Daily NBA bubble primer: A Clippers test for Michael Porter Jr. and the 76ers' last gasp

Ben Rohrbach
·6 min read

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 14 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (56-16)

  2. Toronto Raptors (51-19)

  3. Boston Celtics (48-23)

  4. Miami Heat (44-27)

  5. Indiana Pacers (43-28)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (42-29)

  7. Brooklyn Nets (35-36)

  8. Orlando Magic (32-40)

    Washington Wizards (24-47)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (52-18)

  2. L.A. Clippers (47-23)

  3. Denver Nuggets (46-25)

  4. Houston Rockets (44-26)

  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-27)

  6. Utah Jazz (43-28)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (43-31)

  8. Portland Trail Blazers (34-39)

  9. Memphis Grizzlies (33-39)

    Phoenix Suns (33-39)

    San Antonio Spurs (32-38)

    New Orleans Pelicans (30-41)

    Sacramento Kings (30-41)

Wednesday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

Indiana Pacers vs. Houston Rockets, 4 p.m. (NBATV)

Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 8 p.m.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets, 9 p.m. (ESPN)

BetMGM odds

Indiana Pacers +8 (-110)
Houston Rockets -8 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

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Toronto Raptors -8 (-110)
Philadelphia 76ers +8 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

--

Miami Heat +1.5 (-110)
Oklahoma City Thunder -1.5 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

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Los Angeles Clippers -5 (-110)
Denver Nuggets +5 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

Playoff implications

Indiana Pacers (43-28) vs. Houston Rockets (44-26)

The Pacers will be locked into the East’s 4-5 matchup with a win or a 76ers loss.

The Rockets will be locked into the West’s 4-5 matchup with a loss or a Nuggets win.

Toronto Raptors (51-19) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (42-29)

The Raptors have clinched the No. 2 seed in the East.

The Sixers will be locked into the East’s sixth seed with a loss or a Pacers win.

Miami Heat (44-27) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-27)

The Heat would clinch fourth place in the East with a win or a Pacers loss.

The Thunder will be locked into the West’s 4-5 matchup with a win. The Jazz would be locked into sixth.

Los Angeles Clippers (47-23) vs. Denver Nuggets (46-25)

The Clippers would clinch the No. 2 seed in the West with a win.

The Nuggets would clinch no lower than the No. 3 seed in the West with a win or a Rockets loss.

Can Nuggets star Nikola Jokic be the best player on the floor against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers? (Harry How/Getty Images)
Can Nuggets star Nikola Jokic be the best player on the floor against Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers? (Harry How/Getty Images)

Who and what to watch

The last gasp of the 76ers

The Sixers are entering the playoffs in even more disarray than when chemistry issues plagued them on and off the court before the suspension of the season. All-Star point forward Ben Simmons is out indefinitely following surgery on his left knee. All-Star center Joel Embiid injured his left ankle six minutes into Sunday’s loss to the Blazers and missed Tuesday’s loss to the Suns. Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he was hopeful Embiid could return by Friday’s regular-season finale, but his status for Wednesday is still in doubt.

Likewise, fellow starters Al Horford and Tobias Harris sat Tuesday with knee and ankle soreness, respectively, and Brown suggested their minutes could be restricted if he does not rest them entirely.

There was no indication the Sixers had rediscovered an identity when Simmons and Embiid were healthy. There was far greater evidence the issues with a misfit roster had grown worse. A top-six defensive outfit prior to the restart, Philadelphia ranks fourth from the bottom inside the bubble. There was a chance that Simmons’ absence could allow Embiid to flourish in a simplified power structure, but that hope is fleeting.

A team in search of a rhythm all year is furthest from it with two games to play in the regular season. You might think a game against the second-seeded Raptors — a team the Sixers could face in the second round if they were to pull off an upset of the rival Celtics — would be an opportunity to test their mettle one more time before being thrown to the playoff wolves. But every game only seems to raise more concerns.

A potential Western Conference semifinals preview

The second-place Clippers and third-place Nuggets meet on Wednesday with some stakes still on the line. An L.A. win would clinch the No. 2 seed. A Denver win would leave two more playoff pairings undecided until their regular-season finales. The question is whether either team cares about facing the Mavericks as the No. 2 seed in the first round or either the Thunder or Jazz as the No. 3 seed. Either way, the Clippers and Nuggets will be favored to meet each other again in the Western Conference semifinals at month’s end.

They split their two previous games prior to the hiatus. The Nuggets won the first meeting in January, 114-104, thanks to All-Star center Nikola Jokic’s 20-15-6 line, the absence of Clippers star Paul George, and maybe even an assist from the Denver altitude. L.A. returned the favor in February, putting seven players in double figures (led by George’s 24 points) in a balanced 132-103 rout. Both teams are rich with talent.

Both teams will also be shorthanded on Wednesday. Clippers contributors Montrezl Harrell, Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet are all listed as out, as are Nuggets starters Gary Harris and Will Barton. The stars are expected to be available, though, and the combination of George and Kawhi Leonard should be superior to Jokic and Jamal Murray, although Jokic is capable of being the best player on the floor on any given night — and can present a real problem for Clippers center Ivica Zubac (underrated in his own right).

The emergence of Michael Porter Jr. is the wild card. The rookie forward continues to impress in Orlando, averaging 23.8 points (on 57/46/96 shooting splits) and 9.2 rebounds in six starts. He has forced Nuggets coach Mike Malone’s hand. The ceiling for Denver with Porter playing big minutes is undoubtedly higher. It will be fascinating to see how he holds up against the Clippers’ wings. Defense is still the biggest concern for him, but George, Leonard and Marcus Morris would also be hounding him on the offensive end in a potential second-round series. Six seeding games in a bubble are a different animal than the playoffs.

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