/Daily NBA bubble primer: Endangered Pelicans, Skinny Jokic and a playoff seeding chess match

Daily NBA bubble primer: Endangered Pelicans, Skinny Jokic and a playoff seeding chess match


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 3 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (54-12)

  2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)

  3. Boston Celtics (43-22)

  4. Miami Heat (41-24)

  5. Indiana Pacers (39-26)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)

  7. Orlando Magic (31-35)

  8. Brooklyn Nets (30-35)

    Washington Wizards (24-41)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (50-14)

  2. L.A. Clippers (44-21)

  3. Denver Nuggets (43-22)

  4. Utah Jazz (42-23)

  5. Houston Rockets (41-24)

  6. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-28)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-34)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (30-37)

    San Antonio Spurs (28-36)

    New Orleans Pelicans (28-37)

    Sacramento Kings (28-37)

    Phoenix Suns (27-39)

Saturday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

[Yahoo sports NBA 2019-20 season restart team-by-team previews, collected]

Miami Heat vs. Denver Nuggets, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 3:30 p.m. (ESPN)

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 6 p.m. (ESPN)

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Indiana Pacers, 7 p.m.

Los Angeles Lakers vs. Toronto Raptors, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Miami Heat +1 (-110)
Denver Nuggets -1 (-110)

Over/Under 210.5 (-110)

Utah Jazz +2 (-110)
Oklahoma City Thunder -2 (-110)

Over/Under 216.5 (-110)

New Orleans Pelicans +5 (-110)

Los Angeles Clippers -5 (-110)

Over/Under 228.5 (-110)

Los Angeles Lakers -4 (-110)

Toronto Raptors +4 (-110)

Over/Under 217.5

Zion Williamson's availability is as concerning for the Pelicans as it is for national TV audiences. (Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)Zion Williamson's availability is as concerning for the Pelicans as it is for national TV audiences. (Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson‘s availability is as concerning for the Pelicans as it is for national TV audiences. (Ashley Landis-Pool/Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Miami Heat (41-24) vs. Denver Nuggets (43-22)

Boston’s loss to Milwaukee on Friday night opened the door for Miami to draw within two games of third place in the East with a win over Denver. With undermanned Indiana expected to drop into sixth place over the course of the eight seeding games, that third seed not only means an easier first-round series in theory, but also holds the very real advantage of not having to face the Bucks until the conference finals.

The third-place Nuggets are within a game of both the second-place Clippers and fourth-place Jazz. It is unclear whether any of those spots in the West is more advantageous than the other at this point. Frightening first-round matchups await wherever Denver falls, and it will take a lot more than Saturday’s action to determine who will be waiting on the other side and which team they might prefer to see.

Utah Jazz (42-33) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)

Same goes for the Jazz-Thunder, respectively in fourth and sixth place in the West entering Saturday’s slate. Houston’s win on Friday pushed OKC into sixth place, just two games up on seventh-place Dallas. As currently positioned, that seventh seed faces a first-round series with the Clippers, who are an imposing first-round matchup for anyone, especially a Thunder team that has overachieved all season.

New Orleans Pelicans (28-37) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (44-21)

The Clippers are now just a game up on the Nuggets and two games ahead of the fourth-place Jazz. The second or third seed may not matter to the Clippers, but they would probably prefer to avoid falling to fourth, where the Lakers would almost certainly await in the second round rather than the conference finals. If Thursday’s opener between the two L.A. teams was any indication, that series will be a cage fight, and both teams should want to put it off for as long as possible in hopes of avoiding it altogether.

Saturday’s game is far more pressing for the Pelicans, whose disappointing season-reopening loss dropped them behind Friday night victors Portland and San Antonio in the hunt for ninth place and the right to face Memphis in a play-in series for the West’s final playoff spot. Another loss to the Clippers would also push New Orleans below Sacramento into 11th place with only six games remaining.

Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) vs. Indiana Pacers (39-26)

The Sixers are currently positioned to face the rival Celtics in the first round — a brutal matchup for two teams with championship aspirations. Philadelphia can avoid that drag-out fight for the time being by beating Indiana on Saturday and forcing the Pacers into position to face Boston in the opening round. A lot can change between now and the end of the seeding schedule, but establishing dominance over a vulnerable Indiana team would be a positive first step in Philadelphia’s quest to solve its chemistry woes.

Los Angeles Lakers (50-14) vs. Toronto Raptors (46-18)

A Lakers win would guarantee them of the No. 1 seed in the West. So would a win in any of their seven remaining games, so Saturday’s game is far from pressing for L.A. Likewise, the Raptors have no chance of catching the top-seeded Bucks in the East, and Toronto holds a 3 1/2-game edge over Boston for the second seed. A win would make that cushion even more comfortable, but this is not exactly a do-or-die scenario. It is instead an opportunity for both teams to test their legs against a potential Finals foe.

Who and what to watch

Skinny Jokic against the retooled Heat

Nuggets star Nikola Jokic arrived to training camp in September out of shape and overweight — and still counted himself among the league’s top-seven MVP candidates. He returned to Denver in June visibly slimmed down, hopefully not as a result of contracting the coronavirus prior to rejoining his team. Part of what made Jokic so popular was his size. Surely his waistline will not impact his transcendent passing, but we will miss the relatable doughiness, and will he still be able to throw his weight around in the post?

Opposite Jokic is the Heat, who added Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder to their rotation at the deadline. It was a win-now move that produced mixed results in limited action. Denver is an early test of how well Miami coach Erik Spoelstra has ingrained them into Heat Culture and what his lineups might look like.

Will the Pelicans lift restrictions on Zion?

New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry imposed the medical team’s 15-minute limit on rookie sensation Zion Williamson on Thursday, only those minutes did not include crunch time, when the Pelicans blew a lead to the Jazz and lost what was an important game in their quest for a play-in series with the eighth-place Grizzlies. Now staring at the Clippers in what was supposed to be a relatively easy bubble schedule, New Orleans needs all the help it can get after falling behind the Blazers and Spurs in the hunt for ninth place.

Pelicans president of basketball operations David Griffin told reporters on Friday that Williamson would not play “significant minutes” against the Clippers. However, it is incumbent upon Gentry to use the minutes he is allotted in the most strategic way possible, and on Williamson to take advantage of them. Otherwise, the games may not even matter when Williamson is finally cleared to play without restriction.

The wounded Pacers

Indiana is without All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis, and All-Star guard Victor Oladipo will be a game-to-game decision by the coaching and medical staffs. Having neither on the court would leave the Pacers in danger of falling behind the sixth-place Sixers and facing the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Indiana has exceeded expectations without Oladipo for the vast majority of the season, thanks in large part to the emergence of Sabonis, but can they continue to defy the odds as their bench winnows?

Raptors retest their championship mettle

Toronto has been one of the league’s best stories all season, overcoming the free-agency loss of Kawhi Leonard to retain second place in the Eastern Conference. They field a lineup full of smart and skilled players, including All-Stars Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, who execute the Coach of the Year favorite’s motion-heavy system to an artful degree. The question now is how well they stack up against the title favorites without the singular force of Leonard on game-swinging possessions. LeBron James and the Lakers will put them to a playoff-level test they have previously passed at each step of the regular season.

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

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