It was a disappointing result for a Pelicans team who came into the bubble feeling good about their chances of catching the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 seed, or at least making it to the play-in tournament.
Instead, New Orleans stumbled out of the gate with losses to the Utah Jazz and the LA Clippers. After getting a win over the Grizzlies, New Orleans dropped another big game to the Sacramento Kings. A win over the Washington Wizards gave some glimmer of hope before a loss to the San Antonio Spurs (and Portland’s win) meant the Pelicans would have an early exit from Florida.
Despite the easiest schedule in the bubble, New Orleans was dealt a tough hand when rookie Zion Williamson had to leave the team on July 16 to deal with a family medical emergency. He returned on July 24 and quarantined for four days after that, but missed all three of New Orleans’ scrimmages.
Because of that, the Pelicans’ plan for Williamson had him on a “burst restriction” for the early games, and the medical team was watching his minutes throughout the seeding games.
In five games (he was held out against the Wizards for rest), Williamson averaged just 20.7 minutes a contest and averaged 18.4 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 55.9 percent from the field. He also was unable to come up with a steal or a block in any game.
On Sunday against the Spurs, the Pelicans turned the ball over 20 times, which turned into 30 points for San Antonio. That was a common theme throughout New Orleans’ games – they allowed 23.2 points per game off turnovers, second-worst of any team through Sunday’s games.
Heading into the season, Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin said that the goal for the year was to play meaningful games late into the season with a chance to make the playoffs. While there is a level of disappointment that New Orleans fell flat in Florida, getting that experience for meaningful games late was something the Pelicans’ young core can grow from.
Griffin has some decisions ahead of him as the Pelicans try to figure out what comes next. Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry has one year left on his contract. New Orleans also has decisions to make contract-wise with restricted free agent to be, Most Improved Player award finalist and first-time All-Star Brandon Ingram, extension-eligible point guard Lonzo Ball and reserve wing Josh Hart, and veteran free agents Derrick Favors and E’Twaun Moore.
Also, will the Pelicans keep shooting guard Jrue Holiday around or try and capitalize on his trade value this offseason?
But before those decisions come, New Orleans still has two games left. And the goal for those games is clear – at least to Williamson.
“Go out there and try to win,” Williamson said. “That’s always the goal.” —Andrew Lopez
Here is a look at all of Sunday’s clinching and elimination scenarios as we march toward the postseason, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:
- The Toronto Raptors have clinched the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed. The Boston Celtics are now locked into the No. 3 seed.
The Houston Rockets clinched the Southwest Division title.
The New Orleans Pelicans and the Sacramento Kings have been eliminated from playoff contention.
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Sunday and Monday, 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 | Aug. 3 | Aug. 4 | Aug. 5 | Aug. 6 | Aug. 7 | Aug. 8 | Full standings | Playoff matchups
Dame drops 51 on the Sixers, eliminating the Pelicans and Kings
Damian Lillard records his fifth 50-point game this season, scoring 51 on the 76ers on Sunday to lead the Trail Blazers to a 124-121 win.
Everything is going right for Phoenix
The West is officially getting a play-in game for the No. 8 seed. The Phoenix Suns want in — they’re 5-0 so far during their pursuit — and they got some help from the defending champs on Sunday.
They listened https://t.co/78xXvJNOtA
— 5-0 (@Suns) August 9, 2020
The Suns have quickly become the biggest Philadelphia 76ers fans in the world, as Philly takes on the Portland Trail Blazers this evening. Phoenix is a half game behind Portland for the No. 9 seed.
Hey @sixers, what he said.
Also thank you for him 😁 https://t.co/qTeE6ixrnB
— 5-0 (@Suns) August 9, 2020
Throwback threads: All-Canada edition
The Toronto Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies took us back to the ’90s — and north of the border — with these throwback jerseys Sunday afternoon. (In case you were wondering, Toronto won the all-time series 7-4 over the Vancouver Grizzlies from 1995 to 2001.)
Keep the classic jersey matchups coming 🔥 pic.twitter.com/KN2OQeFT2q
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 9, 2020
Steven Adams is a big fan
Adams didn’t play against the Wizards — OKC won easily 121-103 — but a giant cutout of the Thunder big man did make its way into the virtual crowd.
There’s a cutout of Steven Adams in the virtual crowd for today’s Thunder game 😂 pic.twitter.com/ecFQRCWfn1
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) August 9, 2020
Sunday night’s must-see games
Full scoreboard for Sunday
We have a play-in in the West! And the battle continues Sunday evening in the bubble with both the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds still up for grabs. Simply put, things are getting interesting.
Memphis fell to Toronto in their bid to clinch a spot in the play-in. The San Antonio Spurs topped the New Orleans Pelicans, who have now been knocked out of postseason contention.
The Blazers got back in the win column Sunday after a critical loss on Saturday to a Clippers team that rested Kawhi Leonard and sat Paul George down the stretch.
The Sacramento Kings have been eliminated with Portland’s win.
Two first-round matchups were locked in this weekend in the East. The Nets beat the Clippers Sunday night to secure the No. 7 seed and a date with the No. 2 Raptors. The Magic lost to the Celtics in overtime, setting up a first-round meeting with the No. 1 Bucks.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 33-38 (.465) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 33-39 (.458) | 0.5 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 31-38 (.449) | 1.0 GB
11. Phoenix Suns | 31-39 (.443) | 1.5 GB
12. New Orleans Pelicans | 30-40 (.429) | 2.5 GB
13. Sacramento Kings | 29-40 (.420) | 3.0 GB
Full standings | Playoff matchups
Monday’s must-see games
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 6:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The top two seeds in the East, a rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference finals, and two excellent, well-coached teams. Of course, both the Raptors and Bucks are effectively locked into their positions and are as much prioritizing health and recovery as they are wins in their final seeding games. But assuming they go after it, this is a tasty matchup and one to definitely gather some takeaways from. — Royce Young
Indiana Pacers vs. Miami Heat | 8 p.m. ET
Bubble beef! T.J. Warren and Jimmy Butler scuffled back in January, which led to Butler saying Warren is “trash,” Warren getting ejected and Butler then blowing him a goodbye kiss. Now, the Pacers are one of the hottest teams and Warren is the bubble’s leading scorer.
And to make it even better, the Heat and Pacers have identical records. And while seeding in a 4/5 matchup doesn’t matter, you never know — having those virtual fans on your side in a Game 7 could be the difference. — Young
Full scoreboard for Monday
Analysis and Intel
The Giannis-Luka rivalry can define the NBA’s future
Could Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic take over the league? A look at the rivalry that could define a generation.
New NBA playoff predictions: Can the Suns grab the 8-seed?
Phoenix is 5-0 in the bubble. How is the six-team race shaping up now? Here are the latest projections.