The 8 seeding games to watch when the NBA returns

The NBA took another step towards solidifying its return by releasing their “season restart: seeding games” schedule on June 27 (Philippine time).

In it, the league eliminated the Golden State Warriors (15-50), Minnesota Timberwolves (19-45), Cleveland Cavaliers (19-46), Atlanta Hawks (20-47), Detroit Pistons (20-46), New York Knicks (21-45), Chicago Bulls (22-43), and Charlotte Hornets (23-42) from postseason contention. The remaining squads will duke it out for, well, seeding, with one new quirk: if the ninth seed in either conference finishes within four games of the eighth seed, they’d have to play a mini-series, with the #8 squad having a twice-to-beat advantage (shoutout to the UAAP and NCAA!).

So with the schedule in our hands, let’s go through the games and encircle the ones that look to be absolute slobber-knocker must-watch affairs.

A few caveats first though:

  • The teams must submit their rosters of eligible players by July 1 (July 2, Philippine time) to the league. Between now and then, some more players could opt out for personal or health reasons, while teams could then sign free agents to replace those guys. If at the last minute, a major name opts to sit this Orlando bubble stint out, that could obviously affect a team’s chance at a Larry O’Brien run (and shake up this list).
  • While a schedule is a big step forward, it’s by no means a guarantee that the games will actually be played. Though Commissioner Adam Silver has said of the league’s plan that it will be “safer on campus than off,” the fast-rising number of COVID-19 cases in Florida has admittedly given both the league office and the NBPA some pause. That said, both sides are committed to playing the season out… barring some catastrophic change.

Okay, nitty-gritty out of the way, here are the games to plug into your schedule:

July 30 – Lakers vs. Clippers (July 31, Philippine time)

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Oh hey remember when Lakers versus Clippers was one of the biggest things weighing on NBA fans’ minds, and not you know, surviving an epidemic?

So far, the Clippers lead the regular season series 2-1, with both their wins coming back in 2019 (aka “simpler times”). The Lakers won one right before COVID-19 came crashing down on us, and they now have the opportunity to knot things up entering the postseason.

The Clippers signed Joakim Noah, to give them some help against bigger teams, like the Lakers, while on the other hand, the purple-and-gold tapped Dion Waiters, and will presumably add fellow meme team all-star JR Smith in a few days. Though Waiters was signed back in March, his role should be bigger in the wake of Avery Bradley opting not to play.

Oh, and one last note: this is actually the January 28 game between the two teams that was initially rescheduled to April 9, due to its proximity to the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant. Maybe, just maybe, that will give the Lakers a little extra motivation?

August 2 – Wizards vs. Nets (August 3, Philippine time)

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The Wizards are 5.5 games behind of eighth seed Orlando, and 6.0 games behind seventh Brooklyn. Though they just need to be four back to trigger the play-in series in the East, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

By the time the season was paused, the Wizards had the league’s worst DRTG (115.8), winning games by getting into shootouts with their foes. True, their offense was ranked 11th, thanks to being third in 3PT%, but those two stats are going to take a hit, with Latvian Laser Davis Bertans opting to sit the Orlando games out, ahead of his free agency.

If the Wizards are determined to shock the world though, this game against the Nets will be key. Remember, just before the league was put on hold, they had fired Kenny Atkinson, replacing him with Jacque Vaughn. Toss in Kyrie Irving’s group chat drama with his teammates, and there might be a chink in the armor of Brooklyn.

August 3 – Pelicans vs. Grizzlies (August 4, Philippine time)

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NBA conspiracy theorists believe the Association wants Zion Williamson, and by extension, the New Orleans Pelicans, in the Playoffs, in front of as many eyeballs as possible. They were the last team to make the cut for the reset games, and what do you know? Among the top four West teams currently on the outside looking in (sorry Suns), they have the easiest slate of games, a sub-.500 combined winning percentage platter of foes. That of course, includes the current eighth seed Griz, at 32-33, and 3.5 games up on the Blazers and Pelicans.

Even if you don’t want to don a tinfoil hat, this is a game to watch, as Williamson and Ja Morant will probably do their best to dunk on each other multiple times again. I’d call that must-see TV.

August 8 – Jazz vs. Nuggets (August 9, Philippine time)

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The Jazz are at fourth in the West, but they’re on shaky ground. We’ll have to wait and see if there are any lingering ill feelings (no pun intended) between mic toucher Rudy Gobert and germophobe Donovan Mitchell. And if you want to put the behind-the-scenes stuff aside, Utah is going to miss Bojan Bogdanovic, who is out for the rest of the season following wrist surgery.

Or maybe we’re looking at this the wrong way. Maybe adversity will deepen the bond between center and guard. Maybe with Bogdanovic out, guys like Joe Ingles and Royce O’Neale will fall into old, successful habits from last season. No Bojan means also more touches for Mike Conley, who really needs to find a level of comfort with this team. If they’re going to make sweet music together, the Jazz could make quite the statement when they play this Denver team that similarly wants to go deeper into the postseason.

August 10 – Bucks vs. Raptors (August 11, Philippine time)

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The Bucks have a 6.5 game cushion on the Raptors, atop the Eastern Conference. In other words, they might not have to do a whole lot before clinching home court through at least their side of the conference bracket.

That’s what makes this game so intriguing, especially as a possible conference finals preview. The extended break should do wonders for wunderkind Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the injury-ravaged Raptors. It could also give either team a little confidence boost ahead of the postseason. A Bucks win equals a regular season sweep of their foes. A Raptors win signals that the champs are still alive and kicking, and in position to defend their title.

August 11 – Spurs vs. Rockets (August 12, Philippine time)

The San Antonio Spurs have not missed the Playoffs since the 1996-1997 season, the campaign a dude named Gregg Popovich took over midway as head coach. It feels, very strongly, like that run of staggering excellence is coming to an end.

Shoulder surgery has cut short LaMarcus Aldridge’s run this season, and they’re 4.0 games back of Memphis, while looking up at three teams separating them.

But who knows, maybe Popovich has a few tricks still up his sleeve. Maybe with Aldridge out, the spacing improves for the team’s lone star, DeMar DeRozan (though LMA was starting to launch three’s before getting hurt). Maybe it’s time for Dejounte Murray to make a massive leap forward.

The Spurs have just one Eastern Conference team on their schedule, the 76ers as their second assignment. That means, by the time we get to this Texas throwdown, with just one more game to come after this, we’ll have a clearer picture of whether or not the streak lives to see another season.

August 12 – 76ers vs. Raptors (August 13, Philippine time)

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Here’s something that surprised me when I checked the NBA standings after an (admittedly) long time: the 76ers have the same record, 39-26, as the Indiana Pacers, who didn’t have Masked Singer Victor Oladipo for the majority of those games.

To be fair, Philly suffered runs of injuries to their players as well, and needed another trade deadline pick-me-up, trading for some firepower from the Golden State Warriors reserves. But if you expected the 76ers to take a step forward this season, well, they haven’t quite done that (other than Ben Simmons finally launching from deep).

Perhaps it still goes back to the way the Raptors eliminated them in the Eastern Conference Finals a little over a year ago? Toronto is 2-1 so far over Philly, and this one will be the decider entering the postseason. Also, I miss Joel Embiid trash-talking. Come back into our lives “The Process.”

August 12 – Nuggets vs. Clippers (August 13, Philippine time)

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Serious question: Will the Clippers give Kawhi Leonard load management during any of these eight games? Resting the Klaw, and injuries to Paul George, resulted in that other LA team looking good, but not that great, throughout the season, despite making the most waves in free agency.

Entering Orlando, the Clippers are 5.5 games back of the Lakers. It’s unlikely they’ll be able to catch them, but perhaps we should ponder if they’ve got the second seed locked up. The Nuggets after all, are just 1.5 games behind, and could have the opportunity to overtake their foes here.

Also, boy oh boy would people go ballistic if, after several months off, the Clippers still opt to rest Kawhi regularly. Stephen A. Smith is already getting worked up.