After nearly five months in the wilderness, the NBA season is underway again and, as a result, DIME is back with power rankings. A lot has changed in the world since March 10 but, in basketball circles, the status quo is largely still in play, even with a few exceptions.
If nothing else, 22 of the league’s 30 teams are in Orlando taking part in seeding games and each franchise has at least two games under the belt at this juncture. That gives us just enough to provide overreactions and, with a long way to go before the marathon postseason even begins, let’s get weird with power rankings that are (almost) entirely focused on what’s happening in the bubble.
1. Toronto Raptors (2-0, Last week — n/a)
Are the Raptors actually the best team in the NBA? Maybe not. However, Toronto began their Orlando run with a 2-0 record that included wins over the Heat and the Lakers. In general, the Raptors are for real, and they shouldn’t be ignored.
2. Phoenix Suns (3-0, Last week — n/a)
Well, I tried to tell you that these were bubble-based rankings, so let’s have some fun. Obviously, the Suns aren’t the second-best team in the league, but Phoenix is 3-0 in Orlando and they are riding high after wins over the Mavericks and Clippers. Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and company are generating buzz as a playoff sleeper for 2021, but they aren’t quite dead in 2020 either.
3. Indiana Pacers (3-0, Last week — n/a)
In three games in Orlando, TJ Warren is averaging 39.7 points per game. That’s not a misprint. He’s not the only reason that the Pacers are 3-0 but, given that Indiana is operating shorthanded in the bubble, Warren’s stellar performance has been huge.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (2-1, Last week — n/a)
With only three unblemished teams, somebody had to be here, and it probably needs to be the Lakers. LeBron and company did run into the Toronto buzzsaw but, otherwise, the Lakers have quality wins over the Clippers and Jazz. They also happen to the betting favorite (or at least one of them) to win the title.
5. Miami Heat (2-1, Last week — n/a)
Oh look, another team that lost to the Raptors. Like the Lakers, the Heat have two really good wins (over the Nuggets and Celtics) and Miami’s most recent performance was stellar to get a victory without Jimmy Butler on Tuesday.
6. San Antonio Spurs (2-1, Last week — n/a)
In stunning fashion, the Spurs are playing quite well in Orlando. They came quite close to a 3-0 start and, while DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay are prominently involved, there is a real youth movement happening. Gregg Popovich has (rightly) unleashed Lonnie Walker, Keldon Johnson, and company, with Derrick White looking good as well. The Spurs are interesting again.
7. Portland Trail Blazers (2-1, Last week — n/a)
Jusuf Nurkic is back, Damian Lillard is Damian Lillard, and the Blazers are good at basketball. Portland nearly toppled Boston to stay unblemished but, after a close loss, the Blazers beat the Rockets in prime time on Tuesday. Seeing this makes you long for what might have been if Nurkic was healthy all season.
8. Houston Rockets (2-1, Last week — n/a)
The Rockets are wild, but we already knew that. Houston is playing incredibly small and, for the most part, it’s working. Whether they can keep it up over the long haul is something else, but the high-variance approach is ripe for intrigue.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-1, Last week — n/a)
It’s only been two games, but there isn’t much to dissuade anyone from continuing to believe in the Thunder. This is a good basketball team, and Chris Paul is must-see TV with the ball in his hands.
10. Orlando Magic (2-1, Last week — n/a)
Unbelievably, the Magic have morphed into an offense-first team and they look pretty good. The injury to Jonathan Isaac is brutal for the long-term, but the “hometown team” in the bubble is genuinely playing well. Of interest, though, is the fact that the Magic have deployed 2018 lottery pick Mo Bamba for only 10 total minutes in the restart, leaning on Khem Birch instead.
11. Brooklyn Nets (2-1, Last week — n/a)
Break up the Nets! Brooklyn would’ve avoided the basement by simply beating Washington but, for good measure, the Nets pulled off a massive upset against the Bucks on Tuesday. Make no mistake, this is still a bad basketball team as currently assembled, but they’re playing really hard and getting results.
12. Philadelphia 76ers (1-1, Last week — n/a)
God bless Shake Milton. If not for Milton’s game-winner against the Spurs, Philadelphia would be considerably lower on this list. Ben Simmons has been out of sorts and, to be honest, the Sixers have a lot of the same problems they had before the hiatus.
13. Milwaukee Bucks (1-2, Last week — n/a)
Quite obviously, the Bucks remain very good and they don’t need to care about the seeding games. Milwaukee did lose to the wildly shorthanded Nets on Tuesday, though, so they have to pay a penance.
14. L.A. Clippers (1-2, Last week — n/a)
No one should worry about the Clippers. Even without Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, L.A. was competitive against the Lakers on Thursday and they trounced the Pelicans after that. Devin Booker delivered a second loss, dropping them down the rankings in hot take fashion, but all is well.
15. Boston Celtics (1-2, Last week — n/a)
Losing to the Bucks in the bubble opener was totally reasonable, even if there were some warning signs. Losing to the Jimmy Butler-less Heat on Tuesday evening was less ideal, even if Boston is clearly still rounding into form as the playoffs loom.
16. Dallas Mavericks (1-2, Last week — n/a)
The Mavs lost their first two games by six points combined. Honestly, that is kind of on-brand for a team that struggled in clutch situations all season long but, on the whole, Dallas has been just fine. They’ll have a chance to make a statement against the Clippers on Thursday evening.
17. Denver Nuggets (1-1, Last week — n/a)
Denver’s roster wasn’t anywhere close to full strength in their opener, and a 20-point loss arrived as a result. The Nuggets looked (much) better in the follow-up, though, with Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. cooking on the offensive end.
18. Utah Jazz (1-2, Last week — n/a)
The Jazz actually have the third-worst net rating in the small sample since teams arrived in Orlando. Utah did beat New Orleans in the opener, though, and that allows them to slide up one slot. It isn’t too shocking that the Jazz have struggled given their roster constraints, but they will have an interesting match-up against Memphis on Wednesday.
19. New Orleans Pelicans (1-2, Last week — n/a)
After a shaky loss to Utah and a terrible showing against the Clippers, the Pelicans did bounce back to edge the Grizzlies. Zion Williamson even flashed some of his otherworldly traits in that match-up. It would still be fair to say the Pelicans have underperformed, but the remaining scheduled is forgiving.
20. Memphis Grizzlies (0-3, Last week — n/a)
On the bright side, Taylor Jenkins’ team had a big cushion as play began. They might need it. Memphis has at least been competitive in their three losses, but with Jaren Jackson Jr. now on the shelf, the team’s perimeter shooting issues are even more dire.
21. Sacramento Kings (0-3, Last week — n/a)
The Kings had some “don’t forget us!” vibes in advance of the seeding games, but things haven’t gone well. Sacramento is winless and, with a -10.1 net rating, they’ve really earned it. De’Aaron Fox is a bright spot, but any optimism about a Cinderella run to the play-in is now gone.
22. Washington Wizards (0-3, Last week — n/a)
It’s not as if Washington is the only win-less team in Orlando, but this is still an easy choice. The Wizards are playing without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, but the team has a -10.8 net rating in three losses. On top of that, Washington lost to Brooklyn, and that clinched this placement.