Saturday’s seeding game action features five games, after which every team in the bubble will have played at least one game. The return of basketball also means the return of clinching scenarios. None of the teams chasing a playoff spot can clinch anything quite this early, but a Los Angeles Lakers win over the Toronto Raptors would result in the top seeds in both conferences being locked up; the Lakers would clinch the West, while the Raptors’ loss would clinch the East for the Milwaukee Bucks. The Lakers also can clinch by way of an LA Clippers loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, so they could potentially have the top spot secured before even taking the floor for tonight’s finale.
The latest buzz
Oladipo’s decision to play critical for Pacers
Domantas Sabonis‘ absence from the bubble due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot, which caused him to leave to seek treatment from a specialist, made Victor Oladipo‘s decision to participate in the restart all the more crucial for the Indiana Pacers. During scrimmage games, Pacers coach Nate McMillan replaced the All-Star Sabonis with smaller lineups featuring T.J. Warren at power forward, creating more need for Oladipo’s presence on the wing — to say nothing of his ability to create shots.
Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers is crucial for Indiana, with the two teams currently tied for fifth in the Eastern Conference. A win today would not only move the Pacers a game ahead in the standings but also give them the head-to-head tiebreaker, forcing Philadelphia to win two more games of their remaining seven to finish ahead in the standings. While finishing fourth or fifth is irrelevant with all games played on neutral courts, Indiana will want to avoid dropping to sixth and likely facing the Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs. — Kevin Pelton
LeBron, KD and Spida?
Donovan Mitchell reached the 5,000-point milestone for his career on Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Mitchell hit the prestigious mark in just 221 games, the third fastest active player to do so, per Elias Sports Bureau. The two to do it quicker? LeBron James (197) and Kevin Durant (205).
— utahjazz (@utahjazz) August 1, 2020
Hello Mr. Roberson
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) August 1, 2020
Olynyk heats up in fourth quarter
Before the hiatus, Heat center Kelly Olynyk hadn’t scored 20 points in a game this season. Then, after going scoreless in the first three quarters against Denver on Saturday, he exploded for 20 points in the fourth quarter to help Miami finish off a 125-105 win.
According to @ESPNStatsInfo, Kelly Olynyk is the first Heat player to score 20 points in the fourth quarter of a game since Dwyane Wade in February 2009.
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) August 1, 2020
Butler changes jersey before tipoff
Miami Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler said he wanted to wear a jersey with no social justice message and no name on the back for the NBA restart and took the floor wearing exactly that before Saturday’s tipoff against the Denver Nuggets. However, Butler had head to the sideline and change into a jersey with his last name under his number before the game actually began. Full story
Jimmy Butler has to change his nameless jersey before the game begins to one that has his name on the back.
Bol Bol makes long-awaited NBA debut
After missing the entire season before the March 11 shutdown, Nuggets rookie Bol Bol made his official regular-season debut Friday. Bol, the No. 44 pick in the 2019 draft, shined in Denver’s first scrimmage, flashing the form that had some projecting him as a lottery pick before the draft. He entered the game at the start of the second quarter and needed just 25 seconds to make his first NBA basket.
Bol Bol knocks down a midrange floater to notch his first points in the NBA.
As a reminder: while stats count from these games, Bol will still be eligible for next season’s Rookie of the Year and All-Rookie teams. https://t.co/sRyi3FJ4cR
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) August 1, 2020
Nuggets down three starters Saturday
The Denver Nuggets entered their first seeding game short-handed, as starters Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Will Barton were all declared out against the Miami Heat. Denver went on to lose 125-105. Murray, who played 25 minutes in the Nuggets’ final scrimmage on Monday, has been dealing with left hamstring tightness. Harris, who was a late arrival to the bubble, has a sore hip, and Barton has been nursing right knee soreness. Harris didn’t play in Monday’s scrimmage, while Barton was limited to 18 minutes.
Lakers, Clippers prepare for second seeding games
The Los Angeles Lakers and LA Clippers gave fans a reason to tune in on opening night of the NBA restart for the reseeding games, with the Lakers edging the Clippers in a close one. They’ll both be back in action Saturday with two games that offer their own intrigue.
Anyway, both the Clippers and the Pelicans played, and lost, Thursday, which should give the matchup an extra edge. Nobody wants to go 0-2 to start an eight-game seeding scenario, although a loss would certainly seem more consequential for New Orleans.
The Pelicans’ 106-104 loss to the Utah Jazz dropped them to 28-37, and they enter Saturday 3½ games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the West — and a game behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 9 spot, which is where they need to be if they want to force a play-in game should they not nab the eighth seed outright.
Williamson, whose playing time was limited after he had to leave the campus to attend to a family emergency and had his training camp basically cut in half, still might not be ready to make a full impact. He scored 13 points against Utah on 6-for-8 shooting, but New Orleans was outscored by 16 in the 15 minutes he was on the floor, and Williamson failed to grab a single rebound.
A Clippers loss to the Pelicans wouldn’t be as alarming — in fact, some championship coaches like Doc Rivers invite a little adversity to get their team’s attention. But it would cut into their lead over the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz for the No. 2 spot in the West. And while home-court advantage might be moot at a neutral site, staying as the second or third seed means that the Clippers would avoid the Lakers in the postseason until the conference finals, theoretically giving them more time to get their rhythm and jell again after the hiatus before taking on that challenge.
Later Saturday, the Lakers play the defending champion Toronto Raptors (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) in Toronto’s first game of the restart. The previous time they met, back in November, Toronto won 113-104 at Staples Center. Raptors role players Chris Boucher, Terence Davis and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson combined for 38 points off the bench. The Lakers already earned their first 50-win season since 2011 by beating the Clippers, and a victory over Toronto would allow the Lakers to clinch the No. 1 seed in the West. (They can also back their way into No. 1 with the next Clippers or Nuggets loss.)
Which, in all honesty, could run counterproductive to the work Lakers coach Frank Vogel insists still needs to be done.
“We are far from a finished product,” Vogel said Friday. “It feels like we have a long way to go to reach the habits and discipline we were playing with when we entered the hiatus.” –Dave McMenamin
The only bubble team playing on Saturday is New Orleans (vs. Clippers). And it is also the last time the Pelicans play a team with a winning record. So while the schedule gets “easier” on paper for New Orleans, the Pelicans will face teams playing for their playoff lives for the rest of the month after Saturday, just like they will be.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-34 (.485) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 30-37 (.448) | 2.5 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 28-36 (.438) | 3.0 GB
11. New Orleans Pelicans | 28-37 (.431) | 3.5 GB
12. Sacramento Kings | 28-37 (.431) | 3.5 GB
13. Phoenix Suns | 27-39 (.409) | 5 GB
Saturday’s must-see games
The game that started, and, really, stopped it all. After a four-month delay, the Thunder and Jazz finally play. When we left off, this game was about to be for the current 4-seed in the Western Conference. And it maintains those large implications as both teams are firmly in the mix for a top-four seed. It’s an important game — for a lot of reasons. — Royce Young
Both teams are 0-1 in the bubble, and in both cases lost tight, toss-up games. The Pelicans looked excellent, even with Williamson’s minutes restriction — for about 3½ quarters. The Clippers fared similarly, except they just couldn’t find enough offense down the stretch. The Pelicans are more desperate than the Clippers here to get their first restart victory, though, because there aren’t many chances available. — Young
After beating the Clippers on opening night, the Lakers get the defending champs in another high-level matchup. There’s a lot of talk about how the already-great chemistry of the Raptors has only strengthened in the bubble, and while they’re an Eastern Conference threat, they’re still seen as somewhat of a dark horse. There’s an opportunity to make a strong statement here against the presumed title favorite. — Young
Sunday’s must-see games
The Trail Blazers got off to exactly the kind of start they needed, taking down the Grizzlies in the opener to close the gap because things start to get tougher from here. The Celtics played the Bucks to the wire, getting a terrific game from Marcus Smart and looking every bit prepared, conditioned and ready. The Trail Blazers are definitely a better team today than they were in March. They’re going to need to show it against Boston. — Young
There’s a decent chance the Bucks might drop 190 points on Houston. But then again, the Rockets might return the favor, because the microball is still cooking. James Harden didn’t show any signs of rust, and for the most part, Houston just continued on with what it was doing in March. If anything, the restart might have given the Rockets more of a chance to work out some issues, and a showdown against the Bucks is a great chance to try it out in a rematch of both teams’ season opener.— Young
Analysis and intel
Which teams are gearing up to crash the NBA Finals? Our experts break down the top choices.
Here’s a team-by-team list, including the reasons for some of their choices