The NBA will crown an NBA champion for the 2020 season after all. The league is set to return July 31 inside Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. 22 teams qualified for the league’s restart in Orlando. There will be eight regular-season games—plus a potential for a play-in tournament for the postseason—and playoffs to conclude the 2020 season, which was suspended on March 11 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Before the season restarts, let’s rank the top-10 NBA teams headed for Orlando.
10. Philadelphia 76ers
Al Horford joined the Philadelphia 76ers on a hefty four-year pact, but the results have been underwhelming thus far. The five-time All-Star has been shifted to the second unit in favor of Shake Milton. According to The Athletic, Milton is expected to remain in the starting lineup upon resumption of the season. The second-year guard displayed flashes of greatness.
Shake Milton balled out for a career day:
♨️ 39 Pts (career-high)
♨️ 14-20 FG
♨️ 7-9 3-PT FG pic.twitter.com/zb1fsQWFKX
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 1, 2020
Part of the reason Horford signed with Philadelphia was to play power forward, rather than center. However, the 34-year-old is not as quick as he once was and has struggled to guard opposing 4’s. It’s clear now that Horford is noticeably less effective playing next to superstar center Joel Embiid. In fact, the only time Horford sustained a strong stretch of play since joining Philadelphia came when Embiid went down with an injury.
Despite Horford’s woes, the 76ers are dangerous because of their defensive excellence. All-Star guard Ben Simmons is in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year, leading the 76ers to the sixth-best defensive rating in the league.
9. Miami Heat
Bam Adebayo, a first-time All-Star, has been one of the most pleasant surprises across the entire NBA.
Players to average 15+ PPG, 10+ RPG, 5+ APG, 1+ BPG in a season:
Kevin Garnett 3x
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 2x
Giannis Antetokounmpo 2x
💥BAM ADEBAYO💥 pic.twitter.com/gcL5Q3da4L
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) March 23, 2020
The duo of Adebayo and Jimmy Butler is an underrated 1-2 punch. Coupled with the emergence of rookies Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson, the Miami Heat should not be overlooked.
There are, however, two areas of concerns. First off, the Heat went 27-5 at home but just 14-19 on the road this season. Miami could be the squad most adversely impacted by Orlando’s neutral site.
The Heat should also be worried about its lack of success after trades for veterans Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. They had a mediocre 7-7 record after acquiring Iguodala and Jae Crowder. Four of those seven defeats came to the lottery-bound Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves and Hornerts.
8. Oklahoma City Thunder
Despite trading franchise icon and former MVP Russell Westbrook and All-Star Paul George in separate blockbuster deals, the Oklahoma City Thunder are postseason-bound for the sixth consecutive year.
Chris Paul was selected to the Western Conference All-Star squad for the 10th time in his storied career. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a star in the making, while Dennis Schroder remains in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year.
— Dylan Buckingham (@DylanBuckingham) April 22, 2020
The Thunder started the season 6-11, but is 34-11 since Thanksgiving. The 34 wins rank second in the league in that span, behind only the Milwaukee Bucks.
Oklahoma City has 16 wins when behind entering the fourth quarter, twice as many as any other team in the NBA. In addition, they have posted a league-high 29 clutch victories.
7. Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets dealt Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks, opting for a centerless lineup. Houston is 11-6 since utilizing its small-ball approach.
Robert Covington has played arguably the best basketball of his career since being shipped to Houston at the trade deadline.
Westbrook has dominated since Houston switched to the small-ball lineup. Playing next to former league MVP James Harden, the Rockets have a puncher’s chance at a title.
6. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets own the third-best record among Western Conference clubs thanks to Nikola Jokic. The superstar center struggled out of the gates this season, before turning it around and earning another All-Star spot.
Jamal Murray played like a star last postseason and will be counted on to do the same this time around. The Nuggets are at their best when the offense runs through a two-man, pick-and-roll between Murray and Jokic.
5. Toronto Raptors
Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard ditched town after providing Toronto with its first basketball championship, but the Raptors remain among the league’s elite teams. They hold the No. 2 record among Eastern Conference squads. Remarkably, their current winning percentage (.719) is better than last year’s title squad (.707).
Nick Nurse is the odds-on favorite to win Coach of the Year.
4. Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum was selected to his first NBA All-Star Game and played like a superstar in the month of February, averaging over 30 points per game.
February belonged to Jayson Tatum
Eastern Conference Player of the Month and he turns 22 today ✊ pic.twitter.com/77ZpRtBcEA
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 3, 2020
The well-rounded Boston Celtics are the only Eastern Conference team that sits in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
One of the preseason favorites to win the NBA title, the new-look Los Angeles Clippers have had their share of growing pains this year.
The Clippers have the best bench in basketball, producing a league-high 51.5 points per game. Montrezl Harrell has been the most effective guy off the bench and should snatch the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award.
Marcus Morris has been atrocious since being dealt to the Clippers, who have to seriously considering benching the veteran forward.
The team with the most complete roster in the league—spearheaded by All-Stars Leonard and George—the Clippers have a great chance to win their first NBA championship this summer.
2. Los Angeles Lakers
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis leading the way, the Los Angeles Lakers have the best duo in basketball by far.
James leads the NBA in assists with 10.6 per night. The MVP candidate has never won the assist title in his legendary career.
The biggest question for the Lakers heading into Orlando: who will step up as their third-best player? Dwight Howard, a likely Hall of Famer, has excelled in his role off the bench and could be asked for even more come the postseason.
Head coach Frank Vogel deserves plenty of credit for steering the Lakers (49-14) to the top of the Western Conference.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo, on pace to win his second consecutive MVP and perhaps the Defensive Player of the Year, has led the Bucks (53-12) to the NBA’s best record.
Milwaukee is counting on All-Star guard and midrange specialist Khris Middleton to elevate his play this postseason.
The Bucks rank No. 1 in net rating and defensive rating. Along with the two Los Angeles powerhouses, the Bucks are the cream of the crop entering the NBA’s reboot.