NBA Power Rankings: 22 teams hoping their bubble won't burst
Before the global pandemic put the NBA season on ice, there was a healthy debate as to the league’s best team. The Bucks have the best record but there are legitimate concerns about their roster and whether they can continue to be the class of the NBA.
What about the talented tandem in Los Angeles? Both the Lakers and Clippers have shown they have many of the pieces needed to win a championship. And what about the defending champion Raptors, who have been flying below the radar all season despite having the NBA’s third-best record? The Celtics and 76ers can’t be counted out either.
Those are indeed the class of the 22 teams that will converge on Orlando. But with this being as unconventional a season as any we’ve ever had in the NBA, none of the teams under the bubble can be completely dismissed.
And with that, here are the Power Rankings for the 22 teams that’ll resume play next month.
22. San Antonio Spurs
(27-36, rank in last Power Rankings: 20)
It’s fitting that there are 22 teams heading to Orlando and the Spurs’ incredible string of postseason trips will likely end this season at 22 in a row. The decision for LaMarcus Aldridge to have season-ending surgery weeks ago was a clear white flag to the Spurs season being all but over.
For them, this will be a glorified training camp. They will compete like most Gregg Popovich-coached teams do. But this team won’t do much more than play eight more games and call this season a wrap.
21. Phoenix Suns
(26-39, rank in last Power Rankings: 24)
The last team out West to the 22-team party, the Suns come in playing with house money. The chances of them doing enough to move up into the play-in game are slim to none.
But hey, them being here means more chances to watch Devin Booker, who is one of the best and brightest up-and-coming stars in this league.
20. Washington Wizards
(24-40, rank in last Power Rankings: 16)
The team with the longest odds among Eastern Conference teams at making the playoffs, other than a few more opportunities to get up and down the floor against someone other than themselves, it’s hard to imagine what more the Wizards are going to get out of being under the bubble.
19. Brooklyn Nets
(30-34, rank in last Power Rankings: 21)
No Kyrie Irving. No Kevin Durant. And now courtesy of the coronavirus, no DeAndre Jordan and potentially no Spencer Dinwiddie, not to mention Wilson Chandler who says he’s out citing personal reasons. You figure there’s likely to be at least one postseason sweep this year.
Safe money has to be on whichever team gets the Nets in the first round.
18. Sacramento Kings
(28-36, rank in last Power Rankings: 18)
The Kings will begin the season reboot without three of their better players (Alex Len, Buddy Hield and Jabari Parker) around after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Their absence, coupled with a logjam of teams vying for a shot at the eighth and final playoff spot, will likely end with the Kings missing the playoffs for the 15th straight season, which would be the second-longest postseason drought in NBA history.
17. Orlando Magic
(30-35, rank in last Power Rankings: 15)
The games may be played in Orlando’s home city, but no fans means no chance of them having a home-court advantage. It would take a Herculean collapse for them to not wind up as the seventh or eighth seed in the East.
The good news about them is that when their season is over — and it’ll be over quickly — they won’t have to go too far to go home for the summer.
16. New Orleans Pelicans
(28-36, rank in last Power Rankings: 17)
It’s easy to lock in on Zion Williamson and what he means to the Pelicans. But the Pelicans, owners of what many believe is the easiest schedule among the 22 teams returning to action, has a blossoming All-Star in Brandon Ingram, one of the most underrated two-way guards in Jrue Holiday, elite shooting (J.J. Redick) and depth.
They won’t win it all, but they have enough pieces to get into the playoffs.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
(32-33, rank in last Power Rankings: 14)
Despite having been in playoff position for a good stretch of the season, many are predicting the Grizzlies’ demise — whether it be at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans and Zion Williamson, or the Blazers.
Ja Morant has been the league’s best rookie in large part because of the chip he carries on his shoulder that’s only outsized by his immense talent and skill set. Not a lot is expected out of them, which as we’ve seen all season, is seemingly when they have been at their best.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
(29-37, rank in last Power Rankings: 19)
The Blazers passing the Grizzlies for the eighth spot in the West seems unlikely, but if they can stay within four games, they force a do-or-die series.
The Portland team we see in the bubble will be very different (and definitely better) than the one we saw in the regular season, with both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins expected to return. Like the Mavericks, they too can be disruptors in the league’s reboot.
13. Oklahoma City Thunder
(40-24, rank in last Power Rankings: 9)
The Thunder have had a much better season than most anticipated, being led by Chris Paul as well as star-on-the-rise Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
They too have a number of interesting parts to play with who collectively should benefit from the improved health brought on by the league’s stoppage of play.
12. Dallas Mavericks
(40-27, rank in last Power Rankings: 10)
The Mavericks have a superstar in Luka Doncic and a 7-foot-3 star in Kristaps Porzingis. Dallas has a good cast of role players around them and one of the best head coaches in the league in Rick Carlisle.
Dallas would need a number of things to break its way of course. But the talent they have coupled with Carlisle’s leadership … you can’t dismiss the Mavericks from being potential disruptors in the postseason.
11. Indiana Pacers
(39-26, rank in last Power Rankings: 13)
So much of their success in this reboot will hinge upon how far along Victor Oladipo is in his recovery. Shortly before the season was suspended, he showed signs at times of being close to his old All-Star form. But with the stoppage of play, can he build off that or will he be starting over?
And what about Malcolm Brogdan? He too had some injuries near the end of the season along with having tested positive for the coronavirus. Both players, much like the Pacers team, have a lot more questions than answers heading into the season reboot.
10. Denver Nuggets
(43-22, rank in last Power Rankings: 6)
I would love to have them higher on this list. But they have been impacted arguably as much as any team when it comes to COVID-19.
They are going to be a tough team to put away in the playoffs, but there’s no sense that they have the pieces in place or the ability to push towards a deep playoff run.
9. Utah Jazz
(41-23, rank in last Power Rankings: 5)
The Rudy Gobert/Donovan Mitchell drama won’t go away anytime soon. Both have been relatively civil since Gobert and later Mitchell both tested positive for the coronavirus after Gobert displayed some pretty reckless behavior in not taking the virus seriously at first.
Regardless of how they fare this season, there’s a strong sense that Gobert’s days in a Jazz jersey are numbered.
8. Miami Heat
(41-24, rank in last Power Rankings: 8)
Jimmy Butler has been the Heat’s best player all season, and his presence and overall performance has been good enough to uplift the play of those around him.
I have questions about some of those younger players around him and how they will handle the stress of the postseason, but … sleep on the Heat at your own risk.
7. Philadelphia 76ers
(39-26, rank in last Power Rankings: 12)
There were chemistry issues prior to the stoppage of play, and only time will tell if they have figured out how to mitigate them.
The one thing we do know is this Sixers team is talented; talented enough that if they can manage to get on the same page and play with better cohesion, they are more than talented enough to get to the NBA Finals.
6. Houston Rockets
(40-24, rank in last Power Rankings: 11)
James Harden is going to get his points regardless of how long a layoff he and his teammates take.
Because they are such a dynamic team offensively and defenses by and large will struggle to get back to where they’re used to being, the Rockets could really shake up the playoffs by simply out-shooting teams on a night-in, night-out basis.
5. Boston Celtics
(43-21, rank in last Power Rankings: 7)
Jayson Tatum’s emergence will draw much of the attention for the Celtics during their return. But it’s Kemba Walker who needs to be watched closely.
He was on the load management train prior to the pandemic shutting things down on March 12. How healthy will he and that sometimes-gimpy knee be when games return next month?
4. Toronto Raptors
(46-18, rank in last Power Rankings: 4)
No defending champion in recent years has been slept on as hard as the Raptors. I wouldn’t be so high on them, if not for them having already traveled to Florida ahead of the bubble and spent time working out, which should help them re-build the strong chemistry we saw during the regular season which made them one of the biggest surprise teams this season.
To the surprise of many, they could be the rare defending champion that positions itself to repeat.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
(53-12, rank in last Power Rankings: 3)
A healthy Giannis Antetokounmpo is reason enough to believe the Bucks will be the last team standing in the East. But you have to wonder how the stoppage of play will impact their momentum.
Still, the Bucks have earned the right to be the team to beat coming out of the East.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
(49-14, rank in last Power Rankings: 1)
LeBron James and company are deserving to be one of the favorites to win it all this season.
But the decision by Avery Bradley (the team’s best perimeter defender) to sit out a return-to-play citing health concerns with his son, will be tougher to overcome in the playoffs than some might anticipate.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
(44-20, rank in last Power Rankings: 2)
The Clippers seem to be the best team equipped to handle the mental challenges of the Bubble experience.
Their top-shelf talent (Kawhi Leonard and Paul George), depth, overall toughness and championship-caliber coaching staff makes them the toughest team to put away.