As we inch closer to real, actual NBA action in the Orlando bubble here’s a quick look at some of the bigger news stories that happened over the last week. In short, Dwight Howard is in, the Nets may be unrecognizable and the Pelicans and Lakers are ready to roll at nearly full strength.
Dwight Howard waited until the last minute to make a decision on playing in Orlando and, despite the recent death of one of his children’s mother, he’s in. He’s arguably the Lakers’ best rebounder, can still give them quality minutes and has been a model citizen this season. His presence should mean a few less minutes for guys like JaVale McGee and Kyle Kuzma, while the Lakers will likely sport a starting five of LeBron James, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Danny Green, Anthony Davis and either McGee or Howard at center. Additionally, they added J.R. Smith who will help KCP spread the floor and offer another deep threat, despite not playing NBA hoops in more than 20 months. The Lakers are going to Orlando with their sights set on winning it all and they were 17-3 when KCP started over Avery Bradley, who opted out, this season. Additionally, both Anthony Davis and LeBron James should be at 100 percent for the restart.
John Wall, Davis Bertans and Bradley Beal are all out for the Wizards in Orlando. We’re hearing that Thomas Bryant looks good and is ready to roll. Ish Smith will step up in place of Wall, Troy Brown Jr. should be fun with no Beal, Rui Hachimura should get all he can handle with no Bertans, and I’m expecting Bryant to be a fun DFS play in Orlando.
Victor Oladipo has opted out of Orlando and Aaron Holiday is expected to start at point guard with Malcolm Brogdon sliding over to shooting guard for the Pacers. They’ll likely be joined by T.J. Warren, Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner in the starting lineup, while T.J. McConnell and Justin Holiday should also see decent roles, as well.
Gordon Hayward said recently that he’ll leave Orlando when his wife goes into labor sometime in September. This is pretty bad news for the Celtics, who have a real chance at challenging for the title, although you can’t blame Hayward for wanting to be at home for the big event. If they’re going to win it all Jayson Tatum is going to have to put the team on his back, while starters Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Hayward, Tatum and centers Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter will all have to be clicking on all cylinders. If Hayward does leave it’s possible he could return after a four-day quarantine, so there’s a chance he could miss minimal time if he does leave the bubble.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are ready to roll and despite reservations, it sounds like Tim Hardaway Jr. is going to play in Orlando. Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, Dwight Powell and Maxi Kleber are all going to have to make big contributions and I still feel like there’s some hope that my early-season bet for the Mavs to win it all still has a shot at being a winner. Doncic was especially banged up when the hiatus hit in mid-March and he should come back on a mission, while Porzingis should also be playing at 100 percent.
The Suns haven’t ruled out Kelly Oubre (right knee) for Orlando but they’re clearly taking a wait-and-see approach. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Oubre sit during the eight regular-season games and then make an appearance if the Suns manage to slip into the playoffs. Additionally, Deandre Ayton has been shooting 3-pointers like they’re mid-range jumpers, which is very intriguing. The Suns have also hinted that Devin Booker’s minutes may be limited and it’s even possible that we could see Booker and Ricky Rubio sit out some Orlando games. Keep that in mind if you plan on playing DFS.
Like Hayward, Mike Conley is likely to leave Orlando for the birth of his child in late August. Both players could possibly return after a four-day quarantine but if Conley leaves for good, Emmanuel Mudiay would become the man at the point for the Jazz. Bojan Bogdanovic won’t play in Orlando so both Conley and Joe Ingles are going to see a bump in minutes.
The Nets will be without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie has tested positive, Wilson Chandler opted out and Nicolas Claxton underwent shoulder surgery in late June. And you can add Garrett Temple to the list of ‘dad to be’ and would leave the bubble in mid-September to see the birth of his first child. That leaves a potential starting lineup of Tyler Johnson, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen, while Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa could make a splash. My guess is LeVert is going to be dominant, Prince should be a DFS sleeper and Allen might finally be ready to fully breakout in Orlando. If nothing else, the Nets should be fun to watch, while I plan on spending the money for LeVert every night in DFS.
Shake Milton might start at point guard for the Sixers and if he doesn’t, he’ll handle the ball any time Ben Simmons isn’t on the court. The Sixers will have a formidable starting lineup of Simmons (who is as healthy as he’s ever been), Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid, while Milton should also have a nice role. The Sixers are going to be a tough out in the Eastern Conference regardless of what happens.
It’s possible that Jusuf Nurkic, who’s fully healthy, could start at center over Hassan Whiteside, but either way, both players are going to have big roles with Portland and the two can easily play next to one another if necessary. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are ready to go, and Gary Trent Jr. (filling in for opt-out Trevor Ariza) and Carmelo Anthony should be ready to roll. Trent will be a fun DFS sleeper and Zach Collins is 100 percent healthy after recovering from shoulder surgery. It’s possible the starting lineup could be Lillard, CJM, Melo, Collins and Nurkic, but if that’s the case, I still think Whiteside and Trent are going to have major roles in Orlando.
Zion Williamson is ripped, healthy and ready to go, Lonzo Ball was on fire when the hiatus hit and Brandon Ingram, Jrue Holiday and Derrick Favors are all ready to roll. New Orleans is probably the team I’m most excited to watch in Orlando and you know the NBA wants to see Zion and Lonzo in the playoffs. What a story it would be if the Pelicans can dominate over the final eight games, slip into the playoffs and do some damage throughout the playoffs. I think that’s something most NBA fans can fully get behind. They’re only 3.5 games out of the playoffs and have one of the easier schedules out there.
Nikola Jokic is expected to rejoin the Nuggets in Orlando after testing positive for COVID-19 and I will assume he’ll be out there when the season resumes. There has also been talk that Michael Porter Jr. could see an increased role in the playoffs. However, Denver is still very deep and I’ll believe the MPJ stuff when I see it. I love him, but I just don’t see how he can fully emerge for such a deep and good Denver team.
Both Brandon Clarke (quad) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (knee) are healthy and expected to be ready for Orlando. Ja Morant has added some muscle to his frame and the Grizzlies should be ready to do whatever they can to play disruptors in Orlando.