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 the Thunder will finish fifth in the Western Conference if Utah loses its finale on Thursday against the San Antonio Spurs and the Mavericks lose one of their final two games (against Portland on Wednesday and Phoenix on 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 also could fall to seventh if Dallas beats Portland on Wednesday and Phoenix on Thursday and Utah loses to the Spurs.
Even if the Jazz finish sixth, 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 the 3-seed 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 also could still pass the Clippers for the 2-seed, so the Nuggets have plenty to play for — though they didn’t look like it when they sat Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr., and Torrey Craig for the entire fourth quarter after playing the Los Angeles Lakers to a tie through three quarters Monday night.
Oklahoma City, meanwhile, still has a chance to keep the top-20 protected pick it traded to the 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 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 the Heat-Pacers matchup — 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 on Wednesday before finishing up with the Clippers on Friday. So, if Indiana wins Monday and the Thunder lose their remaining games, the Thunder are guaranteed of, at minimum, a coin flip with the Jazz for the 20th spot in the league’s draft order. — Tim Bontemps
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.
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Kyle Kuzma hits clutch 3, Lakers defeat Nuggets bench
The Los Angeles Lakers started Kyle Kuzma at shooting guard, and after a fantastic after timeout call by head coach Frank Vogel, Kuzma made the game-winning 3-pointer to give his team a 124-121 win over the Denver Nuggets.
Kuzma’s shot came against a Denver lineup of reserves that played the entire fourth quarter: Monte Morris, P.J. Dozier, Keita Bates-Diop, Bol Bol and Mason Plumlee. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Lakers.
Kyle Kuzma gets the ball from Anthony Davis, then sinks the winning 3-pointer for the Lakers against the Nuggets.
Jimmy Butler, wins
Miami Heat All-Star small forward Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup after missing a week, just in time to face his nemesis and Bubble Phenomenon T.J. Warren of the Indiana Pacers.
Warren scored a restart-low 12 points, none in the second half, while Butler led the Heat with 19 points. Miami blew the Pacers out 114-92. That left Butler feeling good:
Los Angeles Lakers All-Star small forward LeBron James is near Orlando, and he used to play for the NBA team in Miami.
Later, former Heat teammate Dwyane Wade copied James’ look, leading James to comment, “Man you’re SICK!!!!”
.@KingJames couldn’t stop laughing after seeing @DwyaneWade copy his pregame look 😂 pic.twitter.com/PudXOn6dMq
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 11, 2020
6-0 Suns of Anarchy
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 the Portland Trail Blazers 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.
Booker shows love for Taurasi
Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker made a statement with his arrival outfit on 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.
Ayton doesn’t start for Suns on Monday
Suns center Deandre Ayton averaged 18.2 points and 9.8 rebounds as Phoenix 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, but he sat out the first quarter.
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
Monday’s must-see games
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat | 8 p.m. ET
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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
Full scoreboard for Monday
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 was 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 also will 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
Full standings | Playoff matchups
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
Full scoreboard for Tuesday
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.