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Daily NBA bubble primer: The Damian Lillard Experience and a troubling trend in Milwaukee

Ben Rohrbach
·6 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 10 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (55-14)

  2. Toronto Raptors (49-19)

  3. Boston Celtics (46-23)

  4. Miami Heat (43-26)

  5. Indiana Pacers (42-27)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (42-27)

  7. Brooklyn Nets (33-36)

  8. Orlando Magic (32-38)

    Washington Wizards (24-45)

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 (43-26)

  6. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-26)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (41-30)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-37)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (32-38)

    San Antonio Spurs (30-38)

    New Orleans Pelicans (30-39)

    Phoenix Suns (30-39)

    Sacramento Kings (29-40)

Saturday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 1 p.m. (TNT)

Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets, 3:30 p.m. (TNT)

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers, 6 p.m. (TNT)

Phoenix Suns vs. Miami Heat, 7:30 p.m.

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Dallas Mavericks, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

BetMGM odds

Los Angeles Clippers +1.5 (-115)
Portland Trail Blazers -1.5 (-106)

Over/Under 229.5

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Utah Jazz +1 (-110)
Denver Nuggets -1 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

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Los Angeles Lakers -5.5 (-110)
Indiana Pacers +5.5 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

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Milwaukee Bucks -5.5 (-110)
Dallas Mavericks +5.5 (-110)

Over/Under N/A

Playoff implications

Los Angeles Clippers (46-22) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (32-38)

The Clippers’ grip on the second seed in the West could fall to a half-game with a loss and a Denver win.

The Blazers can draw back within a half-game of the eighth-place Grizzlies with a victory. They would still be in position for a play-in series from the ninth spot with a loss, but with a pack of challengers nipping at their heels. Portland is scheduled to face Philadelphia, Dallas and Brooklyn to close out the regular season.

A Blazers win would also eliminate the Kings from playoff contention.

Utah Jazz (43-26) vs. Denver Nuggets (45-24)

The Nuggets can draw within a half-game of the No. 2 seed in the West with a win and a Clippers loss.

The Jazz would be eliminated from contention for the No. 3 seed with a loss and a Denver win.

Los Angeles Lakers (51-17) vs. Indiana Pacers (42-27)

The Lakers have already clinched the No. 1 seed in the West.

Indiana will either remain in the 4-5 matchup with a win or fall to sixth in the East with a loss. Two of the Pacers’ final three seeding games come against Miami, their potential first-round opponent in a 4-5 series.

Phoenix Suns (30-39) vs. Miami Heat (43-26)

The Suns will remain in the hunt for a play-in series in the West with a win. A loss would drop Phoenix two games out of the ninth spot with three remaining — a magic number of two before they are eliminated.

Miami would be eliminated from contention for the No. 3 seed in the West with a loss.

Milwaukee Bucks (55-14) vs. Dallas Mavericks (41-30).

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

The Mavericks would fall a half-game away from being locked into the seventh seed in the West with a loss.

Who and what to watch

Special performances occur with greater frequency when Damian Lillard faces playoff life or death. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Special performances occur with greater frequency when Damian Lillard faces playoff life or death. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The Damian Lillard Experience

There was nothing more enjoyable in the NBA than watching Stephen Curry get hot. As incredible as it is to see LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard methodically impose their will on opponents, there is something relatable to watching a dude who would not be the biggest guy on just about every high school team in the country dominate games at the highest level of the sport. Maybe it is Curry’s absence this season, but I am beginning to think there is no greater NBA fun than watching Damian Lillard will the Blazers into contention.

Lillard’s buzzer beater to cap a 50-point night and eliminate the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs last season was the stuff of legend. It came five years after he did the same to the Rockets. Those nights seem to be occurring with greater regularity for Lillard, whose 45-point, 12-assist performance in a win over the Nuggets on Thursday night was the latest in a string of special games from the 6-foot-3 point guard.

The Blazers really has no business being considered a contender in the West, what with the favorites so superstar-laden. C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic are nice second and third options, but they are no Anthony Davis or Paul George. Portland’s defense is horrid, mostly because they have been unable to find capable wings to support their three mainstays. (But what a revelation Gary Trent Jr. has been in Orlando!)

Yet, with Lillard at the helm, you cannot help but wonder if the Blazers could challenge the undermanned Lakers in the first round, if only they can secure the eighth seed. A win over the Clippers on Saturday would not only improve their odds of securing the West’s final playoff spot, but prove they can play with anyone, even if Kawhi Leonard is slated to rest for the game.

The Milwaukee defense’s susceptibility to hot shooting

We have been harping on this a bit, but it really could keep the Bucks from winning a championship. In harnessing their efforts toward protecting the rim, they allow more wide-open three-point field attempts and makes than any other team. They NBA’s top-rated defense is especially vulnerable above the break.

You know who is good at shooting three-pointers? A lot of quality playoff teams. The Rockets rode 21 three-pointers on 61 attempts to victory against Milwaukee on Monday, and it took a 23-point comeback by the Bucks to prevent the Jimmy Butler-less Heat from doing the same on 21-for-46 shooting from deep on Thursday. In between, the Nets — one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league this season — made 21 of their 57 three-point attempts in a shocking upset of Milwaukee. It is the Bucks’ Achilles heel.

Well, it turns out the Mavericks, owners of the greatest offensive rating in NBA history, are good at shooting threes, too. They have made more per game than anyone but the Rockets. Dallas has converted their 42.3 long-distance attempts per game at a bottom-five rate inside the bubble, but if wide-open ones continue to come with greater frequency against the Bucks, Saturday’s matchup could be a chance for them to feast. It is safe to say four straight games allowing 21 or more threes would be a troubling trend for Milwaukee.

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