The NBA’s hottest team did it again.
Despite not having center Deandre Ayton to start the game, the Phoenix Suns improved to 6-0 in the NBA restart, moving within a game of the Memphis Grizzlies for the 8-seed in the Western Conference.
As incredible as the Suns have been, they still don’t control their own destiny. They could finish 8-0 in the bubble and still miss the play-in round, depending on what Memphis and Portland do the rest of the week. Regardless of what happens, the Suns have been the most magical team on Earth for the past 12 days.
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Monday and Tuesday, plus everything else you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
The West remains wild, muddled
After the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz had dueling tank-offs in their respective games Monday afternoon, the playoff picture — as well as Oklahoma City’s quest to keep its first round draft pick — remains as muddled as it was at the start of the day.
The Thunder sat several starters, including Steven Adams and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, for their game against the Phoenix Suns. The Jazz sat Donovan Mitchell and then pulled the rest of their starters at halftime of their game against the Dallas Mavericks. Both teams lost, keeping OKC a half-game ahead of Utah in the standings.
Oklahoma City won the season series between the teams 2-1 and will finish fifth in the Western Conference if Utah loses its finale on Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs, and the Dallas Mavericks lose one of their final two games (against Portland Wednesday and Phoenix Thursday).
The Jazz could still move up to fifth, but that would require them to beat the Spurs and have the Thunder lose out. Utah could also fall to seventh if Dallas beats Portland Wednesday and Phoenix Thursday and Utah loses to the Spurs.
Even if the Jazz finish 6th, they’re not guaranteed of avoiding the Houston Rockets, who have knocked Utah out of the playoffs each of the past two seasons. Houston could move up to 3 by winning out (against the Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers) and having Denver lose two of its final three (against the Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers and Toronto Raptors). Denver could also still pass the Clippers for the 2-seed, so the Nuggets have plenty to play for.
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, still has a chance to keep the top-20 protected pick it traded to the Philadelphia 76ers back on Nov. 1, 2016 for forward Jerami Grant. The Thunder, after Monday’s loss, sit in a three-way tie for 21st in the NBA’s draft standings with the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers — who play each other Monday night.
To get into the top 20, the Thunder will need to have two of the four teams behind them — the Jazz, 76ers, Mavericks and the loser of Heat/Pacers — tie or pass them by the end of the week to guarantee themselves at a least a shot of keeping their pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Oklahoma City is at least partially in control of that destiny, as it plays Miami Wednesday before finishing up with the Clippers Friday. So, if Indiana wins Monday, and the Thunder lose their remaining games, they are guaranteed of, at minimum, a coin-flip with the Jazz for the 20th spot in the league’s draft order. — Tim Bontemps
Devin Booker shows love for Diana Taurasi
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker made a statement with his arrival outfit Friday, proclaiming Phoenix Mercury star Diana Taurasi as the greatest of all time (aka the GOAT).
— Phoenix Mercury (@PhoenixMercury) August 10, 2020
The back of the shirt lists Taurasi’s many accomplishments, including 10-time first-team All-WNBA, WNBA MVP, two-time WNBA Finals MVP and three-time WNBA champion.
Deandre Ayton not starting for Suns today
Suns center Deandre Ayton has averaged 18.2 points and 9.8 rebounds as Phoenix has started 5-0 in the seeding games in Orlando, but he was not in the starting lineup for Monday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after he missed his coronavirus test on Sunday. Ayton had to be retested and was cleared after that test came back negative, and was en route to join the team as the game tipped off.
Warren downplays showdown with Butler
The last time T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler met on the court, the two exchanged bumps, words and gestures, leading to the Pacers forward’s ejection and combined fines of $60,000. However, Warren wasn’t anticipating fireworks when the two take the court again tonight.
TJ Warren and Jimmy Butler are both questionable for tomorrow with foot soreness. Warren, the NBA bubble’s top scorer, sees their past differences as “part of the game.” Warren to ESPN: “When you compete at a high level like that, you’re going to run into other competitors.” pic.twitter.com/gZnctTqHgu
— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) August 9, 2020
Giannis (tooth) out tonight for Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo is out for tonight’s game against the Toronto Raptors with a toothache/oral surgery, the team says.
— Malika Andrews (@malika_andrews) August 10, 2020
Could the Bucks and Raptors see each other in September?
Pascal Siakam leads the Raptors to a 108-99 win over Memphis with 26 points.
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors were the top two seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs last year and met in an epic six-game series in the conference finals.
After Toronto’s win Sunday over the Memphis Grizzlies, the Bucks and Raptors will, once again, go into the Eastern Conference playoffs in possession of the top two seeds. Monday, they will meet for their one and only matchup during the eight seeding games.
But will it be another Eastern Conference finals preview? Based off the play of both teams so far inside the bubble, that remains to be seen.
The Bucks have had an up-and-down showing thus far, going 2-3 through their first five games — after losing just 12 of their first 65 games this season. Some of that could be chalked up to Milwaukee having nothing to play for in these games — the Bucks needed only a couple of wins to clinch the top seed in the East — but not all of it.
Yes, the league’s reigning and presumptive Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, has been terrific. But some key rotation players have struggled — including guards George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo, who are a combined 7-for-30 from 3-point range — and Milwaukee is a middling 13th in offensive efficiency and 11th in defensive efficiency through those five outings.
Toronto has some similar questions. Unlike the Bucks, the Raptors showed up and looked locked in, winning their first four games here — including a victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Aug. 1 in which they dominated the fourth quarter.
But then came Friday night against the Boston Celtics, who obliterated Toronto in a game Boston led by 34 points after three quarters. The Raptors then were putrid offensively in the first and fourth quarters Sunday against Memphis, only holding on to beat the Grizzlies thanks to a couple of late Pascal Siakam 3-pointers and yet another stout defensive performance.
The Raptors have been the league’s best defensive team inside the bubble, by far. They also have been the second-worst team offensively — only ahead of the Lakers — thanks to plenty of missed open looks from 3-point range and an uncharacteristic spate of turnovers.
During their time here so far, both teams have shown the things critics point to as potential trouble spots in the playoffs.
For Milwaukee, questions remain about Antetokounmpo’s ability to control a game offensively in late and close situations — particularly as he’s been in foul trouble virtually every game here — as well as Milwaukee’s penchant to give up lots of 3-pointers defensively.
For Toronto, the biggest question mark is an offense that tends to bog down when it gets stuck in half-court situations, as well as the lack of a true superstar on the roster that so many championship contenders have (and the Raptors certainly did last year in Kawhi Leonard).
Monday night’s game isn’t likely to offer too many answers. With Toronto having played Sunday, and with neither team having much to play for, it’s hard to see both teams selling out to try to win it. Instead, we’ll have to wait and see whether history repeats itself and both teams are still playing in late September. — Tim Bontemps
Monday’s must-see games
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The top two seeds in the East, a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, and two excellent, well-coached teams. Of course, both the Raptors and Bucks are locked into their positions and are as much prioritizing health and recovery as they are wins in their final seeding games.
But assuming they go after it, this is a tasty matchup and one to definitely gather some takeaways from. — Royce Young
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat | 8 p.m. ET
Bubble beef! T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler scuffled back in January, which led to Butler saying Warren is “trash,” Warren getting ejected and Butler then blowing him a goodbye kiss. Now, the Pacers are one of the hottest teams, and Warren is the bubble’s leading scorer.
And to make it even better, the Heat and Pacers have identical records. And while seeding in a 4/5 matchup doesn’t matter, you never know — having those virtual fans on your side in a Game 7 could be the difference. — Young
And then there were four.
The last week of seeding games commences with the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings eliminated from playoff contention. There also will be a play-in game Saturday (2:30 p.m. ET on ABC,), and perhaps another on Sunday (4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN, if necessary).
The only bubble team playing Monday is the restart-undefeated Phoenix Suns, who defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder to improve to 6-0 in the bubble. The Suns will have to play again Tuesday, when the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs will also return to action.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-38 (.465) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
10. Phoenix Suns | 32-39 (.450) | 1.0 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 31-38 (.449) | 1.0 GB
Tuesday’s must-see games
Houston Rockets vs. San Antonio Spurs | 2 p.m. ET
After winning Sunday against the Pelicans, the Spurs hope to remain alive in the race for a play-in tournament spot by beating their in-state rivals. Houston has something to play for as well: The Rockets are trying to lock themselves into the fourth seed in the Western Conference. — Tim Bontemps
Boston Celtics vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 5 p.m. ET
Memphis still has everything to play for and needs a win in one of its final two games against Boston or Milwaukee to guarantee itself a place in the play-in tournament next weekend. The Grizzlies could get a break in playing the Celtics, who are locked into the third seed and have nothing to play for. — Bontemps
Analysis and intel
Eight games that will swing the NBA playoff race this week
To get you ready for this stretch run, our NBA experts highlight the eight games that will decide the playoff picture.
New NBA playoff predictions: Which two teams will make the play-in?
Portland and Phoenix are hot. How is the four-team race shaping up now? Here are the latest projections.