Daily NBA bubble primer: Damian Lillard, Luka Doncic and the value of greatness

Ben Rohrbach
·8 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 13 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (55-16)

  2. Toronto Raptors (51-19)

  3. Boston Celtics (47-23)

  4. Miami Heat (44-27)

  5. Indiana Pacers (43-28)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (42-28)

  7. Brooklyn Nets (34-36)

  8. Orlando Magic (32-39)

    Washington Wizards (24-46)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (52-18)

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

  3. Denver Nuggets (46-25)

  4. Houston Rockets (44-25)

  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (43-27)

  6. Utah Jazz (43-28)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (43-30)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-38)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (33-39)

    Phoenix Suns (32-39)

    San Antonio Spurs (31-38)

    New Orleans Pelicans (30-40)

    Sacramento Kings (29-41)

Tuesday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

Brooklyn Nets vs. Orlando Magic, 1 p.m.

Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs, 2 p.m. (NBATV)

Phoenix Suns vs. Philadelphia 76ers, 4:30 p.m.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Dallas Mavericks, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Boston Celtics vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 6:30 p.m.

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Sacramento Kings, 9 p.m. (TNT)

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Washington Wizards, 9 p.m.

BetMGM odds

Brooklyn Nets +4.5 (-110)
Orlando Magic -4.5 (-110)

Over/Under 224.5


Houston Rockets +5 (-110)
San Antonio Spurs -5 (-110)

Over/Under 238.5


Phoenix Suns -9.5 (-110)
Philadelphia 76ers +9.5 (-110)

Over/Under 226.5


Portland Trail Blazers -3.5 (-110)
Dallas Mavericks +3.5 (-110)

Over/Under 239.5


Boston Celtics -3 (-110)
Memphis Grizzlies +3 (-110)

Over/Under 226.5


New Orleans Pelicans +2 (-110)
Sacramento Kings -2 (-110)

Over/Under 232.5


Milwaukee Bucks -9 (-110)
Washington Wizards +9 (-110)

Over/Under 231.5

Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard have been running an offensive clinic in Orlando. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Luka Doncic and Damian Lillard have been running an offensive clinic in Orlando. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Brooklyn Nets (34-36) vs. Orlando Magic (32-39)

The Nets and Magic are locked into the seventh and eighth seeds in the East, respectively.

Houston Rockets (44-25) vs. San Antonio Spurs (31-38)

The Spurs would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and a Blazers win.

The Rockets can draw within a half-game of the third-place Nuggets with a win.

Phoenix Suns (32-39) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (42-28)

The Suns would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and a Blazers win.

The Sixers can draw even in the standings with the Pacers with a win, but Indiana owns the tiebreaker.

Portland Trail Blazers (33-39) vs. Dallas Mavericks (42-30)

The Blazers clinch a spot in the play-in series with a win and losses by both the Suns and Spurs. Portland can also move into eighth place with a win and a Memphis loss.

The Mavericks will be locked into the seventh seed in the West with a loss.

Boston Celtics (47-23) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (33-38)

The Celtics have clinched the No. 3 seed in the East.

The Grizzlies clinch a spot in the play-in series with a win. They can clinch eighth place — needing only one win in two games against the ninth-place team to advance to the playoffs — with a win and a Blazers loss.

New Orleans Pelicans (30-40) vs. Sacramento Kings (29-41)

The Pelicans and Kings have both been eliminated from playoff contention.

Milwaukee Bucks (55-15) vs. Washington Wizards (24-46)

The Bucks have clinched the No. 1 seed in the East.

The Wizards have been eliminated from playoff contention.

Who and what to watch

Upset artists in Portland and Dallas

The Blazers have been in must-win mode for the entire restart and look like world-beaters as a result. A year removed from leading his team to the Western Conference finals, Damian Lillard has been sensational, scoring 96 points combined on nearly 60 percent shooting in Portland’s last two victories. He can keep the Blazers in games against anybody, and if the bubble is any indication, he can do so for sustained stretches.

Jusuf Nurkic is also making a greater impact than could have been expected after a broken leg left him sidelined for more than a year, raising Portland’s ceiling as a West contender higher than last year, when the Blazers were overmatched against the Golden State Warriors. There is no unstoppable force in the conference this summer, not with the Lakers and Clippers looking vulnerable in Orlando. You can bet Portland is the last team the Lakers would want to see among the four teams still vying for the eighth seed in the West.

Meanwhile, the Mavericks have basically been locked into the seventh seed for the entire restart and look every bit as dangerous. Luka Doncic is a generational talent at the helm of a transcendent offense, capable of being the best player on the floor on any given night. He has not been in three losses to Kawhi Leonard’s Clippers, his likely first-round opponent, but with each win in what is essentially an entirely new season, the Mavs are beginning to understand their potential with Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis is championship level.

It may be too early to realize it fully, but great players win playoff series, and there is no question Dallas and Portland are the two teams most likely to pull off a shocking upset in Orlando. Building momentum in these final two regular-season games is key to that success, so sit back and enjoy the Lillard and Doncic Show.

The Grizzlies pick

Memphis can lose control of eight place with a loss and a Portland win (the Blazers play at the same time on Tuesday), severely hindering its ability to emerge from a play-in series for the West’s final playoff spot.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are locked into the third seed in the West, with an All-Star point guard who has been restricted by a knee injury during the restart. How much and how hard Kemba Walker and Boston’s other starters play on Tuesday will go a long way in showing how badly the team cares about a better draft pick.

The Celtics own the Grizzlies’ first-round pick, top-six protected. Should Memphis make the playoffs, the pick would transfer to Boston locked into the 17th position. Should the Grizzlies fail to make the playoffs, the pick would rise to 14th — with a 2.4 percent chance in the lottery of jumping into the top four. If that long shot paid off, Memphis would retain the pick, and the Celtics would instead own an unprotected pick from a Grizzlies team that may not be in line for a playoff spot next season, when the draft is projected to be better. That pick would instantly hold more value, so Tuesday’s game is a potential win-win for Boston.

Who do the Rockets want to play?

The third through sixth seeds in the West are still undecided in the final week of the regular season, but the picture is getting clearer. The Rockets would give themselves a decent shot at the third seed with a win against the Spurs on Tuesday, but a loss would all but lock Houston into the 4-5 matchup against old friend Chris Paul and the Thunder, who need just one win in their final two games to stave off the sixth-place Jazz.

You might think Houston would prefer to play Utah. Rockets guards James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Eric Gordon have alternated feasting on the Jazz in their three meetings this season, their small-ball style neutralizing two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert’s impact. On the other hand, that brand of basketball allows Oklahoma City to play its most effective lineups, featuring three guards of their own. Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder have outscored the Rockets by 36 points over 48 minutes on the floor together in three regular-season games against their potential first-round opponent.

All of which makes Houston’s decision to rest James Harden against a San Antonio team in desperate need of a win on Tuesday — two days after resting Russell Westbrook — somewhat curious. Beating the Spurs would seemingly improve the Rockets’ odds of advancing past the first round of the playoffs, but they may be thinking beyond that already. Remaining in a 4-5 series would put them on the same side of the bracket as the Lakers, whose size advantage is also neutralized by Houston’s approach, keeping a second-place Clippers team better equipped to counter center-less lineups at arm’s length until the conference finals.

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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