What a crazy weekend. We not not only witnessed the return of basketball, but the qualifying round began in hockey as well. It was just great to have sports back for a weekend.
The NBA bubble has been stupendous, in my opinion. These games have been fun, and competitive. We saw two historic comebacks, both orchestrated by the Houston Rockets, and an 18-point underdog win outright in just the first five days!
Let’s not spend too much time looking back though, and start to look forward. The primary game we’ll focus on this week is New Orleans/Sacramento, because this Pelicans team has been one of my favorites to track.
Thursday, Aug. 6
New Orleans @ Sacramento
The most fascinating aspect of the seeding games is the competition for the Western Conference’s final playoff seed, and this contest will go a long way toward finalizing it. After losing its first two seeding games New Orleans broke the slide Monday with a 109-99 win over Memphis. The win kept the Pelicans’ playoff chances afloat, but the issues that have been hampering New Orleans persisted. Prior to the win over the Grizzlies the Pelicans posted a 101.0 offensive rating, and that trend continued Monday as they averaged just 1.048 points per possession. Their offense was statistically better, but still nowhere near the level that we’ve seen out of the team. Remember, New Orleans’ offense went into the hiatus with a 114.0 efficiency rating in its final 18 games due to the addition Zion Williamson. Can they snap out of their offensive funk against Sacramento? The Kings might be the team to do it against. Sacramento, my ‘dark horse’ selection for the eighth seed, has yet to find a victory in Orlando. The Kings are giving up 117.9 points every 100 possessions, one of the worst defensive ratings in the bubble, and they’re getting it from everywhere. Their opponents in the bubble have been averaging well over a point per possession in the halfcourt and over 1.5 points per possession in transition. New Orleans, despite the struggles of their offense overall, has been efficient in transition in two of their three seeding games and they posted their best fastbreak efficiency mark of the bubble on Monday. This could be a sign of things to come for New Orleans, but is this where the market comes back on the Pelicans? New Orleans has been a public team for a while now, and coming off of a win and cover against Memphis could have invigorated bettors once more. The Pelicans closed as a 4.5-point favorite against the Grizzlies on Monday, so expect them to be in range of a 6.5-point favorite come Thursday. Where this one closes is what to watch though, because this has the potential to get inflated a point or so by tip-off.
Friday, Aug. 7
Boston @ Toronto
What’s up with Boston’s defense? In three seeding games the Celtics have posted a 117.9 defensive rating, a far cry from the team that finished the regular season 6th in that category. They lost and failed to cover against Milwaukee, and almost blew a 24 point lead against Portland. In their most recent loss to the Heat they allowed Miami to reach the foul line 39 times while averaging 1.190 points per possession. The sky is not falling for Boston, but the defense clearly has not been there to begin. The Celtics’ defensive rating is going improve over the course of the seeding games, but when it improves is important. Boston is not going to catch Toronto for the second seed, but they are just 1.5 games up on Miami for the third seed. Allowing the Heat to surpass them means the Celtics fall into Milwaukee’s side of the bracket, and an East semifinals series with the Bucks awaits them if they win their opening round series. Toronto will be in an interesting spot come Friday. The Raptors can clinch the second seed in the East if they win on Wednesday and the Celtics lose. If that is the case, does Nick Nurse decide to rest a few guys on a team that has been in Orlando since July 9th?
Sunday, Aug. 9
Philadelphia @ Portland
Defense has been an issue for multiple teams in the bubble, and these two are no exception. Philadelphia opened its Orlando campaign with a 123.0 defensive rating in its first two games, one of the worst in the bubble. This is magnified by the fact their offense has actually been one of the best since the restart, averaging 121.6 points every 100 possessions. The lineup adjustment has been a positive on offense, but this team has to figure out how to defend again in their remaining seeding games. Philadelphia will get Washington and Orlando before this contest on Sunday, so this is going to be their third game in five nights. Will Brett Brown and company be considering rest as their playoff seeding becomes clearer? Portland should be fighting the whole way, but their defense has its own issues. The Trail Blazers, who were 27th in defensive efficiency before the hiatus, have posted a defensive rating 11.0 points higher than their regular season number. Two of their three games have flown over the total as well, usually the case for a team with a terrible defense and talented offense. Portland is averaging 1.187 points per possession in the bubble, which is the third-best offensive rating. If current scoring trends continue for these teams on defense bettors could potentially see a total in the range of 227 points at open.