We’re approaching our second week of seeding games in the NBA bubble, and the quality of play has been surprisingly high after over four months off. The Bucks, Lakers and Clippers still look like title favorites, while the Rockets and Raptors continue to make their case as true contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Perhaps the NBA didn’t need to invite 22 teams to the bubble, but the product hasn’t suffered despite the expansive field. A strong slate of seeding games should pave the way for a fascinating playoffs.
So where do things stand after the first week of seeding games? Check out The Crossover’s latest crop of power rankings below.
22. Washington Wizards
Washington isn’t completely lacking in intriguing young pieces despite being the worst team in the NBA bubble. Gonzaga product Rui Hachimura has a semblance of All-Star potential, and center Thomas Bryant has continued his impressive offensive season in Orlando. Bryant dropped 30 points on the Nets on Sunday, and he added an additional 20 in Monday’s loss to Indiana. Washington has a pair of intriguing frontcourt pieces for its next generation.
21. Brooklyn Nets
Things could get seriously ugly for Jacque Vaughn’s crew on Tuesday. The Nets will take the floor with Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and center Jarrett Allen all out of the lineup, decimating Brooklyn’s skeleton crew to an alarming degree. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will be licking their chops from the opening tip on Tuesday. You can’t make the point spread high enough for this one.
20. Sacramento Kings
The Kings aren’t sniffing the playoffs anytime soon if they can’t step up their defensive performance in Orlando. They’ve allowed 261 points in their first two games, and their backcourt was shredded by Markelle Fultz and Terrence Ross on Sunday. De’Aaron Fox said Sacramento was being disrespected entering the NBA bubble, and the dynamic young point guard has held up his end of the bargain thus far. The rest of the Kings haven’t exactly been up to the task.
19. San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs’ young backcourt has struggled to a degree in 2019-20, limiting optimism surrounding the next iteration of the franchise. Perhaps the eight games in Orlando will help stem the concern. Derrick White has stood out through three contests, tallying 52 points and 15 assists as the Spurs look to keep their two-decade playoff streak alive. Even if San Antonio falls short, additional development for White, Dejounte Murray and Lonnie Walker could make San Antonio’s excursion to Orlando a valuable trip.
18. Phoenix Suns
The Suns were lambasted to a degree for drafting Cam Johnson with the No. 11 pick last year, but the North Carolina product has been a solid contributor in 2019-20. Johnson came up clutch in Sunday’s win over the Mavericks, scoring 19 points while adding 12 rebounds. Phoenix’s young core is certainly intriguing, and there are legitimate playoff aspirations in 2021. Johnson could be an impactful piece for the Suns as they attempt to kick-start a new era.
17. New Orleans Pelicans
Zion Williamson’s efficiency continues to impress even if his fitness doesn’t. The 2019 No. 1 pick scored 13 points in 15 minutes in his Orlando debut, and he scored 23 points in 25 minutes on Tuesday. Williamson is an offensive terror in every respect. He’s a transition menace and a low-post force, and he’s an inventive interior passer to boot. Reaching the playoffs in 2020 is almost immaterial. Seeing Williamson’s growth in Orlando has only heightened the expectations for the Pelicans heading into the next decade.
16. Orlando Magic
Get well soon, Jonathan Issac. Orlando’s young forward suffered a torn ACL on Sunday, hurting the same knee he did on Jan. 1. Issac is a legitimate All-Defense candidate when healthy, and he’s emerged as the most promising piece in Orlando’s crowded rotation. The Magic can still compete in the NBA bubble without Issac, but a playoff appearance is all-but-guaranteed to end in the first round. Let’s hope to see Issac back with the Magic’s young core sooner than later in 2021.
15. Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies should still hold onto the No. 8 seed ahead of the play-in contest(s), though we shouldn’t pencil them in for a first-round battle with the Lakers. Ja Morant has struggled from the field in two of Memphis’ three contests, and the Grizzlies defense has been anything but stout. Taylor Jenkins can’t like the way his team is trending as we approach the second week of action in Orlando.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers’ center rotation is now well stocked with the additions of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, but Portland remains weak in its wing rotation. Perhaps Gary Trent Jr. can be of some assistance. The second-year forward posted a game-best plus-20 against Memphis on July 31, and he added 21 points with seven threes against Boston on Sunday. Carmelo Anthony is little more than a stationary shooter. Mario Hezonja is never the answer. Trent’s role should only grow in the coming weeks.
13. Indiana Pacers
Welcome to Orlando, T.J. Warren! The former Suns forward has been on an absolute tear in his first two contests, combining for 86 points on 61.8% shooting. Warren has expanded his range to a serious degree in recent years, and he’s never been shy as an isolation scorer. The Pacers continue to face hurdles in 2019-20, battling injuries to both Victor Oradipo and Domantas Sabonis. Warren’s strong play may prove to be more than a silver lining. Don’t count the Pacers out in round one quite yet.
12. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas’ historic offense may not amount to much if the Mavericks keep facing the same crunch-time woes. The Mavericks blew a seven-point lead against Houston with less than a minute to play on Friday night, and they lost a double-digit halftime lead to the Suns two nights later. Perhaps lightening Luka Doncic’s playmaking load in the first three quarters could help preserve the Slovenian sensation late. It’s hard to see Dallas escaping the first round of the playoffs if it continues its current crunch-time play.
11. Utah Jazz
The Jazz will need to use Donovan Mitchell as a high-usage leading man to extend their stay in Orlando, but Utah’s young star hasn’t exactly gotten off to a hot start. Mitchell went just 11-29 from the floor in his first two seeding games, and he fumbled his way to four turnovers in a blowout loss to the Thunder on Saturday. Mike Conley isn’t the same player he once was. Jordan Clarkson and Emmanuel Mudiay don’t scream reliability. Mitchell has quite the burden on his shoulders once again in 2020.
10. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder’s three-headed monster in the backcourt is a true problem for opponents, yet Oklahoma City could face serious trouble if it has to wade deep into its wing rotation. Luguentz Dort struggled mightily from the field on Monday vs. Denver, and Billy Donovan relies heavily on Darius Bazley and Hamidou Diallo. Oklahoma City is quite the dangerous first-round opponent. It’s still a few bodies away from sniffing the Finals.
9. Philadelphia 76ers
Shake Milton has been a revelation for Philadelphia in 2019-20, and not just because of his game-winning jumper on Tuesday night. The SMU product has canned 44.9% of threes in 2019-20, and he’s looked comfortable as Philly’s starting point guard in the latter part of the season. The Sixers are betting big on Ben Simmons’ move to the four. Milton’s performance will be critical to its success.
8. Miami Heat
Will the Heat’s young core run into a wall in round one? Kendrick Nunn struggled mightily against Toronto’s dynamic backcourt on Monday, and Duncan Robinson was additionally bottled. We entered the season assuming Miami didn’t have enough firepower outside of Jimmy Butler. Those concerns could prove to be prescient as possessions tighten in the postseason.
7. Denver Nuggets
We’ve been clamoring for Michael Porter Jr. to earn more minutes for much of the season, and the Missouri product proved why once again on Monday. Porter dropped 37 points in a win over Chris Paul and Thunder, shooting 12-16 from the field and 4-6 from three. Porter’s jumper is as silky as they come. His feel in the pick-and-roll is more mature than originally assumed. Unleashing MPJ is Mike Malone’s best chance at raising the Nuggets’ ceiling.
6. Boston Celtics
Gordon Hayward’s playmaking load is dampened alongside a deep cast of scorers, though we shouldn’t discount his impact. The former Jazz forward is Boston’s best pick-and-roll passer, sporting an impressive feel as he snakes in and out of the lane. Hayward scored 17 points and added six assists in a loss to Milwaukee on July 31. He scored 22 points in Sunday’s win over Portland. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown drive Boston’s offense, and rightfully so. But when the Celtics’ young wings struggle, Hayward could pick up the slack in a major way.
5. Houston Rockets
The Rockets continue to break every convention imaginable, and their unorthodox ways have paid off thus far in Orlando. Houston’s small-ball defense thrived down the stretch against Milwaukee on Sunday, wreaking havoc in passing and driving lanes. James Harden and Russell Westbrook are currently firing on all cylinders. Houston’s collection of wings is providing a stream of quality contributions. No other team in the West can challenge the Los Angeles juggernauts quite like the Rockets.
4. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors buzz is growing to a fever pitch as the playoffs approach, and for good reason. Perhaps Toronto doesn’t sport an All-NBA leading man, but there are few teams with more legitimate scoring options in a given night. Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry seem to be trading off dominant performances in Orlando. Pascal Siakam appears ready to continue his breakout campaign. Nick Nurse didn’t win Coach of the Year in 2019-20, yet he’ll happily take a second ring instead. The possibility is greater than many assumed heading into the NBA restart.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers remain the deepest team in Orlando even as they battle a stream of interruptions in Orlando. They have plenty of wings and guards to match the Rockets, and their All-NBA duo will decimate any of Utah, Denver, Oklahoma City or Dallas. But do the Clippers have the size to contain LeBron and the Lakers? Ivica Zubac and perhaps even Joakim Noah will be counted on in a major way as October approaches.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers were blitzed by the Raptors on Saturday night as Toronto exposed what is perhaps Los Angeles’ greatest flaw. Kyle Lowry and Toronto’s collection of playmakers saw little resistance from the Lakers backcourt, feasting against a depleted unit in a 107-92 victory. Perhaps this is a bit nitpicky of a criticism considering Los Angeles’ top-end talent, but there are legitimate deficiencies at guard. Consider the Lakers a flawed favorite in the West.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee remains the favorite in the East, though it still needs a healthy dose of Eric Bledsoe to avoid an upset before the Finals. The Bucks struggled to function without a secondary ball-handler alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo down the stretch against Houston, and similar problems could emerge in a series against the Raptors. Antetokounmpo and Co. have been a juggernaut for much of the season. But they aren’t exactly invulnerable. Mike Budenholzer will need his full complement of players to ensure a run to the Finals.