Daily NBA bubble primer: Dame Time and the 2019 MVP debate revisited

Yahoo Sports

Until the end of the NBA’s seeding-game schedule on Aug. 14, Yahoo Sports NBA will deliver a daily bubble primer, complete with up-to-date standings and a breakdown of the schedule, from gambling odds to playoff implications and the biggest storylines. Today marks Day 4 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

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  1. Milwaukee Bucks (54-12)

  2. Toronto Raptors (47-18)

  3. Boston Celtics (43-22)

  4. Miami Heat (42-24)

  5. Indiana Pacers (40-26)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-27)

  7. Orlando Magic (31-35)

  8. Brooklyn Nets (30-35)

    Washington Wizards (24-41)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (50-15)

  2. L.A. Clippers (45-21)

  3. Denver Nuggets (43-23)

  4. Utah Jazz (42-24)

  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-24)

  6. Houston Rockets (41-24)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-28)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-34)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (30-37)

    San Antonio Spurs (28-36)

    Sacramento Kings (28-37)

    New Orleans Pelicans (28-38)

    Phoenix Suns (27-39)

Sunday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

[Yahoo Sports NBA 2019-20 season restart team-by-team previews, collected]

Washington Wizards vs. Brooklyn Nets, 2 p.m.

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Boston Celtics, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)

San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies, 4 p.m.

Sacramento Kings vs. Orlando Magic, 6 p.m. (NBATV)

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Houston Rockets, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)

Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns, 9 p.m.

BetMGM odds

Washington Wizards +3.5 (-115)
Brooklyn Nets -3.5 (-106)

Over/Under 235.5 (-110)

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Portland Trail Blazers +4 (-110)
Boston Celtics -4 (-110)

Over/Under 230.5 (-110)

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San Antonio Spurs +4 (-110)

Memphis Grizzlies -4 (-110)

Over/Under 234.5 (-110)

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Sacramento Kings +2.5 (-110)

Orlando Magic -2.5 (-110)

Over/Under 227.5

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Milwaukee Bucks -4.5 (-110)

Houston Rockets +4.5 (-110)

Over/Under 241.5

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Dallas Mavericks -5.5 (-110)

Phoenix Suns +5.5 (-110)

Over/Under 237.5

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/5185/" data-ylk="slk:Giannis Antetokounmpo">Giannis Antetokounmpo</a> and <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/nba/players/4563/" data-ylk="slk:James Harden">James Harden</a> finished 1-2 in last year's MVP race. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden finished 1-2 in last year's MVP race. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Washington Wizards (24-41) vs. Brooklyn Nets (30-35)

A Wizards win would draw them within five games of the equally depleted Nets — and a single game of potentially forcing a play-in series for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. A Brooklyn victory would almost certainly mean there will be no play-in series in the East, because three games is an awful lot of ground to cover with so few left to play for a Washington team that is missing its three best players.

Portland Trail Blazers (30-37) vs. Boston Celtics (43-22)

The Blazers are in a tight battle for ninth place in the West. Depending on how the Grizzlies, Spurs and Kings fare on Sunday, Portland can finish the day as close as 1 1/2 games behind eighth-place Memphis, well within the four-game window required to force a play-in series, or fall to 10th behind San Antonio.

Boston can wave goodbye to any possibility of catching Toronto for the East’s second seed after the Raptors beat the Lakers on Saturday. And the Celtics now find themselves in need of protecting the third seed, as Miami has already moved within 1 1/2 games of them in the first few days of seeding play. Dropping to fourth place would be a tough blow, what with the Bucks looming as a second-round foe.

San Antonio Spurs (28-36) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (32-34)

San Antonio’s victory against Sacramento on Friday made them a more serious threat for the ninth seed. A win over Memphis would make them even more so, drawing them within two games of eighth place — either in ninth or 10th themselves, depending on how the Blazers fare against the Celtics. The Grizzlies’ once-secure grip on the eighth seed will start to feel awfully lose with another loss to a playoff challenger.

Sacramento Kings (28-37) vs. Orlando Magic (31-35)

After losing to San Antonio on Friday, Sacramento can hardly afford to lose another winnable game on the eight-game seeding schedule. A win over Orlando keeps them in the hunt for ninth place and a play-in series, but a loss could drop them as far as three games back in that race, closer to the 13th-place Suns.

The Magic swapped places with the Nets following a win over Brooklyn on Friday, moving into seventh, where they would avoid Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the opening round. A win would make that seventh spot a little more comfortable, but a loss puts Orlando back into a virtual tie with Brooklyn.

Milwaukee Bucks (54-12) vs. Houston Rockets (41-24)

The Bucks can clinch the No. 1 seed in the East with a win on Sunday. A loss leaves the door open for the unlikelihood that the second-place Raptors could close a six-game deficit over their final seven outings.

Houston is in a more crowded seeding race in the West. A win would temporarily vault them into fourth place — ahead of both Utah (by way of tiebreaker) and Oklahoma City. The Rockets would stay put in the standings with a loss, the firmness of their hold on sixth place is dependent on how Dallas fares on Sunday.

Dallas Mavericks (40-28) vs. Phoenix Suns (27-39)

The Suns’ season-reopening win over the Wizards gave them a glimmer of hope in their near-impossible quest of leapfrogging four teams in the standings and forcing a play-in series for the eighth seed. Any loss further chips away at that hope, almost to the point of extinguishing it, but a win could draw 13th-place Phoenix within a half-game of the Pelicans (and potentially the Kings, too, if they lose to the Magic).

Who and what to watch

Dame Time

In their overtime victory against the Grizzlies on Friday, the Blazers looked fully prepared to not only force a play-in series for the eighth seed, but potentially make noise in the playoffs. Damian Lillard is the best player on any of the teams battling for the West’s final playoff spot by a wide margin, and his career is full of clutch performances with Portland’s season on the line. These seeding games fall under that category.

Boston presents a real challenge, with a plethora of wings capable of leveraging their skill over Portland’s lack of depth at that spot. But the Celtics cannot hide Kemba Walker on defense against the Blazers, because both Lillard and C.J. McCollum can cause nightmares for opposing guards. One of them needs to have a monster game if Portland hopes to beat a Boston team in need of a win. This is Dame Time.

It is also an opportunity for Walker to test his playoff mettle. He and Lillard were both drafted in the top 10 in back-to-back years. Walker has made the playoffs just twice in eight opportunities with the Charlotte Hornets. Lillard is gunning for his seventh straight playoff appearance. Circumstances beyond their control played into that discrepancy, but Lillard long ago surpassed Walker on the point guard hierarchy.

The 2019 MVP debate revisited

A feud has been brewing ever since Giannis Antetokounmpo won last year’s MVP award over James Harden (and deservedly so). The Rockets posted a since-deleted tweet in the immediate aftermath of Antetokounmpo’s first MVP victory that read, “Congrats on the MVP, but we respectfully disagree,” along with an obviously biased offensive statistical case. Harden added fuel to the fire during a pair of preseason radio interviews, suggesting a media narrative played a role in Antetokounmpo’s victory.

Antetokounmpo jabbed back when serving as a captain for this year’s All-Star Game. He passed on selecting Harden in favor of Walker, telling a national TV audience, “I want somebody that’s going to pass the ball.” Antetokounmpo threw an elbow at Harden’s throat during the exhibition, and afterward said of his team’s offensive strategy, “We were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding.

Harden later told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “I wish I was just 7 feet and could just run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and have skill. I’ll take that every day.”

Antetokounmpo declined to take the bait when given the opportunity, and even suggested during the hiatus that Harden was the most difficult player to defend in the NBA. The two teams last met in their season opener on Oct. 24. Antetokounmpo amassed 30 points (11-17 FG), 13 rebounds and 11 assists in 28 minutes of a 117-111 victory. Harden shot 2-for-13 from the field and committed seven turnovers.

More from our NBA restart series:

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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