Now that the NBA board of governors have approved the plan for basketball to resume activities, we know what to expect come July 31.
There will be a total of 22 teams that will play out an 8 game regular season schedule to determine final playoff seeding and to allow for players to have a small window to ramp up for postseason play. The 22 teams that met the qualifications to be invited to Orlando for the remaining duration of the NBA season include 13 teams from the Western Conference and 9 from the Eastern Conference.
Once the 8 game regular season is played out, the final regular season standings will be in place. If the 9 seed in either conference has a record that's within fewer than 4 games of the 8 seed, those teams will have a play-in game to determine who advances into the playoffs. For example, if the Memphis Grizzlies end the regular season with a record of 36-37 and the Portland Trailblazers end with a record of 33-41, they will be 3.5 games out of the 8th and final playoff position for the Western Conference and will trigger a play-in matchup between Memphis and Portland.
The higher seed (the Grizzlies in this example) would only need to win 1 of 2 games against the lower seed (Portland in this example) whereas Portland would need to win both games in order to advance.
Vegas has released the betting odds for the 22 teams that still have meaningful basketball games ahead of themselves, and we're going to detail a few teams to target as good bets to raise the Larry O'Brien in October that experts may be discounting.
Indiana Pacers (Currently 5th Seed in Eastern Conference, +10,000)
The Pacers have already clinched a playoff berth and are one of the most intriguing teams left in the race. While the brand of basketball they play is as boring as driving through the cornfields in their home state of Indiana, the frontcourt of Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner give the Pacers two big men that can stretch the floor out to the three point line, yet who are the most comfortable dominating in the paint on both the offensive and defensive ends.
Add to that Malcolm Brogdon, a 6'5" guard that can defend, small forward T.J. Warren, who has led the Pacers in points per game this season, and perimeter shooting support from Doug McDermott and the brothers Justin and Aaron Holiday, and you have a team that can control the pace of the game and prevent opposing teams from getting easy buckets in the restricted area.
The extended break may have been beneficial for a team that has thrived without its biggest star for most of the season, Victor Oladipo, by allowing the rest of the cast to get healthy themselves. Oladipo has announced he will sit out the restart ,so we won't get to see how Brogdon and Oladipo can produce together in playoff basketball as the team envisioned when acquiring Brogdon in the off season. But the Pacers may have a roster that can go all the way to winning the championship in a truncated season, as they've shown the ability to play winning basketball without Oladipo most of the season–riding the coattails of their breakout star Domantas Sabonis.
With 100 to 1 odds, the Pacers are one of the best bets you can make going into the NBA Playoffs this year.
Miami Heat (Currently 4th Seed in Eastern Conference, +3,000)
The Heat has been one of the biggest surprises of the 2019-2020 season led by the steady coaching of Erik Spoelstra and the play of their often controversial superstar, Jimmy Butler. While Butler's All-Star-highlighted 2020 campaign was to be expected, the play of fellow All-Star Bam Adebayo and the undrafted G-League star-turned-Rookie-of-the-Year-contender Kendrick Nunn have helped elevate the Heat into a team to fear leading up to the playoffs.
As a league shutdown like we've experienced this year is unprecedented, it's still to be seen how players will react to the layoff and how long it will take to shake off the rust. What is known, however, is that Spoelstra has experience coaching deep into the playoffs with two championships to show from the Lebron James-era in Miami.
Furthermore, Butler is one of the game's most intense competitors who is now in a situation where he is looked to as the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse. Goran Dragic (16.1 PPG), Duncan Robinson (13.3 PPG), and Tyler Herro (12.9 PPG) have provided scoring support throughout the season, and the additions of Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala bring veteran leadership to a young squad eager to make their mark as a championship contender.
With current odds at 30 to 1, the Heat are a great option if you want to place a bet on a team that isn't one of the preeminent favorites and would provide a nice payout if they managed to win it all.
Philadelphia 76ers (Currently 6th Seed in Eastern Conference, +2,800)
Last season the 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs in the conference semifinals by one of the most memorable buzzer beater shots in NBA history, as Kawhi Leonard hit the game winner for Toronto that danced on the rim before going in, effectively sinking the title hopes for Philadelphia. Toronto went on to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks and advance to the NBA Finals where they beat the Warriors to earn their first NBA Championship. This was an outcome that many believed would be the 76ers' destiny before the start of the playoffs; but instead, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Tobias Harris saw the team retool this past offseason, replacing Jimmy Butler with Al Horford to shore up their frontcourt and give Simmons more opportunity to affect the offense with Butler no longer there to eat up possessions.
Embiid can be one of the most unstoppable forces when he's in good form, but injuries have plagued him throughout his career, which has prevented him from being able to optimize his talents when the team needs him in the postseason. Conditioning is no problem for Ben Simmons, but his inability to shoot from distance lets teams focus on clogging the paint and limiting the effectiveness of the point-forward.
While these are all the negatives to think about when considering the 76ers, there is a lot of good to focus on as well. This team has good size at every position and can match up with the Eastern Conference favorites the Milwaukee Bucks, going 1-2 against them on the season with their victory being a game in which Embiid and Simmons both scored 15 points or more. One of the losses came in a game where Simmons scored 5 points but left the game early after aggravating a back injury.
The 76ers have the pedigree on the roster to make another deep run this postseason, and the extended time off may have allowed Embiid and Simmons to nurse their bodies back to full health. With the Vegas odds having them just a shade above Miami at 28 to 1, they are a safer bet to come through and win the championship this year at a payout that may be the best value of the remaining teams going to Orlando this summer.
Nikola Jokic's presence will determine the Nuggets outcome this yearPhoto by Keith Allison Sports Photography
Denver Nuggets (Currently 3rd Seed in Western Conference, +2,500)
It was a toss up for me to decide if I wanted to put the Nuggets here or the Dallas Mavericks, and it came down to the supporting cast of players. While Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis make up a formidable duo, I struggled to point to who could step up if either of those two had an off night in a must-win game.
The Nuggets, however, have contributors deep into their bench and have 6 players averaging double digit points per game this season. Denver's 43 wins are only bested by the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers in the superior Western Conference, and the versatile play of center Nikola Jokic has seen him lead his team in points, rebounds, and assists per game.
While the Houston Rockets are more likely to win based on Vegas odds, I don't think they can create a matchup in which Jokic won't pick them apart as they would deploy a mix of Robert Covington (6'7"), Jeff Green (6'8"), or P.J. Tucker (6'5") to defend the 7 footer. The Nuggets have a strong mix of shooters and finishers, allowing them to score at every level and Jokic gives them a centerpiece for the offense to revolve around which also lets them control the pace of games which can take faster paced teams out of rhythm in a series.
At 25 to 1 odds, the Nuggets may be able to get hot and ride the mismatch that Jokic presents all the way to the championship this year. The only downside to placing a bet on the Nuggets is that their All-Star center was diagnosed with coronavirus on June 23. As an increasing number of players have been receiving similar news, it's unsure how it will affect rosters once play resumes in Orlando.
Some teams have already begun to proactively sign replacements for players that don't expect to play the rest of the season. Keep an eye on what Denver is doing, and if they sign a free agent big man, then it surely indicates that they don't expect Jokic to make the trip back from Serbia, which would mean you can forget about Denver winning the title this season. Currently, the plan is still for Jokic to make it back for the restart, but it's a situation worth monitoring closely.
NBA Futures Odds obtained from vegasinsider.com
In a must win game for the Los Angeles Clippers, Paul George was finally able to look like the best player on the floor in a playoff game.
After a slow start, George poured it on in the second half on his way to a game high 41 points in Game 5. The performance elevated the Clippers over strong outings from the likes of Devin Booker and Chris Paul as L.A. outlasted Phoenix 116-102.
The Clippers don't have much time to bask in their win however as they have to turn around and play two more elimination games just to make it out of the West. The Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead as Los Angeles struggled to find their identity without Kawhi Leonard. If the Clippers are to stave off elimination any longer, George has to continue this level of play.
It should also be stated that Reggie Jackson has been really good for Los Angeles throughout the playoffs and is someone that the team leans on to take and make tough shots in crunch time. His fearlessness attacking the rim provides a lot of space for his teammates.
Reggie Jackson after getting his free agency bag this summer https://t.co/kgR7AUeQZ5— Josiah Johnson (@Josiah Johnson)1624936925.0
The Suns have dropped two of the last three games, and their win came in Game 4 which saw a final tally of 84-80 so it's tough to gauge how much stock to take in that victory. What I'm trying to say is the Clippers have definitely looked the part of a Western Conference Champion the past three games, and the Suns are at risk of flaming out.
Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac (MCL sprain) will not play tonight in Game 5 of the WCF against the Phoenix Suns.— Chris Haynes (@Chris Haynes)1624923130.0
The Clippers' starting big man, Ivica Zubac, was out with a knee injury while Los Angeles out scored the Suns by 26 in the paint. So far in every game but one (Game 3 when L.A. beat Phoenix 106-92) the team that has scored the most points in the paint has ended up winning. Both teams are good from the free throw line and it gets the opposition into foul trouble so it is a sound strategy for either side. But Deandre Ayton wasn't able to get much going offensively in Game 5 finishing with only 10 points in 37 minutes.
For the Suns, they were quick to point out their own shortcomings following the loss. Coach Monty Williams noted, "It's just unacceptable the way we started the game," he continued on to compare the Suns and Clippers in Game 5, "We showed up in the first quarter, and they played with desperation."
Monty Williams: “Leadership is tricky - if you can’t get people to follow you, you’re just walking by yourself”— Rachel Nichols (@Rachel Nichols)1624922492.0
Chris Paul who had 22 points and eight assists talked about Phoenix's inability to hold onto advantages, "We've got to close quarters better," Paul goes on to say, "that's been a problem for us all series long."
Paul has been a leader both on and off the court helping this young team to play far above the level anyone expected them to this season, but he's also been a part of many teams that fell short in the playoffs.
A championship run is the one knock on his hall of fame resume, and it seemed destined to happen this year especially after the Suns jumped out to a 3-1 series lead. But he isn't the only player who has had their reputation affected by playoff performances.
The nickname Playoff P isn't an endearing one. It has become synonymous with Paul George and his failures in the postseason up to this point. Any success that the Clippers were going to have this year was always likely to be attributed to Kawhi Leonard, but now that he is sidelined it's all on PG to carry the load.
George entered rarified air Monday night joining the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Kevin Durant as players who scored 20 or more points in each of the first 18 games in a postseason. All of their teams reached the Finals. George is hoping to follow suit as the Clippers are headed back home to host Game 6.
Following a Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, the Philadelphia 76ers and coach, Doc Rivers, are questioning if Ben Simmons is the right guy to be running their offense through moving forward.
Offense being the key word here.
Simmons is an all-world defender possessing the ability to guard virtually any opponent on the court from the perimeter to the rim. But it was his lack of offensive help throughout this playoff season that stood out beyond any accomplishments this year. Simmons joined Rudy Gobert as unanimous selections for the NBA's All-Defensive First Team this year and also finished fifth in the NBA in assists per game with 8.8 per contest.
For a player that relies so heavily on driving to the basket to get shots off close to the hoop, it's expected for that player to draw plenty of contact resulting in a lot of free throw opportunities. That was certainly indicative of what we saw from Simmons in the first two rounds of the 20-21 playoffs.
He got to the line 45 times against the Hawks in their second round matchup, but only converted 15 freebies which equates to a 33% free throw percentage in the series. Simmons shot just 34.2% from the stripe if you include their first round games against the Wizards, which accounts for the worst free throw percentage by a player with at least 70 attempts in a postseason in NBA playoff history.
With a minimum of 70 attempts, Ben Simmons' 34.2% free throw percentage this postseason is the worst in a postseaso… https://t.co/EvEcQxEe8m— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPN Stats & Info)1624244835.0
In the four games that Atlanta beat Philly in this series, they lost by a combined 17 points. If Ben Simmons shoots just 70% from the line and makes 31-45 during this series, that adds 16 to Philadelphia's series point total. Obviously, the attempts might not directly impact the losses, but from a very broad overview, it would draw the series significantly closer — especially taking into account that three of the four losses the 76ers took in the series were lost by four points or fewer.
Also let's not allow people to say that the free throw stat is overblown and out of context. It's not. Shaquille O'Neal, who is notoriously one of the worst free throw shooters in league history, still managed a career playoff free throw percentage of 50%. That's why we saw the conception of "Hack-a-Shaq" where teams would intentionally foul O'Neal to put him on the line rather than allowing him to hurt them in other ways.
We've begun to see teams adopt this practice now with Simmons, which is just flat out embarrassing for a player of Simmons' pedigree. We have seen what he's able to do with the ball. He flies down the court on fast breaks, is a brilliant creator for teammates, and is one of the better finishers at the rim that we have in the league today.
We've already touched on his defensive prowess that has elevated him to becoming NBA All-Defense multiple times and a three time All-Star. But what do the Sixers do with Simmons before next season?
The 24-year-old point-forward still has plenty of time to work on his game. We've seen other players add a jumper later in their careers to great success; just ask Vince Carter how that works. But, usually, in order to develop a perimeter shot, there is at least a solid foundation to build on — that being the ability to consistently hit free throws.
Simmons is a career 60% free throw shooter, and he shot right around the mean during the regular season. The decline in made shots from the charity stripe in this postseason is cause for concern that this isn't the beginning of a trend.
Add to that Simmons' reluctance to take shots further away from the basket, and defenses have the luxury of ignoring Simmons in the half court set. We have seen teams (like the Jazz and 76ers) that rely heavily on the pick and roll get shut down in these playoffs, and it's teams like Atlanta and Phoenix that are able to spread defenses thin by putting multiple shooters on the court at one time succeed.
In 34 career playoff games, Ben Simmons has made 5 shots outside of 10 feet (from the basket).— Paul Hembekides (@Paul Hembekides)1624277710.0
Joel Embiid was phenomenal in the postseason, so let's not ignore that fact. Also, he was playing on one knee and still almost willed the Sixers to a win. But again, Embiid was not 100% in the playoffs, which limited his abilities.
Doc Rivers answers a question whether Ben Simmons can be the point guard of a championship team https://t.co/8xL35u98RC— Rob Perez (@Rob Perez)1624244460.0
Following their loss, Doc Rivers was asked if he thought Ben Simmons could be the point guard of a championship team, to which he responded, "I don't know that answer to that question right now," which doesn't provide a whole lot of confidence in Simmons' status with the team next year. Trade rumors have already begun to circulate, and it would make sense for this Philly team to hit the reset button now.
If Simmons continues to be exploitable in big moments, as we've seen him be so far in his career, his value is only going to go down. Adding further complications into the situation is the team just agreed to a new contract extension with Simmons and is due to make between $33 and $40 million per season over the next four years.
As the two cornerstone pieces of The Process appear to be two Scotties without a Mike, the early departure for the East's top seed will likely mean a big shakeup in the near future. If Embiid is healthy, he is elite without question. Maybe Philadelphia will go out and add around their two stars, but unless the organization is confident that Simmons can avoid another atrocious offensive performance in future playoff series, all they have is a really good regular season team.
The Phoenix Suns are just a win away from sending LeBron James home in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in the King's illustrious career.
After stating that "These shoulders were built for a reason," James referring to facing the challenge of taking on added responsibilities after Anthony Davis was ruled out for Game 5, the Lakers and LeBron disappointed in a big way Tuesday night. L.A. started off hot jumping out to a 10-5 lead behind a couple shots from James and a three from Davis' replacement Markieff Morris. But it didn't take long for the wheels to completely fall off for the defending champion Lakers as they spent most of the first half trying to remember how basketball works.
LeBron looking on during Game 5Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Two numbers stick out in the Game 5 loss for the Lakers and those are 34.5 and 12. Los Angeles shot 34.5% from the field on Tuesday night and were minus 12 in turnover ratio. No matter who's on your team, if you can't shoot and you can't protect the ball, the outcome is already determined.
The Suns weren't simply beneficiaries of a poor performance however as the Suns put it on the Lakers early and often and they never let their foot off the pedal for 48 minutes. Phoenix ended with 15 more assists, had seven more combined steals and blocks, and outscored L.A. in the paint by 12 points. Devin Booker and Cameron Payne were spectacular and they seemed to hit big shots every time the Lakers appeared to threaten a comeback. Mikal Bridges was effective on both sides of the ball adding three steals and two blocks to help electrify his team with the defensive effort.
🗣 DEVIN BOOKER— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622601795.0
The idea of effort is something that was lacking on the purple and gold side last night though. It didn't take long after Booker started hitting everything that the Lakers team started playing sloppy and launching up bad threes in a failed attempt to not let the game get out of hand. Well it did.
The two teams were among the best defensive teams in league this season, the Suns finished seventh in overall team defensive rating and the Lakers first. The Lakers typically like to use their defensive prowess to control pace and work in the half court with their combination of speed on the wings and their combination of big men down low that includes Andre Drummond, Marc Gasol, Anthony Davis (when healthy), and former Sixth-Man of the Year winner Montrezl Harrell. Incase you forgot Harrell does in fact still play for the Lakers, but before last night if you blinked for too long you would've missed him on the court.
WHY ISN’T MONTREZL HARRELL GETTING PLAYING TIME?????@MONSTATREZZ #FreeMontrezl https://t.co/j55u9zg9kN— NBALakersReport (@NBALakersReport)1622603465.0
For some unknown reason Trez has been an afterthought in Frank Vogel's rotations, not only in this series, but throughout parts of the regular season. With AD being ruled out for Game 5, it would've been logical to think that we'd see an uptick in minutes for the high energy reserve, and we did. But not until the game was far out of hand in the second half. While the Suns were building a 30 point lead we saw Phoenix's guards cooking the slower big men of the Lakers off pick and rolls.
30 points is the largest lead at half in Suns playoff history. 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/UoozhMf6Io— Phoenix Suns (@Phoenix Suns)1622604230.0
It's understandable to want some size to limit Deandre Ayton, but when it's Booker, Payne, and Bridges hurting you offensively why not see how a quicker and more agile defender like Harrell might fare slowing down the pick and rolls? We saw Jae Crowder having success doing that on the other side for the Suns all night!
It's not fair to just talk about how bad the Lakers were, in fairness it looked like they were getting open looks and were just collectively having an unlucky shooting night. Maybe they all got it out of their system now? But the Suns would have beat anyone on that home court last night. Let's give all credit to them by playing one of the best games ever seen against a LeBron James-led playoff team. Devin Booker is an absolute star and this team plays with a very focused chip on their shoulder which has been manicured by Chris Paul. His leadership has made ALL the difference for this Phoenix team and it can be seen most on the defensive side of the ball. The Suns players have adopted Paul's attitude and intensity on that end and it all paid off last night.
We've seen LeBron actively frustrated during playoff games on the court, and last night is one of the most cringe-worthy to have seen. James spent way too much time talking to officials about calls, and not just between whistles. It would be interesting to know how many possessions the Lakers played four on five because James never made it back on defense before the Suns put more points on them. LeBron was seen leaving the court with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter, and sure it could be to start receiving treatment on the injured ankle. But we know the real reason he left. We can only hope he didn't punch anything on the way to the locker room.
While the teams will travel back to L.A. for Game 6, the Lakers know they are in a must-win situation. We saw the rest of the team around LeBron scrambling because they felt the pressure. James was the only Laker in the second half that kept the team functioning. When we've seen a visibly dejected James like we did last night, it's been because he knew his team didn't have it. I don't think that's the case with this Lakers team.
There's plenty of talent on the roster even without Anthony Davis. Maybe Game 6 is when we get to see Harrell getting some meaningful minutes. Maybe Vogel can devise a way to get Andre Drummond more involved offensively. Maybe AD plays and isn't slowed by the groin injury. Or maybe you should've listened to us back in January when we told you the Suns were a pretty good basketball team.