Thursday’s the day. The NBA makes its long-awaited return at their bubble site in Orlando.
The season returns when the Utah Jazz play the New Orleans Pelicans. However, the first big game is later in the evening when the Los Angeles Lakers take on the Los Angeles Clippers. While not normally the case, this is a matchup between the top-two seeds in the Western Conference.
The game features big names pivoted against each other: LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the Lakers, and Khawi Leonard and Paul George on the Clippers. The Clippers enter this game without another key player, shooting guard Lou Williams, who needs to quarantine after going to a strip club.
The Lakers are favored, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, but only by four points. Lakers star LeBron James said he’s ready to go and will do his best to stay healthy.
The Magic are Home…Sort of
They’re the designated away team in their first game back, and in a different arena. However, the Orlando Magic will return to the court in their home city.
The Magic return July 31 when they take on the Brooklyn Nets. The Magic recently got a boost with the return of power forward Jonathan Isaac. Isaac has not played literally since the first day of 2020. During the Jan. 1 game against the Washington Wizards, Isaac suffered a left knee injury and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Keep in mind, out for the season meant if the season went as planned.
Since the NBA season didn’t end over a month ago like it was supposed to, Isaac was able to recover and rejoin Orlando. In the scrimmage game over Denver, Issac scored 13 points and got seven rebounds. This is just about where his season numbers were before his injury. His season totals are 12.0 points per game and 6.9 rebounds. Safe to say he’s right where the Magic want him to be.
While Isaac returning is nice, the status of star Aaron Gordon is unknown. He sat out the scrimmage game against Denver, but he’s still listed as day-to-day. It might come down to a last-minute decision on Gordon’s status. At the least, there’s a player to fill his spot. At the most, two of the Magic’s most reliable players are out there with Vucevic on the court.
The Magic are currently sitting in the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. Their lead over the fringe team Washington Wizards is pretty comfortable (5 1/2 games), but a win against the Nets gives them a chance to leapfrog them into the seventh seed. Choosing between the Bucks and the Raptors is pretty much picking between poisons to drink, but either seed means a trip to the playoffs.
The Heat are Back
The Miami Heat are back Aug. 1 when they take on the Denver Nuggets.
The Heat are in the playoffs. They clinched a spot; it’s done. They are good from that standpoint. However, it’s a bit more of an issue in other places. Miami has had a great bounceback season after missing the playoffs a year earlier. But they still have one major issue: winning away from Miami. Entering the return, they are 14-19 on the road. Being the designated home team isn’t the same thing as playing in your arena with your fans roaring. So they’re permanently on the road.
Depending on how the rest of the season pans out, they could jump to the third seed and matchup with the 76ers in the first round, or they could drop all the way to the sixth seed and face the Raptors. If the playoffs started today, they would play the Pacers.
The Heat play three potential first-round opponents en route to the playoffs (Pacers, Raptors and Celtics). At least they’ll get a good look at them ahead of time just in case.