NBA Bubble Preview For 8/13/2020

Today’s matchups determine who participates in the Western Conference play-in game

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.

Memphis Grizzlies (-3.0) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (+3.0) at 4:00 PM EST

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.

Grizzlies 110 – Bucks 99

Phoenix Suns (-8.5) vs. Dallas Mavericks (+8.5) at 4:00 PM EST

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.

Suns 122 – Mavericks 115

San Antonio Spurs (-8.0) vs. Utah Jazz (+8.0) at 6:30 PM EST

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.

Spurs 109 – Jazz 103

Portland Trail Blazers (-10.0) vs. Brooklyn Nets (+10.0) at 9:00 PM EST

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.

Trail Blazers 113 – Nets 108

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/11/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spurs 111 – Rockets 100

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

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

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

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

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

Grizzlies 106 – Celtics 102

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

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

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

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

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

Trail Blazers 121 – Mavericks 117

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/9/2020

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 8/4/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heat 104 – Celtics 100

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trail Blazers 121 – Rockets 119

NBA Bubble Preview For 8/2/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celtics 108 – Trail Blazers 102

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bucks 121 – Rockets 117