Giannis Antetokounmpo’s one-game suspension could have a big impact on the Western Conference playoff picture.
This one-game suspension may seem inconsequential for a Bucks squad that’s already locked up the 1-seed in the Eastern Conference and has virtually nothing to play for against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the ripple effects could extend much deeper, especially out West.
Here’s a look at how Giannis’ suspension could impact Milwaukee, four Western Conference teams fighting for a playoff spot and another Eastern Conference contender.
Impact on Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have nothing to play for on the surface, but they’ve been anything but their typically dominant selves in Orlando. After posting a league-leading winning percentage of .815 and NBA-best Net Rating of 10.7 during the regular season, they’ve gone just 3-4 in the bubble with a meager Net Rating of 0.8.
Are they trying as hard? Of course not. But aside from flashes from Giannis and Khris Middleton, the Bucks haven’t looked particularly good either. According to their injury report, Milwaukee is planning to play its starters in some capacity on Thursday.
Although the injury report does not take potential minutes restrictions into account, this suspension robs Mike Budenholzer’s squad of another chance to rekindle that regular-season chemistry with their key player missing.
Impact on Memphis Grizzlies
It’s simple for the downtrodden Memphis Grizzlies: Win and you’re in the play-in scenario. Lose, and suddenly there’s a very real possibility the Grizz don’t even make the play-in game(s), which would’ve been unthinkable heading into the bubble back when they had a 3.5-game lead over the next-closest teams.
Not having Giannis on the floor obviously makes the Bucks a less daunting foe, especially since his absence makes it more likely for Budenholzer to play his starters reduced minutes. But a Milwaukee squad with Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and the rest of the main rotation is still more formidable than this sorry Grizzlies team we’ve seen in Orlando, so this young group can’t take anything for granted just yet.
Without Jaren Jackson Jr out, and with Memphis sporting an ugly 1-6 record in the bubble, this is welcome news, but it certainly doesn’t get the Grizzlies out of the woods just yet. They need a win to get in, and if they lose, they’ll need losses by the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs to make it in as the ninth-place team.
Impact on Portland Trail Blazers
As long as the Portland Trail Blazers take care of business against the surprisingly good Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, they’re in. However, a Memphis loss could mean the difference between entering the play-in scenario as the 8-seed or as the ninth-place challenger, and in the event the Blazers lose to the Nets, it could mean the difference between making or missing the play-in scenario (they’d need two of the Grizzlies, Suns and Spurs to lose).
Remember, whoever enters the play-in game(s) as the 8-seed only has to win once to advance. The ninth-place team has to beat the 8-seed twice in order to claim that final playoff spot out West. If the Blazers beat Brooklyn and Memphis loses to Milwaukee, Rip City suddenly jumps to that coveted 8-seed position for the play-in game(s). Portland will be rooting for the Bucks for that reason, though Giannis’ suspension obviously makes that a bit more difficult.
Impact on Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns have to beat the Dallas Mavericks a second time in the bubble to improve to a perfect 8-0 and keep their play-in hopes alive. But they also need some help to qualify, in the form of either a Memphis loss or a Portland loss. If one loses, the Suns are in as the ninth-place team; if both somehow lose, Phoenix jumps to the 8-seed.
Such an idyllic outcome is improbable, and Giannis’ suspension only complicates the matter further. A Bucks team playing its other starters should still be favored over this depressing Grizzlies team, but it’s just as likely Budenholzer only keeps his starters on the floor for 15-20 minutes. That means the Suns may have to rely on the 5-2 Nets to find a way to stop the 5-2 Blazers and their red-hot Bubble MVP frontrunner, Damian Lillard. You know, the guy that just dropped 51 and 61 points in back-to-back games.
Impact on San Antonio Spurs
If the Suns need help to get in, the San Antonio Spurs need double-bypass surgery to resuscitate their playoff hopes. In addition to needing to beat the tanking Utah Jazz, who currently sit in the 6-seed and want to remain there, the Spurs need losses from two of the Grizzlies, Blazers and Suns to make the cut in ninth place. If all three lose and the Spurs win, they’ll claim the 8-seed for the play-in game(s).
With the Spurs clearly needing the most help to qualify for a play-in spot, Giannis’ suspension is incredibly unwelcome news. Long odds — no stranger to San Antonio fans who have enjoyed every moment of this incredible, record-tying 22 straight playoff berths — just got even longer.
Impact on Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are locked in as the 3-seed in the East, but don’t forget they have a draft pick owed to them from the Grizzlies that could be in play if Memphis loses:
The pick in question is top-six protected for 2020 and unprotected in 2021. If the Grizzlies miss the postseason, that could result in a lottery pick for Boston this year.