Spurs and Pelicans battle it out; 76ers and Trail Blazers looking to build momentum
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.
New Orleans Pelicans (-3.5) vs. San Antonio Spurs (+3.5) at 3:00 PM EST
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.
Spurs 109 – Pelicans 105
Portland Trail Blazers (-3.5) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (+3.5) at 6:30 PM EST
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.