up a 2½-game deficit on the Nuggets (43-22) and one-game deficit on the Jazz (41-23); they are tied with the Rockets (40-24). But that’s on paper. A Jazz-Nuggets-Lakers stretch has softened with recent news of injuries (Utah’s Bojan Bogdanovic and the Lakers’ Rajon Rondo), an illness (Nikola Jokic) and an opt-out (Avery Bradley). Then bring on the Grizzlies and a playoff hopeful’s dream back-to-back: Wizards-Suns.
The coronavirus break couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Thunder, who were arguably playing the best basketball in the league as they prepared to take their home floor against Utah, without Rudy Gobert, on March 11. Streaking Oklahoma City was coming off a three-game road sweep, capped by a win at Boston, to complete an 8-2 run.
The season began with a 6-11 struggle, not surprising in that future-looking trades had taken away 50.9 points per game from the previous season in the form of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. But then Chris Paul found a fountain of youth, Clippers import Shai Gilgeous-Alexander blossomed into a star and the Thunder seemingly made every clutch shot they needed, pulling out 15 wins from games that were within a single point in the final minute and going 34-13 after Thanksgiving, the second-best record in the NBA to Milwaukee.
How does one team win 16 games in which it trailed entering the fourth quarter, while no one else in the league accomplished the feat more than eight times? It all starts with Paul, who credits a plant-based diet for helping ignite a turn-back-the-clock season in which the 35-year-old has averaged 2.2 more points than last year (17.7) while shooting his highest percentage (48.9) since 2010.
And you want leadership? With tensions running high as the NBA was pondering what to do on the final night before the coronavirus-mandate break, Paul had beer and wine delivered to the locker room to share in a celebration with his teammates on what might have been the end of the season.
“I truly believe it: We got a special team,” Paul gushed shortly after he and his virus-free teammates entered the NBA bubble. “We got a really special team and we genuinely love to be around each other.”
Then there’s Gilgeous-Alexander, who epitomized the Thunder’s never-say-die attitude, shooting 57 percent and recording a plus-111 plus/minus in the final five minutes of games within five points.
They’ve been the story of the year, but can it continue? Here’s one reason why it might: While other teams are losing players to illness, injury and opt-outs, the Thunder have welcomed back defensive whiz Andre Roberson, who hasn’t played since January of 2018 because of a patella tendon injury.
Oklahoma City might be seeded as low as sixth entering the Western playoffs, but with no home-court advantage, it might not matter. The road to the NBA’s 2020 championship runs through Central Florida, and nobody in the West has been better away from home than the Thunder, who entered the break having won 20 of their last 25 on the road.
Oklahoma City Thunder Best Bets: Thunder (plus-410 on FanDuel) over Jazz by 1-to-5 points on Aug. 1. Have you paid attention to the Oklahoma City season? Every game is close. The Thunder benefit here from getting extra days of preparation, with the Jazz having returned on July 30 to face New Orleans.
Thunder-Jazz (plus-105 on FanDuel) to be decided by seven points or fewer on Aug. 1. Nine of Oklahoma City’s last 15 games were decided by seven or fewer points. The Thunder also already has a 100-95 win at Utah this season.
By: Field Level Media
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS (28-36), 10th place, Western Conference
Where are they now: The Pelicans are 3.5 games behind the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, which belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies, and are just percentage points behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 9 spot. The No. 9 team would earn a play-in opportunity for the playoffs if it finishes within four games of the No. 8 spot.
Zion Williamson’s long-awaited arrival, after the forward recovered from a preseason knee injury, means the Pelicans have much more firepower than they did at the start of the season. While New Orleans has looked impressive at times with their No. 1 overall draft pick finally in the fold, they were just 10-9 with Williamson on the court. The Pelicans appear to have plenty of talent to make a playoff push.
Making the Pelicans even more intriguing is that Williamson has hinted toward bringing even more when the season resumes. Being even further away from his knee procedure is a likely reason for all of his confidence.
“Yeah, I think there are going to be parts of my game that y’all didn’t see before that you all are going to see in the future when we start playing,” said Williamson, who worked out with his stepdad during the recent downtime, adding that he felt like a 5-year old again.
Williamson showed little trouble adapting to the NBA game as the Duke product scored 23.6 points per game and grabbed 6.8 rebounds in his 19 games. Getting into a flow with All-Star forward Brandon Ingram (24.3 points, 5.3 rebounds) will be the team’s key for success.
The duo had just shy of two months on the court together and learning from that time will be key. Ingram said he added muscle mass over the break and focused on ways he can be more effective no matter what spot on the floor he is asked to occupy.
Guards Jrue Holliday and Lonzo Ball hold the key to getting balanced contributions from the team’s two stars.
Ball might have been playing his best basketball in a Pelicans uniform at the time play was halted. He was 21-for-36 on 3-pointers (58.3 percent) over his final four games, taking advantage of defenses sagging on Williamson and Ingram inside.
“(Ball) was probably playing as well as any guard in the league at that stage,” head coach Alvin Gentry said.
Three Pelicans players were diagnosed on June 30 as having contracted conoravirus, according to executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin, but none were named.
The consensus seems to be that the Pelicans stand a solid chance to be in the eight-team Western Conference playoff field even if they still have two teams to leap in order to get there. The simple key to at least securing a play-in opportunity: Win one more game during the restart than the Trail Blazers and win as many games as the Grizzlies in order to stay inside a four-game deficit in the standings.
While the Pelicans’ main contributors are young, they have a solid blend of veterans as well in starter Derrick Favors, as well as E’Twan Moore and JJ Reddick who deliver off the bench.
“When you’ve got that experience from No. 1 to No. 15 on the bench … you have the unselfishness and the willingness to do whatever it takes to win and make sure the next person is successful,” said Josh Hart, another Pelicans bench option. “That’s when you win and have a winning culture. That’s what we have here and that’s what we’re continuing to build on. It’s definitely going to come in handy for these eight games, and then when we make the playoffs.”
New Orleans Pelicans Best Bets: According to Caesars Casino & Sportsbook, the Pelicans are +1800 to win the Western Conference and advance to the NBA Finals. Those are long odds for sure, but they are not only better odds than all five teams outside of playoff contention in the Western Conference, they are even better than the current No. 8 seeded Grizzlies (+20000).
–Field Level Media
By: Field Level Media
LOS ANGELES LAKERS (49-14), first place, Western Conference
Where are they now: With a 5.5-game lead over the second-place Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference, the Lakers are closing in on clinching the top seed in the playoffs. The Los Angeles teams will highlight the NBA’s return when they face each other July 30.
As expected, the addition of forward Anthony Davis, in an offseason trade with the New Orleans Pelicans, has been a difference maker as he has formed a formidable partnership with LeBron James. The James-Davis duo has given the Western Conference a clear-cut favorite, with a Lakers-Milwaukee Bucks matchup the most anticipated for the NBA Finals.
Davis says he has fully recovered from a number of nagging injuries to his elbow, ankle, knees, shoulder and backside that he was playing through at various times of the season.
“If anything, our chances got higher and it’s going to be about just who wants it more,” Davis told reporters. “Everybody kind of had a decompression of the season and obviously with stuff going on, but it’s about what team wants it more and which team can stay healthy.”
The Lakers appeared to be getting into playoff mode with victories over the Pelicans, 76ers, Bucks and Clippers before the stoppage of play, although when last seen, they did have a head-scratching defeat to the Brooklyn Nets. Head coach Frank Vogel has touted what he calls a “simple system” as a reason the veteran Lakers should be able to pick up right where they left off when play resumes in Florida.
After an injury-plagued season in 2018-19, James has looked revived with Davis at his side, scoring 25.7 points per game with 7.9 rebounds. Without so much of the scoring load to carry, James’ game has even evolved to the tune of a career-best 10.6 assists per game. That total leads the NBA.
Davis is thriving with 26.7 points and 9.4 rebounds per game for his new team, while playing for a legitimate title contender for the first time.
Forward Kyle Kuzma has been forced into an adjusted role upon Davis’ arrival. And while he is third on the Lakers with 12.5 points per game, the total is easily the lowest of his three-year career. His 4.5 rebounds also are the lowest among his three NBA seasons. But he is embracing his opportunity to win a title.
“Guys can go across this league average 20, 25 (points) and just never win,” Kuzma told reporters recently. “I don’t want that. I want a legacy. And to do something that as a kid I’ve always wanted to do.”
The Lakers are not very backcourt dependent, but they will miss a pair of veteran guards when play resumes. Avery Bradley opted out of the NBA’s restart, while Rajon Rondo broke his thumb when the team returned to practice in Florida.
After contemplating an opt-out, backup big man Dwight Howard decided to play.
While two unnamed Lakers players were reported to have tested positive for the coronavirus in mid-March, they both were said to be symptom free on March 31.
As one of the favorites for the NBA title, all that is left for the Lakers to play for over the final eight regular-season games is a No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Three victories would clinch the top spot. The Lakers could be looking at a first-round playoff matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans, pitting Davis against his former team. Former Lakers on the Pelicans include Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart.
Los Angeles Lakers Best Bets: According to Sugarhouse Sportsbook, the Lakers are the favorite to win the NBA title at +240, while the Bucks are second at +250, followed by the Clippers +333 and the Houston Rockets +1200. The Lakers are the favorite to win the Western Conference at +150 over the Clippers (+180).
Sugarhouse also has James as the second favorite to win the MVP at +1000, behind prohibitive favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks (-5000). Davis is the third favorite at +10000.
Sugarhouse has the Lakers as a 1.5-point favorite over the Clippers when the teams face each other upon the resumption of play.
–Field Level Media
WASHINGTON WIZARDS (24-40, 9th place)
Where are they now: Player development will be the name of the game when the Washington Wizards open their eight-game stint at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The ninth-place Wizards are 5 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Orlando Magic, and it is highly likely that they will head home when the eight seeding games are over.
That is particularly true after Bradley Beal decided to opt-out for the remainder of the season, as did talented teammate Davis Bertans. Beal led the team in scoring with 30.5 points per game, while Bertans ranked second on the club with 15.4 points per contest. Even with those two players in the lineup, the Wizards slumped for the majority of the season, slipping under .500 before Halloween and never climbing above that threshold.
So what is the plan for the Wizards when action resumes? Let the kids play. Rookie Rui Hachimura will be penciled in for heavy playing time after averaging 13.4 points and six rebounds in his first 41 games. Hachimura was the Wizards’ first-round draft pick (No. 9 overall) out of Gonzaga a year ago. The Wizards also could lean on young players such as Troy Brown and Jerome Robinson, who are ages 20 and 22, respectively. Washington went 4-4 in its final eight games and will try to find wins in the early going against the Phoenix Suns and Brooklyn Nets.
Pretty much any highlight involving the Wizards in the first half involved Beal, and he will not be with the team after weighing whether or not to head to the NBA bubble. Beal dealt with nagging injuries throughout the season, and he and the team decided that his long-term health was more important than the next eight games. Although it is the smart decision, it is a bummer for Wizards (and NBA) fans who watched the 27-year-old pour in buckets game after game despite drawing the attention of opposing defenses in every contest.
“He’s worked religiously to get this thing back to where it feels right, and it just hasn’t felt right,” Wizards general manager Tommy Sheppard said to reporters. “To hear him say himself that he’s just not right right now, ‘I’ve got to keep working, I’ve got more work to do,’ made that decision much easier. …
“Going to Orlando is very important — it’s a very big opportunity — but would it make sense if we went there and Bradley’s injured? Let’s say our next season starts in December, who’s to say he’s ready for next season? We’re trying to mitigate risk and give him the best opportunity to have a great year next year, which is better for him obviously, for us obviously big picture.”
The Wizards averaged 115.6 points per game, which was sixth in the league. But Washington struggled badly on defense, allowing a whopping 119.7 points per game. That tied for worst in the NBA along with the Atlanta Hawks.
The Wizards will look to regroup with Shabazz Napier at point guard, Brown at shooting guard, Robinson at small forward, Hachimura at power forward and Thomas Bryant at center. Others in the rotation figure to include Moritz Wagner, Isaac Bonga, Gary Payton II and Ian Mahinmi.
Napier has a chance to bolster his status as the Wizards consider whether to bring him back for next season. Washington already is paying John Wall and Ish Smith for next season, but it might be wise to fork over the money necessary to keep Napier as a third option at point guard in case injuries continue to drag down Wall.
Playoff outlook: The playoffs are not impossible, but it would be stunning if Washington surged past Orlando for the final playoff spot. The franchise is better off by playing young players and securing a lottery pick in the draft.
Best bets: Can the Wizards win two games in their final eight contests? Two measly games? It does not sound like too much to ask, except for the fact that they will trot out a junior varsity roster and know they have almost no chance at making the postseason. Other teams such as the Brooklyn Nets might be shorthanded, too, but at least they have something to play for in the form of a playoff berth. So the guess here is no, the Wizards will not eclipse the over-under set at 1.5 wins for the rest of the way by Sugar House. The over pays +120 while the under comes in at -162.
TORONTO RAPTORS (46-18, 2nd place)
Where are they now: So much has changed since mid-March, but one fact remains constant: The Toronto Raptors are the defending NBA champions. They proved to be resilient in dealing with the free-agent departure of star forward Kawhi Leonard a year ago, and it stands to reason that Raptors head coach Nick Nurse will have his players focused once again as the team regroups for another deep playoff run in the strangest season on record.
The Raptors arrived to the NBA bubble in second place in the Eastern Conference, 6 1/2 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks and three games in front of the third-place Boston Celtics. Injuries to key players such as Marc Gasol and Fred VanVleet forced the Raptors to rely on a deep bench during the first part of the season, but now Toronto has returned to full health as it crosses the border for a competitive stretch of games beginning Aug. 1.
Raptors players might feel like honorary Florida residents by the time this season comes to an end. The team arrived June 22 for pre-training camp workouts because of logistical issues with staying in Canada, which would have required 14-day quarantines for anyone coming over the border from the United States to train. Every other NBA team was able to train at its home facility, and it remains to be seen whether the extended stay in the Sunshine State will help or hurt the Raptors.
“I’ve asked the guys to really self-monitor themselves, especially the veteran guys, and ease into things here a little bit,” Nurse said. “We try to get to the majority of action early in practice to avoid fatigue and get to the main part. … I’m really leaving it to them. They know their bodies best and how they’re feeling.”
The Raptors were hitting their stride just as the season skidded to a sudden stop. Toronto won 21 of its final 25 games, including a remarkable 15-game winning streak from Jan. 15-Feb. 10 and a four-game winning streak from March 3-9. However, one of the team’s losses over its final 25 games included a 108-97 setback against the Bucks. The Raptors went 0-2 against the Bucks, with both losses coming by double digits.
Pascal Siakam enjoyed a breakthrough season with a team-high 23.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per contest, and the Raptors will rely on him heavily when action resumes near Orlando. Feisty veteran Kyle Lowry contributed 19.7 points per game in the backcourt, which also includes a streaky scorer in VanVleet (17.6 points per game). The Raptors found ways to replace the void left by Leonard’s departure.
Toronto is healthy as it takes aim at a deep postseason run. Lowry and VanVleet are slated to start in the backcourt, while OG Anunoby and Siakam comprise the starting forwards and Serge Ibaka is set at center. Gasol figures to get plenty of minutes at center, as well, while Terence Davis and Norman Powell also will come off the bench and possess difference-making talent for the Raptors.
Toronto Raptors Playoff outlook: Barring a major surprise, the Raptors will lock up the No. 2 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. Toronto has virtually no shot at making up the difference against the top-seeded Bucks, so it just needs to fend off third-place Boston, with the aforementioned three-game gap in the standings between the teams.
The Raptors likely will face either the Brooklyn Nets or Orlando Magic in the first round. In either case, Toronto figures to be heavily favored as it braces for a more competitive matchup in the conference semifinals and potentially the conference finals.
Toronto Raptors Best bets: The Raptors are listed at +700 to win the Eastern Conference, according to the Sugar Hill betting site. Fellow Eastern Conference rival Boston is listed at +700, while the Miami Heat are +900. Of course, the overwhelming favorite is the Milwaukee Bucks at -167 to claim the conference title.
If anything goes wrong with the Bucks, it opens the door for potentially great value with a bet on the Raptors. Toronto has the depth and mindset to go deep into the playoffs, and it could capitalize if anything goes wrong with Milwaukee and Giannis Antetokounmpo ends up missing time.
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (39-26, 6th place)
Where are they now: It’s a case of good news, bad news, for the Philadelphia 76ers as they prepare for action to resume at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The good news: Philadelphia already has clinched a spot in the playoffs. The bad news: The 76ers are lingering in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference after an underwhelming first part of the regular season.
More good news: Ben Simmons is healthy and with the team after missing time because of a nerve impingement in his lower back. More bad news: The 76ers still are not sure how to get the most out of veteran Al Horford, who could move to a bench role in the first season of his four-year, $109 million free-agent contract. This is all to say that the 76ers have proved to be good but not great, and they do not have much time as they look to capture greatness heading into the postseason.
Simmons’ return certainly boosts the 76ers’ chances to make a run. The 23-year-old Australian averaged 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 8.2 assists in 54 games before his back injury halted his season.
“I’m feeling better than I was at the start of the season,” Simmons recently told reporters. “I’ve been working since I had the injury, working until now to be prepared for whatever happens and wherever we go. I’m feeling great and been rehabbing this whole time, so I’ve been feeling ready and I’m very comfortable.”
Adding to Philadelphia’s optimism is a relatively light schedule for the eight-game stretch before the playoffs begin. The 76ers could face a challenge in their first game against the Indiana Pacers, but they face several work-in-progress opponents such as the San Antonio Spurs, Washington Wizards, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns.
No team had a more drastic home-and-road momentum swing than the 76ers did. When the NBA put its season on pause, Philadelphia was 29-2 at home and 10-24 on the road. Injuries and fatigue provided extra challenges for head coach Brett Brown’s team, which looked unimpressive as it went 8-9 over its final 17 games.
The 76ers’ identity is built around defense first and offense second, and the first half reinforced that approach. Philadelphia ranked tied for fifth in team defense with 107.4 points allowed per game, but it finished No. 21 in team offense with 109.6 points per game. Six players averaged in double-digit scoring led by terrific big man Joel Embiid, who had 23.4 points per game to go along with a team-high 11.8 boards.
Philadelphia used the break to, ahem, shake up its starting lineup. Shake Milton has moved into the starting point guard role with Josh Richardson at shooting guard, Tobias Harris at small forward, Simmons at power forward and Embiid at center. Milton started 16 of 32 games before the shutdown, averaging 9.5 points, 2.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists while shooting 49.8 percent from the field.
With Simmons seemingly entrenched at the four spot, Horford will slide into a bench role alongside other contributors such as Alec Burks, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III. The 34-year-old Horford averaged 12 points, 6.9 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 60 games (57 starts) with Philadelphia, but his 44.2 percent shooting percentage was by far the lowest of his career, and he has yet to develop chemistry on the court with Embiid.
The 76ers have the same record as the Indiana Pacers and trail the Miami Heat by only two games, so a lot could happen over the eight-game stretch. If Brown’s team is able to take advantage of a lighter schedule, it could move into the four or five spot and square off against Miami or Indiana in the first round. However, if the 76ers stumble, they would remain in the sixth spot and likely face the Boston Celtics in the playoff opener.
Best bets: Yes, it has been an up-and-down season for Philadelphia. But Simmons is healthy, Embiid is rested and Milton could invigorate the starting lineup. Why not bet on the 76ers’ chances during the eight seeding games? Sugar House has set the over-under for total wins at 5.5 during the 76ers’ next eight games, with +130 odds on the over and -177 odds on the under. The schedule lines up nicely for Philadelphia, particularly if they can edge the Pacers in the opening contest.
ORLANDO MAGIC (30-35), 8th place Eastern Conference
Where are they now: The Magic are in the playoffs as the No. 8 seed when the league restarts. And with only a half-game separating the Magic from the severely-depleted Brooklyn Nets, a shot at the 7th seed isn’t unreasonable. The only team the Magic have to worry about bouncing them from the playoffs is the Washington Wizards, who will begin play 5 ½ games behind and without their star player, Bradley Beal. So the Magic all but have a playoff spot locked up.
The Magic had won three in a row and eight of their past 12 when the season was halted on March 11 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Magic’s calling card all season has been defense and taking care of the basketball. The Magic had the league’s 10th-best defense and the second-fewest turnovers per game (12.6) prior to the pause.
The Magic hovered around .500 for most of the season’s first half until a midseason swoon dropped them to nine games under .500. Orlando lost 10 of 12 prior to the All-Star break to drop them to 22-31 on Feb. 8. The Magic won their final two games before the ASB and then started to figure things out until the pause. Evan Fournier was having a career season, averaging 18.8 points per game.
The Magic first reported to the Walt Disney World Resort minus Markelle Fultz and James Ennis. Fultz was dealing with a personal issue, unrelated to the coronavirus, and Ennis told reporters Wednesday that he was the one Magic player who had tested positive for COVID-19. Both players are now with their team on campus and Ennis is back at practice while Fultz is serving his quarantine protocol.
The Magic won’t know for another 2 weeks about Jonathan Isaac (knee) and his ability to return, and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) is not expected to return. Isaac was averaging 12.0 points per game in 32 games, all starts, and Aminu had only played in 18 games, starting two.
Nikola Vucevic leads the scoring effort at 19.5 points per game for the Magic, who rank 27th in the league in scoring at 106.4 points per game. Vucevic also leads the team in rebounds (11.0) and Fultz leads in assists (5.2).
Fournier’s 18.8 scoring average was more than 4 points better than his career average of 14.1 and a full point better than his best season in 2017-2018 when he averaged 17.8 in 57 games with the Magic. The shooting guard had a stretch of three 30-point games from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3. His season high of 32 came on Dec. 1.
Ennis played in 12 (10 starts) games for the Magic after a midseason trade with the 76ers, averaging 6.8 points.
The Magic are all but in. In fact, with two games against Brooklyn, the Magic could easily hop over the depleted Nets into the 7th spot to avoid having to play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs. The Magic play the Nets in their first game back on July 31 and will meet them again Aug. 11.
The Magic have to contend with four teams ahead of them in the Eastern Conference – the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors and Indiana Pacers. They also have two games with the Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans to round out the eight-game sprint to the postseason.
However, ESPN’s playoff projections don’t give the Magic much of a shot to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. The Magic have just a 3 percent chance of winning their first-round series, which will most likely come against the Bucks or the Raptors.
Orlando Magic Best Bets: The Magic are a darkhorse bet to do much of anything in the playoffs. Sugar House has the Magic at plus-30000 to win the NBA title and the odds are even longer at Caesars – plus-50000.
Caesars has the Magic at plus-5000 to win the Eastern Conference and Sugar House has them at plus-8000.