“It feels damn good to be No. 1 in the West. They said I couldn’t do it,” he said, grinning after the game. “I’ll enjoy this one.”
So the follow-up game — against the Oklahoma City Thunder — might seem less meaningful, an opportunity to play some younger players, manage minutes and focus on health. The Lakers still have five games left in the seeding round before the real stuff matters, but they do need to continue to build positive momentum forward and reinforce their authority.
The Lakers are 2-1 in the bubble, but more importantly: LeBron looks great, Anthony Davis was ridiculous against the Jazz, and the depth they’ve cobbled together for the restart has been surprisingly positive. Frank Vogel hasn’t been shy about going deep into his bench, using 12 players against Utah.
The Thunder are in a similar position as the Lakers, in that they’ve pretty much secured what they needed to avoid — falling to the No. 7 or 8 seed. Their 1-1 start, combined with the Dallas Mavericks rocky opening, should keep them in the coveted 3-6 range. The reward? Avoiding the Lakers and Clippers in the opening round.
Their opener against the Jazz was nothing but positive, with eye-popping defense and an apparent recouping of the chemistry that made them so strikingly solid before the hiatus. But their game Monday against the Denver Nuggets was much less so, with the absence of Dennis Schroder, who departed the bubble for the birth of a child, feeling significant as the offense sputtered. Denver took down OKC without three starters and did it largely because the Thunder couldn’t play anything more than three or four consistent minutes at a time.
Much like the Lakers, the seeding games were less about positioning and more about restoring momentum for OKC.
And what better way to test yourselves than against the West’s King(s). — Royce Young
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Wednesday and Thursday, plus everything you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Wednesday’s must-see games
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Utah Jazz | 2:30 p.m. ET
After losing their first three games inside the bubble, it’s suddenly desperation time for the Grizzlies. Ja Morant might not have liked the idea of a play-in tournament when it looked as if Memphis would be the No. 8 seed, but it seems likely his tune will change if the Grizzlies fall to No. 9. — Tim Bontemps
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers | 6:30 p.m. ET
The Thunder appeared to be on their way to a second straight victory, only for them to collapse and lose to the Nuggets in overtime Monday. They’ll look to bounce back against the Lakers in what could be a Western Conference semifinals preview. — Bontemps
The Nets sat Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris against Milwaukee on Tuesday — and beat the Bucks anyway — so they should probably play the second game of the back-to-back against the Celtics. Boston will also be playing the second game of a back-to-back, however, so it might also rest a few players. — Bontemps
- Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards | 4 p.m. ET
Denver Nuggets vs. San Antonio Spurs | 4 p.m. ET
The Nets have clawed their way into the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference after beating the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday. The Orlando Magic can get back even with the Nets on Wednesday, but to do so they must beat the defending champion Toronto Raptors.
Over in the West, the Phoenix Suns are the only undefeated team in the bubble in the conference, and will look to climb the standings against the only other team yet to lose in Florida, the Indiana Pacers.
7. Brooklyn Nets | 32-35 (.478) | —
8. Orlando Magic | 32-36 (.471) | —
9. Washington Wizards | 24-43 (.358) | 7.5 GB
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-36 (.471) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 31-38 (.449) | 1.5 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 29-37 (.439) | 2.0 GB
11. New Orleans Pelicans | 29-38 (.433) | 2.5 GB
12. Phoenix Suns | 29-39 (.426) | 3.0 GB
13. Sacramento Kings | 28-39 (.418) | 3.5 GB
Thursday’s must-see games
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Sacramento Kings | 1:30 p.m. ET
The Pelicans and Kings were set to take the court on March 11 — the night the NBA was suspended — but the game was ultimately postponed just minutes before tip-off because a referee assigned to the game had also been assigned to a Utah Jazz (and thus had come into contact with Rudy Gobert) game days before. This is the first of two meetings between the teams in the bubble as they are also set to meet next Tuesday.
The Pelicans will be led by All-Star Brandon Ingram and rookie Zion Williamson, who combined for 47 points in New Orleans’ only win in the bubble over Memphis on Monday. Meanwhile, the Kings have dropped all three games they’ve played and find themselves at the back end of the six-team race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. — Andrew Lopez
Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 4 p.m. ET
The Bucks are looking to get back on track after back-to-back losses — a close loss to the Houston Rockets and then another to the Brooklyn Nets, although Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton didn’t play in the second half against the Nets. However, both are expected to get back to their normal minutes Thursday against Miami.
The Heat meanwhile could be without guard Jimmy Butler, who missed Tuesday’s game because of a sprained right ankle. The injury isn’t thought to be serious, but his status for the Bucks’ game is unknown. The matchup to watch here will be Antetokounmpo against Heat center Bam Adebayo. When the teams met on March 2, Adebayo was pivotal in holding Antetokounmpo to 13 points, tied for his season low, on 6-of-18 shooting. — Lopez
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets | 8 p.m. ET
Both teams here are jockeying for position in their own ways. After a clutch performance by Carmelo Anthony on Tuesday, Portland finds itself 1 1/2 back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. Meanwhile, Denver is holding its own as it attempts to wrestle the second seed away from the LA Clippers, potentially earning the right to avoid a matchup with the Lakers until the conference finals. Denver has had held the upper hand over Portland this season, picking up victories in the first three matchups by an average score of 116.3 to 99.3. Denver is one of only two teams this season (Clippers) to hold Portland under an average of 100 points this season. — Lopez
- Indiana Pacers vs. Phoenix Suns | 4 p.m. ET
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets | 9 p.m. ET
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