The NBA returns on Thursday night from their Orlando Bubble. Outside of some Lou Williams’ theatrics, the bubble has been working as well as possible, with zero positive cases the last several days. 22 teams will be playing eight regular season games to determine seeding. If the nine seed in each conference is within four games of the eight seed, they will have a play-in series in which the nine seed needs to win twice before the eight seed wins once. Gonzaga players will certainly be affected by that rule, as several are on teams fighting for that final spot.
Brandon Clarke - Memphis Grizzlies
To the surprise of nobody, Clarke has been brutally efficient in his rookie season for the Grizzlies. He averaged 12 points on 62 percent shooting, 5.8 rebounds and just under a block per game while playing 21 minutes off the bench. Clarke is teaming with likely rookie of the year Ja Morant and fellow big man Jaren Jackson Jr. to form one of the best young trios in the NBA. Memphis resumes play at least 3.5 games clear of the five teams chasing them for the final spot in the Western Conference. They start up on Friday afternoon against Portland.
Brandon Clarke finishes with 11 points and 7 rebounds in his final exhibition. Grizzlies among several teams, including Zach Collins and the Blazers, vying for the 8th seed in the West. Memphis vs Portland on Friday at 1 pm on NBATV pic.twitter.com/o176I9MPfS— Steven Karr (@SKarrG0) July 28, 2020
Zach Collins - Portland Trail Blazers
Collins started the first three games of the season, averaging nine points and four rebounds, before suffering what looked like a season-ending shoulder injury. But because of the long lay-off, his rehab allowed him to come back in time for a playoff push. It’s yet to be seen how Collins will slot in with Jusuf Nurkic returning and Hassan Whiteside on the roster, but his defense alone should get him plenty of minutes as the Blazers look to sneak into the postseason. All three big guys played for the first time in last week’s exhibition against Toronto and Collins played 21 minutes off the bench.
Rui Hachimura - Washington Wizards
The 2019 WCC Player of the Year has impressed in his rookie season in the nation’s capital. His 13.4 points were third best on the team. Their two leading scorers, Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, are both not participating in the NBA restart, which means Rui may end up being the go-to option on offense. Washington is the only team in the East trying to track down the eight seed. They need to make up two games on either Orlando or Brooklyn to force a play-in series. It’s quite the task without the talent they’ve lost, but it will be fun to see Rui let loose and see what he can do. They play Phoenix on Friday afternoon.
Kelly Olynyk - Miami Heat
It’s been a weird year for Olynyk, who enters the restart as the number four seed in the East and a guaranteed playoff spot. The seven-footer played a career low in minutes (18.5) and averaged a career low in points (7.7), but shot a career-best 43.2 percent from deep and has a career-best true shooting percentage of 64. The Heat use one of the deepest rosters in the league, which means Olynyk is trying to maximize the minutes he plays. In his last two trips to the playoffs (one with Boston, one with Miami), he has averaged 10 points and 3.5 rebounds in 23 games. Miami plays Denver, Saturday at 10 am on ESPN.
Domantas Sabonis - Indiana Pacers
Sabonis was having one of the best seasons of any Gonzaga player in NBA history this year. Not only is he a double-double machine, but he’s developed into a triple-double threat, picking up four of them this year. Only two players in the NBA have averaged 18+ points, 12+ rebounds and 5+ assists this year: Reigning MVP Giannas Antetokounmpo and Sabonis. As it stands, the two were lined up to face each other in the second round of the playoffs. Then Sabonis went down with a foot injury at the start of exhibitions. He has left the bubble and is likely to miss the rest of the season. With the reports of possible plantar fasciitis, everyone just hopes he can make a full recovery at any point from what can be an incredibly tricky injury.
Johnathan Williams and Nigel Williams-Goss
The two standouts from Gonzaga’s Final Four team haven’t spent a ton of time getting NBA action this year. Williams is a deep bench guy for the Wizards after averaging 13 points and nine rebounds in 16 G-League games this year. He played 11 games for the Wizards after a plethora of injuries to their roster, but is not likely to see anything more than garbage time when the season resumes.
Williams-Goss appeared in nine games for Utah after a successful two-year stint in Europe. He played 17 games for the Salt Lake Stars in the G-League, averaging 15.3 points and 5.5 assists. Like J3, he is not likely to see any game action when the regular season resumes for the fourth-ranked Jazz.