NBA Power Rankings: Milwaukee looks good… now real games start

Leave a comment

Let the games begin! The NBA’s bubble concept has worked so far (*knocks on wood*) and the seeding games tip-off Thursday. With that our NBA Power Rankings are back (returning to their usual Wednesday slot next week) and will run a few weeks up until the start of the playoffs.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (53-12, Last week No. 3). The Bucks offense has looked good in both scrimmages, putting up 113 points in 40 minutes and 131 in 48. Brook Lopez, who struggled with his shot for much of the regular season (29.6% from three), has found it in Orlando: 12-of-15 shooting overall and 7-of-9 from three. He has been the best Bucks player in the scrimmages, and while those games don’t matter it’s a good sign.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (49-14, LW 1). Already without Avery Bradley (who chose to sit out the restart for family reasons), the Lakers have now lost Rajon Rondo to a thumb injury. While Rondo is expected back around the Western Conference Finals (when they would really need him), he and Bradley accounted for 44 minutes a game in the backcourt rotation. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is starting, while Quinn Cook and Dion Waiters have looked good for stretches in the scrimmages. Grey-beard LeBron James and Anthony Davis look rested and ready.

 
Clippers small icon 3. Clippers (44-20, LW 2). After having six rotation players not with the team in the Orlando bubble at one point last week, the Clippers are down to just one (Montrezl Harrell, out on a family matter), with a number of players in quarantine but close to being back. Lou Williams will be a little longer, he’s quarantined for 10 days because his favorite restaurant in Atlanta is a strip club (he does have a wings flavor named after him at Magic City, so maybe they are good).

 
Raptors small icon 4. Raptors (46-18, LW 5). Serge Ibaka has looked rested and his shot is falling at the restart, he had 19 points against Portland, plus a little dust up with Jusuf Nurkic. Kyle Lowry also has played well in a couple of games, and Fred VanVleet’s knee knock with a Portland player doesn’t seem to be anything serious. Don’t sleep on this deep team with championship experience.

 
Celtics small icon 5. Celtics (43-21, LW 4). Kemba Walker has been eased back into competition this restart because of the balky left knee that has bothered him all season, but Walker moved well and impressed in Sunday’s scrimmage. That’s a good sign. Backcourt scoring and versatile, switchable wing play are Boston’s strengths, but a deep playoff run will depend on Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter stepping up at the center spot.

 
Rockets small icon 6. Rockets (40-24, LW 6). James Harden is back, looking rested, and dropped 31 points (and a near triple-double in 35 minutes) on Sunday. He requested to play all those minutes, and wouldn’t come out at the end, because he wanted the feel of a real game. The Rockets defensive rotations looked sharp in the fourth quarter Sunday and held the Grizzlies to 18.2% shooting.

 
Thunder small icon 7. Thunder (40-24, LW 9). I’m not sure most fans realize just how well OKC was playing before the season was interrupted: They were 33-13 after Dec. 1 with a top 10 offense and defense. Chris Paul was playing at an All-NBA level and may have been the best clutch player in the league this season, leading OKC to a lot of close wins. The Thunder got an emotional boost watching Andre Roberson step back on the court for the first time in 909 days.

 
Heat small icon 8. Heat (41-24, LW 8). Kendrick Nunn (who tested positive for the coronavirus) was not only back in Orlando but back in the starting lineup for the Heat’s scrimmage against Utah. Bam Adebayo, who also tested positive, is in Orlando but has yet to play in a game. With a deep and versatile roster, Miami is the dark horse favorite at the restart for a lot of analysts, thanks in part to the intensity of Jimmy Butler leading a talented young core.

 
Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (43-22, LW 7). Mike Malone said it himself: Denver’s coach has no idea where his team is in preparation for the seeding games right now. Due to injury and the coronavirus they have had just eight players ready to go in both scrimmage games. But on of those players is Bol Bol and that is all most of us need to see.

 
Mavericks small icon 10. Mavericks (40-27, LW 11). Any questions about Luka Doncic’s fitness should be tossed out the window at this point, he has looked fantastic. Dallas’ floor spacing and shooting from three is going to be dangerous in the playoffs, but their defense needs to tighten up if they are going to be a real first round threat. Also, expect Doncic to text Kristaps Porzingis daily to remind him to get his coronavirus test.

 
Sixers small icon 11. 76ers (39-26, LW 11). Joel Embiid missing a game due to calf tightness isn’t devastating but it will raise some eyebrows — a healthy and focused Embiid is critical to any Sixers playoff hopes. (He did practice Monday, a good sign.) All that talk about Ben Simmons taking two corner threes in the Sixers opener (hitting one), notice in the second game he didn’t even attempt a shot from deep. He has to shoot constantly from there to be a threat.

 
Jazz small icon 12. Jazz (41-23, LW 13). Utah needs a Mike Conley to step up and replace Bojan Bogdanovic‘s scoring and play making, which is why his second half against Miami is encouraging. Rudy Gobert has looked fantastic through two games, and he and Donovan Mitchell have shown some on-court chemistry even as there are questions about their chemistry off it.

 
Blazers small icon 13. Trail Blazers (29-37, LW 14). Jusuf Nurkic was back for his first scrimmage over the weekend and looked fantastic both as a scorer and distributor. His chemistry with Damian Lillard was like he never left, and the little dust-up with Serge Ibaka was a reminder of the grit Nurkic brings. The experiment of Nurkic and Hassan Whiteside playing together will be something to watch.

Pelicans small icon 14. Pelicans (28-36, LW 15). Zion Williamson is back in the bubble and (provided he keeps testing negative) will be available opening night against Utah. Whether Alvin Gentry will play him after limited practice remains to be seen, but the Pelicans can’t afford to start slow in the chase to get into a play-in series for the eighth seed. They need Zion.

 
Pacers small icon 15. Pacers (39-26, LW 12). The loss of Domantas Sabonis for the restart due to a foot injury is a punch to the gut of a team that was looking to advance out of the first round in the playoffs. No official word yet on if Victor Oladipo will play in the seeding/playoff games, but he has looked fantastic in both Pacers scrimmage games. Will the Sabonis news impact his decision?

 
Magic small icon 16. Magic (30-35, LW 17). Both Jonathan Isaac and Markelle Fultz are set to return for the final Magic scrimmage game and could be good to go for the seeding games, if cleared. Getting Isaac back would be huge for an Orlando team where defense has been the issue, he was an All-Defensive Team level player before an injury prematurely ended his season.

 
Grizzlies small icon 17. Grizzlies (32-33, LW 16). The loss of Justise Winslow to a hip injury is a real blow to the depth and potential of this team. There have been bright spots. Memphis’ best rookie through two scrimmages is not soon-to-be Rookie of the Year Ja Morant (who has still looked solid), it’s Brandon Clarke (16 points against Houston Sunday). Kyle Anderson also has shown he is healthy and can handle some minutes in Orlando.

 
Kings small icon 18. Kings (28-36, LW 19). No Marvin Bagley due to a foot injury that has him out for the restart (the other foot from the foot injury that had him out for much of the season). No Bagley hurts the offense, the lack of Alex Len being healthy hurts the defense, although Len could return by the weekend. With all that it’s hard to picture Sacramento ending a playoff drought that goes back by 2006.

 
Spurs small icon 19. Spurs (27-36, LW 20). Pour one out for the Spurs 22-season playoff streak, there is almost no way that will continue. The bubble games for San Antonio are about the future, specifically what a Dejounte Murray/Lonnie Walker IV backcourt might look like. Plenty of speculation around the league about whether Gregg Popovich will coach next season, a question he may not know the answer to yet.

 
Suns small icon 20. Suns (26-39, LW 21). Good news, Aron Baynes has been cleared after testing positive for the coronavirus and is on his way to the Orlando bubble. Phoenix is using this restart to get Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton some time to build chemistry — and Ayton plans to keep shooting those threes if left open. The Suns lack of depth has been an issue in the scrimmage games (especially against a deep Celtics’ roster.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (30-34, LW 18). With more players out than we have room to list here, Brooklyn has become the Caris LeVert show at the restart, a lot of the offense runs through him. Joe Harris and Garrett Temple will have bigger roles too, while Jarrett Allen has a chance to step up. Most observers expect the Nets to fall behind the Magic and become the eight seed in the East (meaning the Bucks in the first round).

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (24-40, LW 22). Can Washington make up two games on Brooklyn to force a play-in series? As depleted as the Wizards are, that feels like a long shot. The key is for guys to stay healthy and not suffer an injury that impacts next season.

 
Bulls small icon 23. Bulls (22-43, LW 23). Hearing more and more buzz that even though the new front office is not sold on Jim Boylen as coach — and players such as Thaddeus Young will push for a trade if he stays — he will keep his job next season. It saves money for ownership at a time the league is taking a hit, plus it lets Arturas Karnisovas save the “changing the coach” card for another time. Nothing is decided yet on this front, but it will need to be in the coming weeks.

 
24. Timberwolves (19-45, LW 24). Glen Taylor has put the team up for sale, but only to a new owner who will keep the team in Minnesota (the team’s lease at the Target Center runs through 2035). Kevin Garnett is the best storyline of the potential new owners, and he is talking to billionaire partners. The Wilf family (which owns the Vikings) are not actively negotiating, but there are a number of other billionaires kicking the tires on the sale.

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (20-46, LW 25). Not in Orlando for the restart and not much new to talk about in Atlanta, outside of Lou Williams’ restaurant choices.

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (23-42, LW 26). Not in Orlando for the restart.

 
Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (20-45, LW 27). Tom Thibodeau is the team’s new head coach, and I like the hire… with caveats. First, Thibodeau has to have grown and take his foot off the accelerator at points with a young team — RJ Barrett doesn’t need to lead the league in minutes played. Secondly, Thibs and team president Leon Rose need to be on the same page with player development, culture building, and more. That coach/front office connection has not always been there in Madison Square Garden before.

Pistons small icon 28. Pistons (20-45, LW 28). Not in Orlando for the restart.

 
Cavaliers small icon 29. Cavaliers (19-46, LW 29). Not in Orlando for the restart.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (15-50 LW 30). Not in Orlando for the restart.

No positive COVID-19 tests from 343 players in NBA bubble last week

NBA COVID-19 tests
Getty Images
Leave a comment

As has happened the past few weeks, Wednesday the NBA and NBPA announced that there were no positive tests among the 343 players tested for COVID-19 in the past week at the league’s restart campus in Orlando.

The NBA has had no positive tests from players inside the bubble.

The NBA’s plan for a restart began with testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again. The goal was to keep the virus outside of the bubble.

That has worked through one week of games.

The league did send a memo to teams reminding them players and staff need to wear a mask while on the NBA campus (when they were not practicing or playing games). The goal is to contain any outbreak, should the virus get into the bubble. That outbreak has yet to happen.

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining on the NBA campus, family members will arrive next month, and there are still other ways the virus could penetrate the bubble. The league isn’t celebrating victory yet.

But so far, so good.

NBA Power Rankings: Toronto looks like best team in bubble so far

NBA Power Rankings
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Things in the bubble are getting interesting — young teams are taking it seriously, while some playoff-bound teams see it more as an extended exhibition season. That is leading to upsets and movement in our power rankings.

EDITORS NOTE: We are not including the eight teams not invited to the restart in the rankings the rest of this season.

 
Lakers small icon 1. Lakers (51-15, 2-1 in bubble, Last week No. 2). Of course, LeBron James has been good in the bubble restart — 19.3 points and seven assists a game — but Anthony Davis has been the early bubble MVP. He was a beast and feasted against Utah Monday, scoring 42 points with 16 rebounds despite being matched up against reigning Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert for much of the night. Davis led the Lakers to the win sealed them as the No. 1 seed in the West.

 
Raptors small icon 2. Raptors (48-18, 2-0, LW 4). The win over the Lakers was a reminder — Toronto is a contender (but I still have to rank the top-seeded Lakers higher, I’d take them in a series). The Raptors have been the best defensive team in the bubble with sharp rotations and smart schemes (just ask LeBron and AD). On the other end of the court they can get scoring from a variety of players: Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet (he dropped 36 on the Heat), among others. Do not sleep on the Raptors. Possible second-round preview against the Celtics on Friday.

 
Bucks small icon 3. Bucks (54-14, 1-3 in bubble, LW 1). The Bucks are treating the bubble games like the preseason, a slow warmup to when things matter. It hasn’t been all bad, Gianni Antetokounmpo has looked every bit the MVP when called upon, and the Bucks’ defense is locked in — they held James Harden to 5-of-14 shooting and 24 points, while the Rockets as a team shot 39.6%. But Mike Budenholzer sat Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for the second half against the Nets (a loss), and they aren’t taking the won/loss record seriously. They are easing into the games that matter, something their record over the first 65 allows them to do.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (45-22, 1-2, LW 3). Both of the Clippers’ losses in the bubble have been close ones (Lakers opening night, the Suns on Devin Booker’s game-winner), and they have been shorthanded without Montrezl Harrell (they just got Lou Williams back on Tuesday). Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have played well, and the L.A. defense has been strong, but these Clippers feel like the ones we watched for most of the season, just waiting for them to get healthy and find some chemistry together. We’re still waiting for the switch to flip with this team.

 
Rockets small icon 5. Rockets (42-25, 2-1, LW 6). Milwaukee’s defensive strategy is “protect the paint at all costs, we’ll give up some threes” played into Houston’s hands and the Rockets launched 61 from beyond the arc. However, it was a stretch of good defense in crunch time of that game that turned heads — the Rockets have not been a great defensive team in the bubble (18th in net rating), but they’ve been good enough when it mattered. Danuel House and Ben McLemore have stepped up with Eric Gordon still out.

 
Thunder small icon 6. Thunder (41-25, 1-1, LW 7). OKC has played good defense in the bubble, and having Andre Roberson back in the rotation certainly helps with that (and is just a good story after he missed 900+ days due to injury). Despite the OT loss to Denver, the Thunder remain one of the best clutch teams in the league, which makes them a very dangerous first-round playoff opponent. Dennis Schroder is out of the bubble for the birth of his child but is expected to return.

 
Heat small icon 7. Heat (43-25, 2-1, LW 8). Knocking off Boston while Jimmy Butler had the day off was a message game — Miami is going to be a very tough out come the playoffs. The Heat have been a top-10 offense and defense so far in the bubble (small sample size, but a good sign). Bam Adebayo has more than just the best name in the league, he has become a real problem for opponents, dropping 22 on Denver and then having 21 points and 12 boards against Boston. He’s playing at an All-NBA level.

 
Celtics small icon 8. Celtics (44-23, 1-2, LW 5). Despite a very off night from Jayson Tatum against the Bucks (he bounced back with 34 against Portland) and a minutes limit on Kemba Walker, the Boston offense has been good inside the bubble. The Celtics are 2-1 because they can’t get stops — a 117.9 defensive rating through three games. If the Celtics want to make noise in the playoffs, that is the side of the ball Brad Stevens and crew need to turn around.

 
Pacers small icon 9. Pacers (42-26, 3-0 LW 15). T.J. Warren is your didn’t-see-that-coming MVP of the bubble so far, scoring 119 points through three games and lifting the Pacers to that undefeated record in Orlando. Pair him with Victor Oladipo (who is playing… and collecting those checks) and Malcolm Brogdon and the Pacers have a formidable offense. Indy seems locked into the five seed and a likely first-round matchup with Miami. How will the Heat slow down Warren?

 
Nuggets small icon 10. Nuggets (44-22, 1-1, LW 9). Denver has not been able to get everyone healthy, in the bubble and on the court together during the restart. Even as Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton and the rest come back, it will take time to get them into game shape. Fortunately Denver has Bol Bol, who is an impressive playmaker on top of everything else.

 
Blazers small icon 11. Trail Blazers (31-38, 2-1, LW 13). Jusuf Nurkic is back and his passing and screen setting has helped spark the Portland offense to be one of the best in the bubble — but he hasn’t helped the Blazer defense much. That’s a concern, but the Blazers are now within 1.5 games of Memphis and thinking about passing them for the eighth seed (and their fans are already jumping the gun, looking ahead to the Lakers). Portland is going to need a lot from Carmelo Anthony and Gary Trent Jr. to make a run to the postseason.

 
Sixers small icon 12. 76ers (40-27, 1-1, LW 11). Philadelphia’s defense has been terrible through the first two games in the bubble — including giving up 53 points to T.J. Warren — although that has been covered up somewhat by strong play from Joel Embiid and a Shake Milton game-winner against the Spurs. There’s a soft stretch of the schedule ahead where Philadelphia can find its rhythm. It needs to, right now the 76ers aren’t scaring anybody in the first round.

 
Mavericks small icon 13. Mavericks (41-29, 1-2, LW 10). Luka Doncic became the youngest player in NBA history to record a 30-20-10 triple-double (besting some guy named Oscar Robertson by a year and a half). Thanks to that the Mavericks finally pulled out a close-game win, having lost their first two bubble games to Houston and Phoenix in close ones. The Mavericks seem on track to get the Clippers in the first round, a tough matchup, but if Denver sneaks up to the two seed the Doncic will make the Mavs an upset favorite.

 
Jazz small icon 14. Jazz (42-25, 1-2, LW 12). Utah has struggled to score through the first three games of the restart, and that has been particularly true when their bench units are on the court (this is where not having Bojan Bogdanovic as a secondary playmaker hurts). Jordan Clarkson has put up points off the bench (although consistency is not his middle name), but after that the depth falls off. As it was during the season, Utah’s defense has been good but not great.

 
Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (29-37, 2-1, LW 19). The Spurs four-guard starting lineup — Dejounte Murray, Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, and Lonnie Walker IV — have the Spurs playing fast and winning games (including beating Memphis is a critical game if San Antonio is going to keep its playoff streak alive). Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are playing well off the bench, and for the first time in a couple of years the Spurs are a very entertaining team to watch.

 
Magic small icon 16. Magic (32-36, 2-1, LW 16). The loss of Jonathan Isaac is just brutal, a cornerstone of this franchise’s rebuild and he is likely out for all of next season as well. Orlando’s offense has been one of the best in the league at the restart (although soft defenses on the schedule helped with that) and it has them up to the seven seed in the East, where they will be able to avoid the Bucks in the first round (not that facing Toronto is much easier).

 
Suns small icon 17. Suns (29-39, 3-0, LW 20). The bubble Suns are undefeated and Devin Booker has the shot of the restart so far with his game-winning turnaround over Paul George to beat the Clippers. The biggest surprise in the bubble: How well Cam Johnson has played. He has taken a leap forward in Orlando (even with the rough game against the Clippers) and it’s a big boost for Phoenix.

Pelicans small icon 18. Pelicans (29-38, 1-2, LW 14). After dropping their first two games — and knowing they probably needed to win out to make the postseason — the Pelicans took Zion Williamson out of bubble wrap and found a way to beat the Grizzlies and keep their playoff hopes alive. The Pelicans have been good defensively but struggled on offense in the bubble, Williamson helps the offense but is still a defensive liability, that’s the end of the court he needs to improve upon. New Orleans’ schedule softens up from here.

 
Grizzlies small icon 19. Grizzlies (32-36, 0-3, LW 17). Losing Jaren Jackson Jr. for the rest of this season makes the Grizzlies much more vulnerable — they are not going to be able to fill his minutes with play nearly as good. Memphis has had a rough 0-3 start in the bubble, but all three losses are by single digits. They need to find some wins to keep the eighth seed but it won’t be easy with Utah, Oklahoma City, and Toronto the next three on the schedule.

 
Nets small icon 20. Nets (32-35, 2-1, LW 21). Caris LeVert has looked good as the focal point of the offense in the bubble — he had 34 points against Washington — although this is not going to be his role next season when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are on the court. With the win over Washington the Nets are all but a mathematical lock to make the playoffs (likely as the eighth seed).

 
Kings small icon 21. Kings (28-39, 0-3, LW 18). The playoff drought that goes back to 2006 is not ending in the bubble, not after the Kings coughed up all momentum losing their first two games at the restart. Buddy Hield has looked off — out of shape in the eyes of some scouts — and has shot 32.6% overall and 27.6% from three in Orlando. His contract extension kicks in next season.

 
Wizards small icon 22. Wizards (24-43, 0-3, LW 22). The 0-3 Wizards could be on their way to an 0-8 bubble record, but the goal here was to get run for guys like Rui Hachimura and Thomas Bryant. Both have played well but struggled once defenses started to focus more on them.

President Donald Trump: “I think it’s disgraceful” NBA players kneel during anthem

Trump NBA
Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Everyone knew it was coming. As the vast majority of NBA players and coaches have kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and support of the Black Lives Matters movement, there would be politicians/talking heads who saw the opportunity to blast the league and score points with their base. They couldn’t pass it up.

Enter President Donald Trump.

In a phone call into Fox and Friends on Wednesday morning, the president ripped the NBA and its players for taking a knee during the anthem. It came with other over-the-top claims that Trump throws out like bread crumbs to pigeons.

“When I see people kneeling during the playing and disrespecting our flag and national anthem, what I do personally is turn off the game. I think it’s disgraceful. We work with [the NBA], we worked with them very hard trying to get open. I was pushing for them to get open. Then I see everybody kneeling during the anthem. That’s not acceptable to me. When I see them kneeling during the game, I just turn off the game. I have no interest in the game. Let me tell you this, plenty of other people out there, too…

“The ratings for the basketball are way down, as you know. I hear some others are way down, including baseball. We have to stand up for our flag, stand up for our country. A lot of people agree with me. If I’m wrong, I’m going to lose an election. That’s okay with me. I will always stand for our flag.”

Ratings for the NBA games from the restart are way up — TNT drew double its usual regular-season audience for the opening night games, and ratings have been up about 14% across the board for the games from Orlando.

As for the reaction to Trump’s comments around the league?

“I mean, so what? Really, I don’t even care,” was Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers comment. “We know that justice is on our side, right?”

Kneeling for the anthem is just a part of the social justice message from the league. The league has written “Black Lives Matter” on the court, players could choose to wear a number of social justice messages on the nameplate on the back of their jerseys, and players have spoken about causes in countless television and other media interviews.

More than talk, players have put their money behind causes, such as LeBron James pushing to register Black and other people of color to vote, and push back on voter suppression efforts.

Trump wasn’t done being wrong or over the top, mentioning himself in the same breath as Abraham Lincoln.

“Nobody has done better for our Black community than me. Nobody. With the possible exception of Abraham Lincoln; it’s true. Criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, best employment numbers in history. Again, nobody has done for the black community – by far. I’ll give the one exception: Abraham Lincoln.”

Everyone around the league expected this at some point. The reaction around the league has been a shrug, knowing the president is playing election-year politics the only way he knows how.

The Pelicans’ J.J. Redick summed up most people’s thoughts a week ago in an interview with Yahoo Sports, reacting to a different Tweet from the president.

“First of all, I don’t think anybody in the NBA cares if President Trump watches basketball. I couldn’t care less. As far as his base, I think regardless of the specificity of tweeting about the NBA, every tweet of his is meant to divide, every tweet is meant to incite, every tweet is meant to embolden his base.”

 

Patrick Beverley injures calf, Clippers say they will be cautious with return

Patrick Beverley injury
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Injuries and not having their whole team together at once — allowing little chance to build real chemistry — was the story of the pre-hiatus Clippers. Nothing changed once they got inside the bubble.

The latest news: Point guard Patrick Beverley left the Clippers’ loss to the Suns Tuesday with calf tightness and did not return to the game. How serious is it?

“I don’t think it’s bad,” Doc Rivers said to reporters postgame. “We’re going to be very cautious, I can tell you that.”

The Clippers are always cautious with the return of players. Don’t expect to see much of Beverley for a couple of games.

Los Angeles sits as the two seed in the West, one game up on three-seed Denver. However, what really matters in a restart without home-court advantage is both Houston and Utah (the four/five seeds) are three games back. It’s improbable the Clippers give up that much ground in the five remaining seeding games.

Los Angeles now just needs to make sure it’s ready for the playoffs.

The Clippers had six players in-and-out of the bubble during training camp and are just now getting close to whole. Los Angeles did get Lou Williams back from quarantine on Wednesday — he addressed his chicken-wing fueled absence — but remain without Montrezl Harrell, who is grieving the loss of his grandmother.

Now Beverley will miss some time. The Clippers are 1-2 in the bubble, but both losses were tight ones (to the Lakers opening night and on Devin Booker‘s game-winner Tuesday). The Clippers are playing good defense but still look like a team that just needs to get healthy, and develop a little chemistry, before we know just how good they really are. It’s just a question of if and when they get the whole roster together.