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Kawhi Leonard says he’s “the whole package.”

Paul George sees a “pure player” who “just does everything at a high level.”

The LA Clippers’ two best defenders heaped praise on Luka Doncic on Thursday night, and rightfully so. Doncic had 29 points and buried six 3-pointers against them, but the Clippers improved to 3-0 against the Dallas Mavericks with a 126-111 win in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, in their final regular-season meeting.

The two teams appear to be headed toward a first-round playoff series with the Clippers (46-22) currently No. 2 in the Western Conference with a 1½-game lead over the Denver Nuggets. The Mavericks are 41-30 and are nearly locked into the seventh spot, sitting 3 games behind Oklahoma City for the sixth spot.

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If these teams end up playing each other in the postseason, the Clippers have shown Doncic that it could be a long and physical series for the Mavericks star. With Leonard and George leading the way, the Clippers have waves of defenders to throw at him.

“Just showing bodies, bodies in front of him,” Leonard said of defending Doncic. “He’s a great passer, can get to the hole, gets to the free throw line, shoots the 3 well. He has the whole package so we gotta be ready. Now, [Kristaps] Porzingis is out there healthy and moving well, so it’s a tough team.”

In three games this season against the Clippers, Doncic hit his season average of 29 points, but his 3-point shooting dipped from 31.2% to 27.7% and he averaged 5 turnovers per game.

“You see it tonight, how he just constantly put pressure on us,” said George, who had 24 points on Thursday. “But we have so many defenders, we got so many guys, it’s just tough over a full game where you have to go through defender after defender. At some point, you get worn down.”

“I mean, we just got to make it a tough game,” George added of facing the Mavericks. “It’s a team you got to be physical with. They’re a continuity team where they just want to run their offense, be comfortable. We take them out of that, the game is in our hands.”

While Porzingis had 30 points and nine rebounds, the Mavericks couldn’t slow the Clippers down. Even without Montrezl Harrell (not with team) and Patrick Beverley (left calf strain) and with Lou Williams and Landry Shamet on a minutes restriction, the Clippers shot 54.3% and got a perfect performance from Ivica Zubac. The center had 21 points and 15 rebounds and shot 10-for-10.

Once the Clippers get Harrell back, they’ll be one of the favorites to win the NBA title.

“We always have chances,” Doncic said of potentially facing the Clippers in a series. “You know we’re a great team. We always got chances no matter what.

“I think some people count us out, but we’re not out. I think we have chances, so we’ll give it our best.” — Ohm Youngmisuk

PAST BUBBLE INTEL: July 30 | July 31 | Aug. 1 | Aug. 2 | Aug. 3 | Aug. 4 | Aug. 5 | Full standings | Playoff matchups


Latest buzz

Dame D.O.L.L.A. cashes in 11 3s

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Damian Lillard scores 45 points and matches a career high with 11 3-pointers in the Blazers’ double-digit victory over the Nuggets.

Damian Lillard joined Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson as the only players in NBA history with multiple games of 11 or more 3-pointers in a season as his 45 points lifted Portland past Denver. The Trail Blazers are now a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference.

Highs and lows with Bol Bol

Like any freshman in the league, there are peaks and valleys that a player must go through. For Nuggets rookie Bol Bol, that experience happened in Thursday’s second quarter.

First, Bol showed his off-the-dribble skills and finessed his way into an impressive bucket.

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Nuggets rookie Bol Bol’s elusiveness is on display with this drive and slam.

Unfortunately, Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic was not obliged to be so gentle with Bol standing under the rim.

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Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic bodies Nuggets rookie Bol Bol on the poster slam, plus the foul.

Phoenix really wanted Denver to get that W


Ben Simmons has partially dislocated kneecap

Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons left Wednesday’s win over the Washington Wizards after he went up and grabbed a rebound midway through the third quarter. Sixers coach Brett Brown said that the team should know within the next 24 hours what the next steps for Simmons will be.

MORE: What Simmons’ knee injury means for Philly


Bucks clinch East’s No. 1 seed, but it wasn’t easy

After falling to the short-handed Nets on Tuesday, the NBA-best Bucks were in real danger of dropping another one against the Heat — who were without Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. Milwaukee is now the East’s No. 1 seed for the second consecutive season, but it took a 23-point comeback to clinch.

The Bucks have Giannis Antetokounmpo to thank. The MVP front-runner recorded 33 points and 12 rebounds, and went a career-best 13-for-13 on 2-pointers with eight dunks — one shy of his career high.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo bests Bam Adebayo again with a baseline, corkscrew slam in the second quarter.

LeBron sits against Houston

Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James would sit out against the Houston Rockets because of his right groin, the team announced ahead of Thursday’s 113-97 loss. James, 35, missed 27 games last season because of a groin injury suffered on Christmas Day. This season, he sat out games in December and February for the same reason. James averaged 33.5 minutes in the Lakers’ first four games since the season restart, scoring nearly 20 points per game.

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Marc J. Spears believes that LeBron James should have been sitting for the second game of a back-to-back even without a sore right groin.

This Derrick Jones Jr. brick is a masterpiece

Miami’s high flyer won the 2020 dunk contest with slams just like this one. Except, you know, those went in.

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Derrick Jones Jr.’s poster-dunk attempt is wiped away by Khris Middleton’s foul.

Is time running out for Zion and the Pelicans?

The New Orleans Pelicans came into the bubble with what was expected to be a great chance at — the very worst — making the play-in tournament for the Western Conference’s No. 8 seed. On Thursday, the Pelicans had a chance to be 1½ games back of the Memphis Grizzlies if things broke their way. Instead, a disappointing 140-125 loss to Sacramento sent the Pelicans into a tie for the worst record of the six teams vying for the final spot in the West (New Orleans still remains 2½ games behind Memphis).

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Zion Williamson shoots an efficient 10-for-12 from the field for 24 points, but it wasn’t enough as the Pelicans fell to the Kings 140-125.

With several teams to climb over, the Pelicans will have to see how much more they can get from Zion Williamson, who had 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting Thursday in only 22 minutes of work.

“We’ve got to come together as a team,” Williamson said about getting on the right track defensively. “Our coaches have to come together, and we’ve all got to just figure out how we’re going to adjust.”

Luckily for the Pelicans, they get right back at it Friday night against the Washington Wizards, one of two teams who haven’t won a game in the bubble.

— Andrew Lopez

Shaq is virtually everywhere

The Hall of Famer and TNT NBA analyst was “courtside” for the Heat-Bucks, Clippers-Mavericks and Pacers-Suns matchups.

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Shaquille O’Neal is spotted clowning in the virtual crowd between Heat vs. Bucks.

Some interesting packages are arriving to the bubble

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Rachel Nichols details the intricate mailing process inside the NBA bubble and some of the oddest items ordered in.

Thursday’s scores

Don’t have ESPN? Get instant access.

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Michael Porter Jr. scores from all over the floor on his way to 30 points in the Nuggets’ 132-126 win vs. the Spurs.

Play-in watch

The Portland Trail Blazers, winners of three of their last four, now find themselves a half-game back of the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference playoffs. While many believed the Blazers would be a leading contender to earn a spot in a play-in scenario, few believed they could usurp the Grizzlies in the standings. Memphis will look to get its first win in the bubble on Friday versus Oklahoma City.

Eastern Conference

7. Brooklyn Nets | 32-36 (.471) |
8. Orlando Magic | 32-37 (.464) |
9. Washington Wizards | 24-44 (.353) | 7.5 GB

Western Conference

8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-37 (.464) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 32-38 (.457) | 0.5 GB
10. Phoenix Suns | 30-39 (.435) | 2.0 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 29-38 (.433) | 2.0 GB
T-12. Sacramento Kings | 29-39 (.426) | 2.5 GB
T-12. New Orleans Pelicans | 29-39 (.426) | 2.5 GB


Friday’s must-see games

Utah Jazz vs. San Antonio Spurs | 1 p.m. ET

After such a strong start, time is starting to run out on the Spurs. The margin of error gets thinner by the game, and they face a Jazz team desperate to start rebuilding rhythm and chemistry. Seeding isn’t necessarily a maximum priority for Utah — figuring things out is. — Royce Young

The NBA is back! Answer questions on the seeding games for a chance at a guaranteed $5,000! Make Your Picks

Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 4 p.m. ET

Things are starting to get pretty must-win-ish for the Grizzlies. Not only are they at risk of flipping from eighth to ninth, thereby needing two wins in the play-in tourney rather than just one, but they might fall out of it altogether. The Blazers are just a half-game back; the Suns and Spurs are two. And the Thunder aren’t exactly an ideal matchup with their size, length and depth. — Young

Boston Celtics vs. Toronto Raptors | 9 p.m. ET

With these teams having a chance to see each other in the second round of the playoffs, it will be interesting to see how both coaches approach it. The Raptors have been extremely impressive in the bubble, and the Celtics bounced back from a tough loss to Miami by dropping a cool 149 on the Nets. — Young

Additional games

  • Sacramento Kings vs. Brooklyn Nets | 5 p.m. ET

  • Orlando Magic vs. Philadelphia 76ers | 6:30 p.m. ET

  • Washington Wizards vs. New Orleans Pelicans | 8 p.m. ET

Full scoreboard for Friday


Analysis and intel

Picking the NBA all-bubble team: The five best stars so far

Kirk Goldsberry takes a look at the players who are thriving in an unprecedented environment.

The Celtics will go as far as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum carry them

As expectations evolve in Boston, the Celtics’ final form will be molded by their young wings.

What we’re seeing and hearing inside the NBA bubble

A 22-team breakdown of the latest insights on teams playing in Orlando.

Real or not: Memphis’ playoff chances, Tatum’s trajectory and big restart questions

Our NBA experts weigh in on the biggest trends after the first weekend of basketball.


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