By the time the NBA resumes its season on July 31, it will have been over four months since the night that the sports world came to a screeching halt. The NBA led the way in shutting down the sports world and now they are leading the way to reopen it.
With the 22-team format announced, here are our power rankings for the 22 teams that are heading to Orlando:
- Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
The Lakers entered the suspension with the top seed in the Western Conference all but locked away. They have the best player in the game in LeBron James as well as one of the best centers in Anthony Davis. This season has always been “Championship or Bust” for the Lakers, and as long as they remain healthy, they have a strong shot at bringing home a title in Orlando.
- Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
The Bucks will go as far as Giannis Antetokounmpo will take them, but this team has been masterfully crafted around him with a plethora of shooters. With home-court advantage thrown out the window in Orlando, it may come down to who has the best player, and Antetokounmpo would love to have a shot at James’s throne.
- Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
The Clippers, led by Paul George and reigning NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, are arguably the best defensive team in the league, with Patrick Beverly and Montrezl Harrell supporting the aforementioned dominant two-way wings. Los Angeles’ other NBA team has a strong shot at overtaking the Lakers and bringing their own championship to Los Angeles.
- Toronto Raptors (48-16)
Nick Nurse is one of the most creative coaches in the league, and that should work to Toronto’s advantage in this situation where almost nothing is normal. The Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard in free agency but are positioned in the second seed heading into the final eight regular season games. Pascal Siakam will have to step up his game if the Raptors want to bring a second consecutive title back to Toronto.
- Denver Nuggets (43-22)
The Nuggets have been one of the league’s most interesting teams as they possess no traditional stars but consistently keep on winning. With Nikola Jokic leading the way as one of the best playmaking big-men in the league and a strong young core around him, the Nuggets have a chance to make a deep run in this year’s playoffs.
- Miami Heat (41-24)
Miami has been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NBA this season, and they are not (outside of Jimmy Butler) made up of traditional stars. Kendrick Nunn has burst on to the scene after a year in the G League, and emerging player Duncan Robinson was also an undrafted free agent. The Heat might struggle without home-court advantage, but they have a shot to make a run in their home state.
- Houston Rockets (40-24)
Houston’s recent playoff struggles are worrisome, but they have too much talent to be much lower on this list. Harden and Westbrook have led the team to this point and they look to lead them to their first finals appearance since the ’90s.
- Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
Who would’ve thought that the Thunder would be here at this point? After a rough start, the Thunder were one of the hottest teams in the league heading into the hiatus, finishing 29-10 over their last 39 games. Chris Paul and rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander have this team right in position to make a run.
- Boston Celtics (43-21)
The Celtics have plenty of star-power with Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum, as well as defensive stoppers in Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart, but they have yet to put it all together. Plus, Walker has not had much playoff success since his run to the NCAA title in 2011.
- Philadelphia 76ers (39-26)
Philadelphia may be the most talented team in the East from top to bottom, but they have really struggled to put the pieces together. However, with both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid presumably healthy heading into the playoffs, they have a chance to reach their potential and make a run at the Eastern Conference title.
- Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
Dallas is not only extremely exciting to watch, but they also are extremely dangerous. While they might not be deep enough to make a championship run, they definitely have the star power needed to pull off a first-round upset in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
- Indiana Pacers (39-26)
The health of Victor Oladipo is the biggest question surrounding this team. Domantas Sabonis has been phenomenal this season, keeping the Pacers afloat in the East, but Oladipo will need to return strong in Orlando for Indiana to make a run.
- Utah Jazz (41-23)
The Jazz are loaded with talent and were playing well heading into the suspension, but basketball is a team sport and chemistry is very important. If that was altered by the events surrounding the season’s pause, it could be tough to overcome.
- Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
The Trail Blazers have not lived up to their expectations so far, but the 22-team format gives them a chance to right the ship with what should be a full squad. Jusef Nurkic was scheduled to return from his gruesome leg injury on March 15, but the season was halted before he could make his season debut. If this team is healthy, they are dangerous as a lower seed.
- Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
Memphis has been way ahead of schedule as young stars Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. put the Grizzlies in playoff position. The only problem is that if they can hold off Portland, New Orleans, and the others behind them, their reward is a date with LeBron James and the Lakers. That’s not a favorable matchup.
- New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
Zion Williamson. All season long, fans have craved seeing Williamson and the Pelicans in position to make a push to the playoffs. The ratings for a potential Pelicans vs. Lakers series would be off-the-charts. They have a shot to make that happen with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, and Williamson leading the way.
- Sacramento Kings (28-36)
The Sacramento Kings are a team that can’t seem to find their way out of the cellar in the Western Conference. However, they have a chance to finally get back to the playoffs in this format. They enter the eight-game finish to the regular season in a three-way tie for the ninth seed. If they can finish at least one game better than Memphis, Portland, and New Orleans, they will find themselves in a play-in tournament with a chance to make their first playoff appearance since 2006.
- Orlando Magic (30-35)
The Magic hold the eighth seed in the East and are going to have to hold off the Washington Wizards for a playoff spot. Then, if they are able to do that, they will get a potential first-round matchup with Milwaukee or Toronto. Orlando took a game from the Raptors last year, but don’t expect much more than that this year (if they get in).
- Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
Brooklyn sits in an interesting position. They are in seventh in the East, but they only lead the Magic by half of a game. The other problem for Brooklyn is that both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant have said that they will not be playing when the season resumes. If Spencer Dinwiddie and co. can lead Brooklyn to a playoff spot, it will be tough for the undermanned Nets to make a deep run.
- San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
The Spurs have made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons, which is tied for the NBA record with the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers, who made the playoffs for 22 straight seasons from 1950 to 1971. That streak is very much in danger as San Antonio sits four games out of the playoffs and behind three teams for the ninth spot, which would earn them a potential play-in opportunity. After all, if any coach can get his team to the playoffs in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s Gregg Popovich.
- Washington Wizards (24-40)
Washington is a bit of a mystery entering the final stretch. The Wizards are 5.5 games back of the Magic for the eighth seed, but the possible return of John Wall and a play-in tournament makes this much more interesting to watch. Keep an eye on Washington going forward.
- Phoenix Suns (26-39)
Lastly, the Phoenix Suns. The Suns are a rising team with DeAndre Ayton and Devin Booker leading a strong, young core, but they are behind five teams for a playoff spot with only eight games to play. It is almost impossible for the Suns to find themselves back in the playoffs this season.