After a long (and I mean LONG) couple of months without sports, it appears that we’ll finally reach that light at the end of the tunnel. The sport I’m most excited to see start back up? Basketball. Easy. The Celtics are insanely fun to watch and have a real shot to win a title in this weird, crapshooty, bubble situation.
Before we can get to the playoffs though, each NBA team must play 8 regular season games to clinch a berth, decide seeding and tune up. The C’s are already playoff bound but they’ll look to jockey for the right position and play themselves back into a groove. Obviously, we only know the 8 game regular season schedules for all participating teams, so I thought I’d break down the path for the green. Without further ado...
Game 1 (Friday July 31st vs Milwaukee at 6:30 ET)
We're back, baby! Things looked grim, and then bright... before turning grim again..and then finally looking up. We made it. As soon as the ball is tipped, we'll know that we have more normalcy back and it'll look as though the bubble is going to work (I'll be keeping my fingers crossed the whole time). Now, I do have some competing thoughts about how this first game will play out...
Rumors have gone around about the teams that have stayed ready and the Bucks were on that list. I've actually heard from a pretty credible source (just let me say this, I don't get many tips but when I do, I'll 100% drop them) that they've been as "full-go" as they could be during the shutdown. Of course, this information came along before the team has some COVID related setbacks that shut down their facility 10 days ago.
One school of thought has the East's best team coming out firing behind reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. They'll dominate and give the C's fits as they always do. On the other hand though, I'm seeing both teams, and really the whole NBA, starting slow. They'll be a bit rusty and these seeding games will be competitive, but ugly.
My prediction here is that Milwaukee plays well, but mostly takes it easy. They are locked in to the #1 in the East and really are only playing for pride and to get back to game speed. They don't NEED any of these wins and would probably rather keep everyone healthy and rested. The C's will take this opening game in a low-scoring, slop-fest. Bet the under. It'll hit.
Game 2 (Sunday August 2nd vs Portland at 3:30 ET)
In the next match up, the C's face off with the Trailblazers, who are on the opposite end of the spectrum from Milwaukee. Portland currently sits outside of the Top 8 teams in the West by 3.5 games and needs every W they can get to advance to the playoffs.
The Blazers also were the lone team to vote against the 22-team format that the NBA is going with. They voted against this format because they preferred the 20-team proposal that would see Draft Lottery odds effected by the results of the 8 game continuation. Under the current rules, the teams that will make up the NBA Draft Lottery are those that didn't make the cut to go to the bubble and the ones that don't make the playoffs. The catch is that the odds will be determined by records through March 11th (when the NBA shut down). This means that if they do not do well in the 8 games and they miss the playoffs, the current rules don't give them the consolation of having better odds for a higher draft pick. Instead, they are locked into their spot with the worst odds in the lottery unless Memphis falls out with them. I wouldn't say this gives them an added incentive to win (because everyone wants to win) but rather it serves as more of a reason not to lose (makes sense, doesn't it?).
Portland will be going full throttle to win every game and honestly, they are kind of that team anyway. They are the scrappy, underdog type that will always give the contenders a run for their money. My thought is that Damian Lillard puts the team on his back throughout this 8 game stretch and he'll give the Celtics everything they can handle. I'll call this one a loss.
Game 3 (Tuesday August 4th vs Miami at 6:30 ET)
Out of the 8 game stretch, I'd say I'm most excited for this one here. The C's and Heat are separated by just 2.5 games coming into Orlando so you know they'll be ready to jockey for position. With both clubs relatively healthy and now having a few games under their belts, we can look for a tightly contested ballgame until the clock hits 0:00. I'll give the slight edge to the Heat in this one.
Game 4 (Wednesday August 5th vs Brooklyn at 9 ET)
After two tough losses, the Celtics will get a layup against Brooklyn. Imagine how many more times we're going to call the Nets a layup now that they'll have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving next year? Those words won't be uttered until that volatile marriage breaks up in 3 years. Anyway, Brooklyn is one of the teams that might as well not show up to the bubble. All of their guys are opting out AND they fired their coach. It's kind of crazy too, because they are going to make the playoffs without even trying.
The Nets come in as the 7 seed in the East and while the Magic will leapfrog them, the only other competition for a playoff spot in the conference comes from the Wizards. Washington is 6 games back of Brooklyn, without two of their best players in Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans. Brooklyn could run a starting five of Dr. J, Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Jerry Seinfeld and Rudy Giuliani out there and they'd still be a lock for a playoff berth.
Game 5 (Friday August 7th vs Toronto at 9 ET)
The Toronto Raptors are my dark horse pick for the NBA Title this year. I know it sounds ridiculous to pick the reigning champions, who currently have a 2 seed in the East, as my "dark horse" but no one talks about the Raptors when we talk about teams that might win it all this year. Sure, they lost arguably the game's best player in Kawhi Leonard. However, they just seem like such a cohesive unit with a great coaching staff and an awesome mix of vets and young guns.
The Raps are also the undisputed kings of quarantine as they seemed to stay quiet and focused on what the goal is upon return. I'm going to say the Celtics drop this one too and as soon as that happens, Boston will be in a panic. Sports radio will start saying our team isn't ready for the big time and they aren't for real. It'll be annoying and overblown. Let's just remember, these games are for seeding. It's not the playoffs yet. We can rest Kemba's knee or give Tacko some action. As long as we stay healthy, we're good.
Game 6 (Sunday August 9th vs Orlando at 5 ET)
Orlando is the home team in this whole crazy scenario and that has to count for something right? No, it actually doesn't at all. They're living in the bubble just like everyone else and they don't have any fans there to back them. However, they are a scrappy group and I anticipate they'll look to move up to the 7 seed and avoid Milwaukee in the first round. Either way, the Celtics will get back on track with a W against a team that just doesn't stack up to them in talent.
Game 7 (Tuesday August 11th vs Memphis at 6:30 ET)
This Memphis game is going to spark some interest for a few reasons. First, Memphis is a fun, young team led by Rookie of the Year candidate, Ja Morant. He's an electrifying athlete and someone who is always a treat to watch play. The second reason has to do with lottery implications. You see, the Grizzlies start the eight game slate as the 8 seed in the West. At 7 games behind the Mavericks for the seventh seed, they really don't stand much of a chance of moving up. They do however, have to fend off the Blazers (3.5 games back), Pelicans (3.5 games back), Kings (3.5 games back), Spurs (4 games back) and Suns (6 games back).
Essentially, the best case scenario for the Grizz is to stay in the 8 spot and hope the rest of the teams under them falter to the point of not needing the play-in that kicks in between the 8 and 9 seed when separated by four games or less (not likely). Worst case scenario for Memphis involves falling out of the playoffs and ending up with the worst lottery odds in the West. The reason the Celtics tie into this so closely is because they own the Grizzlies first rounder in 2020, as long as it doesn't land in the Top 4 picks.
So, if the Grizzlies make the playoffs as the 8 seed, their pick would be #17 overall if they stay in front of Orlando and Brooklyn. That pick would go to the Celtics. If Memphis falls out of the playoffs, the C's will have a shot at a pick as high as #5 overall. So, what does Boston want to do in this game? In my mind, it's win and knock Memphis down. The only downside to that would be the Grizz getting insane luck and nailing a Top 3 pick, which would then move the C's rights to their 2021 first rounder.
The C's will overtake Ja and Memphis in this one, but my bet would be that it isn't enough to help knock them out of the playoff picture. Boston will have to settle for the 17th overall selection, along with their other two first rounders this year.
Game 8 (Thursday August 13th vs Washington at TBD)
I'm guessing this last game won't mean much and the Celtics will probably use it to rest for the real thing. Washington will be checked out as well and this one may not even be watchable. I'll take the C's as they finish with a record of 5-3 and remain as the East's 3 seed headed into the playoffs first round (where they will face the Pacers).