NBA Bubble Preview For 8/9/2020

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.

https://twitter.com/TheNBAHustle/status/1291463387856027648

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.

Trail Blazers 110 – 76ers 99

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/1/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jazz 104 – Thunder 100

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

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

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

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

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

76ers 111 – Pacers 100

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

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

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

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

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

Lakers 100 – Raptors 95