NBA Bubble Preview For 8/3/2020

Heat and the Raptors set to clash Lakers and Jazz face off for the third time

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.

Toronto Raptors (-3.5) vs. Miami Heat (+3.5) at 1:30 PM EST

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.

Raptors 100 – Heat 97

Los Angeles Lakers (-6.5) vs. Utah Jazz (+6.5) at 9:00 PM EST

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.

Lakers 100 – Jazz 94

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