When the Milwaukee Bucks started a wildcat strike of games during the NBA’s return bubble, Barack Obama spoke with LeBron James, Chris Paul, and other players and said use your platform to intact real change. One of those changes players pushed for —...
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This is the final NBA Power Rankings of the season, coming out on the day the playoffs start. After this there is no point to power rankings, the NBA has a playoff to determine which team is best (can you imagine a sport so backward it used media polls to help determine a champion?). We’ve only got the 22 bubble teams in here, and with the way the seeding games went these rakings may look upside down in a week.
1. Raptors (53-19, 7-1, LW 1). Its fitting the defending champs finish the season on top of the rankings. They had the best defense through the seeding games, anchored by a healthy (and slimmer) Marc Gasol, and that can take them far in the playoffs — if they can find some half-court offensive punch (fifth worst offense in restart). That ability to get a bucket when the game slows down was a a strength last season, the Raptors need Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam to recreate the magic in the playoffs to get back to the Finals.
2. Bucks (56-17, 3-5 in bubble, LW 2). Giannis Antetokounmpo is frustrated by the 3-5 Bucks record in the bubble, the way they coasted into the postseason, and the fact he had to sit out a game for headbutting Moe Wagner. None of that is a real concern. The Bucks get to find their focus in the first round against a Magic team they outscored by 16.3 points per 100 during the season.
3. Clippers (49-23, 5-3, LW 5). Los Angeles was missing key players for much of the restart, it was not a team that blew people’s doors off, yet by the end they had the third-best net rating in the bubble (+6.1). The Clippers did that all season: Winning while not fulfilling their potential yet. Looking like a contender on paper but one that has not yet built chemistry. Does it all come together for them now in the playoffs?
4. Lakers (52-19, 3-5 in bubble, Last week No. 3). The Lakers shot the ball poorly and had the second-worst offense in the restart. Los Angeles has had trouble with smaller, quick scoring guards all season and now they face Damian Lillard in the first round. The Lakers are going to have to work to get out of the first round, but the challenge of Portland may snap L.A. out of its malaise. In the end, Frank Vogel can go to LeBron James/Anthony Davis pick-and-rolls all day and who is going to stop it?
5. Celtics (48-24, 5-3, LW 4). While the Raptors had the better record in the bubble, the Celtics arguably were playing better (they had the better net rating). Boston had a top 10 offense and defense in the restart, Kemba Walker is healthy and this roster has a lot of versatility. Joel Embiid will be a tough first-round test, however, Philadelphia outscored Boston by 2.3 points per 100 possessions in the regular season.
6. Pacers (45-28, 6-2 LW 8). T.J. Warren was a breakout star of the bubble, they have a healthy Victor Oladipo, and the Pacers had a top-three defense in the bubble — Indiana is set up as well for the playoffs. Miami, with Jimmy Butler as a perimeter stopper, presents a real challenge (the Heat outscored the Pacers by 4.2 points per 100 during their regular season meetings), but the Pacers can win the series if they have balance and the role players step up.
7. Thunder (44-28, 4-4, LW 9). Chris Paul played brilliantly in the restart (and there may not have been a restart without him) the Thunder were a roller coaster through the eight games. looking dangerous one game and like a pushover the next. If Steven Adams can stay on the court against the Rockets micro-ball and punish them inside the Thunder are in good shape in the first round.
8. Rockets (44-28, 4-3, LW 6). No Russell Westbrook to start the series against OKC is a concern (quadriceps injury) because the Rockets are so top heavy. James Harden has been brilliant but Eric Gordon, Danuel House, Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore or someone is going to have to step up and pickup the secondary scoring loa to make this all work. On the upside, Houston defended very well in the seeding games and that should carry over.
9. Heat (44-29, 3-5, LW 7). Jimmy Butler picks up his level of play in the postseason and we (and T.J. Warren) can expect that again. Still, eventually Indiana (and the teams Miami might face beyond them) will be able to slow him down, then who creates shots and gets buckets. The Heat have had good games from Bam Adebayo and Jae Crowder, plus there are rookies like Tyler Herro playing well, but are any of them ready to be the guy who has to get a bucket in crunch time?
10. Trail Blazers (35-39, 6-2, LW 10). Damian Lillard is the deserving bubble MVP, but the play-in game win over Memphis showed that it’s not a one-man show that makes Portland dangerous. Jusuf Nurkic dominated the first half and had a 20/20 game, then CJ McCollum was hitting big threes late despite a fractured back. Portland has all the pieces to give the Lakers problems, but how they defend LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be the real keys.
11. Suns (44-39, 8-0, LW 12). Everyone wanted to see the darlings of the bubble rewarded for their 8-0 run, but the first 65 games still mattered. Credit Monty Williams (officially the Coach of the Seeding Games) and crew for getting buy-in from players and improving during the restart when other teams in their position (Sacramento, New Orleans) mailed it in. Phoenix looks like a team poised for a playoff run next season, but the West is going to be 12 deep with playoff quality teams next season.
12. Nuggets (46-27, 3-5, LW 11). Michael Porter Jr. has been amazing to watch — 22.2 points a game, 8.6 rebounds, and 42.2% shooting from three — and he gives them another shot creator besides Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, which makes them dangerous. Denver also had the worst defense in the restart and if that continues Utah has a real shot to knock the Nuggets out.
13. 76ers (43-30, 4-4, LW 15). GM Elton Brand bet Philly could win playing big before the season tipped-off, and now come the playoffs — and without Ben Simmons — it is the direction Brett Brown may have to go. He will start with the Al Horford/Joel Embiid frontline, and Embiid will need to dominate the Boston frontline to have a chance. Tobias Harris is going to have to provide more shot creation, and some role players are going to have to knock down threes for Philly to pull off the upset.
14. Mavericks (43-32, 3-5, LW 13). How good is Luka Doncic? He nearly averaged a triple-double in the seeding games of 30 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 9.7 assists a game. He, along with big man Kristaps Porzingis, give the Mavs a chance to score their way to a win any night. However, how Dallas will slow down the wing scoring of L.A.’s Paul George and Kawhi Leonard is by far the biggest challenge of the first round.
15. Jazz (44-28, 3-4, LW 16). No Bojan Bogdanovic (surgery). No Mike Conley, at least for the first few games against Denver (birth of son). No Ed Davis (left knee). A shorthanded Utah team is going to need a monster series from Donovan Mitchell to advance. Denver dominated the paint in the regular season matchups with Utah, Rudy Gobert can’t allow that to happen again in the postseason or Utah will be home early.
16. Nets (35-37, 5-5, LW 17). Give Brooklyn credit — while other teams with nothing to play for were rolling over in their final games, Brooklyn was one shot away from beating Portland in the final game and knocking the Trail Blazers out of the postseason. Coach Jacque Vaughn earned a lot of points around the league for this (whether it means Durant and Irving want him to coach them next season is another question). Caris LeVert was strong in the restart averaging 25 points and 6.7 assists a game, while Joe Harris added 20 a night and shot 54.1% from three. They will not be a pushover for Toronto.
17. Grizzlies (34-39, 2-6, LW 19). Ja Morant reminded everyone why he is the soon-to-be Rookie of the Year with his performance in the play-in game, but without Jaren Jackson Jr. winning that game was a tough ask. Still, this is a Memphis team poised to be a threat to make the playoffs next season. Note to Mark Jackson: It’s Taylor Jenkins.
18. Magic (33-40, 3-5, LW 18). Steve Clifford is moving Markelle Fultz back to starting point guard for the playoffs, his matchup against the strong defense of Eric Bledsoe should be one of the more entertaining parts of that series. Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, and Evan Fournier likely will play well against the Bucks, at least for stretches, which may only fuel trade speculation.
19. Spurs (32-39, 5-3, LW 14). When asked if he would be back to coach next season, Gregg Popovich’s response was “why wouldn’t I?” Popovich found something that worked with the four-guard lineup he was forced to employ in the restart, now if he can make that mesh with LaMarcus Aldridge then maybe the Spurs can start a new playoff streak in a year.
20. Kings (31-41, 3-5, LW 20). Vlade Divac is out as GM, and Joe Dumars is in (at least for the next year). It wasn’t just picking Marvin Bagley III over Luka Doncic that got Divac fired, there has been five years of questionable trades, contract moves, coaching changes, and a lack of organizational culture. The Kings have some nice young players (coming up for contract extensions) such as De’Aaron Fox, but the Kings need to figure out who they are first.
21. Pelicans (30-42, 2-6, LW 21). Alvin Gentry is out as coach after the Pelicans looked flat and disinterested in the bubble (well, except for J.J. Redick). Some big name coaches are on the list to replace Gentry, but will the small-market Pelicans pay Tyronn Lue money, or will they be looking for a less-expensive up-and-coming assistant?
22. Wizards (25-47, 1-7, LW 22). Well, they showed up in the bubble. They even won a game. That’s all we can say. Next season they get John Wall and Bradley Beal back on the court together and we can get back to debating if that pairing really works.
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