Are you a LA Clippers fan who isn’t sure who to root for in the NBA’s July 31st bubble games? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place.
The excitement of having Clippers basketball back on the television–even in empty stadiums during a pandemic–is undeniable. But if you’re anything like me, you won’t stop at watching the Clippers play every other day for the next couple of weeks until the playoffs begin. I know that I plan on camping in front of the TV and watching multiple games every day, keeping tabs on various teams around the league both for my personal enjoyment and to keep tabs on the Clippers’ likely playoff opponents (extra focus on Dallas Mavericks and Los Angeles Lakers games).
But even when we’re watching other teams, the Clippers are always on our minds. The 8 games each team is playing before the playoffs begin are aptly named “seeding” games. As teams use them to jostle for playoff positioning, there are potential ramifications on the Clippers’ own seeding as well as which teams end up on their side of the bracket. So, whether you’re having an NBA marathon today or just skimming box scores, here the NBA’s slate of July 31st bubble games, with notes on who Clippers fans should be rooting for in each.
The NBA’s July 31st Bubble Games
All times Pacific time.
Orlando Magic vs Brooklyn Nets: 11:30am, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Orlando Magic
Well, we’re starting out with a real stinker. There isn’t much intrigue to either of these teams, who are both under .500 and currently occupy the 7th and 8th spots in the East. However, while it doesn’t matter much to the Clippers, I’ll be quietly pulling for Orlando here.
Why? In each conference, the 9th-place team has the opportunity to trigger a “play-in” game if they finish the seeding games within 4 games of the 8th-place team. Under the play-in rules, the 9th-place team would have to beat the 8th-place team on consecutive nights to earn a playoff berth, while the 8th-place team only needs to win once to secure their spot.
The Western Conference is virtually guaranteed to have a play-in game, and with days on the league calendar reserved for these matches, I would rather have the East playing in a double-header than just watch the West games.
Washington, the 9th-place team in the East, is 5.5 games behind Orlando and 6 games behind Brooklyn, meaning they need to gain ground in order to trigger a play-in game. Unfortunately, the Wizards left Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans at home. Fortunately, the Nets left Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Kevin Durant, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler, and DeAndre Jordan at home. Orlando is going to climb into 7th place–it’ll be up to a combination of the Wizards stealing some wins and Brooklyn truly plummeting to make a play-in game happen.
Memphis Grizzlies vs Portland Trail Blazers: 1:00pm, NBATV
Rooting for: Portland Trail Blazers
This game has a little more meaning: the Trail Blazers currently sit in 9th, 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. The Blazers have a chance to not only knock Memphis down a peg, but also get a win to distance themselves from the teams clustered closely behind them–remember, only 9th place gets the play-in game, so it does Portland no good to finish within 4 games of Memphis, but in 10th behind New Orleans.
The reason I’m rooting for Portland here is simple: I think that the Blazers pose the greatest challenge to the Los Angeles Lakers in a 1-8 first-round series. Will they beat them? Of course not. But with Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic returning to health, the Blazers are better than their record, and Damian Lillard is the best player on any of the teams competing for 8th in the West. Portland is still a deeply flawed team (seriously, their options at small forward are 36-year old Carmelo Anthony, draft bust Mario Hezonja, and second-year 6’5″ guard Gary Trent Jr.), but Dame scoring 50 is the best chance I see for any team to take a game off the Lakers in the first round.
Could one of the other teams jostling down here play well enough to change my mind? Sure! Maybe it’s even Memphis in a resounding victory in this game. But for now, Portland is the team I want to see against the Lakers.
Phoenix Suns vs Washington Wizards, 1:00pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Washington Wizards
The Suns are unlikely to pass the four teams needed to get into 9th and earn the play-in game against Memphis–and frankly, I would rather see Portland or New Orleans fighting the Lakers in the first round.
We’ll go the Wizards here, since they need to sneak a couple of wins somewhere to force an East play-in game, and they open the bubble with their two easiest games: Phoenix, and then a big head-to-head against Brooklyn. Two wins would put them within range, just needing to hold steady to trigger the play-in game.
Boston Celtics vs Milwaukee Bucks, 3:30pm, ESPN
Rooting for: Milwaukee Bucks
I’m not too worried about this game–the Clippers won’t see either until a potential NBA Finals–and given the quality of both teams, I’m inclined to just enjoy good basketball. This is the marquee matchup of the NBA’s July 31st bubble games. It’ll be particularly nice to see some more of the Bucks, who are the favorite to make the Finals in the East.
If we have to find an angle, I’d rather see the Bucks win. If the Celtics fall to 4th in the East, the Bucks would have to play them in the 2nd round and then the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Any Clippers final run goes through the grueling West, so making things tougher on Milwaukee could be advantageous (although, seeing Miami and Bam Adebayo take on the Bucks in the second round would be incredibly fun). Unfortunately, such a slide is unlikely for Boston–they have a fairly easy bubble schedule, with just 3 of their 8 opponents currently over .500.
Sacramento Kings vs San Antonio Spurs, 5pm, NBA League Pass
Rooting for: Sacramento Kings
I don’t think either of these teams will end up 9th and facing the Grizzlies–in fact, I think Portland and New Orleans are both stronger and will likely finish 9th and 10th. But if someone from this matchup is going to impress me enough that I end up rooting for them to steal the 8-seed and challenge the Lakers, it’s the Kings with De’Aaron Fox and co.
Plus, it would make our friends at our sister site, The King’s Herald, very happy.
Houston Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks, 6pm, ESPN
Rooting for: Houston Rockets
Of all of the NBA’s July 31st bubble games, this one is the most important for the Clippers–but it’s also the trickiest, and I’d be lying if I said I’m sure that a Houston win will bring the best outcome for Clippers fans.
Here’s the situation: Houston is currently 6th in the West, but they’re tied at 40-24 with Oklahoma City, and just back of Utah, who won their debut Thursday night and are 42-23. Of the middle-of-the-pack teams in the West, Houston is the scariest, with their two recent NBA MVPs in Russell Westbrook and James Harden leading a high-variance style built around three-point shooting and constant, extreme smallball.
The Clippers want Houston to finish 4th or 5th, both because that would mean avoiding a potential match-up with them, and setting up a possible Lakers-Rockets second-round series. In my opinion, that’s the best chance of the Lakers getting upset before the Western Conference Finals.
The tricky thing is, we don’t want Houston to do too well, lest they pass the Denver Nuggets for 3rd and find themselves in the Clippers’ bracket again. We’ll have to play this by ear as the bubble goes on, but for now, the Clippers want Houston to rise out of 6th place.
On the Mavericks’ side of things, Dallas is in 7th, 3 losses back of Houston (though with 3 extra games played) and 6 losses ahead of 8th-place Memphis. They’re almost certainly not moving, and if they are it’s up–so losses for them work doubly to keep the Clippers’ preferred first-round opponent in 7th, and hopefully put them in bad form heading into that series.
July 30th Results
Utah Jazz 106, New Orleans Pelicans 104
We were rooting for: New Orleans Pelicans
A Jazz loss would have helped Houston’s attempt to stay out of 6th, while a Pelicans win would have had one of the scariest potential 8-seeds start strong.
Plus, I really hate the Jazz.
Los Angeles Lakers 103, Los Angeles Clippers 101
Obviously not the result we were looking for here. To read about the game, check out Thomas Wood’s game recap, or my five takeaways from the game.
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