Are you a Clippers fan who isn’t sure who to root for in the NBA’s August 5th 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’ loss to the Phoenix Suns at the buzzer yesterday certainly put a damper on things, but there’s just too much good basketball and standings intrigue around the league to stay discouraged for long. Let’s dive in.
The NBA’s August 5th Bubble Games
All times Pacific Time.
Memphis Grizzlies vs Utah Jazz, 11:30am, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Memphis Grizzlies
When two teams that you want to lose go up against each other, it can be a blessing and a curse. One is guaranteed to pick up that coveted loss, but the other is guaranteed to win.
We’ve been rooting against the Memphis Grizzlies (sorry, Grizz) because their fall from 8th place in the West opens up more possibilities for stronger teams, like Portland, to make their way into the play-in tournament. With the really unfortunate news that Jaren Jackson Jr. will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury, the Grizzlies’ fall now seems almost inevitable.
Utah, meanwhile, sits in 5th place in the West, just a half-game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder and a half-game behind the Houston Rockets. The Clippers want to make sure Houston stays in the 4-5 matchup–that means Denver winning to hold on to 3rd, and OKC and/or Utah losing to fall securely to 6th.
Because of Utah’s unlikeliness to be able to keep up with the surging Houston Rockets over the full bubble slate, it would be easy to pull for them here in order to help other teams get into the 8-seed battle. But ultimately, the stakes in the race for 8th are low for the Clippers–the Lakers are likely sweeping all of the contending teams. Avoiding Houston in the 2nd round is paramount, so we’ll keep our priorities in order.
Philadelphia 76ers vs Washington Wizards, 1:00pm, NBATV
Rooting for: Philadelphia 76ers
I’m going to reverse course a bit and root for the Sixers to win 5th place over the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference. Philly is probably one of the least fun teams in the league, but a focused Sixers team has the talent and experience to give Milwaukee a tough series in the 2nd round, no matter how joyless they make basketball.
Fortunately, this is a freebie for the Sixers, as Washington is primed to go 0-8 in the bubble. Unfortunately, they’re the Sixers, so they might lose just for the hell of it.
Denver Nuggets vs San Antonio Spurs, 1:00pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Denver Nuggets
With two teams involved in relevant Western Conference seeding races, this is likely the most important of the NBA’s August 5th bubble games for us to keep an eye on.
The Clippers want to be cautious of Denver, who is right on their heels in the 2-3 race in the West, but also need the Nuggets to keep winning and avoid being passed by the 4th-place Houston Rockets. If anything, Denver-LAC-Houston is a preferable 2-3-4 finish to LAC-Houston-Denver, as homecourt advantage in the second round is meaningless and the Clippers should be able to win their first-round series regardless of opponent.
Needing a Denver win is nice, because we’d also like to see a Spurs loss here. Despite looking sturdy in the bubble (2-1, with their loss to Philly on a game-winner in the closing seconds), I am not yet a believer in San Antonio, and they simply are providing competition for Portland and New Orleans, two teams that I rate more highly. Hell, maybe Devin Booker’s Suns belong in the conversation too (though they would need a miraculous run to reach the play-in tournament).
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Lakers, 3:30pm, ESPN
Rooting for: Los Angeles Lakers
This is a rough one for Clippers fans, who will struggle with wanting their most bitter rival to come away with a win over the unofficial second-favorite team of Clipper Nation: the OKC Thunder with Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Danilo Gallinari.
But OKC’s shared duty with the Utah Jazz to be the backstop keeping Houston from falling to 6th is more important than our personal preferences, so I’d be happier to see a Lakers victory here.
But, as always, any Lakers loss helps the Clippers a bit, as we’d love to see them suffer a little losing streak and head into the playoffs with some worries about their weak guard rotation. I also feel like Houston will outpace OKC and Utah without needing much help. So, not the end of the world if OKC wins here.
Toronto Raptors vs Orlando Magic, 5:00pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Toronto Raptors
I’m more and more feeling like Toronto and Milwaukee might be a tighter contest in the Eastern Conference Finals than we’ve admitted all year–and while that obviously means I have tremendous respect for the Raptors, I still would feel better about playing them than the Bucks (though the narrative power of Kawhi against the Raptors would be overwhelming).
So, in the most inconsequential match-up of the NBA’s August 5th bubble games, the Raptors will get to potentially set Orlando back in their tussle for 7/8 with Brooklyn, making it more likely that the Bucks face an actual NBA team in the first round… though after Brooklyn upset Milwaukee today, who knows what’s best.
Brooklyn Nets vs Boston Celtics, 6:00pm, ESPN
Rooting for: Brooklyn Nets
Can lightning strike twice? Brooklyn beat Milwaukee on Tuesday, though the Bucks treated it like a pre-season game, playing all 13 active players double-digit minutes, with Giannis Antetokounmpo playing just 16.
In order for Boston to be passed by Miami, they need to do 2 games worse than the Heat in the bubble. Thanks to Miami’s win over Boston yesterday, the Heat have made up one of those 2 games. Miami’s last 5 games: Milwaukee, Phoenix, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Indiana. Boston’s: Brooklyn, Toronto, Orlando, Memphis, Washington. That’s a pretty significant schedule advantage for the Celtics, so they’ll need to lose at least one game they have no business losing for this to get interesting.
In the race for 7th in the East, Brooklyn now has a half-game advantage over the Magic, with both teams having 5 games remaining. They’ll both be underdogs in their remaining contests, making their head-to-head match-up in game 7 crucial in that race.
Brooklyn Nets 119, Milwaukee Bucks 116
We were rooting for: Brooklyn Nets
As I mentioned above, this wasn’t really the upset one might believe based on the scoreline, and the Bucks treated it like a pre-season game and played second- and third-string player major minutes, using what is essentially a free game to get different players reps. Milwaukee is locked in to the 1-seed in the East and faces no consequences for any losses in seeding games.
But for the Nets, the 7/8 race against Orlando is a coin flip. I don’t really think this one matters–both teams will get swept by Milwaukee and Toronto regardless of who faces whom, but that doesn’t mean that Brooklyn can’t take some pride in their play and try to finish 7th instead of 8th.
Dallas Mavericks 114, Sacramento Kings 110 (OT)
We were rooting for: Sacramento Kings
Despite Sacramento’s repeated letdowns in the bubble, they still have an outside shot at life–with Memphis likely to slide in the standings and the Kings having two head-to-head games against New Orleans remaining, they’ll need to pass the Suns and either Portland or San Antonio to reach the play-in tournament. It helps that the Kings still have a game left against Brooklyn, plus a more difficult contest vs the Houston Rockets and a finale against the Los Angeles Lakers, who could rest players. The margin for error, though, is virtually nonexistent–if they even go 4-1 in these last 5 games, they need Memphis to go 0-8.
For Dallas, it’s a sign of relief to get a win at last in the bubble, and keeps an outside shot that the Mavs could climb in the standings: it’s possible if they go 4-1 in their last 5 games (Clippers, Bucks, Jazz, Blazers, and Suns) and Oklahoma City and/or Utah struggle, or even if Dallas goes 3-2 and either of those teams truly plummets.
Phoenix Suns 117, Los Angeles Clippers 115
We were rooting for: our team
I won’t talk about the game itself here, as I wrote the recap and you can read my thoughts there.
What I will say is that the Clippers are still in the driver’s seat for the 2nd seed, but not firmly in control–their 7th seeding game vs Denver could decide the race if LAC doesn’t get separation before then.
For Phoenix, the road to a play-in game doesn’t look very passable, but as long as they’re undefeated, I won’t count them out. They have a tough last 5 games with no head-to-head opportunities against their competitors (Indiana, Miami, OKC, Philly, Dallas), and can only really afford one loss before they start needing serious help from the teams ahead of them. At 7-1, they’d be ahead of Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento if those teams go 4-4, and San Antonio if they go 5-3. But if Phoenix loses 2 games, or any of those teams–eyes on Portland–do better than 4-4, things get dicey.
Orlando Magic 109, Indiana Pacers 120
We were rooting for: Indiana Pacers
The Pacers are pulling away in the race for NBA bubble darlings; they’re now 3-0 while missing key players, and TJ Warren has, by my count, 118 points in those three games. I don’t know how much noise they’re capable of making in the playoffs, but the ride so far has been fun.
Orlando’s loss impacts the 7/8 race as discussed above.
Boston Celtics 106, Miami Heat 112
We were rooting for: Miami Heat
The race for 3rd between these two was discussed in-depth above, so I’ll just pause for a moment here to say that this was a phenomenal bubble game, and Miami winning this one without Jimmy Butler is impressive.
Houston Rockets 102, Portland Trail Blazers 110
We were rooting for: Portland Trail Blazers
Portland came through last night in a game that was really a joy to watch, and now are 2-1 in the bubble. If they finish 6-2, they’ll be in the play-in game, while 5-3 likely qualifies them and 4-4 leaves things up to fate. With games left against Denver, the Clippers, Philly, Dallas, and Brooklyn, a 5-3 finish seems attainable if they continue playing well.
Houston’s loss helps slow them down and keep Denver a little safe in 3rd. The Jazz and Thunder haven’t quite fallen enough to insulate Houston from a slide to 6th if they struggle, but I think Houston’s most likely landing spot is now 4th.
Stay tuned in to 213Hoops every day of the NBA’s Orlando Bubble for a new Rooting Interests.
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