After four and a half months without NBA action due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NBA is in full swing in Orlando, Florida. The action in the bubble is heating up as teams fight for playoff seeding and qualification. With more than a full weekend’s worth of games in the books, let’s take a look at the newest rankings.
10. Indiana Pacers (41-26)
Previous Ranking: N/A
53. That is how many points forward TJ Warren dropped on the Philadelphia 76ers Saturday night in their 127-121 win. It was a crucial victory for the Pacers as it vaulted them over Philly for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. They followed that with a 111-100 victory over the Washington Wizards, a game in which Warren scored 34 points. The Pacers have started the restart well and if Warren can stay hot, this team could be a tough out.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (41-25)
Previous Ranking: 8
The Thunder stormed out of the gates and demolished the Utah Jazz 110-94. It was a resounding victory for a team trying to move up in the seeding race. However, their chances to move ahead of Utah took a hit after losing 121-113 to the Denver Nuggets in overtime. Sharing the wealth is key for this team as against Utah, six players scored double-digit points, while in the loss to Denver, only five players did so. Teamwork will be a great asset for their chances going forward.
8. Miami Heat (42-25)
Previous Ranking: 10
The Heat made a resounding statement in their first game back as they doubled the Nuggets’ three-point shooting percentage and dominated them for a 125-105 victory. They followed that up with a close loss to the Toronto Raptors 107-103. Forward Kelly Olynyk has been impressive in his two games in the bubble so far, notching 20 and 17 points respectively. The Heat have many weapons from range and if they click as they did against Denver, they can be dangerous.
7. Houston Rockets (42-24)
Previous Ranking: 9
Few teams have been as impressive as the Rockets through their first two games in the restart. In possibly the most insane game so far in Orlando, the Rockets outlasted the Dallas Mavericks 153-149 in overtime. What’s even more impressive is in their next game, they defeated the Milwaukee Bucks, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, 120-116. The Rockets have once again proven they can contend with the best with their small-ball philosophy. They will face the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, an indicator of where the team is in the championship picture.
6. Boston Celtics (44-22)
Previous Ranking: 6
Jayson Tatum is a rising superstar in the NBA, a clear cornerstone going forward. However, there are still some growing pains and the restart has exposed them. In the first game against the Bucks, he shot an abysmal 2-18 from the field and finished with five points. In the second game against the Portland Trail Blazers, he showed that promise with 34 points in a 128-124 win. The Celtics will go as far as Tatum takes them and he cannot have performances like he did against Milwaukee if the Celtics are going to make any progress in the playoffs.
5. Denver Nuggets (44-23)
Previous Ranking: 5
If there was any doubt who the x-factor was for this team, look no further than Denver’s first two games in the bubble. First, Michael Porter Jr. scored 11 points a 20-point loss to the Heat. A couple of days later against the Thunder, he drops 37 and the Nuggets win. He is a dynamic and athletic playmaker with serious range. When he is at his best, the Nuggets are terrifying. The Nuggets are 1.5 games behind the Los Angeles Clippers for the second seed. The good news is that the next three games are all against teams outside of this list.
4. Los Angeles Clippers (45-21)
Previous Ranking: 3
On opening night of the restart, the Clippers took on the Lakers without two huge players, guard Lou Williams and forward Montrezl Harrell. They lost 103-101, but it was impressive to see them compete against the best team shorthanded as the Clippers even had a chance to win it at the end. The Clippers, two days later, took out their frustrations on the New Orleans Pelicans as they rained a franchise-record 25 three-pointers on the Pelicans for a 126-103 victory. The Clippers are not at full-strength and have looked very impressive so far. Let’s see if they can continue the momentum against some of the weaker teams in the bubble.
3. Milwaukee Bucks (54-13)
Previous Ranking: 2
Despite remaining as the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled to play like their position would indicate. They did shut down Tatum and the Celtics for a 119-112 win but they promptly lost 120-116 to the Rockets after. The Bucks have lost a few big games in their last 10 games played and their chokehold on the Eastern Conference is weakening every week. Giannis Antetokounmpo has a lot to prove this postseason.
2. Toronto Raptors (48-18)
Previous Ranking: 4
It is safe to say the Toronto Raptors are right in the thick of the championship race once again. After winning the championship 14 months ago, the Raptors look just as great as they did then. They proved they are elite with an emphatic 107-92 victory over the Lakers. They then took care of the Heat 107-103. Their guard play has been stellar with Kyle Lowry dropping 33 points against the Lakers and Fred VanVleet scoring 36 against the Heat. If this continues, they could possibly repeat as champions.
- Los Angeles Lakers (51-15)
Previous Ranking: 1
While they lost by 15 points to the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers are still the best team in the NBA. LeBron James and Anthony Davis continue to impose their will on the rest of the league, highlighted by Davis’ 42 point-12 rebound performance Monday night against the Jazz. They defeated the Clippers on opening night, proving that the Clippers are not the dominant team over them. With James and Davis continuing to dominate like they are, I cannot see them losing in a seven-game series. Even Toronto couldn’t as they don’t have a star at the level of those two to get them over the hump in crunch time.