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Daily NBA bubble primer: A Celtics-Raptors preview, the Joel Embiid Show and the train-wreck Grizzlies

Ben Rohrbach
·8 min read
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Until the end of the NBA’s seeding-game schedule on Aug. 14, Yahoo Sports NBA will deliver a daily bubble primer, complete with up-to-date standings and a breakdown of the schedule, from gambling odds to playoff implications and the biggest storylines. Today marks Day 9 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (55-14)

  2. Toronto Raptors (49-18)

  3. Boston Celtics (45-23)

  4. Miami Heat (43-26)

  5. Indiana Pacers (42-27)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (41-27)

  7. Brooklyn Nets (32-36)

  8. Orlando Magic (32-37)

    Washington Wizards (24-44)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (51-17)

  2. L.A. Clippers (46-22)

  3. Denver Nuggets (45-24)

  4. Houston Rockets (43-25)

  5. Utah Jazz (43-25)

  6. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-25)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (41-30)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-37)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (32-38)

    Phoenix Suns (30-39)

    San Antonio Spurs (29-38)

    Sacramento Kings (29-39)

    New Orleans Pelicans (29-39)

Friday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs, 1 p.m.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 4 p.m. (NBATV)

Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets, 5 p.m.

Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Washington Wizards vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 8 p.m.

Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors, 9 p.m. (TNT)

BetMGM odds

Utah Jazz +8 (-110)
San Antonio Spurs -8 (-110)

Over/Under 225.5

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Oklahoma City Thunder -5 (-110)
Memphis Grizzlies +5 (-110)

Over/Under 222.5

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Sacramento Kings -4.5 (-110)
Brooklyn Nets +4.5 (-110)

Over/Under 232.5

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Orlando Magic +4.5 (-110)
Philadelphia 76ers -4.5 (-110)

Over/Under 222.5

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Washington Wizards +7.5 (-110)
New Orleans Pelicans -7.5 (-110)

Over/Under 234.5

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Boston Celtics +2.5 (-110)
Toronto Raptors -2.5 (-110)

Over/Under 220.5

The battle between Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum is a microcosm of the battle between the Raptors and Celtics. (Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
The battle between Pascal Siakam and Jayson Tatum is a microcosm of the battle between the Raptors and Celtics. (Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Boston Celtics (45-23) vs. Toronto Raptors (49-18)

The Raptors can clinch the No. 2 seed in the East with a win.

The Celtics can trim their magic number for the third seed to one with a win.

Oklahoma City Thunder (42-25) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (32-37)

A Grizzlies loss would give them one more in-conference defeat than the Blazers, a tiebreaker that would drop Memphis behind Portland — an almost unfathomable development through five seeding games. In a worst-case scenario, with a Spurs victory earlier in the afternoon, the Grizzlies could hold just a one-game lead on ninth place by the end of the day, facing the possibility of falling out of the playoff race entirely.

The sixth-place Thunder can move back into position for the West’s 4-5 matchup with a victory. A win would leave Oklahoma City in either fourth or fifth place by the end of the night, depending on Utah’s fate.

Utah Jazz (43-25) vs. San Antonio Spurs (29-38)

With a victory, the fifth-place Jazz can swap places with the fourth-place Rockets and draw within a game of the third-place Nuggets. Utah can also drop to sixth place with a loss and an Oklahoma City victory. The Jazz plan to rest starters Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, Mike Conley and Royce O’Neale on Friday.

San Antonio can seize sole control of 10th place with a win, one game behind Portland (and Memphis, too, should the Grizzlies lose). The Spurs could also drop as far as 13th — last among teams still alive in the West — with a loss and wins by both the Kings and Pelicans. This playoff seeding race is wondrous chaos.

Sacramento Kings (29-39) vs. Brooklyn Nets (32-36)
Orlando Magic (32-37) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (41-27)
Washington Wizards (24-44) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (29-39)

Both the Nets and Magic can clinch a playoff spot with a win or a Wizards loss. Washington would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or wins by both Brooklyn and Orlando. The race between the Nets and Magic for the seventh seed may not be settled until their head-to-head meeting on Tuesday.

The Kings and Pelicans own the worst records in the Western Conference among teams still standing. New Orleans and Sacramento can pull even with Phoenix with wins, 1 1/2 games behind ninth-place Portland.

The sixth-place Sixers, now without Ben Simmons, can draw even in the standings with the Pacers with a win over the Magic, although Indiana owns the tiebreaker and would retain the fifth seed for the time being.

Who and what to watch

Is Toronto the biggest threat to Milwaukee?

No team has looked better prepared for the bubble than the Raptors. Led by Nick Nurse, arguably the league’s best coach, the defending NBA champions know who they are and how they want to execute. If ever a team could ride fundamentals and chemistry to a title, it is the Raptors in Orlando over the next two months.

The Raptors entered this season confident they could collectively mask the loss of Kawhi Leonard in free agency and defend the franchise’s first-ever crown. Few outside Toronto, if any, gave them any chance.

Yet, Pascal Siakam, the reigning Most Improved Player, made another leap to stardom. The Raptors boast two of the game’s grittiest guards — Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet — both capable of running the offense and standing their ground against bigger defensive assignments. Reserves Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka are enjoying career years. OG Anunoby headlines a host of versatile wings who make Leonard’s loss more seamless defensively. And behind them all is Marc Gasol, as fundamentally sound a center as you can find.

The result is a better regular-season record (.727 win percentage) and net rating (6.5 points per 100 possessions) than last season (.709 win percentage and 5.8 net rating). We will not know if Leonard’s departure will rear its head in the playoffs, when a singular force can take over games and win possessions on his own in crunch time, shifting a long series in his favor, but these Raptors have defied the odds.

They are what the Celtics hope to be, a collective force maximizing their breadth of talent, but Boston has yet to find its groove in Orlando. Unlike Toronto, their momentum has not carried over from March, especially on defense, where they have looked putrid against quality teams from the perimeter to the rim. Boston’s lack of depth beyond what may be the most talented six-man rotation in the league has been on full display, save for an encouraging effort from second-year center Robert Williams against Brooklyn.

Jayson Tatum and Brad Stevens can be the best player and coach in a series with Toronto, and Friday is a chance to prove the Celtics are not so far from their likely second-round opponent as they have looked.

The train wreck that is the Grizzlies

The losses of Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. have done Memphis no favors, and a Grizzlies team still in search of its first bubbly victory is scheduled to face Toronto, Boston and Milwaukee after Friday’s game against Oklahoma City. There is a real possibility that Memphis — owners of a 3 1/2-game lead on eighth place entering the bubble — could finish winless and fall out of the Western Conference playoff hunt.

Rookie of the Year favorite Ja Morant is faced with the first real playoff test of his career in every game from here on out. He has been wildly inconsistent since returning from the break, especially from 3-point range, where he has made just four of his 22 attempts. Now, he must square off against Chris Paul, the best defensive point guard of his generation and arguably its best floor general, too. The Grizzlies need Morant to play beyond his years starting Friday night. These are the moments Hall of Fame legacies are made.

The Joel Embiid Show

The chemistry between Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons is a constant question in Philadelphia. Should the Sixers build around one of their All-Stars? It is too early to say, largely because all hope is not lost on this underachieving campaign. They are also both still rising superstars who probably would not return equal value in a trade, and they were a few bounces of a Kawhi Leonard miracle from reaching the 2019 Eastern Conference finals. But an early playoff exit could force Philadelphia to consider that question more closely.

An answer could also come in the form of Embiid’s performance without Simmons for the indefinite future. Sixers lineups with Embiid on the court and Simmons off of it are outscoring opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions, according to Cleaning the Glass. Reverse them, and Philadelphia is winning every 100 possessions by an average of 2.2 points. Pair them in the same lineup, and that net rating falls to just 1.8.

That discrepancy could become even greater after Embiid is through with a weakened Magic frontline.

Should Simmons’ absence extend into the playoffs and Embiid flourish in a Sixers resurgence, what then? The front office does not have to pull the trigger with them both locked in so long, but they would at least have to wonder what pieces they can get in return for Simmons that might maximize the Embiid experience.

More from our NBA restart series:

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach