Are you a Clippers fan who isn’t sure who to root for in the NBA’s August 10th bubble games? You’re in the right place.

With each team playing just eight “seeding games” in Orlando before the playoffs begin, there’s limited time to both battle for playoff positioning as well as build momentum after a four-month layoff. That means that, while we obviously want the Clippers to be successful, Clippers fans can’t just pay attention to LAC–nearly every game played in the NBA over this two-week span is important to the playoff picture.

The Clippers got help over the weekend, but embarrassingly lost to the undermanned Brooklyn Nets Sunday evening, setting back the chances of their ideal outcome in the Western Conference materializing. Let’s take a look at Monday’s slate of games, featuring 5 truly great match-ups.

The NBA’s August 10th Bubble Games

All times Pacific Time.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Phoenix Suns, 11:30am, NBA League Pass

Rooting for: Phoenix Suns

Count me among the people who, at the start of bubble play, would have assumed that this game wouldn’t be an important one. The Suns have shocked the league by going 5-0 to start bubble play, actually putting themselves in the conversation for the Western Conference play-in tournament (check out the ‘Race for 8th/9th’ tab in this google doc, which I’ll link to a lot in the coming days).

A Suns loss wouldn’t mathematically eliminate them, but in reality it would all but guarantee them a finish below 9th place and out of the WC play-in tournament. While Portland is our preferred opponent for the Lakers in the 1-8 first-round series, I’d make an exception to that preference for a Suns team that went 8-0 to make the play-in and improved to 10-0 to win it. This win keeps that hope alive.

Meanwhile, the OKC loss could be good for the Clippers. If LAC finishes in 2nd in the West, they’d prefer that OKC finish 6th to Utah’s 5th. That’s because OKC would do a better job of tiring out Denver in a 3-6 series, while Utah would make for the easiest 4-5 opponent for Utah and allow them to enter 1-4 vs LAL rested. Frankly, I also trust OKC to tire out Houston more in a 3-6 series, but if the Clippers do end up dropping to 3rd, they’d rather play Utah than the Thunder.

The Clippers’ loss to Brooklyn complicates that race, as the Clippers could enter Wendesday’s game against the Nuggets forced to choose between winning, and finishing 2nd to Houston at 3rd, or dropping to 3rd and letting Denver claim 2nd. We’ll be talking about that dilemma all week, so more to come.

Dallas Mavericks vs Utah Jazz, 12:00pm, NBATV

Rooting for: Utah Jazz

Following from the reasoning above, we’d like Utah to win their remaining games so they end up 5th and push OKC to 6th. I don’t think the Clippers will actually throw Wednesday’s game against Denver if it puts them in jeopardy of falling to 3rd, so I’m pulling for OKC to finish 6th regardless of if Houston or Denver ends up in the 3-seed. The Thunder would challenge either team more than Utah could.

In reality, any finish short of the Western Conference Finals would be a major disappointment for LAC and LAL regardless of the match-ups. They should both beat all of these teams. But by engineering a bracket that funnels easier opponents to LAC and tougher opponents to LAL, the Clippers could end up with a rest advantage heading into the WCF. After a decade of Lob City teams losing second-round series where they were beat up, tired, and shorthanded, I’m not dismissing the importance of that.

Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks, 3:30pm, ESPN

Rooting for: who cares?

For the first time since I started this series, I really don’t have an angle on this one. Milwaukee and Toronto have clinched 1st and 2nd in the East, respectively. The Raptors have shown throughout the season and bubble why they’re the most legitimate challenger to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Neither has anything left to prove here, and both have a lot to lose tactically by showing their hands. What should be a marquee matchup will likely feature low intensity from both sides.

Indiana Pacers vs Miami Heat, 5:00pm, NBA League Pass

Rooting for: Miami Heat

While this game is impactful in the East 4-5-6 race, it’s almost impossible to actually decide who we’d like to win. Miami and Indiana are tied at 43-27, and they each have three games left (including this one), and two of those three are against each other.

In a world where home-court advantage mattered, these games would mean a lot more!

But as it is, there’s no difference between 4th and 5th. Instead, we want to track that the winner of the 4-5 match-up will face Milwaukee in the 2nd round, while the winner of 3-6 will face Toronto in the second round. For that reason, we’re pulling for Miami here, since I trust them most to give the Bucks a difficult series out of Miami, Indiana, and Philadelphia. When these two teams meet again on Friday to close out bubble play, we’ll see how the picture has shifted.

Denver Nuggets vs Los Angeles Lakers, 6:00pm, TNT

Rooting for: Denver Nuggets

If the Clippers had won Sunday’s game against Brooklyn, then wanting Denver to win here would have been a much easier choice, as they would be a far lesser threat to potentially pass LAC in the 2-3 race.

As it is, I’m still picking the Nuggets to win, but I get why it might be a bit controversial. There are two LAC priorities that come into conflict here: one is clinching the 2-seed, the other is keeping Houston in the 4-5 matchup.

If you care more about clinching 2nd at all costs, and don’t care about avoiding Houston in the 2nd round/setting them up to face the Lakers, then rooting for Denver to lose here makes sense. Currently, the Clippers’ magic number (LAC wins + opponent losses) to finish ahead of Houston is 1, while to finish ahead of Denver it’s 2. A Denver loss here puts that magic number to 1 as well.

But, to be frank, I don’t see clinching 2nd as necessarily being all-important. The 7th-seeded Dallas Mavericks are formidable (they just beat the Milwaukee Bucks), and while, yes, LAC should handle them easily, a team of the Clippers’ caliber should also handle Oklahoma City or Utah without too much trouble. Securing the more preferable second-round match-up (as well as setting up the Lakers for their most difficult second-round opponent) then becomes more important.

So, I’m rooting for a Denver win here, as it will help them maintain a narrow lead over the Rockets (reducing their magic number to clinch a top-3 seed to 1) and keep an LAC-DEN-HOU 2-3-4 as the most likely scenario–even though it keeps DEN-LAC-HOU more likely than a Nuggets loss would. Plus, a Lakers loss would set them back to 2-5 in the bubble (it doesn’t mean much since they’ve clinched the 1-seed, but the narrative questioning the team would continue to build). A Denver win increases the extent to which the Clippers’ destiny is in their own hands–that’s all a great team can ask for.

Yesterday’s Games

Washington Wizards 103, Oklahoma City Thunder 121

We were rooting for: Washington Wizards

As mentioned above, pushing OKC to 6th helps tire out the Clippers’ likely 2nd-round opponent–but the Wizards winning this game was always a long-shot.

Memphis Grizzlies 99, Toronto Raptors 108

We were rooting for: Toronto Raptors

We’re shamelessly rooting against the Memphis Grizzlies the rest of the way, as we want the Portland Trail Blazers to secure an 8th-place finish over them (meaning Portland only has to win once, not twice, to move into the 1-8 match-up), but also for the Phoenix Suns to pass Memphis in 9th place, pitting the two strongest possible teams against each other for the right to challenge the Lakers in the first round.

If the Grizzlies win one of their remaining games (Boston and Milwaukee, who are both locked into their seeds and could rest players), they’ll eliminate Phoenix and San Antonio and guarantee a play-in against Portland. In that case, the Blazers would have to be perfect–finishing 6-2–to earn the 8-seed to Memphis’ 9th. If Memphis wins both their games to close out, they’ll clinch 8th.

If Memphis loses both their games, things get interesting. A 1-7 Grizzlies record could be beaten by (ranked in the order they’d finish against each other) 6-2 Portland (remaining games: DAL/BKN), 8-0 Phoenix (OKC/PHI/DAL), 6-2 San Antonio (HOU/UTA), or 5-3 Portland. I’d be happy with 8. PDX (6-2) vs 9. PHX (8-0); 8. PDX (6-2) vs MEM (1-7); 8. PHX (8-0) vs 9. PDX (5-3); 8. PHX (8-0) vs 9. MEM (1-7). Basically, either the strongest 2 teams facing each other, or one of them facing the weakest possible opponent (Memphis) from the 8th spot.

San Antonio Spurs 122, New Orleans Pelicans 113

We were rooting for: San Antonio Spurs

While the Spurs have been playing better basketball inside the bubble, the Pelicans were a greater threat to challenge the Portland/Phoenix/Memphis triumvirate for 8th/9th because NOP will close the season against Sacramento and Orlando while SAS will close against Houston and Utah. The Pellies are now mathematically eliminated from the play-in hunt, while the Spurs still need to get help from the teams above them.

Orlando Magic 119, Boston Celtics 122 (OT)

We were rooting for: Boston Celtics

It was definitely surprising to see Orlando almost win this game–especially with Jayson Tatum playing 42 minutes and Jaylen Brown going 39. To take it a step further, the Magic held Evan Fournier and Aaron Gordon out of this one. Maybe (probably not) it’s a sign that Orlando is capable of stealing a game in the first round, which further cements why we’re happy to see them hold on to 8th and face the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

After this game, plus Brooklyn’s win over the Clippers, the 7-8 order in the East is finalized: Milwaukee will play Orlando and Toronto will play Brooklyn.

Philadelphia 76ers 121, Portland Trail Blazers 124

We were rooting for: Portland Trail Blazers

Their late-game collapse against the Clippers aside, the Blazers have been punching above their weight all bubble. Sure, the Sixers were without Ben Simmons and lost Joel Embiid after just 6 minutes to an injury, but sometimes less stars on the court makes the Sixers’ offense a little simpler. Josh Richardson tied a season high with 20 shot attempts and set a new season high with 34 points, and it took an iconic 51-point night from Damian Lillard to lift the Blazers to victory.

It was a huge one for Portland in the aforementioned 8/9 race in the West. They’re now 4-2, and while they could make it at 4-4, it really isn’t likely–they’ll need one more win to really get in the conversation and 2 more wins to clinch a spot and make an 8th-place finish likely. They close the season against Dallas and Brooklyn–two very winnable games against teams whose seeds are set in stone already.

Houston Rockets 129, Sacramento Kings 112

We were rooting for: Sacramento Kings

Are we still going? Geeze there were a lot of games on Sunday.

The Kings, who basically never showed up in a competitive way in Orlando, were never gonna win this game, but it’s nice to hope. A Houston loss would have drastically increased the Rockets’ chances of staying in 4th and let the Clippers breathe much more easily this week. As it is, the Rockets close against the Spurs, Pacers, and Sixers. Even one loss in those three (maybe to the Spurs on Tuesday in a must-win game for San Antonio?) would greatly alleviate the concerns in the 2-3-4 race.

Brooklyn Nets 129, LA Clippers 120

We were rooting for: the sleepwalkers

Honestly? This was embarrassing for the Clippers. I’m normally a big proponent of shrugging off bad regular-season performances, since they happen to every team over the course of the 82-game schedule. But the Clippers had no business losing this game to Nets squad primarily made up of minor league players, especially in a late-season contest where the loss has an impact on seeding.

Now, the Nuggets are just a game back of the Clippers, and close the season against LAL, LAC, and TOR. While Denver’s tough schedule increases the Clippers’ chances of finishing ahead of them (thought LAC’s DEN/OKC is no cakewalk), it also increases the chances of Houston passing Denver and moving into 3rd.

Depending on the outcome of Denver’s game against the Lakers Monday, Houston’s game against the Spurs Tuesday, and Houston’s game against the Pacers Wednesday afternoon, the Clippers could choose to throw their game vs Denver Wednesday night to help the Nuggets secure 3rd over Houston. The evolving race between OKC and Utah for 5th/6th could also factor in to that decision.

But for the Clippers, losing this game to Brooklyn means that such a maneuver means more risk for their own seeding, as Denver passing LAC with a win Wednesday is more likely, but the door is also open for Houston to pass both teams and set the Clippers all the way back to 4th, which is unacceptable. If they’d won this game, they would have a lot more power to manipulate the seeding below them without worrying about their own position being in peril.

Stay tuned in to 213Hoops every day of the NBA’s Orlando Bubble for a new Rooting Interests.

213Hoops is an independently owned and operated L.A. Clippers blog by Clippers fans, for Clippers fans. If you enjoy our content, please consider subscribing to our Patreon. Subscriptions start at $1 a month and support from readers like you goes a long way towards helping us keep 213Hoops sustainable, growing, and thriving.

Lucas Hann

Lucas Hann

Lucas has covered the Clippers since 2011, and has been credentialed by the team since 2014. He co-founded 213Hoops with Robert Flom in January 2020.  He is a graduate of Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA and St. John's University in Queens, NY.  He earned his MA in Communication and Rhetorical Studies from Syracuse University.

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