The 2019-20 NBA regular season is finally over, and the playoffs are scheduled to begin on August 17. The league has executed its bubble experiment in Orlando to perfection so far, offering fans highly competitive games and an interactive environment. Most of the teams that reached the playoffs are at full strength, and all of them seem to be motivated to win despite the extenuated circumstances in which they’ve had to perform. This postseason will look different, but it’s set to be as entertaining as any fans have witnessed in years.
Here are each of the 16 playoff teams ranked according to their regular season performance, their play in the bubble
, and the current strength of their rosters.
16. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets made the playoffs as the seventh seed in the East, but they should have their sights set on next season. Without Kyrie Irving
, Kevin Durant
, DeAndre Jordan
, Spencer Dinwiddie
, Wilson Chandler
, or Taurean Prince
, they arrived at the bubble with a roster that was almost unrecognizable.
The team actually finished 5-3 in Orlando thanks to a soft schedule and the efforts of Caris LeVert
and Jarrett Allen
, but they don’t stand a chance against the reigning champion Toronto Raptors. That series will likely function as an opportunity for newcomers Jamal Crawford
and Tyler Johnson
to prove their worth and for younger players to showcase their skills.
15. Orlando Magic
The Magic won just three games in the season’s restart, and they’ll limp into their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks. Mo Bamba has left the bubble due to COVID-19 recovery complications, and Michael Carter-Williams
will likely miss the start of the postseason. In addition, Evan Fournier
and Aaron Gordon
will have to find their footing again after missing the team’s final three games.
Veteran big man Nikola Vucevic
will keep the Magic competitive and former number one overall pick Markelle Fultz
has elevated his game, but Orlando has a long way to go before they’ll truly be a threat in the playoffs.
14. Philadelphia 76ers
Fate has not been kind to the 76ers in the bubble. The team maintained their sixth spot in the East with a 4-4 record, but they lost Ben Simmons
for the rest of the year due to a knee injury. Meanwhile, a lingering ankle issue has limited Joel Embiid
’s minutes. Even when the two were healthy, Philadelphia struggled to close out winnable games due to their lack of outside shooting.
Veterans like Tobias Harris
, Al Horford
, and Josh Richardson
will make things difficult for the Boston Celtics in the first round, but the 76ers will likely roll over if Embiid can’t stay on the floor. In the end, fans will probably have to face another disappointing outcome for a Philly team that appeared too talented to fail.
13. Indiana Pacers
The Pacers, who finished 6-2 in the bubble, have exceeded expectations considering their circumstances. They’ve looked like a cohesive unit primed for the playoffs despite losing All-Star Domantas Sabonis
for the year and limiting Victor Oladipo
’s minutes as he recovers from last year’s knee injury.
Forward T.J. Warren
has dominated the league’s headlines in Orlando, dropping 53 points in his first game and scoring 30 or more in three others. If he continues to produce at that level and receives sufficient help from Oladipo, Myles Turner
, and Malcolm Brogdon
, he’ll give Indiana an opportunity to defeat the Miami Heat and advance to the second round.
12. Utah Jazz
Utah earned the sixth seed in the West, and they’re set to feature a lineup nearly identical to last years in these playoffs. Once again, they will lean on Donovan Mitchell
, Joe Ingles
, and Rudy Gobert
to lead the team on both ends of the floor. Mitchell in particular will have to handle a significant scoring load.
But that formula didn’t work well in the bubble, and the Jazz finished with a 3-5 record. Not only that, but veteran point guard Mike Conley
has failed to live up to his salary in his first year with the team. The Jazz will have to shoot more efficiently and play much better defense to upset the Denver Nuggets.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
The Trail Blazers had to fight harder than any other team on this list to reach the postseason. They won six of their eight bubble games, then defeated the Memphis Grizzlies in a play-in game to retain the eighth seed in the West. Portland needed a team effort to achieve both, but Damian Lillard
has had an incredible run in Orlando so far. He scored 30 or more six times, including back-to-back 51 and 61-point explosions. Most importantly, he’s consistently come through for his team in clutch moments.
Other veterans like C.J. McCollum, Carmelo Anthony
, and Jusuf Nurkic
will make the Blazers a tough out. Nurkic in particular has rebounded admirably from the gruesome leg injury he suffered last season, anchoring the team on defense and dominating in the post. Hassan Whiteside
has also been a defensive menace off the bench, and Gary Trent
Jr. has turned heads with his impressive three-point shooting in the bubble. Portland might not take down the Los Angeles Lakers, but they could certainly extend that series.
10. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks are an enigmatic team, and it’s unclear whether they can compete with the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round. Dallas only won three games in the bubble, but their success before the restart allowed them to hold on to the seventh seed in the West.
The team has not had big men Dwight Powell
or Willie Cauley-Stein
in Orlando, forcing them to play small ball with Kristaps Porzingis
at center. That strategy has worked well offensively, as the Mavs scored 110 or more in seven of their eight games. However, their lackluster defense could pose serious problems when they face the Clippers. In addition to leading their team’s scoring effort, Luka Doncic
and Porzingis will have to step up on defense in the first round.
9. Miami Heat
The Heat may not receive much media attention, but they’ve quietly put together one of the most impressive seasons in the league. The addition of star forward Jimmy Butler
has proved invaluable, and rookies Kendrick Nunn
, Tyler Herro
, and Duncan Robinson
have already developed into legitimate rotation players. Not only that, but center Bam Adebayo
was a Most Improved Player finalist and first-time All-Star.
Though they’re one of the deepest teams in the Association, Miami compiled an uninspiring 3-5 record in the bubble to finish fifth in the East. They have a lot of young talent, but they’ll need to look to veterans like Butler, Jae Crowder
, Goran Dragic
, and Kelly Olynyk
for leadership in the playoffs. Of all the teams in the postseason, the Heat may have the best shot at a first-round upset.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
Few projected the Thunder to make the playoffs, let alone to finish fifth in the West. Yet here they are, fresh off a 4-4 run in the bubble and primed to take on the Houston Rockets in the first round. Chris Paul
has been as productive as ever at 35 years old, earning another All-Star nod and leading his young team. Veterans like Steven Adams
, Danilo Gallinari
, and Dennis Shröder round out Oklahoma City’s deep rotation.
The Thunder’s younger players could determine how far the team goes in these playoffs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
has turned into one of the best two-way guards in the league, and forwards Darius Bazley
, Terrance Ferguson
, and Hamidou Diallo
are bursting with potential. The Rockets will begin this series without Russell Westbrook
, opening the door for the Thunder to take an early lead. Still, Oklahoma City will have to play its best basketball to close out the series.
7. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets have arguably the most talented roster in the NBA, but they may not be able to put all of its pieces together in time for these playoffs. Will Barton
and Gary Harris
didn’t appear in a single game in the bubble, and it remains to be seen whether they’ll be healthy for the playoffs. Jamal Murray
returned from his hamstring injury, but his production has been inconsistent since.
On the bright side, youngsters Michael Porter
Jr. and Bol Bol
have acclimated themselves to the next level much quicker than expected. Porter in particular has had some spectacular performances in the bubble, racking up two games with 20+ points and two more with 30+. As a result, coach Michael Malone permanently inserted Porter in the starting lineup.
The Nuggets’ 3-5 bubble record isn’t a good sign heading into the playoffs. Denver’s depth and the lethal combo of Murray and superstar Nikola Jokic
make them a formidable opponent, but they probably won’t win multiple series without a fully healthy rotation.
6. Toronto Raptors
Surprisingly, the NBA’s reigning champions have had a top-notch season despite losing Kawhi Leonard
and Danny Green
to free agency. Kyle Lowry
and Pascal Siakam
have assumed new leadership roles, and Fred VlanVleet has quietly evolved into one of the most underrated scoring guards in the league.
Thanks to their balanced attack and defense-first approach, Toronto finished 7-1 in the bubble and locked up the second seed in the East. They may not have the same star power as last season, but solid role players like OG Anunoby
, Serge Ibaka
, and Marc Gasol
round out a rotation sufficient enough to cause problems in the playoffs.
5. Boston Celtics
Most probably don’t consider the Celtics title contenders right now, but their performance in the bubble earned them that designation. Boston put together a 5-3 record in Orlando, good enough to secure the third seed in the East. They also achieved a rare feat by having three players—Kemba Walker
, Jaylen Brown
, and Jayson Tatum
—average 20 points per game for the regular season.
, Marcus Smart
, Daniel Theis
, and Enes Kanter
make up the rest of one of the most dangerous lineups in the league. Boston’s young core is finally coming into form, making this team capable of beating anybody. The Celtics may be a wild card in these playoffs, but they have the potential to go all the way.
4. Houston Rockets
The Rockets have one of the best duos in the NBA in James Harden
and Russell Westbrook
, but they will begin their first-round matchup against the Thunder without Westbrook, who has a strained quad. Their small-ball strategy will be put to the ultimate test, and their wings will have to rebound better without a center on the floor.
Houston finished 4-4 in the bubble, earning them the fourth seed in the West. Despite their struggles on the boards, the outside shooting of Harden, Robert Covington
, and P.J. Tucker
proved to be enough to win games. New addition Jeff Green
, a journeyman in the league, has also played well and stretched the floor. Finally, Eric Gordon
returned from his injury to rejoin the starting lineup and offer more knockdown perimeter shooting.
If Westbrook doesn’t miss much time, the sky is the limit for this Rockets team. However, if he’s out for an extended period, the Rockets could be destined for another early exit.
3. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers had the most impressive regular season of any team in the league, but they haven’t looked the same since the season restarted. Without important guards in Avery Bradley
and Rajon Rondo
, they went 3-5 in the bubble. Even more worrisome has been their apparent lack of cohesiveness since the season resumed. LeBron James
and Anthony Davis
, who are normally confident beyond doubt, have at times looked out of sync and unsure of themselves.
Los Angeles still has two of the game’s best players, and they’re surrounded by a talented cast of characters. Kyle Kuzma
has stepped up as the team’s third scoring option in the bubble, and Dwight Howard
continues to hold down the paint off the bench.
If James can rise to the occasion yet again in his 17th season, the Lakers will be the team to beat in these playoffs. Davis may be the most talented wingman James has ever had, and he’s won championships with less help than he has now. The tragic loss of Kobe Bryant
may also fuel the Lakers’ motivation to win another ring for their city.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Like the Lakers, the Bucks of the bubble have not looked the same as the Bucks before the bubble. However, they showed flashes of that dominant team during their first eight games in Orlando. They only won three games, but they also sat their stars quite often. MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo
appears determined to win his first championship, and veterans like Khris Middleton
, Brook Lopez
, Eric Bledsoe
, and George Hill
are back to help his cause.
Milwaukee is the favorite to win the East, but they may have trouble with the West’s champion if they reach the NBA Finals. In the end, the health and outside shooting of Antetokounmpo will probably determine how far this team goes.
1. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers won five of their eight games in the bubble despite not having a fully healthy roster at any point in the restart. Their strategy of intermittently resting Paul George
and Kawhi Leonard
has worked, seeing as both superstars are healthy entering the playoffs. Also, talented bench scorers Lou Williams
and Montrezl Harrell
have returned to the bubble and completed their mandatory quarantine periods, restoring Los Angeles’s big four.
, Landry Shamet
, Ivica Zubac
, JaMychal Green
, and newcomers Reggie Jackson
and Marcus Morris
Sr. round out the Clippers’ loaded rotation. More than any other team in the NBA, this squad can sub out its starters and continue dominating opponents with its bench.
Leonard is coming off a title run with the Raptors, and he has far more help this time around. If the Clippers can stay healthy and build more chemistry in these playoffs, they’ll put themselves in a position to bring home the franchise’s first championship.
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