Are you a Clippers fan who isn’t sure who to root for in the NBA’s August 11th 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.
Monday’s games began to provide more clarity in some of the seeding races out West, and more will come as the teams that have stubbornly refused to separate from each other throughout bubble play face their final, crucial games this week.
The NBA’s August 11th Bubble Games
All times Pacific Time.
Brooklyn Nets vs Orlando Magic, 10:00am, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Orlando Magic
These teams have clinched 7th and 8th in the East already, making what could have been a climactic late-bubble head-to-head relatively meaningless. I’d like to see Orlando win to help them build a little momentum heading into their first-round series with Milwaukee, but this game really isn’t an important one.
Houston Rockets vs San Antonio Spurs, 11:00am, NBATV
Rooting for: San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are still technically alive in the fight for the 8/9 play-in tournament, and we’d actually like to see those hopes squashed. Portland and Phoenix are the two stronger teams that we’d like to see potentially play the Lakers, and if they can’t battle each other in the play-in, then we’d like them to face the weaker Memphis Grizzlies, who seem likely to go just 1-7 or 2-6 in bubble play.
But a Houston loss is far more important to the Clippers than the play-in race at the bottom of the conference. Currently, the Clippers’ magic # to finish above Houston is 1–that means just a single LAC win or Rockets loss puts the Clippers officially in 2nd or 3rd and closes the door on a nightmare scenario where they fall to 4th and face the Lakers in the second round instead of the Western Conference Finals.
After the Lakers beat the Nuggets Monday night, Houston winning out would drastically increase their chances of moving up into 3rd. If they lose just one game, though, Denver will have a significant upper hand in the race for 3rd–and could clinch a top-3 finish by beating the Clippers Wednesday night.
And if the Rox lose this week, that Denver win becomes more likely. Once the Clippers know that the Rockets cannot pass them, it gives them the flexibility to manage their remaining games (vs Denver on Wednesday and vs OKC on Friday) to manipulate the standings and set up their preferred bracket.
Houston is holding James Harden out of this game, and Eric Gordon continues to be out, so Russell Westbrook will have his hands full. It’s still a winnable contest for the Rockets without Harden and Gordon, but hopefully those absences and this game coming on the front end of a back-to-back are an indicator that Houston will limit their starters’ minutes and concede this one, clinching a top-3 finish for LAC.
Phoenix Suns vs Philadelphia 76ers, 1:30pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Phoenix Suns
Man, if you had told me that the Suns would be the NBA bubble’s must-watch team, I wouldn’t have believed you. But here we are, with a perfect 6-0 Suns team really looking like they might pull off a play-in berth.
At 8-0, the Suns wouldn’t clinch a spot, but they would force Portland to be perfect (finishing 6-2) to stay ahead of them. The 8-0 Suns would also move ahead of Memphis if the Grizzlies finish 1-7. But if the Blazers win their final two games (DAL/BKN) and the Grizzlies win even one more game (BOS/MIL), Phoenix could see their 8-0 record leave them in 10th, out of the play-in picture.
7-1 doesn’t mathematically eliminate them, but they could no longer pass Memphis and would need the Blazers to lose both remaining games, plus the Spurs to pick up another loss, in order to finish 8th to Memphis’ 9th.
We don’t really care about the Sixers here. They’ll have a chance to move up from 6th into the 4/5 matchup, as Indiana and Miami have another head-to-head coming up this week, but I don’t buy them as an impactful playoff competitor with how they’ve trended in recent weeks (and all year).
Boston Celtics vs Memphis Grizzlies, 2:00pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Boston Celtics
As I just mentioned, Memphis losses greatly help the Suns stay strong in the play-in race. With two losses in their final two games, the Grizzlies could drop out of the play-in tournament entirely, opening up the spots for the Suns and Blazers to challenge each other.
Short of that, though, we’d still prefer for Memphis to lose at least one more game, leaving the door open for Portland to finish 8th. Remember, the 8th-place team only needs to beat 9th once to qualify, while 9th needs to beat 8th twice in a row. Portland reaching the 8th position would not only increase their chances of advancing but also give them an opportunity to do so while playing one fewer game.
Portland Trail Blazers vs Dallas Mavericks, 3:30pm, TNT
Rooting for: Portland Trail Blazers
It’s a full day of the play-in race, as San Antonio, Phoenix, Memphis, and Portland play back-to-back-to-back-to-back in Tuesday’s first four games. We want Portland to win here, for reasons that have mostly already been laid out above. This would give them their 5th win, and leave them needing just one last victory against the lowly Brooklyn Nets (we saw how that went for the Clippers) to not only clinch a play-in berth but in all likelihood finish in the 8th position.
One interesting sub-plot to watch if this game doesn’t go Portland’s way: Utah’s struggles (the Jazz are 2-5 so far in the bubble) has opened the door for Dallas to move ahead of the Jazz and/or Thunder. Dallas’ last game after Portland is against Phoenix on Thursday. Oklahoma City has two games left, against the Heat Wednesday and Clippers Friday. Utah’s finale comes against the Spurs on Thursday.
If Dallas wins out, including Tuesday’s game against Portland, they put themselves in a position to pass Utah if the Jazz lose to San Antonio as well as potentially pass the Thunder if OKC loses their final two games. In that case, Utah would finish 7th to OKC’s 6th on tiebreaker. I’m not ready to root for Dallas just to make this scenario materialize (and frankly I like the Clippers’ match-up with Dallas in a 2-7), as too many things need to happen with 0 margin for error. But it’s something we’ll definitely track if they win here.
New Orleans Pelicans vs Sacramento Kings, 6:00pm, TNT
Milwaukee Bucks vs Washington Wizards, 6:00pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: taking the night off
After a bunch of impactful games earlier in the day, this dual nightcaps are both sleepers. On TNT, we’ve got the two earliest eliminated teams in the Western Conference playing head-to-head. This could have been a fun and impactful contest if either team showed up to Orlando intending to compete, but they both seemed eager to go home as quickly as possible.
On NBA League Pass, the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks have already clinched the no. 1 seed in the East and will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back against a Wizards team that is 0-6 in the bubble and didn’t bring their best players to Orlando (not that their roster was very competitive when intact).
There’s been a lot of basketball over the last few weeks. This pairing Tuesday evening makes for a nice excuse to watch something else (or maybe go outside, if you’re into that kind of thing), and get ready for an important Wednesday, where the Clippers could clinch the 2nd seed, and the right combination of outcomes could officially block Denver into 4th as well.
Oklahoma City Thunder 101, Phoenix Suns 128
We were rooting for: Phoenix Suns
The Suns improved to 6-0, notably against an OKC team that rested their entire starting lineup except for Chris Paul (who only played 24 minutes). We talked enough about the road ahead for Phoenix above, but OKC’s throw here is enough to make you wonder if the Thunder see the standings taking shape ahead of them and want to play Denver in the first round instead of Houston.
Dallas Mavericks 122, Utah Jazz 114
We were rooting for: Utah Jazz
It would have been really nice to see the Jazz win here and put themselves in position to finish ahead of the Thunder in the standings, as we’d like to see a slugfest between OKC and Denver in the first round tire out LAC’s 2nd round opponent while the Rockets get an easier match-up in Utah and rest up before facing the Lakers.
But the Jazz can read the standings too, and they feel the sting from two 5-game eliminations at the hands of James Harden and the Rockets the last two years. They sat Donovan Mitchell today and no starter played more than 16 minutes. With the Thunder, we’re wondering if they’re throwing games to avoid Houston–with the Jazz, we know it.
Toronto Raptors 114, Milwaukee Bucks 108
We were rooting for: nobody
This game didn’t matter for anyone, least of all the two teams playing. Milwaukee and Toronto have both cliched the 1 and 2 seeds in the East, respectively, and are favorites to play each other in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Indiana Pacers 92, Miami Heat 114
We were rooting for: Miami Heat
Not that it’s a huge deal, but in a compact 4-5-6 race in the East between these two teams and Philadelphia, Miami is the strongest, so we’re glad to see them stay in 4th and presumably take on Milwaukee in the second round.
Denver Nuggets 121, Los Angeles Lakers 124
We were rooting for: Denver Nuggets
This game was deeply disappointing, as the Nuggets could have easily come away victorious but chose instead to rest their starters down the stretch, ultimately losing to a Kyle Kuzma game-winner that put the Lakers up by 3. The Nuggets, trailing by 3, attempted a 2-point shot at the buzzer, if you were wondering how interested this tired, shorthanded Denver squad was in another overtime game.
Now, Denver has severely jeopardized their odds of landing in the 3-seed in the West. A Clippers win over Denver on Wednesday–which would clinch the 2-seed for LAC (which means a lot, since they are currently still able to slide all the way to 4th) would set the Nuggets back even further in the 3/4 race with Houston. This is where the Clippers’ bad loss to Brooklyn really hurts–if they had taken care of business, there would be no way for LAC to fall to 4th regardless of the Rockets’ upcoming success.
A lot depends on how Houston fares in their Tuesday/Wednesday back-to-back, but if the Rockets win both games and the Clippers beat the Nuggets on Denver, Houston will be squarely in the driver’s seat to finish 3rd heading into Friday’s finales.
Denver’s magic number to finish ahead of Houston is 2–that means 2 Nuggets wins or Rockets losses, with Denver having 2 games left to play to Houston’s 3. That means if the Nuggets split their games because the Clippers beat them, then Houston can secure the 3-seed by winning out.
Stay tuned in to 213Hoops every day of the NBA’s Orlando Bubble for a new Rooting Interests.
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