It has been a rough start in the bubble for the New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies, both sitting on 0-2 records in seeding games.
Weeks ago, when the schedule was announced, this had the chance to be a marquee matchup with serious playoff implications featuring two of the league’s brightest young stars, rookies Zion Williamson and Ja Morant.
But now, after back-to-back losses, New Orleans could be barreling out of the playoff race altogether with another defeat. Memphis looks to bounce back to hold off a charging San Antonio Spurs squad that started off with two wins, and a Portland team that already defeated the Grizzlies in Florida.
This will be the third matchup between the squads this season, with the Pelicans scoring victories in the first two — a 126-116 win in Memphis on Jan. 20 and a 139-111 win in New Orleans on Jan. 31.
In the first matchup, New Orleans shooting guard Jrue Holiday had one of his best offensive performances of the season with 36 points and a career-best seven 3-pointers. He was also key in keeping Morant quiet for most of the game (16 points on 5-of-14 shooting).
When the teams tangled in New Orleans 11 days later, Williamson was available, and Memphis was missing Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke. Williamson had a game-high 24 points on the way to a blowout win.
Williamson has been limited to a combined 29 minutes in the first two seeding games. Those minutes have not gone well, with the Pelicans getting outscored by 33 points with Williamson on the floor. The Pelicans are watching Williamson’s minutes since he missed all three scrimmages and a total of 13 days because of a family emergency that took him away from the campus.
It’s unclear how much Williamson will be able to ramp it up Monday. The Pelicans’ medical team will meet and make that decision prior to the game.
To get by New Orleans this time, Memphis will rely on Morant and Jackson. Morant is averaging 23.5 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in two games in Florida, and Jackson followed up a 33-point performance in Memphis’ first game with a 21-point effort against San Antonio — complete with a ridiculous shot from the corner late in that one to tie the score.
It’s a tough spot for the Grizzlies, who played Sunday while New Orleans rested following a Saturday blowout loss to the LA Clippers. It’s as much of a logistical disadvantage as you can have without travel playing a role. But this would be the absolute worst time for the Pelicans to drop their first game to their Southeast Division rival. Something won’t hold up by the end of Monday night. — Andrew Lopez
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Monday and Tuesday, plus everything you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
PAST BUBBLE INTEL: July 30 | July 31 | Aug. 1| Aug. 2
Monday’s must-see games
Memphis Grizzlies vs. New Orleans Pelicans | 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
It’s a must-win situation for the Pelicans, who dropped their first two games. After Saturday night’s loss to the Clippers, Pelicans small forward Brandon Ingram said, “We probably can’t lose any more games” if they want to make their playoff push. New Orleans has a 2-0 advantage on Memphis this season, so the Grizzlies will be looking for a bit of payback.
Monday’s matchup will be the second contest of the season between South Carolina natives Williamson and Morant. Williamson (24 points) had the upper hand on Morant (16 points) in the first meeting, although the Grizzlies were missing Jackson and Clarke in that game. — Lopez
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Utah Jazz | 9 p.m. ET on ESPN
This will be the third game for each team and both will be hoping for better performances than they had in their second games. Each team opened up play in Florida with a win Thursday but stumbled Saturday — Utah losing to Oklahoma City 110-94, and Los Angeles falling to Toronto 107-92.
A win against Utah will clinch the best record in the Western Conference for the Lakers with five games to go before the playoffs. Meanwhile, Utah is in fourth place in the West, a game back of Denver for No. 3. Both teams will be looking to fix their offenses and get back on the right track. — Lopez
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The Grizzlies aren’t the only team playing the first back-to-backs of the seeding games. The Wizards have to come back from their 0-2 start as well and try to get a crucial victory against the Pacers. The Wizards lost to the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday, so they need a lot of things to go their way to force a play-in weekend.
The Spurs, unlike the Grizzlies and Wizards, enter their no-rest game day with a 2-0 record in seeding games. They face the 76ers for a chance to stay ahead of the bubble pack.
7. Orlando Magic | 31-35 (.470) | —
8. Brooklyn Nets | 31-35 (.470) | —
9. Washington Wizards | 24-42 (.364) | 7.0 GB
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-35 (.478) | —
9. San Antonio Spurs | 29-36 (.446) | 2.0 GB
10. Portland Trail Blazers | 30-38 (.441) | 2.5 GB
11. Sacramento Kings | 28-37 (.431) | 3.0 GB
12. New Orleans Pelicans | 28-38 (.424) | 3.5 GB
13. Phoenix Suns | 28-39 (.418) | 4.0 GB
Tuesday’s must-see games
Dallas Mavericks vs. Sacramento Kings | 2:30 p.m. ET
Two teams badly in need of a win in Florida. The Kings come into this game on the heels of two straight losses that probably cost them any chance at the postseason — so it will be interesting to see how motivated they are to play in a game against a Mavericks team that has let two winnable games slide right through their fingertips. For the Kings to get back on track, they need more from Buddy Hield. He comes into Tuesday’s game shooting just 7-for-26 over his first two games. The Mavs could use more from Tim Hardaway Jr. who was just 1-for-12 in Sunday’s loss to the Suns. — Nick Friedell
Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat | 6:30 p.m. ET
This sets up to be one of the most intense matchups on the campus. The Celtics got a much-needed win over a rejuvenated Trail Blazers team Sunday, and the Heat have looked both hungry and deep over their first two games. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 64 points against the Blazers, but expect Heat All-Star Jimmy Butler to help slow down Boston’s perimeter movement early on Tuesday if he is available. — Friedell
Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers | 9 p.m. ET
There will be plenty of points — lots of points — in what figures to be one of the highest-scoring affairs of the month. These two top-five offenses score at will, but a main key will be how well Portland can use center Jusuf Nurkic and his height advantage against the Houston microball lineup. — Friedell
Brooklyn Nets vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 1:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix Suns vs. LA Clippers | 4 p.m. ET
Orlando Magic vs. Indiana Pacers| 6 p.m. ET
Analysis and intel
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Our NBA experts weigh in on the biggest trends after the first weekend of basketball.
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The Raptors and Rockets both upset top teams, while the Spurs and Blazers fight for the No. 8 seed in the West.
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