NBA campus intel: Clippers, Nuggets eager to get back to full strength

Before LA Clippers practice on Tuesday, coach Doc Rivers allowed himself a brief moment to wonder what it will be like having Montrezl Harrell back with the team.

Harrell, who left the bubble last month to tend to a family emergency, is currently in quarantine after returning and could potentially rejoin the team Friday.

“It would be kind of nice to have our normal rotation at least one time in the bubble,” said Rivers, who hasn’t had his full roster available in Florida. “We have to be the only team that has not had their normal rotation one game this entire bubble stretch.”

Actually, the Clippers are not alone. Nuggets head coach Michael Malone knows this pain all too well.

Entering Wednesday night’s game between the Nuggets and Clippers, Malone hasn’t had his full roster available. He hasn’t had starters Gary Harris and Will Barton available for any of the seeding games, and he just got Jamal Murray back for a couple of games.

Despite the fact that both teams have been missing key players, the Clippers and Nuggets have managed to maintain their No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, respectively, in the Western Conference. The Clippers (47-23) can clinch the 2-seed with a win over the Nuggets. Denver (46-25) could fall as low as No. 4 if it loses its remaining two games and Houston (44-26) wins out.

A Denver win over the Clippers would give the Nuggets the peace of mind that they won’t run into the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers until the Western Conference finals at the earliest. And of course, if both the Nuggets and Clippers remain in the second and third spots, they would potentially face each other in the second round.

With almost half the roster arriving late to the bubble and others getting injured once inside, the Nuggets didn’t even have enough players to go 5-on-5 in practices for much of their time in the bubble. They’ve endured a rash of injuries to Harris (right hip muscle strain), Barton (right knee soreness) and Murray (hamstring). But the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. has helped the Nuggets stay ahead of the fourth-place Rockets by a game and a half.

The Clippers also had late arrivals to the bubble but then had three players — Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Harrell — leave to tend to excused family emergencies. Harrell left on July 17 and just returned late Sunday night and will not be available to play Wednesday. Beverley will miss his fourth straight game because of a left calf strain and guard Landry Shamet is also out because of a left foot sprain.

But Rivers’ team is inching toward being whole again with Harrell potentially out of quarantine in time for Friday’s regular-season finale against Oklahoma City. Williams said Tuesday that opponents need to beware of a motivated Harrell once the Sixth Man of the Year finalist returns.

The Nuggets’ picture of health isn’t as clear. Malone isn’t certain when he will have a fully healthy team in the bubble, but he made it clear he won’t sit and wait for that moment to happen either.

Of course, Porter averaging 23.8 points, 9.1 rebounds and 46.3% shooting from beyond the arc in the bubble helps a lot. And reserves like Monte Morris, PJ Dozier and Bol Bol have responded with playing time, and nearly upset the Lakers on Monday night.

“I am not trying to sound cold-blooded, but we can’t wait for the guys that are injured,” Malone said. “The playoffs are not going to wait for us and we can’t wait for the injured guys. Whoever is ready to play and can play, let’s go out there and compete.” — Ohm Youngmisuk

Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Wednesday and Thursday, and everything you need to know. Check back for highlights and updates throughout the day.

PAST BUBBLE INTEL: July 30 | July 31 | Aug. 1 | Aug. 2 | Aug. 3 | Aug. 4 | Aug. 5 | Aug. 6 | Aug. 7 | Aug. 8 | Aug. 9 | Aug. 10 | Aug. 11

Wednesday’s must-see games

Indiana Pacers vs. Houston Rockets| 4 p.m. ET

Bubble darling T.J. Warren will look to get back on track after a disappointing game (12 points, 5-of-14 shooting, 2-of-6 from 3) against the Miami Heat. Still, Warren is averaging 31 points in the bubble, with a 57.8/52.4/88.9 shooting line. The Pacers hope that Warren will resume his scoring spree because they’re on track to face Miami in the first round. Houston, meanwhile, will be on the second day of a back-to-back. Russell Westbrook will miss Wednesday’s game for rest, though the plan is to have Eric Gordon back. Gordon has not played in any seeding games because of a sprained ankle. — Andrew Lopez

LA Clippers vs. Denver Nuggets | 9 p.m. ET

This game could end up deciding the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference — or leave Denver fighting not to fall to the No. 4 seed, depending on Houston’s performance. To move up from No. 3 to No. 2, Denver would have to win back-to-back games to finish the seeding games, and the Clippers would have to drop both of their games. Denver is coming off a three-point loss to the Lakers in which Kyle Kuzma’s go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left lifted Los Angeles over Denver’s bench, which played the entire fourth. The Clippers are coming off of two days of rest after Sunday’s 129-120 loss to the Nets. It was, however, Kawhi Leonard’s best performance in the bubble, as he finished with 39 points — tied for the third-most points he has scored in a game this season. — Lopez

Additional games

  • Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers | 6:30 p.m. ET

  • Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder | 8 p.m. ET

Full scoreboard for Wednesday

Updated West play-in standings

8. Portland Trail Blazers | 34-39 (.466) | —
t-9. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
t-9. Phoenix Suns | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
11. San Antonio Spurs | 32-38 (.457) | 0.5 GB

MORE: NBA Western Conference play-in scenarios

Thursday’s must-see games

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Memphis Grizzlies | 4 p.m. ET

Memphis can guarantee itself a shot in the play-in tournament with a victory against the Bucks, locking up at least the No. 9 seed. A win and a loss by Portland later in the night gets the Grizzlies to the eighth spot, giving them the upper hand in the play-in. The good news for Memphis is it probably won’t have to face a full-strength Bucks’ squad. Giannis Antetokounmpo might sit out the game anyway because of his head-butt ejection from Tuesday’s game. Milwaukee could opt to rest more starters heading into the playoffs with the top seed in the East already locked up. — Andrew Lopez

Dallas Mavericks vs. Phoenix Suns | 4 p.m. ET

Like the Grizzlies, the Suns might also benefit from a team that is looking toward the playoffs rather than going all out in the final seeding game. With Tuesday’s loss to Portland, Dallas is locked in to the No. 7 seed in the playoffs. The Mavericks could look to rest Luka Doncic (32 points, 11.3 assists, 11 rebounds in six bubble games) and Kristaps Porzingis (30.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 blocks in six bubble games), which could open things up for Phoenix. Even though the Suns are looking to get to 8-0, a trip to the playoffs isn’t guaranteed. They need one of Memphis or Portland to lose, combined with a win of their own. It would be Phoenix’s first eight-game winning streak since 2010, which is also the last time the Suns made the playoffs. — Lopez

San Antonio Spurs vs. Utah Jazz | 6:30 p.m. ET

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked what he would have said if a month ago someone told him San Antonio had a chance to go 6-2 in the bubble and make the playoffs. “I would have had them drug-tested,” Popovich deadpanned. Popovich noted that when your team doesn’t have championship aspirations, you have to look toward development. Luckily for the Spurs, that has turned into a possible playoff berth. Because of percentage points though, the Spurs need more help than others. Utah, however, could be playing for matchups in the playoffs. Currently No. 6, the Jazz have a chance to move up a spot if things bounce their way with other games. — Lopez

Portland Trail Blazers vs. Brooklyn Nets | 9 p.m. ET

You should really just be tuning into this game to see what Damian Lillard does next: 51 points? 61 points? More? Who knows. Lillard is averaging a bubble-best 37 points while also putting up 9.3 assists in 41.4 minutes. CJ McCollum is the only other player in Florida averaging 40.0 minutes as Portland has leaned on their one-two combo to keep the Blazers in playoff contention. Brooklyn is locked in as the No. 7 seed and Jacque Vaughn — coaching for a chance to continue on as the Nets’ head coach next season — has his team 5-2 overall with three straight wins. — Lopez

Additional games

  • Washington Wizards vs. Boston Celtics | Noon p.m. ET

  • Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers | 1:30 p.m. ET

  • New Orleans Pelicans vs. Orlando Magic | 9 p.m. ET

Full scoreboard for Thursday

Analysis and intel

NBA Power Rankings: A shake-up in the top 5 as playoff matchups take shape

The playoff picture is beginning to take shape as the final week of seeding games begins.

West play-in predictions: Suns perfect, Lillard spectacular, but who gets in?

Phoenix is 7-0 and Portland keeps winning. Here are the latest projections for the four-team race.

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.

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