Daily NBA bubble primer: Spurs Culture and the art of not folding in the face of elimination

Ben Rohrbach
·7 mins read

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 11 of the restart to the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (55-15)

  2. Toronto Raptors (49-19)

  3. Boston Celtics (46-23)

  4. Miami Heat (43-27)

  5. Indiana Pacers (43-27)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (42-27)

  7. Brooklyn Nets (33-36)

  8. Orlando Magic (32-38)

    Washington Wizards (24-45)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (51-18)

  2. L.A. Clippers (47-22)

  3. Denver Nuggets (46-24)

  4. Houston Rockets (43-25)

  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-26)

  6. Utah Jazz (43-27)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (42-30)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (33-37)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (32-39)

    Phoenix Suns (31-39)

    San Antonio Spurs (30-38)

    New Orleans Pelicans (30-39)

    Sacramento Kings (29-40)

Sunday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

Washington Wizards vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, 12:30 p.m.

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Toronto Raptors, 2 p.m.

San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans, 3 p.m. (ABC)

Orlando Magic vs. Boston Celtics, 5 p.m.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Portland Trail Blazers, 6:30 p.m. (NBATV)

Houston Rockets vs. Sacramento Kings, 8 p.m.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 9 p.m. (NBATV)

BetMGM odds

Washington Wizards +9.5 (-110)
Oklahoma City Thunder -9.5 (-110)

Over/Under 221.5

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Memphis Grizzlies +6 (-110)
Toronto Raptors -6 (-110)

Over/Under 221.5

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San Antonio Spurs +3.5 (-110)
New Orleans Pelicans -3.5 (-110)

Over/Under 238.5

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Orlando Magic +9 (-110)
Boston Celtics -9 (-110)

Over/Under 220.5

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Philadelphia 76ers +3 (-110)
Portland Trail Blazers -3 (-110)

Over/Under 229.5

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Houston Rockets -5.5 (-110)
Sacramento Kings +5.5 (-110)

Over/Under 233.5

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Brooklyn Nets +13 (-110)
Los Angeles Clippers -13 (-110)

Over/Under 226.5

Neither DeMar DeRozan's Spurs nor Zion Williamson's Pelicans can afford a loss on Sunday. They play each other. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Neither DeMar DeRozan's Spurs nor Zion Williamson's Pelicans can afford a loss on Sunday. They play each other. (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Washington Wizards (24-45) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (42-26)

The Wizards have been eliminated from playoff contention.

The Thunder will remain in position to play the Rockets in the West’s 4-5 series with a win. A loss would drop Oklahoma City to sixth place behind the Jazz, positioned for a potential 3-6 series with the Nuggets.

Memphis Grizzlies (33-37) vs. Toronto Raptors (49-19)

The Raptors would clinch the No. 2 seed in the East with a win.

The Grizzlies can clinch eighth place with a win and a Blazers loss. That means the ninth-place team would have to win two straight games in a play-in series to unseat them from the West’s final playoff seed. However, Memphis’ grip on eighth place could loosen to just a half-game with a loss and a Portland win.

San Antonio Spurs (30-38) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (30-39)

The Spurs can jump into ninth place in the West with a win and a Blazers loss — in position to force a play-in series with the eighth-place Grizzlies with just two games remaining on their regular-season schedules.

The Pelicans would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss and a Blazers win.

Orlando Magic (32-38) vs. Boston Celtics (46-23)

The Celtics would be locked into the No. 3 seed in the East with a loss or a Raptors win.

The Magic would be locked into the No. 8 seed in the East with a loss and a Nets win.

Philadelphia 76ers (42-27) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (32-39)

The Sixers would fall a full game back of both the fourth-place Heat and fifth-place Pacers with a loss. Miami and Indiana both own head-to-head tiebreakers over Philadelphia.

The Blazers can draw within a half-game of eighth place with a win and a Grizzlies loss. Portland could fall out of ninth place with a loss and a Spurs win, outside the playoff picture with two games left to get back in.

Houston Rockets (43-25) vs. Sacramento Kings (29-40)

The Rockets would be all but eliminated from contention for the No. 3 seed in the West with a loss.

The Kings will be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss or a Blazers win.

Brooklyn Nets (33-36) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (47-22)

The Nets can clinch the No. 7 seed in the East with a win and a Magic loss.

The Clippers’ magic number to clinch the No. 2 seed in the West would be just one with a win.

Who and what to watch

San Antonio’s cultural advantage

You know what helps when you live in a bubble after four months away from the game of basketball? A two-decade foundation of success built on great coaching, sound decision-making and heightened awareness of each player’s responsibility to the team in his role. Welcome to the San Antonio Spurs model.

More than any other team still battling for the play-in series between the eighth- and ninth-place teams in the West, save for the Blazers, the Spurs understand the stakes. There can be no brake pedal in a seeding game, and execution under pressure is paramount on every possession. With LaMarcus Aldridge sidelined, the Spurs are too often at a talent disadvantage, and a defensive lapse on 76ers guard Shake Milton’s game-winning 3-pointer on Monday was a reminder of their slim margin of error in keeping hope alive.

It is with that wisdom that the Spurs enter Sunday’s game against No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson and the Pelicans. The loser will need a miracle to find safe ground before their bubble pops. New Orleans is trying to establish an identity under a new front office in the wake of Anthony Davis’ departure, and this game — with Williamson and ex-Lakers Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart facing what is in essence the first must-win game of their young NBA careers — will be held in the sort of culture-setting atmosphere San Antonio has acclimated to ever since drafting the last great power forward No. 1 overall.

For whom the bell tolls

The Spurs and Pelicans are not alone among Western Conference teams in desperate need of victory on Sunday, just the only two playing head-to-head. The Blazers, Grizzlies and Kings are all vying for their playoff lives, either in the form of a spot in the play-in series or the edge of entering one as the eighth seed.

Damian Lillard has built a career responding in such situations, but who will join him? Ja Morant and De’Aaron Fox, respective point guards for the Memphis and Sacramento, will hope to establish themselves as The Next Damian Lillard or some version thereof. New NBA heroes and goats will be born on Sunday.

We might also see quit in some teams. While some playoff teams will use their final few games to ramp up their intensity, others will rest players in advance of heavier taxes on their conditioning. Others still will be resigned to the fact that there is nothing left to play for in Orlando. The Wizards have been eliminated from playoff contention, and several teams in the West are teetering on the edge. It could get ugly when they fall.

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