A couple of months ago, the NBA power rankings looked different. Then news broke there will be 22 NBA playoff teams this year at Disney World in Florida. As usual, some of them look much stronger than others.
The time off came at a good time for some of these franchises but not so great for others. How quickly will these teams be able to regain their sharpness? Do they have injury worries? Finally, how will the unforeseen break affect the momentum of high-flying teams? Many NBA stars have spoken out about recent events in the US, but now it’s time to get back to work.
We will answer all of these questions. We’re going to take a look today at every NBA team’s condition ahead of their return. It looks like close between Giannis’s Milwaukee Bucks and LeBron James’ Lakers for the NBA Championship, but only one team can top these rankings.
22. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs season is at serious risk of falling apart because they’ve played fewer games than Portland, New Orleans, and the Kings. They’ll need to have a better record than all three over the course of the eight seeding games in order to get the No. 9 playoff spot.
It’s true that they have missed LaMarcus Aldridge, but even with him they still struggled to slow down opposing defenses. It’s just hard to imagine them leapfrogging any of the teams around them when they return. Furthermore, they went 0-3 against the Lakers in the regular season, so why would they do better now?
On paper, the Wizards are one of the winners of the current form because there’s suddenly a chance they could come into playoff contention. When Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans are both on the floor, the Wizards score 121.7 points per 100 possessions and outscore opponents by 2.4 points per 100 possessions.
It’s a long shot for them to get within four games of eighth place, but not impossible. Then they would force a play-in against the Orlando Magic or the Brooklyn Nets. A lot of weight is on Beal’s shoulders to lead the offense because John Wall is still out.
You could put the Suns at the bottom of this list if you felt especially harsh. FiveThirtyEight projected that they have less than a one percent chance to be a playoff team. But that doesn’t reflect the fact they look ironically stronger now ahead of the return and better than several teams who should progress.
It’s almost too little too late, but the fact is that they have several key players coming back so they should be able to make some teams sweat at the very least. The Suns were plus-7.2 points per 100 possessions when Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Ricky Rubio were all on the floor.
It’s all about defense for the Magic, who rank 11th in the NBA. However, they’re 22nd in the NBA offense rankings, which doesn’t bode well for their chances of getting ahead of the Nets in the race for the 7th spot. In sum, this is going to cause them problems against top playoff opponents.
They’re also a combined 0-9 against playoff teams like Bucks, the Celtics, and the Raptors this season. That doesn’t bode well for their chances. Furthermore, they’re missing key personnel including Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu. This team seems more cursed than magical.
There’s no denying it; Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are huge losses for the Nets. Even though they’ve actually played better without Irving, the truth is he’s a quality player. You need his type of experience and ability to make a deep playoff run.
Furthermore, Jacque Vaughn doesn’t have a lot of time to implement his ideas. The Nets just aren’t in the best of shape right now despite their impressive offseason last time around. Moreover, they need to stay ahead of the Magic if they want to avoid the Bucks in the next round, so the pressure is on.
The inclusion of Bogdan Bogdanovic has made a difference for the Kings, but is it enough for them to contend for the NBA title with a playoff run? In short, the answer is no, probably not. However, it is 2020, and stranger things have happened. They’ll be looking to build momentum with the fresh legs of Marvin Begley a potential boost.
They did improve significantly after the All-Star break so the Kings will hope that they can carry on that form. Suddenly, they’ve become a faster team. This especially suits De’Aaron Fox. However, the truth is, just making it into the playoffs will be a win for them.
It might seem harsh to put the Grizzlies this far down but hear us out. Sure, they have a whole host of players coming back from injury. The likes of Brandon Clarke, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Justise Winslow will all be hoping to make an impact, but the team needs to get some cohesion first.
Moreover, their rivals also have players returning from injury. However, the Grizzlies are a younger side so they lack that same veteran support and experience. In sum, it could be difficult for them to hold off Portland and the Pelicans in pursuit of the final playoff spot.
With Rudy Gobert’s exploits, it’s easy to forget about the Jazz and their decent season. However, they drop points because of Bojan Bogdanovic’s wrist surgery. In sum, that will end his season, which is a massive blow for Utah and their hopes of making it deep into the playoffs.
Furthermore, Donavon Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are allegedly not the best of friends right now. It could be an icy return to the locker room when these athletes meet again. Inconsistency, team morale, and injuries are taking their toll on the Jazz at the wrong time.
There’s no doubt about it, Zion Williamson is a transformative player. His combination of physical athleticism, pure skill, and charisma make him the most exciting young star in the NBA today. When he’s on the court, the Pelicans outscore opponents by 10 points per game.
But they also went 11-5 before his much-anticipated debut. During that period they had a better record than almost all of the top five teams on this list. To sum up, they’re definitely dark horses to claim that final Western Conference playoff spot. After that, who knows? 2020 has been a crazy year, so you can’t fully rule them out of contention.
Damon Lillard is one of the best players in the West right now. The superstar guard is truly excellent and when you add in the likes of CJ McCollum, you can see why Portland has Memphis under pressure. But Jusuf Nurkic is the reason why the Trail Blazers leapfrog their rivals.
The return of the big man alongside Zach Collins makes them a genuinely frightening team. They’ve had to play without these key athletes for lengthy spells this season but now they’re back. If they can gel, the Trail Blazers will be a team to fear in the West.
The Pacers have flown under the radar all season, but they don’t mind that at all. Victor Oladipo will finally get the chance to make his mark after an injury-riddled season. If he can play consistently beside Malcolm Brogdon, then overlook the Pacers at your peril.
In sum, Indiana benefited from the time off. But rust could be a significant issue for these two men at the worst time. They don’t have the luxury of playing their way into fitness because they need to perform at their best now. However, if they do then the Pacers could stun the East.
With Jimmy Butler, Bam Abedayo, and Duncan Robinson on the court, the Heat averages 118.6 points per 100 possessions. They also outscored opponents by 13.1 points per 100 possessions. Those are excellent numbers that show just how dangerous they can be.
However, their away record was shoddy, which begs the question of how they respond to playing at a neutral venue. Obviously, not being in front of fans does make a difference but they’ll still have to adapt to this quickly. Otherwise, it could be a short return for the Heat.
One of the big winners of the recent break, the 76ers have seen Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons return from injury. In sum, if the season had continued as normal, they wouldn’t have had their All-Stars available. This is a major boost for the 76ers in a competitive Eastern Conference.
However, their return form is difficult to predict. They were phenomenal at home (29-2) but terrible away (10-24). Their hopes of making their way through the playoffs depend on them settling into life at Disney World. They’re one of the most confusing teams in the league.
Chris Paul’s vast improvement is one of the stories of the Thunder’s season so far. They have gone 7-3 in their last 10 games, while they’re also in the top-10 for defense. In short, they’ve defied expectations so far, already exceeding their predicted total of 31 wins.
Meanwhile, their offense is one of the most consistent in the entire NBA. However, the big question ahead of the return is can they maintain their chemistry? Having months off may make this feel like a totally new season when they return. That could hurt their chances.
The Nuggets are under pressure this year but they’ve managed to cope with it. First of all, Nikola Jokic has been consistently excellent while Jamal Murray is also improving nicely. The problem with Jokic is that time off usually isn’t good for him. He’s not great at keeping in shape.
However, if he comes back fit and ready, you’ve got a contender. Meanwhile, Paul Millsap has also been working hard on plyometrics during the unexpected hiatus. These two men are perfect foils for each other so it’s imperative that the Nuggets get them on the court together when they return.
Basketball is having a moment in Texas, with the Mavs and the Rockets two of the most interesting teams in the NBA. First of all, let’s talk about the Mavericks’ attack. Luka Doncic is a franchise-changer, averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists, 2.9 threes and 1.1 steals per game.
These are outrageous numbers for a sophomore and he also makes the rest of the team better. Tim Hardaway and Kristaps Porzingis are also devastating when he’s next to them. However, their defense is only the 17th best in the league. That could prove a dealbreaker for making a deep playoff run.
The Rockets are ripping up the rules this season but only time will tell if it pays off. They’re plus-9.1 points per 100 possessions when James Harden and Russell Westbrook are on the floor without a traditional center. That’s an outrageous number, but is it sustainable?
If it is, then this team will go down in history as revolutionary. A Houston title will have repercussions for the game of basketball as we traditionally know it. James Harden will be desperate to prove that his polarizing style of play can win playoff games and championships rather than just big stats.
Jayson Tatum gives the Celtics a chance of pursuing glory after the return. Tatum has been a revelation this season, but it’s not all about him. The likes of Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown make the Celtics offense one of the very best in the league. Overall they’ve got a shot at a deep playoff run.
However, they need to learn to close out games because they have a bad habit of letting teams back in the fourth quarter. But if they can keep Tatum fit and firing in the same form as before the league went on hiatus, then they will be a real danger to the Bucks and the Raptors in the East.
This is a massive year for the Clippers. It’s their chance to break out of the Lakers’ shadow, but they’ll have to be at their very best to do it. They are finally fighting fit. This is something they’ve struggled with all season, but the break will do wonders for Kahwi Leonard’s health.
You can’t overestimate the significance of Leonard to the Clippers. If they can keep him alongside Paul George then they have every chance of winning an elusive NBA Championship. But they must adapt to playing away from the Staples Center because they have struggled on the road.
The Raptors have been desperately unlucky with injuries this season. In fact, you could argue that it’s tantamount to Nick Nurse’s abilities that they’ve still been so competitive this year because almost every player has been absent at one point or another. Furthermore, they have the second-best defense in the league which is impressive.
Their championship experience will be key because all of their pieces are finally falling into place. Also, they’ll want to make a good showing because they know they could face the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. Everybody knows that they want to lure Giannis up North.
The hiatus came at the perfect time for the Bucks because their phenomenal season was threatening to derail. Riding a three-game losing streak before the break, the lost their key man Giannis Antetokounmpo to injury for the final two. Now he’s ready to come back and resume his pursuit of the MVP award and a championship ring.
However, the big question is how much the break and lack of home advantage will affect their rhythm. The Bucks looked on course to break the 65-win barrier but that could be under threat now. Only time will tell, but it does look like they’re in a position to come back stronger than ever. Their strong defense will be key.
Sure, every neutral fan wants the Bucks to win but let’s be real, the Lakers have the advantage now ahead of the return. This team just knows each other so well. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and company have momentum. That could be key as they make their way through the playoffs.
This is also one of an aging James’s last chances to win a fourth NBA ring. Furthermore, this version of the Lakers is at its peak, with several players like Rajon Rondo and Danny Green getting older too. Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is heading to free agency. They’ll be desperate to win but they’re in a position to.