We’re quickly winding down the regular season in the bubble and there were plenty of meaningless games on Tuesday night. But there was also a classic, when the Mavericks and Blazers squared off in a game that had meaning for both teams. We’ll take a look at the remaining playoff scenarios and some interesting news and notes as we prepare for four generally meaningless games on Wednesday, seven season finales on Thursday, and four more finales on Friday. And remember, home court is thrown out the window, as every game in the bubble is a home game for both teams.
Damian Lillard’s 61 leads Blazers over Mavericks
Damian Lillard said he wasn’t going to go to the bubble to waste his time and he wasn’t kidding. He dropped 61 on the Mavs Tuesday night, tying his career high, scored 50 in back-to-back games for the first time in Blazer history, and became just the second player (Wilt Chamberlain is the other) to have three 60-point games in an NBA season. My 13-year-old son is constantly reminding me that Dame doesn’t belong on the cover of NBA2K, but in reality, he clearly does. He’s been a bubble monster and hit 17-of-32 shots, 9-of-17 3-pointers and 18-of-18 free throws for 61 points, five rebounds, eight assists and a steal last night. And over his last two games he’s averaging 56 points, 4.0 rebounds, 7.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 6.5 3-pointers while hitting 33-of-60 shots, good for 55 percent shooting. And he’s willed his team to four wins in their last five games, and they’ve now overtaken the Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed in the West. Lost in the Dame-time hoopla was Carmelo Anthony’s 26 points, eight rebounds, two steals and three 3-pointers, which were also crucial in the win.
So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s look at the remaining playoff scenarios still alive in the league.
No. 1 Bucks vs. No. 8 Magic
No. 2 Raptors vs. No. 7 Nets
No. 3 Celtics vs. No. 6 Sixers or Pacers
No. 4 Heat vs. No. 5 Pacers or Sixers
The No. 3 Celtics can’t face the Heat, but if the Sixers win their final two games and the Pacers lose their final two games, the Pacers would fall to No. 6 and face the Celtics. That tells me the Pacers are going to try to win at least one and avoid a matchup with Boston. And those are the only two scenarios that can happen – Celtics vs. Sixers or Pacers, and Heat vs. Pacers or Sixers. And you have to think teams want the banged up and Ben Simmons-less (knee surgery) Sixers in this one.
The West is a little more complicated and is going to feature a play-in series. The No. 8 seed will need to win just one of two potential games, while the No. 9 seed would have to win both play-in games to get in.
If the season ended now with no play-in, here’s what the matchups look like.
No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 8 Blazers
No. 2 Clippers vs. No. 7 Mavericks
No. 3 Nuggets vs. No. 6 Jazz
No. 4 Rockets vs. No. 5 Thunder
While some of these scenarios are not set in stone, they’re not likely to change due to tie breakers. However, the No. 8 and 9 seeds and the aforementioned play-in scenarios are still up for grabs.
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Here’s the schedule for the bubble play-in teams, who all just have one game left on Thursday:
Blazers vs. Nets (who have nothing to play for)
Grizzlies vs. Bucks (nothing to play for and no Giannis, who will probably be suspended – see below)
Suns vs. Mavericks (who have nothing to play for)
Spurs vs. Jazz
And here are the various scenarios about how each team can get into the party.
The Blazers: They clinch No. 8 if they beat the Nets on Thursday, or if the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs all lose their final game that same day. They clinch No. 9 if two of the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs lose Thursday. They control their own destiny and Dame is on fire.
The Grizzlies: They clinch No. 8 if they beat the Bucks and the Blazers lose to the Nets. They clinch No. 9 with a win over the Bucks or if the Suns or Spurs loses on Thursday.
The Suns: Clinch No. 8 with a win over the Mavericks and losses by the Blazers and Grizzlies. They clinch No. 9 with a win over the Mavericks and if the Blazers or Grizzlies lose.
The Spurs: Clinch No. 8 with a win over the Jazz and if the Blazers, Grizzlies and Suns all lose. They clinch No. 9 if they beat the Jazz and two of the Blazers, Grizzlies or Suns lose.
Got it? Either way, the play-in is likely going to be an interesting endeavor and will happen on Saturday (and Sunday - if necessary). My guess is these pairings won’t change and that the Blazers are going to get the Lakers in Round 1 and the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs are going fishing. But man, what an undefeated run for Devin Booker and the Suns!
Tuesday Night News and Notes
Giannis Antetokounmpo loses his head vs. Wizards
Giannis headbutted Moe Wagner, was ejected on Tuesday and will almost certainly be suspended for Thursday’s finale against the Grizzlies. This is good news for the Grizz, but the reality is the Bucks were probably going to rest their starters anyway. The Bucks beat the Wizards even without their stars and were led by Brook Lopez while Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe watched from afar. Oh, and Troy Brown Jr. started at point guard for the Wizards and hit 3-of-15 shots. Oops.
Nets Win, Again
The depleted Nets, who have beaten the Bucks and Clippers in the bubble, beat the Magic on Tuesday and got 24 points from both Jeremiah Martin and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarro. Yep, that’s where we are with the Nets, who will try to ruin the dreams of the Blazers with a bunch of guys most of us haven’t seen play. Wes Iwundu, Nikola Vucevic, Khem Birch, Markelle Fultz and James Ennis all played well for the Magic. And we have no idea who is going to step up for either team with a meaningless game on Thursday. Jeremiah who?
Spurs beat Harden-less Rockets
James Harden chilled out on Tuesday and Keldon Johnson (my guy – 24 & 11) led the Spurs to the win with some help from DeMar DeRozan. It should be an all-hands-on-deck situation for the Spurs on Thursday since they still have an outside chance of sneaking in if the stars align.
Suns beat Sixers to go 7-0 in bubble
Man, props to the Suns, right? Devin Booker has been spectacular while Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson, Deandre Ayton, Ricky Rubio and Dario Saric have all chipped in. They should be going all out on Thursday against the Mavericks and I won’t be surprised if the Mavs rest Luka and Porzingis for that one. I’m rooting for Dame and the Blazers to finish this thing off, but if they don’t, I’d love to see the Suns get in. In fact, let’s get a miracle No. 8 Suns vs. No. 9 Blazers play-in scenario so we can watch Dame vs. Booker for an extra game or two.
The Sixers have lost Ben Simmons for the season due to knee surgery and Joel Embiid has a bum ankle that could keep him out for their final two regular-season games. Yikes. Alec Burks, Raul Neto, Mike Scott and Glenn Robinson all played well for the shell of the Sixers we saw on Tuesday.
Celtics take out Grizzlies
Jayson Tatum went off and Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker played well in the relatively easy win over the Grizzlies team that looks like they’ve given up without Jaren Jackson Jr. Kemba said he felt as good as he has in a while today and my guess is the Celtics rest everyone in their finale, while the Grizzlies are going to go all out against the resting Bucks on Thursday.
Kings bench players take down Pelicans bench players in yawner
No De’Aaron Fox, no Zion, no Jrue, no Brandon Ingram… What’s left? Harrison Barnes, apparently. Harry B led the Kings to the win with 25 points, eight boards, two blocks and three 3-pointers, while Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nemanja Bjelica came through with decent games.
The Pelicans started Jaxson Hayes, Nico Melli, Josh Hart and E’Twaun Moore and were then led by Jahlil Okafor (21 points, four boards and two blocks on 9-of-11 shooting) and Frank Jackson (18 points, 8-of-11 shooting) who both came off the bench. Somehow, Lonzo Ball was out there last night and finally shot it well, hitting 4-of-6 3-pointers for 16 points and four assists. The Pelicans and Kings have both packed it in and are just waiting for their ticket out of the bubble.
Get ready for some play-in action this weekend and then get ready for the real deal – THE NBA PLAYOFFS START ON MONDAY! And no, I still can’t believe it’s happening. Let’s go!