Washington Wizards vs. OKC Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma has been a good team in the bubble minus the one tough loss to the Grizzlies where they just couldn’t shoot the ball. Now they are fighting for the four seed in the West in a crowded playoff race.
One of the biggest concerns for Thunder fans is how long it will take for Steven Adams to get back to the lineup. Adams suffered a lower leg contusion and is honestly going to go in when he is ready. Luckily for Thunder fans Adams is not rushing into getting back which could have major repercussions. He went through warm ups before the game, but unfortunately felt sore and opted out of playing. The Thunder also look like they will rest the majority of the starting line up against the Suns which makes me wonder if they are just trying to hold the 5 seed. In Adam’s place Mike Muscla stepped in and scored 14 points for OKC.
The Thunder played the definition of team basketball in the win against Washington with 6 players getting into double digits in scoring. Leading the way for OKC was Darius Bazzley who recorded 23 points and has been having a pretty good year. Following him was Danillo Gallinari with 20, Shai with 18, Muscla, CP3, and Diallo all finished in double digits as well. The Thunder are looking like a great team right now and with the likely matchup with the Rockets, spreading the ball will be key in keeping them off balance.
The Thunder take on the Suns next on Monday at 1:30. With a lot of players out of the game, there isn’t much to look forward to in this one. Although a win would take away the Suns undefeated record in the bubble.
Without a playoff spot to play for, the Wizards main focus will be on developing their young talent. By giving their young players starting time, the Wizards are doing everything they can for their young talent.
The Wizards are continuing their growth
While the Wizards do not have a win in the bubble yet, they continue to get value that does not appear on the win column. The Wizards young group of players that have come to the bubble, are continuing to grow and expand their game. Most of the Wizards young players posted a double digit game, with Isaac Bonga leading the team with 14 points. This exposure that the Wizards young core is getting is different than any regular season game, in which Bradley Beal would be leading the offense and leaving little time for the young guys. This bubble may not have provided wins for the Wizards, but it did give them a developmental time.
Horrible three point game
One of the tools that the surprise Brooklyn Nets have used to stay in playoff contention is their three point shoot. The Wizards shot a horrible 25% from three against the Thunder. This is bad, even for a team playing like the Wizards. If the Wizards want to get even one win in the bubble, and end their season on at least one good note then the Wizards need to fix their three point shooting.
The Washington Wizards are playing the league leading Milwaukee Bucks next. This game will be extremely hard for the Wizards, and there will be little chance for a Washington win.
Final Score: OKC 121 WSH 103
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Toronto Raptors
Memphis has only won once in the bubble and now their mistakes are starting to catch up with them. The Blazers are half a game behind them and the other teams are catching up.
The Grizzlies are now 1-5 in the bubble and are at risk of missing the playoffs currently. They just can’t seem to step up when the game really needs them too. Just when we thought their players could step up, they just didn’t show up today. In the first half the Memphis bench outscored the starters 30-24. The starters were 9-28 in the first half and their woes continued into the second. The Grizzlies bench led by Grayson Allen put up 49 points with Allen having 20 of those. The starters for the Grizzlies put up 50, no team should have the four players on the bench almost scoring as much as the starters.
Grayson Allen and Dillon Brooks
Both of these guys have been playing some great ball in the bubble, with Allen playing consistently well and Brooks turning it up lately. While they both play the same position it is hard to justify taking Brooks out when he is playing as well as he is. Allen is a great piece to have coming off the bench and knocking down threes, because the Grizz need a boost in their shooting from beyond the arc. Either way, Memphis should try to work the ball to these two more because they are playing at a high level. With a little momentum all of a sudden this team is a lot more dangerous than it has been.
The Grizzlies take on the Boston Celtics on Tuesday at 5 PM ET. Tatum and Morant will be a great matchup of two stars going head to head.
After great bubble play the Raptors enjoy a clinched two seed in the East and some rest for the team. The hype is slowly starting to come back for them to reach another finals after a lot of people counting them out during the year.
Pascal Siakam scored 26 points to help the Raptors win the game vs Memphis which prevented the Grizzlies from securing a play in spot. He was clutch down the stretch for Toronto knocking down back to back threes after the Grizz cut the lead to 3. That would pretty much secure the game and give Toronto some rest. Nurse talked about how they played heavy minutes, but it would finally pay off after the win. Spicy P ended up 9-16 from the field after a poor shooting day against the Celtics in the previous matchup. He also had 4 3-pointers and 3 assists in the win.
It was certainly something that was thought about when Nick Nurse played his players for a higher amount of minutes then other coaches. Especially with the playoffs coming up and players needing their rest. This time however Nurse’s gamble paid off as the Raptors get to take their time and rest in these final games before the playoffs start. The clinched two seed means the Raptors get to take the Nets in the playoffs which will be interesting the way the Nets have been playing. The defending champions can now relax till the end of the regular season and start reviewing some playoff film.
The Raptors take on the Bucks next in a game that is quite honestly meaningful. Both teams should be on some sort of cruise control and I don’t expect a full blown game here.
Final Score: TOR 108 MEM 99
San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans
New Orleans Pelicans
After a tough season in the bubble, the Pelicans are officially out of the playoffs. This is a tough blow for a team that had high aspiration of going somewhere this season.
Huge game from Josh Reddick
The Pelicans brought in Josh Reddick to be a shooting threat and a vetean leader. Against the Spurs, Reddick played out of his mind and posted 31 points. While Reddick’s efforts were not enough to keep the Pels from falling off the edge, we saw him go into a zone that he has not been in for the whole bubble. For a Pelicans team that needs shooting and reliable defense, it could be inferred that he stays with the Pels until he ends his tenure with the NBA.
Zero offense from their point guards
The New Orleans Pelicans have gotten lackluster performances from Lonzo Ball all season, and against the Thunder Jrue Holiday didn’t show up either. Ball, 5 points, Holiday, 7 points, and Josh Hart, 0 points, all played horrible in a game that ended the Pels playoffs hope for good. This pushed all of the offensive pressure on Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson, and without enough support the Pels offense sputtered. If the Pelicans are looking to be successful in the upcoming season, then they need their guards to play big roles in the offensive attack.
The New Orleans Pelicans will be playing the Sacramento Kings in a game that has zero effect for both teams. These teams are both out of playoff contention, and this game will give zero effect on the playoff picture.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are still in playoff contention, and it looks they aren’t going anywhere soon. Winning every game that they can is exactly what the Spurs need to do to get into the eight seed.
Demar Derozan was hot
Demare Derozan was the centerpiece of the Raptors trade when they traded for Kawhi Leonard. Derozan has not been expected to play the same as Kawhi, but he is still playing great on offense. Against the Pels, Derozan had 27 points to lead the team as they knocked out the Pels. This is big for a team that is trying to make the playoffs, and having an established star makes the offense so much more potent.
Derrick White is gone
The San Antonio Spurs have a trio of young guards that have been playing great in the bubble, but against the Pels they lost one of their guards. Derrick White went down with a knee contusion in the first half, and will most likely not be playing again in the bubble. In the first half, White had 16 points and will be a huge loss to the Spurs team as a whole.
The San Antonio Spurs will be playing in a must win game against the Rockets next. The Rockets are a very talented team, and if the Spurs need a win in order to continue their playoff chase.
Final Score: SA 122 NO 113
Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics have secured a playoff spot, and are just trying to move up in the seedings. In the third seed, they will be fighting for the second spot with the Toronto Raptors. Every game the Celtics win, will be a push to the second seed
Gordon Hayward is playing like a star
When the Boston Celtics signed Gordon Hayward, they were looking for a second star for Kyrie Irving. Hayward looked like an upcoming star with the Jazz, before a horrible leg injury that ended his season. Last season we saw a shell of what Hayward was, and this season Hayward seems to be ready to go. Against the Magic Hayward dropped 31 points and led the Celtics in scoring. If Hayward can continue to be highly efficient, and have huge scoring games like the one against the Magic then the Celtics will be extremely happy. If they can have a scoring threat like Hayward alongside Tatum, Brown, and Walker then the offense will be virtually unstoppable.
Jaylen Brown getting the boards
Jaylen Brown has been scoring a great amount in the bubble, but in this game Brown had a big number in a different category. Brown grabbed 12 rebounds against the Magic who have a star at center in Nikola Vucevic. Brown had the team lead in rebounds, and is showing a very well rounded game. This is great for the Celtics who have a smaller center in Daniel Theis, and relies on their wings for a presence on the boards.
The Celtics will be playing the eight seeded Grizzlies next in the bubble. This game should be a win for the Celtics, and continue to close the gap toward the Raptors.
After a very disappointing loss to the 76ers, the Magic had to play the powerhouse Boston Celtics. Orlando played a great game, and showed the NBA how underrated this team is. Nikola Vucevic had yet another efficient game, as well as Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross.
Orlando did a great job of keeping up with Boston.
The Celtics have been a team who are able to pull away from a game earlier than expected. In this game, Orlando didn’t let that happen. As a team, each player contributed in their own way to keep the Magic in the game. Markelle Fultz had a 16 point double double, and Nikola Vucevic led the team with 26 points, and 11 rebounds. Without Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, and Jonathan Issac, the Magic still had a great game, and forced overtime. The seven seed is now out of reach for Orlando, so a win wouldn’t help, but it would give them a lot of confidence.
Defending Gordon Hayward
Gordon Hayward had his second 30+ point game this season, and came up huge for the Celtics. The Magic couldn’t defend him when driving into the lane, and he was able to get very easy buckets. Although the Magic kept it a close game, they let Hayward get way too comfortable. They cannot let Giannis or Kris Middleton do this in the first round.
Orlando will go on to face the Brooklyn Nets next. In their first game in the bubble, the Magic won by 10, and Evan Fournier led the team in scoring with 24. The key for this game is to keep Caris LeVert from driving, and pulling up to the three point line with nobody contesting the shot.
Final Score: ORL 119 BOS 122
Philadelphia 76ers vs. Portland Trail Blazers
All eyes were on Embiid for the 76ers as he had just been on fire in the bubble. The Sixers are winning games without All-Star point guard Ben Simmons and much of that has to do with Joel’s performance on the court.
Another one bites the dust
In the first quarter Joel Embiid stepped up to contest a shot, then backed up, and stepped on his ankle awkwardly. He went down and got taken out of the game with what the team called an injury in his ankle. Joel would not return to the game leaving the Sixers without their main man. He has been averaging 30 PPG since the restart and is one of the best players in the bubble right now. While the 76ers don’t know if Embiid will miss time or not, they are going to have problems without him.
I feel like everytime a star player goes down in the bubble, there is a giant group of players that decide to step up and play better than ever. They might be getting more shots, but if they play the same with the star we are looking at a championship roster. A few teams have the capability and the 76ers are clearly trying to prove they are one. Josh Richardson had a season-high 34 points, Alex Burks had 20, Horford had 15, and Tobias Harris added 16. The Sixers were also down 17 at one point before coming all the way back making it a one point game with 10 seconds to go. In the end they couldn’t get a game tying three to fall ending the game.
Although there is a lot of worry in Philly, there should be a lot of hope. The young core stepped up and if Dame didn’t drop 50 we would be talking about a 76ers win. They take another hot Western Conference team in the Suns next on Tuesday and hopefully will have Embiid back.
Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers continue to play for a playoff spot, and need to win every game that they play. Even when they play against quality opponents, the Blazers show up and keep the game close.
Damian Lillard had a humongous game
Damian Lillard is known for coming in clutch, and after a couple of missed free throws against the Clippers that title seemed to be in jeopardy. Bouncing back from that close game, Lillard took over the game and scored 51 points and played big in the clutch. The Blazers have relied on Lillard, and in this game he delivered. As the Blazers continue to fight for the playoffs, they will need a clutch Lillard that delivers and this game against the sixers proved that Dame Time was in the bubble.
Zach Collins had a rough game
Jusuf Nurkic has headlined the Blazers that have come back from injury, and while Nurkic has found his rhythm right away another big man for the Blazers has had a tough time getting in his rhythm. This is Zach Collins who has not gotten in double digits in the bubble. Against the sixers Collins had a very uninspiring 2 points. While the Blazers offense has continued to thrive with Hassan Whiteside backing up Nurkic, the Blazers staff continue to have faith in Collins by keeping him in the bubble. If the Blazers think that Collins has something to offer, then he needs to start showing up as the Blazers fight for a playoff spot.
The Blazers are facing the Dallas Mavericks in their next game. The Blazers continue to close the gap to the Grizzlies, and if they can get a win against the Mavs then they will feel better about their playoff position.
Final Score: POR 124 PHI 121
Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings
The Kings have been eliminated from the playoffs, and now it’s all about getting the young guys experience. They went on to face the small ball Houston Rockets. Russell Westbrook did not play in this game, but the Kings couldn’t keep the lead early.
Bench players were productive, and got a nice experience.
Because the Kings have no shot at the playoffs, they have decided to put in new lineups, and see what their young players can do. Players like JaQuan Jeffries, Yogi Ferrell, and Jabari Parker were able to find more minutes against a playoff team. Jeffries scored 13 points, along with 2 rebounds and assists. Ferrell dropped 8 points, and Jabari Parker had 12. Games like these are important for these guys, because the Kings could eventually give them more playing time based on their performances here.
Offense could not create a consistent pace.
One thing that this Kings offense has struggled with is consistency. Against the Rockets, this problem grew even bigger. After the first quarter, the Kings were up 13, and had 36 in that quarter. In the next quarter, Sacramento scored 20 points, and gave up 38. The Kings still had a chance, as they were down by just 5 points at half. Things got worse the following quarter, and Houston just kept moving forward. Sacramento was outscored by 17 points, and went into the fourth down 22. Putting themselves in these kinds of positions has hurt them, and there is very little chance to attempt a comeback. The Kings scored 41 in the fourth, but still lost by 17. Yes, Houston is a great offensive team, but the Kings couldn’t keep it going. If Sacramento needs to go and acquire a veteran player in free agency, they should do so.
Sacramento will go on to face the Pelicans for the second time in the bubble. New Orleans is the only team the Kings have beat in the bubble, and they may be able to do it again. The Pels are also eliminated from playoff contention, so they may bench some starters as well.
The Houston Rockets are fighting to keep their fourth seed in the west and push the Nuggets for their third spot. The Rockets are also trying to prove that they can compete with their small ball lineup.
Austin Rivers career high
Austin River led the Rockets who were without Russell Westbrook. Rivers posted 41 points against the Kings, as the Rockets pulled out a win and continued to push for the third seed. Rivers also hit 6 threes, and had a completely dominant offensive game. This is huge for a Rockets team that relies so heavily on James Harden and Russell Westbrook, and to get a game like they did from Rivers enforces the idea that the bench can score too.
Ben McLemore had a big game
In a game where Austin Rivers had 41 points, Ben McLemore had 20 points on 6 three pointers. This means that 18 of his 20 points was from the three, and only had 1 shot from inside the arc. For a Rockets team that plays off the three so much off the three, getting good three point performances from their supporting cast is very encouraging.
The Houston Rockets are going to be playing the San Antonio Spurs who are fighting for a playoff spot. The Spurs are playing every game like it is a playoff game, and the Rockets might not be able to match the same kind of intensity.
Final Score: HOU 129 SAC 112
Brooklyn Nets vs. L.A Clippers
The Nets are just a fun team to watch right now and they are connecting and knocking down teams left and right. The whole team is enjoying themselves and making plays all over the court. Coming in with most of the team out, they are surprising a lot of people.
The Nets started off really well early in the game vs the Clippers and that is what really led them to the victory. They were 18-21 in the first quarter and raced out to a 21 point game at the end of the first. That made it very tough for the Clippers to come back and when they tried to come back the Nets grabbed it back in the fourth quarter. The Clippers never led the entire game and never really came back enough to make it really close as the Nets were persistent. They would end up with a 55.3% from the field and although after the first shooting wasn’t great it was still a great game.
Joe Harris and Caris LeVert
Both players for the Nets were fantastic and are the leaders on the team with everyone missing from this team. Harris was 6-6 with 4 3-pointers in the first quarter that led the team early with 16 points. Harris ended with 23 points in the first half which was the most he has scored in any half of his career. Caris LeVert had 27 points, 13 assists, and 4 rebounds. He was instrumental in the Nets win and he is one of the biggest pieces for the Nets.
The Nets take on the Magic on Tuesday at 1 PM ET, they currently have a two game lead on the Magic and clinched the 7 seed. Biggest question mark on the team is whether they can keep consistently scoring at a high rate.
Los Angeles Clippers
After a close win against the Blazers, the Clippers went on to face the Brooklyn Nets. Paul George did not play in this game, but Kawhi Leonard did, and he didn’t disappoint. Although L.A. fell short, the rhythm was great on offense, but they couldn’t contain the Nets.
The Clippers were not playing well on defense.
The Brooklyn Nets are not known for their offensive firepower, but they made the Clippers look like one of the worst teams on defense. Caris LeVert and Joe Harris got started early by knocking down multiple threes, and L.A. found no way to stop them. The Nets scored 45 in the first quarter, and didn’t look back. The Clippers looked as if they had no energy on defense, and they were very lazy when closing out. Even though L.A. was playing a back to back, this needs to be a focal point going into the next game.
Kawhi Leonard had a monster game offensively.
Because Paul George wasn’t playing, Kawhi Leonard had the ball more often. Leonard was automatic from the mid-range, and didn’t have a bad day from beyond the arc either. He helped his team get the deficit down to single digits, but the defense didn’t repeat the success the offense had in the second quarter. He scored 39 points, on 14-25 from the field. Great day for Kawhi, as there are now no questions about offensive struggles.
The next game for the Clippers is a very important one. They will try to hold onto the two seed against the Denver Nuggets. Denver has Jamal Murray back so they key in this one is to play well on the pick and pop.
Final Score: BKN 129 LAC 120
Top Photo: getty images