Simmons’ debut at PF and other top storylines as NBA returns
Last night, the NBA made its anticipated return to play in Orlando and brought the heat in Thursday's double-header.
The Los Angeles Lakers, the frontrunner to win the 2020 NBA playoffs, edged out Kawhi Leonard and the rival Clippers, 103-101, while the Jazz and Pelicans produced an equally thrilling finish.
The rest of the 22 teams competing for a chance at the 2020 NBA title will take the court for the first time in the Orlando bubble Friday and Saturday.
Here are the top storylines surrounding those games, during the first weekend of the NBA restart.
Sixers seek spark from Simmons in frontcourt
Sat, August 1 2020, 11:00 PM
The Sixers were 4-5 in their past nine games before the NBA halted play, following Jazz star Rudy Gobert’s positive COVID-19 test March 11.
The team that fell one game short of reaching the NBA Finals in 2019 needed to shift their momentum, and in the NBA’s downtime, head coach Brett Brown came up with a solution.
In Saturday’s matchup against the Pacers, point guard Ben Simmons will make his regular-season debut at power forward. Shake Milton will assume Simmons’ previous role at guard, and Al Horford will be relegated to sixth-man duties.
Simmons hasn’t had a ton of practice time with the Sixers’ new starting lineup. Joel Embiid missed the final two scrimmages in Orlando with right-calf tightness, as did Raul Neto, with lower-back tightness. Glenn Robinson III also sustained a hip pointer in a scrimmage July 23.
If Ben Simmons' day is done he will finish an assist shy of a triple-double and have a +/- of 21. His movement to power forward has been everything you could ask for from him so far.— Kevin McCormick (@KevinMcC973) July 26, 2020
The Pacers and Sixers both sit at 39-26 in the Eastern Conference, so Saturday’s matchup is crucial to seeding. Injuries are already a concern for the Sixers, but a lack of experience with the new lineup could hamper Philly in its first game back.
Oladipo still undecided on playing status
Victor Oladipo decided to join the Pacers in Orlando and appeared in all three scrimmages, where he began to show flashes of his pre-injury self.
Oladipo struggled in the first scrimmage. He scored eight points on 3-of-10 shooting but bounced back in the second exhibition game, with 16 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc.
His status for the restart is still in question, and without him or Domantas Sabonis, Indy won’t present much of a challenge.
Sabonis, the Pacers’ leading scorer and rebounder, left the NBA bubble last week to treat his plantar fasciitis. It is uncertain whether he will return. Indy promoted guard Aaron Holiday to the starting lineup, alongside Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, Myles Turner, and T.J. Warren during scrimmages.
If Oladipo decides against participating in the seeding games, it will cut the Sixers a break Saturday and deflate the Pacers’ hopes of a playoff run.
New-look Nets the biggest underdog of the weekend
Fri, July 31 2020, 6:30 PM
No franchise saw more players drop out of the restart than the Brooklyn Nets, a seven-point underdog against Orlando on Friday.
The Nets’ superstar duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were already dealing with major injuries that made their return improbable. Then, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, and Taurean Prince contracted COVID-19, and Wilson Chandler chose not to enter the bubble as a precaution.
Jamal Crawford and Donta Hall signed with Brooklyn as substitute players, while Lance Thomas inked a deal with Brooklyn, after replacement player Michael Beasley tested positive in the bubble.
The Nets literally about to start Michael Beasley at PF and Jamal Crawford at PG in the 2020 playoffs and I will not miss a game— John Markisch (@Real2KInsider) July 9, 2020
This Nets team won’t look anything like the one you saw in the early part of the season. But if you’re a sucker for underdog stories, it doesn’t get much better than Brooklyn and its stand-in squad.
Brooklyn will square off against the Magic Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Lakers confront reigning champs Saturday
Sun, August 2 2020, 12:30 AM
The Lakers-Clippers clash Thursday ended in rousing fashion, and Saturday’s skirmish with defending champion Toronto should lead to a similar edge-of-your seat finish.
Los Angeles lost to the Raptors, 113-104, in November and has lost to Toronto in the last 10 games in the series. The Lakers are also 7-18-1 against the spread in their last 26 meetings.
Last time out, Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 24 points and 11 rebounds, and Fred VanVleet put up another 23 points and 10 assists. Raptors star Kyle Lowry sat out with a broken thumb, along with Serge Ibaka, who had a sprained right ankle.
Lowry and Ibaka are back for Saturday’s game and will face a Lakers roster missing Avery Bradley, who recorded nine points, four assists, and two steals in the November matchup.
J.R. Smith has signed as a replacement player in Bradley’s absence and saw a scoreless eight minutes of action against the Clippers.
The Lakers are firmly planted in first place in the Western Conference, after they moved 6 1/2 games ahead of the Clippers, with seven regular-season games remaining.
The Raptors sit 6 1/2 games behind Milwaukee in the East and are three games ahead of third-place Boston.