The NBA has returned! Thursday will kick off the eight-game regular season that will precede the playoffs. All of the action will take place in a tightly-knit bubble in Orlando. Each played around 65 games before COVID-19 shut down play for almost five months. Here is a look at how the top teams stack up heading into the NBA’s restart.
10. Miami Heat (41-24)
Previous Ranking: 9
The Heat is a team filled with youth and inexperience. While forward Jimmy Butler and point guard Goran Dragic are the veteran leaders on the team, many key contributors are young players such as guards Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson. Due to this, the team has been inconsistent all season despite being fourth in the standings. In March, they defeated the East’s best team in the Milwaukee Bucks but lost by 21 points to the Charlotte Hornets a couple of weeks later. The Heat can shoot well and dominate the paint with power forward Bam Adebayo. However, they are unproven and will head into this eight-game stretch as an unknown.
9. Houston Rockets (40-24)
Previous Ranking: 10
The mascot for small ball. The Rockets before the suspension started 6’7 PJ Tucker at the center position. It has produced mixed results before the suspension to say the least. They defeated the Boston Celtics twice and the Utah Jazz in late February but in early March, they lost to the New York Knicks, Hornets and the Orlando Magic. When stars James Harden and Ruseell Westbrook are on, this team is dangerous. As usual though, the Rockets will live and die by the three-ball, which has not been a championship recipe.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
Previous Ranking: N/A
Who would have thought coming into the season Oklahoma City would have the same record as the Houston Rockets with over 60 games played? Not many as the Thunder were considered to a team rebuilding as they traded away Paul George and Russell Westbrook. However, point guard Chris Paul has had a fine season with 17.7 points per game (PPG) and 6.4 assists per game (APG). With Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroeder, and Danilo Gallinari all average over 19 PPG. The Thunder is a nice all-around team and will be a tough out going forward.
7. Utah Jazz (41-23)
Previous Ranking: 6
The Jazz has been the definition of streaky in the month before the suspension. They won four in a row, then lost four in a row before winning five in a row. They finished their pre-suspension season with a loss to the Toronto Raptors. Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic lead the team with over 20 PPG. The biggest question is Rudy Gobert as he contracted COVID-19, leading to the suspension of play. Since he has suffered long-term effects from his illness, how effective will he be and how does it affect the team’s chemistry. Regardless, the Jazz have enough firepower to still be contenders.
6. Boston Celtics (43-21)
Previous Ranking: 5
Jayson Tatum has become a rising star and has beaten some of the elite teams in the NBA such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers. However, various injuries have taken a toll as point guard Kemba Walker is still dealing with a nagging knee injury that limited him in the scrimmage games. The Celtics have plenty of talent but health may interfere with this team’s championship aspirations. Tatum and Jaylen Brown may have to pick up the slack to help this team win big games.
5. Denver Nuggets (43-22)
Previous Ranking: 4
The Nuggets have proven this season that they can compete with anyone in the league as the swept the Bucks, defeated the Clippers and Raptors on the season. Center Nikola Jokic has averaged 20.2 PPG and 10.2 rebounds per game (RPG) this season and looks to be even better as he lost 20-25 pounds. With a loaded bench and a team looking to prove doubters wrong, the Nuggets are going to be a very intriguing team going forward.
4. Toronto Raptors (46-18)
Previous Ranking: 3
Despite losing Kawhi Leonard, the one-year rental that gave the city its first NBA championship, the Raptors are still one of the top contenders in the league. They are led by forward Pascal Siakam who averages 23.6 PPG. They are more than just a one-man team as four other players average more than 16 PPG. With this, the Raptors are a difficult team to stop on a nightly basis. If head coach Nick Nurse can allocate his minutes correctly, this team could possibly find themselves back in the NBA Finals.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
Previous Ranking: 7
Aside from a loss to the Lakers, the Clippers turned a corner before the suspension, winning seven of eight games. Having the best all-around player in the NBA, Kawhi Leonard, helps as of the seven wins, five were against playoff teams. The team has faced controversy as guard Lou Williams was caught at a strip club outside the bubble eating chicken wings and will have to quarantine himself for 10 days, causing him to miss the first two seeding games. With Kawhi and Paul George healthy, this team has to be considered a true contender for a championship.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
Previous Ranking: 1
Despite holding the NBA’s best record, the Bucks have lost their claim as the best team in the NBA. Before the suspension, the Bucks lost four of five games, including losses to the Heat, Nuggets and Lakers. Giannis Antetokounmpo still looks to be at the top of the MVP leaderboard but the rest of the team needs to give him the support he needs to break through to the NBA finals. However, Giannis must ultimately break through and prove he can be a championship-caliber player.
- Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
Previous Ranking: 2
Two games in early March saw the Lakers claiming the title of championship favorites. First, they took care of the Bucks 113-103 in primetime as LeBron James scored 37 points. Two days later, they avenged two losses to the Clipper by defeating them 112-103, led by 30 points from Anthony Davis and 24 points from Avery Bradley. While Bradley has opted out of Orlando, the Lakers replaced him with JR Smith, a player that can get hot from downtown. If LeBron and Davis are at full-strength, good luck stopping this team.