After Toronto’s win Sunday over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Bucks and Raptors will, once again, go into the Eastern Conference playoffs in possession of the top two seeds. Monday, they will meet for their one and only matchup during the eight seeding games.
But will it be another Eastern Conference finals preview? Based off the play of both teams so far inside the bubble, that remains to be seen.
The Bucks have had an up-and-down showing thus far, going 2-3 through their first five games — after losing just 12 of their first 65 games this season. Some of that could be chalked up to Milwaukee having nothing to play for in these games — the Bucks needed only a couple of wins to clinch the top seed in the East — but not all of it.
Yes, the league’s reigning and presumptive Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has been terrific. But some key rotation players have struggled — including guards George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo, who are a combined 7-for-30 from 3-point range — and Milwaukee is a middling 13th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency through those five outings.
Toronto has some similar questions. Unlike the Bucks, the Raptors showed up and looked locked in, winning their first four games here — including a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 1 in which they dominated the fourth quarter.
But then came Friday night against the Boston Celtics, who obliterated Toronto in a game Boston led by 34 points after three quarters. The Raptors then were putrid offensively in the first and fourth quarters Sunday against Memphis, only holding on to beat the Grizzlies thanks to a couple of late Pascal Siakam 3-pointers and yet another stout defensive performance.
The Raptors have been the league’s best defensive team inside the bubble, by far. They also have been the second-worst team offensively — only ahead of the Lakers — thanks to plenty of missed open looks from 3-point range and an uncharacteristic spate of turnovers.
During their time here so far, both teams have shown the things critics point to as potential trouble spots in the playoffs.
For Milwaukee, questions remain about Antetokounmpo’s ability to control a game offensively in late and close situations — particularly as he’s been in foul trouble virtually every game here — as well as Milwaukee’s penchant to give up lots of 3-pointers defensively.
For Toronto, the biggest question mark is an offense that tends to bog down when it gets stuck in half-court situations, as well as the lack of a true superstar on the roster that so many championship contenders have (and the Raptors certainly did last year in Kawhi Leonard).
Monday night’s game isn’t likely to offer too many answers. With Toronto having played Sunday, and with neither team having much to play for, it’s hard to see both teams selling out to try to win it. Instead, we’ll have to wait and see whether history repeats itself and both teams are still playing in late September. — Tim Bontemps
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Monday and Tuesday, plus everything else you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Deandre Ayton not starting for Suns today
Suns center Deandre Ayton has averaged 18.2 points and 9.8 rebounds as Phoenix has started 5-0 in the seeding games in Orlando, but he was not in the starting lineup for Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. Ayton had to be retested and was cleared after that test came back negative, and was en route to join the team as the game tipped off.
Monday’s must-see games
The top two seeds in the East, a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, and two excellent, well-coached teams. Of course, both the Raptors and Bucks are locked into their positions and are as much prioritizing health and recovery as they are wins in their final seeding games.
But assuming they go after it, this is a tasty matchup and one to definitely gather some takeaways from. — Royce Young
Bubble beef! T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler scuffled back in January, which led to Butler saying Warren is “trash,” Warren getting ejected and Butler then blowing him a goodbye kiss. Now, the Pacers are one of the hottest teams, and Warren is the bubble’s leading scorer.
And to make it even better, the Heat and Pacers have identical records. And while seeding in a 4/5 matchup doesn’t matter, you never know — having those virtual fans on your side in a Game 7 could be the difference. — Young
And then there were four.
The last week of seeding games commences with the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings eliminated from playoff contention. There also will be a play-in game Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET on ABC,), and perhaps another on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, if necessary).
The only bubble team playing Monday is the restart-undefeated Phoenix Suns, who will be the home team against an Oklahoma City Thunder team playing the second game of a back-to-back. The Suns will have to play again Tuesday, when the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs will also return to action.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-38 (.465) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 31-38 (.449) | 1.0 GB
11. Phoenix Suns | 31-39 (.443) | 1.5 GB
Tuesday’s must-see games
After winning Sunday against the Pelicans, the Spurs hope to remain alive in the race for a play-in tournament spot by beating their in-state rivals. Houston has something to play for as well: The Rockets are trying to lock themselves into the fourth seed in the Western Conference. — Tim Bontemps
Memphis still has everything to play for and needs a win in one of its final two games against Boston or Milwaukee to guarantee itself a place in the play-in tournament next weekend. The Grizzlies could get a break in playing the Celtics, who are locked into the third seed and have nothing to play for. — Bontemps
Analysis and intel
To get you ready for this stretch run, our NBA experts highlight the eight games that will decide the playoff picture.
Portland and Phoenix are hot. How is the four-team race shaping up now? Here are the latest projections.