The Milwaukee Bucks will resume play with a league-best record of 53-12.
But just as we saw the Bucks burst onto the scene as one of the league’s better teams, how will they be impacted by the time off as the league’s restart begins this month?
Will their title hopes burst inside the bubble? One longtime NBA scribe certainly thinks so.
Download the MyTeams app for the latest Celtics news and analysis
“I think the two best teams in the East are Boston and Toronto,” veteran Toronto Raptors beat writer Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, said on the Celtics Talk Podcast on Thursday. “I like Milwaukee a lot, but they’ve never been there. And I think that’s a big, big concern. The Raptors' experience and their adaptability in games … I don’t think it gives them an edge, but it’s a big plus for them.”
The Celtics have been talked about often as one of the teams that can potentially upend the Bucks and get out of the East.
To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the defending NBA champion Raptors, who have been able to successfully navigate through a season filled with injuries to key players to enter the bubble in Orlando with the NBA’s third-best record.
But you wouldn’t know they were that good by the minimal talk surrounding them as potential repeat champions — which was fueled by the departure of last year's NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 3-and-D ace Danny Green, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Even with Leonard and Green moving on, Toronto has been a ruggedly tough team in the East.
Pascal Siakam has emerged as an All-Star this season. Outside of maybe Boston’s Kemba Walker, there’s not a more underrated point guard in the NBA than Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol give Toronto the kind of veteran presence in the frontcourt that all title-contenders long to have on their roster.
And let’s not forget about head coach Nick Nurse, who will surely get some serious love when the season is over when it comes to Coach of the Year voting.
While a lot of attention has been paid to how impressive the Raptors have been for years at home, this season they posted an identical 23-9 record on the road as well as on their own home floor.
Smith said home-court advantage would likely determine the winner of a Boston-Toronto playoff series. But with that being off the table now that all games will be played at a neutral site, Smith still envisions what would potentially be a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire series.
“I think it’s a seven-game series if they played it in Boston, Toronto, Orlando or on Mars,” Smith said. “These teams are very evenly matched. They’re both very good. They can beat you in a lot of ways. That’s a big thing in the postseason.”
So what would decide the series?
“It comes down to the wings. The wings determine the series,” Smith said. “Can OG Anunoby contribute? Can Norm Powell contribute? How do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum handle that kind of thing? I think that’s where the series is won or lost.”