Daily NBA bubble primer: Dame vs. Russ, Vlade Divac's nightmare and the East hierarchy

Ben Rohrbach
·9 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 6 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (54-13)

  2. Toronto Raptors (48-18)

  3. Boston Celtics (44-23)

  4. Miami Heat (43-25)

  5. Indiana Pacers (41-26)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (40-27)

  7. Orlando Magic (32-35)

  8. Brooklyn Nets (31-35)

    Washington Wizards (24-43)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (51-15)

  2. L.A. Clippers (45-21)

  3. Denver Nuggets (44-23)

  4. Houston Rockets (42-24)

  5. Utah Jazz (42-25)

  6. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-25)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-29)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-36)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (30-38)

    San Antonio Spurs (29-37)

    New Orleans Pelicans (29-38)

    Sacramento Kings (28-38)

    Phoenix Suns (28-39)

Tuesday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks, 1:30 p.m. (NBATV)

Dallas Mavericks vs. Sacramento Kings, 2:30 p.m.

Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 4 p.m. (NBATV)

Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers, 6 p.m.

Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 9 p.m. (TNT)

BetMGM odds

Brooklyn Nets +18.5 (-110)
Milwaukee Bucks -18.5 (-110)

Over/Under 231.5


Dallas Mavericks -5.5 (-110)
Sacramento Kings +5.5 (-110)

Over/Under 236.5


Phoenix Suns +9 (-110)
Los Angeles Clippers -9 (-110)

Over/Under 230.5


Orlando Magic -1.5 (-110)
Indiana Pacers +1.5 (-110)

Over/Under 225.5


Boston Celtics -3.5 (-110)
Miami Heat +3.5 (-110)

Over/Under 219.5


Houston Rockets -4 (-110)
Portland Trail Blazers +4 (-110)

Over/Under 242.5

Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook have a longstanding on-court feud. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook have a longstanding on-court feud. (Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Brooklyn Nets (31-35) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (54-13)

The Bucks can clinch the No. 1 seed in the East with a victory.

Brooklyn’s magic number to avoid a play-in series with Washington is any combination of Nets wins and Wizards losses that equals three. A win over Milwaukee would also draw Brooklyn even in the standings with the seventh-place Magic, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker following Friday’s win over the Nets.

Dallas Mavericks (40-29) vs. Sacramento Kings (28-38)

With a win, the Mavericks would move within two games of the sixth-place Thunder — and the chance to avoid the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs — with five games remaining on their bubble schedule. A loss would make the seventh seed all but inevitable for Dallas.

The Kings have looked woefully unprepared for the resumption of the season, failing to secure winnable games against the Spurs and Magic. A victory over the Mavericks would keep them within a game of ninth place and well inside the four-game window necessary to force a play-in series. But a loss could drop them to 13th place, last among active teams in the West, depending on how Phoenix fares.

Phoenix Suns (28-39) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (45-21)

In their first two bubble games, the Suns made a case that they deserved the invite to Walt Disney World, but the Clippers present the biggest test yet. Phoenix enters the day in the same position they began the bubble — last among five teams competing to force a play-in series for the West’s final playoff seed — but closer to ninth place than they started. Depending on how the Kings and Blazers perform, Devin Booker and Co. could draw within a game of ninth with an upset of L.A. A Suns loss, combined with a Blazers win, would leave them needing to make up three games over their final five, a near impossibility.

The Lakers clinched the West’s No. 1 seed on Monday. A loss to the Suns would loosen the Clippers’ grip on the second seed to a single game, with a matchup against the third-place Nuggets looming next week.

Orlando Magic (32-35) vs. Indiana Pacers (41-26)

The Magic can move no higher than their current position of seventh place in the East. A Brooklyn win earlier in the day, combined with an Orlando loss, would drop the Magic to eighth. An Orlando win, combined with a Brooklyn loss, would push their seventh-place cushion to 2 1/2 games with five to play.

The Pacers are squarely in the middle of the fourth-place Heat and sixth-place 76ers, with one game separating them from both. Flip-flopping with Miami (which could happen with a Pacers win and a Heat loss) is inconsequential, given the absence of home-court advantage in Orlando. It is more pressing for Indiana to pad its cushion over the Sixers, avoiding a potential first-round matchup with the Celtics.

Boston Celtics (44-22) vs. Miami Heat (42-25)

A Heat win would draw them within 1 1/2 games of third place and lower Toronto’s magic number for the East’s second seed to two. A Celtics win would lower Boston’s magic number for the third seed to two and — depending on how Indiana fares — drop Miami to within just one game of falling to sixth place.

Houston Rockets (40-24) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)

A Rockets win would draw them within a game of the third-place Nuggets and send the Blazers — momentary owners of the ninth seed — back a half-game behind the Spurs with five still to play.

A Portland win leaves Memphis with only a 1 1/2-game lead on an eighth-place spot that seemed secure entering the bubble. The corresponding Houston loss means only a head-to-head tiebreaker would separate it from Utah — and both teams would own a slim half-game lead on the sixth-place Thunder.

Who and what to watch

Vlade Divac’s nightmare

Kings general manager Vlade Divac infamously selected Marvin Bagley second overall in the 2018 draft, ahead of Mavericks sensation Luka Doncic (already an MVP candidate at age 21), despite Divac’s ties to Doncic’s father as former members of the Yugoslavian national team’s feeder system. Through no fault of his own, Bagley has battled injuries throughout his brief NBA tenure, including one that ended his season prematurely in Orlando. Even when healthy it does not seem Bagley’s ceiling will ever approach Doncic’s.

Meanwhile, Doncic and the Mavericks will be hungry to reestablish themselves as playoff threats to the West elite. Dallas currently owns the best offensive rating in NBA history, but the Mavs managed to lose a pair of frustrating games against the Rockets and Suns while scoring 149 and 115 points, respectively.

Doncic and All-Star teammate Kristaps Porzings are averaging a combined 68.5 points, 22.5 rebounds, 12 assists, three blocks and two steals in their first two bubble games. The Mavericks have no business losing any game when those two are operating at that level offensively. Dallas must tighten up its defense to have any hope of getting out of the first round, and the Kings are a nice amuse-bouche. Sorry, Vlade.

Establishing dominance in the East

In all likelihood, Milwaukee will clinch the No. 1 seed in the East with a win over Brooklyn to begin the day. I fear for what Giannis Antetokounmpo might do against a depleted Nets team after losing to the Rockets on Sunday. That would leave Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer five more stress-free games to get his guys into shape, tinker with his rotations and prepare for what he hopes will be the longest of playoff runs.

The Raptors have begun to separate themselves as legitimate challengers to Milwaukee. They are a well-coached team with an established identity, two factors that have proven extra beneficial in the early going in Orlando. Boston and Miami theoretically fall under that same category, and the Heat gave Toronto a run for its money in a sloppy game on Monday afternoon. Bouncing back the next day in a tight game against Boston would still give us confidence the Heat belong in the conversation among potential East finalists.

After a narrow loss to the Bucks in their Orlando debut, one in which Jayson Tatum scored five points on 18 shots, the All-Star forward and his Celtics reestablished themselves in Sunday’s win over the Blazers. Boston’s four most important players — Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker — all played well. Walker’s 14-point effort on six shots in 22 minutes was especially encouraging after entering the bubble with lingering knee soreness. At some point, Celtics coach Brad Stevens will let Walker loose, and how well he responds to the workload will dictate how seriously we consider Boston as a contender.

Dame vs. Russ

Familiarity between All-Star point guards Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook has bred respect for one another off the court but contempt between the two on it. Westbrook is one of few players who can draw trash talk from Lillard, and there has been no shortage of words exchanged over the past two seasons.

It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when their beef began, but Westbrook took it to another level in last year’s playoffs, twice revealing a rock-the-baby celebration after scoring on Lillard in a Game 3 win over the Blazers in the first round. Of course, Portland sandwiched four wins around that Oklahoma City victory, culminating in Lillard’s series-clinching 3-pointer. He waved Westbrook and the Thunder off the floor.

In January, the two rivals picked up where they left off, with Westbrook now on the Rockets. They did not stop talking during one Westbrook trip to the free-throw line. The former MVP asked Lillard what seed his Blazers were, and Lillard responded, “You know I’m the last person you want to see in the playoffs.

They meet again on Tuesday, with Portland in ninth place and no crowd noise to drown out a discussion.

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