Today, as the Celtics and Heat square off inside the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort, things aren’t quite at the fever pitch they were when Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce were squaring off with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But the Celtics and Heat are stationed in third and fourth place in the Eastern Conference, respectively, and are well-positioned to return to battling in the playoffs on a regular basis for years to come.
The Heat entered the offseason having missed the playoffs for a second straight season, and winning just one playoff series since James left as a free agent in 2014. They had little cap space, and it was hard to see how they would create any.
Then they made two franchise-altering moves in the span of a few weeks — shipping Hassan Whiteside to Portland, creating room for Bam Adebayo to step into the starting lineup, and sending Josh Richardson to Philadelphia in a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler. Adebayo became an All-Star and one of the NBA’s most versatile big men, while Butler has perfectly assimilated into Miami’s culture. Combine that with the development of young players such as Duncan Robinson, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, and the Heat have plenty to be excited about — including the likely cap space to chase after Giannis Antetokounmpo after next season.
Boston also was coming off a disappointing season, culminating in a five-game playoff loss to the Milwaukee Bucks and the departures of both Kyrie Irving and Al Horford a short time later. But the arrival of Kemba Walker in Irving’s place provided stability that the franchise desperately needed — and allowed the team’s young wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, to thrive. Gordon Hayward has also quietly returned to near the All-Star level he was at before suffering a gruesome leg injury in his first game as a Celtic in 2017.
Boston is fairly entrenched in the third seed, currently 2.5 games ahead of the Heat, and there’s less of a need to fight for positioning since home-court advantage is no longer a factor. While there’s still a chance Miami could overtake Boston for the No. 3 seed, this game is more a glimpse into the potential future of the East. And that vision provides a lot for both teams to like. — Tim Bontemps
Here’s the latest on the standings, the games to watch Tuesday and Wednesday, plus everything you need to know. Check back here for highlights and updates throughout the day.
Jamal Crawford debuts for Nets
After sitting out the Brooklyn Nets‘ first two seeding games, 40-year-old guard Jamal Crawford made his 2019-20 season debut Tuesday against the Milwaukee Bucks. Crawford hadn’t played an NBA game since scoring 51 points for the Phoenix Suns on April 9, 2019. He played six minutes Tuesday, scoring five points before leaving with a left hamstring injury. The Bucks, meanwhile, got guards Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton back today as well. Both will play limited minutes after having missed Milwaukee’s first two seeding games.
“We want to gradually build their conditioning,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game.
— NBA (@NBA) August 4, 2020
Tuesday’s must-see games
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 hungry and deep in 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 if he is available. — Friedell
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 key factor will be how well Portland can use center Jusuf Nurkic and his height advantage against the Houston microball lineup. — Friedell
Of the six games on Tuesday, five of them involve at least one team fighting for a playoff spot. The Magic have a half-game game lead over the Nets to maintain the No. 7 seed but face a challenge in the Pacers and will be without Jonathan Isaac for the rest of the season. Brooklyn has a chance to catch Orlando on Tuesday, but it faces the No. 1 Bucks without Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris.
The Kings, three games behind the No. 8 seed, are looking to avoid an 0-3 start, but will face a Mavericks team looking to do the same. The Suns are 2-0 in Orlando but still at the bottom of the West standings. They are not likely to gain any ground on Tuesday as they take on the Clippers.
The Blazers moved into the No. 9 seed after the Spurs’ loss to the Sixers on Monday, but they’ll need to beat the Rockets on Tuesday to maintain that positioning. That’s a tall task, given that Houston is off to a 2-0 start with wins over the Mavericks and Bucks.
8. Memphis Grizzlies | 32-36 (.471) | —
9. Portland Trail Blazers | 30-38 (.441) | 2.0 GB
10. San Antonio Spurs | 29-37 (.439) | 2.0 GB
11. New Orleans Pelicans | 29-38 (.433) | 2.5 GB
12. Sacramento Kings | 28-38 (.424) | 3.0 GB
13. Phoenix Suns | 28-39 (.418) | 3.5 GB
Wednesday’s must-see games
After losing their first three games inside the bubble, it’s suddenly desperation time for the Grizzlies. Ja Morant may not have liked the idea of a play-in tournament when it looked like Memphis would be the No. 8 seed, but it seems likely his tune will change if the Grizzlies fall to No. 9. — Bontemps
The Thunder appeared to be on their way to a second straight victory, only to collapse and eventually lose to the Nuggets in overtime Monday. They’ll look to bounce back against the Lakers in what could potentially be a Western Conference semifinals preview. — Bontemps
Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics | 9 p.m. ET
The Nets are going to sit Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris against Milwaukee on Tuesday, so they should likely play the second game of the back-to-back against the Celtics on Wednesday. Even with them, though, Brooklyn is severely undermanned. Boston will also be playing the second game of a back-to-back, however, so it might also rest a few guys. — Bontemps
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Analysis and intel
Our NBA experts weigh in on the biggest trends after the first weekend of basketball.
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