Settle in for a Sunday night triple bill of NBA restart action, live on Sky Sports.
Join Jaydee Dyer and Mo Mooncey for live coverage of the pick of Sunday night’s restart games, headlined by Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers taking on Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics.
Portland Trail Blazers @ Boston Celtics, Sky Sports Arena, Sunday 8:30pm
The Blazers look to take another step toward chasing down a playoff spot when they face the Boston Celtics.
Ninth-place Portland (30-37) sit two-and-a-half games behind the Memphis Grizzlies (32-34) in the battle for the last available playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers will look to ride the momentum of Friday’s 140-135 overtime victory against Memphis into their encounter with Boston (43-22).
The Blazers are thrilled with the comeback of seven-foot center Jusuf Nurkic, who played his first official game since March 25, 2019. He recorded 18 points, nine rebounds, a career-high-tying six blocks and five assists in 33 minutes as a starter.
“This is playoff basketball from us,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said of this push for the postseason. “We have that pressure on us. You can’t shy away from it when you are in our position.”
Meanwhile, the Celtics are looking to slowly get guard Kemba Walker back into the flow. Walker, who had been out due to an injury to his left knee, played nine minutes in an exhibition scrimmage last week and 19 on Friday in a 119-112 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Walker scored 16 points against Milwaukee. However, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Walker will still be on a minutes restriction against Portland.
“I would love to be like, ‘I don’t care about [a] minutes restriction.’ But I can’t,” Walker said. “I want to take steps forward, but I have to be smart about things. I want to be there for my team-mates when we get to the playoffs. Hopefully, by then, the restrictions will be completely off.”
San Antonio Spurs @ Memphis Grizzlies, Sky Sports Mix (Ch 145), 9pm
The San Antonio Spurs are taking a pragmatic approach to their games during the NBA restart, tackling things one game at a time and letting the chips fall where they may.
So far, so good for the Spurs, who won their first game back. But San Antonio could lose that momentum if they fall to the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies – the team the Spurs (28-36) are ultimately trying to catch. With just seven games left in the seeding event, every contest carries a hefty weight. San Antonio can ill afford a misstep as they seek out a spot in the postseason for the 23rd straight year.
San Antonio’s 129-120 win over Sacramento on Friday, along with Memphis’ overtime loss to Portland earlier in the day in another key Western Conference seeding game, moved the Spurs to within three games of the Grizzlies in the standings.
Memphis’ 140-135 overtime loss to the Trail Blazers on Friday came despite 33 points from Jaren Jackson Jr and 22 points and 11 assists from rookie Ja Morant. The ragged game had 62 called fouls and five technicals, an indication of both the rust accumulated during the coronavirus shutdown and the final stretch’s intensity and importance.
“We’ve got to see all these games like [they are] playoff games,” Jackson said after the loss to Portland. “When you’re in those environments and when you’re playing against good teams, we have got to be able to take on that challenge and do the little things we do well. We did that for the most part today.”
Milwaukee Bucks @ Houston Rockets, Sky Sports Arena, Monday 1:30am
For as much as the Milwaukee Bucks’ prowess is linked to the incomparable talents of MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo, the foundation of their juggernaut status is built on depth. The Bucks (54-12) were not at full strength in their 119-112 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday, but if they aim to validate their standing as the title favourites, all hands will be required.
Guards Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton continue to ramp up their conditioning following their late addition to the bubble near Orlando after testing positive for coronavirus. They might not be available when the Bucks play the Houston Rockets, but they are making progress and their returns appear imminent.
For Milwaukee, the seeding games feed a clear objective. “Be the best team in the NBA,” Bucks guard Wesley Matthews said. “We know that every day is going to pose a new challenge, and every team that we’re going to face is going to be something that we can use to get better and ultimately, hopefully, get to our long-term goal, which is being the last team standing.”
The Rockets (41-24) opened the restart with a 153-149 overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks that featured an exceptional performance from guard James Harden (49 points, nine rebounds, eight assists) and a nightmarish defensive effort, save for the closing stretch of the fourth quarter and the extra period.
Dallas led 131-120 with just over seven minutes remaining and scored just 18 points over the final 12 minutes after posting 42- and 43-point quarters in the first half. Prior to the Mavericks’ collapse, Houston resembled a team unfamiliar with the concept of defensive communication.
“There was [a lack of communication on defense], and that’s the problem,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Going forward these are games that are going to be used to get all this straightened up before we get to the playoffs.”
For all their offensive might, the Rockets realise their ability to thrive is tethered to limiting defensive miscues. Fielding a small line-up presents some advantages, but it also forces the Rockets to execute with precision on defense while rebounding with a collective abandon. For much of Friday night, Houston did neither.
“In order for us to really be the advocate for the style of play that we want to do, we have to fix the little things because one small thing could be a big problem down the road,” Rockets forward Robert Covington said.