Daily NBA bubble primer: Zion Williamson, Lakers-Clippers and the restart of the 2019-20 season

Ben Rohrbach
·6-min 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 the restart of the 2019-20 season.

NBA standings

Eastern Conference

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)

  2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)

  3. Boston Celtics (43-21)

  4. Miami Heat (41-24)

  5. Indiana Pacers (39-26)

  6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)

  7. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)

  8. Orlando Magic (30-35)

    Washington Wizards (24-40)

Western Conference

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)

  2. L.A. Clippers (44-20)

  3. Denver Nuggets (43-22)

  4. Utah Jazz (41-23)

  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)

  6. Houston Rockets (40-24)

  7. Dallas Mavericks (32-33)

  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)

  9. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)

    New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)

    Sacramento Kings (28-36)

    San Antonio Spurs (27-36)

    Phoenix Suns (26-39)

Thursday’s schedule

(All times Eastern)

[Yahoo Sports NBA 2019-20 season restart team-by-team previews, collected]

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Utah Jazz, 6:30 p.m. (TNT)

Los Angeles Lakers vs. L.A. Clippers, 9 p.m. (TNT)

BetMGM odds

Utah Jazz +2.5 (-110)
New Orleans Pelicans -2.5 (-110)

Over/Under 222.5 (-110)

--

Los Angeles Clippers +4.5 (-110)
Los Angeles Lakers -4.5 (-110)

Over/Under 216.5 (-110)

No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has just 19 NBA games under his belt. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson has just 19 NBA games under his belt. (Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Playoff implications

Pelicans (28-36) vs. Jazz (41-23)

A New Orleans win would temporarily vault the 10th-place Pelicans into ninth place, ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers and within three games of the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies — in position to force a play-in series for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot with seven games remaining.

The fourth-seeded Jazz trail the third-place Denver Nuggets by 1 1/2 games and lead the fifth-place Oklahoma City Thunder by one game. Utah will leave this game a half-game closer to one or the other.

Lakers (49-14) vs. Clippers (44-20)

The top-seeded Lakers lead the second-seeded Clippers by 5 1/2 games as both teams begin their eight-game seeding schedule in Orlando. Should the Lakers win on Thursday, they would have to lose their seven remaining games just to leave the door open for the Clippers to win out and steal the No. 1 seed. A Lakers win would also drop the Clippers to within a single game of the third-seeded Nuggets.

Who and what to watch

The future face of the NBA

In all likelihood, the Pelicans will reintroduce Zion Williamson to the basketball world on Thursday night, although the most hyped No. 1 pick since LeBron James is currently a game-time decision after missing almost two weeks of training camp due to a family emergency. He rejoined his teammates on Tuesday.

A preseason knee injury prevented Williamson from playing all but 19 games before the regular season was suspended. Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant is the heavy Rookie of the Year favorite at -5000, since NBA awards votes have already been submitted, but Williamson still has a statement to make in Orlando.

The high-flying 6-foot-6, 285-pound freakish athlete lived up to his considerable billing in limited viewing, averaging 28.5 points (on 58.9 percent shooting), 8.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per 36 minutes. The Pelicans were 12.2 points per 100 possessions better with Williamson on the floor, according to Cleaning the Glass, operating at a top-10 level on both ends of the floor. If he can sustain that level of impact for the remainder of the regular season, New Orleans will have a strong chance of forcing a play-in series.

There is a reason the NBA scheduled Williamson in the first game following a four-month layoff.

Even a shorthanded matchup between the Clippers and Lakers will be a star-studded affair. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Even a shorthanded matchup between the Clippers and Lakers will be a star-studded affair. (Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

A potential Western Conference finals preview

We should not need to tell you to watch a Lakers-Clippers game featuring LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in a battle of the Western Conference’s top two teams. They established themselves as the clear favorites to meet each other in the conference finals, and Thursday’s game will mark the fourth and final meeting between the two L.A. rivals before a potential playoff rematch between James and Leonard, respective winners of the 2013 and 2014 Finals MVP awards opposite each other.

[Is a Lakers-Clippers Western Conference finals inevitable?]

Leonard picked up where he left off last season, as the best player on the floor in the first two meetings between the two retooled teams — both Clippers wins, in their season opener and on Christmas Day — but James made his own statement in their most recent matchup. His performance in back-to-back wins over the Bucks and Clippers in early March vaulted the 35-year-old back into the MVP conversation.

Thursday’s meeting will give us one last look at the two rivals trying to establish their dominance before a likely third-round playoff meeting, albeit with some rust to shake off at less than full strength. The Lakers are without Avery Bradley (opted out of the restart) and Rajon Rondo (broken thumb), while Davis plans to play after being poked in the eye during Saturday’s scrimmage and missing three days of training camp.

Likewise, the Clippers are missing their pick-and-roll combination of Montrezl Harrell (family emergency) and Lou Williams (quarantining for 10 days because he bought chicken wings from a strip club). Patrick Beverley also left the bubble for a family emergency. He returned to Orlando on Sunday and is expected to clear quarantine in the hours before the game, but he remains listed as questionable.

More from our NBA restart series:

– – – – – – –

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