NBA Bubble Power Rankings: Week 1

We published an NBA Power Rankings going into week 0 of the bubble, and a lot has changed since then. The Suns have been surging. Philly hasn’t looked good. TJ Warren has gone nuclear, putting his name into the GOAT debate.

We’ve seen some unfortunate injuries to guys like Jonathan Isaac and Jaren Jackson Jr., and things have most certainly changed in a week. Here are the NBA Bubble Power Rankings after nearly a week of play.

22. Washington Wizards

It was foolish to expect much from the Wizards in the bubble, but at the very least they are getting a chance to look at some of their young guys. Rui Hachimura had a great game in game one and Troy Brown Jr. has been filling the stat sheet every night. Washington has yet to win a game, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they go 0-8 throughout the seeding games.

21. Sacramento Kings

The Kings are having a rough go of things, and with yet another injury to Marvin Bagley III, they’ve had to rely more heavily on the likes of De’Aaron Fox.  While Fox has been great in the bubble, the rest of the team has struggled without a consistent sidekick for him. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, and even Harry Giles have had good games in the bubble, but none of them have been able to replicate those performances. It’s safe to assume Sacramento will not be in the playoffs, and they are likely going to be looking to make some personnel changes in the offseason.

20. Brooklyn Nets

Defying all logic, the Nets are somehow 2-1 in the bubble, including a miraculous win over the Bucks without either Caris LeVert or Joe Harris. The win was a total fluke and the leading scorer in that game was Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, and I can’t possibly imagine putting them any higher in the rankings. This is all just biding time until they get Durant and Kyrie back next season anyway.

19. Memphis Grizzlies

Things haven’t gone as expected for the Grizzlies in the bubble. They are now 0-3 now with all 3 losses coming against teams chasing them for the final playoff spot. As if things weren’t bad enough, Jaren Jackson Jr. will now miss the rest of the season with a torn meniscus. At the start of the bubble, it seemed unlikely that anyone could possibly surpass them for the 8th seed, but now that seems like a legitimate concern. With multiple teams below them playing well and them down one of their best players there’s a lot of pressure on them to get a win or two.

18. New Orleans Pelicans

There was a lot of optimism around this team heading into the bubble. They had played very well when their whole starting unit was healthy, but that hasn’t translated to the bubble just yet. They only have one win against the Grizzlies and are now in a dogfight with the Spurs, Blazers, and Suns for a chance at the playoffs. They have a lot to play for right now, but the team seems content to work for the future more than the present by limiting Zion Williamson’s minutes after such a long hiatus.

17. Utah Jazz

Things haven’t gone well for the Jazz. As expected, the offense has struggled without Bojan Bogdanovic and the only win they have managed was a 2 point win over the Pelicans in a game that Zion Williamson only played 15 minutes (none of which came at the end of the 4th quarter). Their next game comes against the Grizzlies which should provide another chance for a win, but after that, they’ll be lucky to take any of the remaining games on their seeding schedule. Wouldn’t be surprising at all if they fall all the way to the 6th seed.

16. Orlando Magic

So far the Magic are 2-1, with wins against the Nets and Kings, and a loss to the Indiana Pacers. So basically they’ve beaten the teams they should and that’s about it. The loss of Jonathan Isaac hurts as he has the potential to be their best player. If they want to make any noise in the playoffs they are going to need Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon to step up in a big way. It seems their most likely playoff opponent will be Toronto so in all likelihood they’ll lose in the first round.

15. San Antonio Spurs

In the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs have had to rely more on their youth and on perimeter play, and thus far they have seen success. With wins over the Kings and Grizzlies and a close loss to the Sixers, this team looks like a real threat to make the playoffs yet again. Derrick White has been great in a more featured role and Demar Derozan seems to like playing at Power Forward. If the Spurs make the playoffs this year it would be their 23rd straight playoff appearance.

14. Portland Trail Blazers

Portland now sits at 2-1 in the bubble and now sit only a game and a half behind Memphis for the 8th seed. The team has finally gotten healthy with the return of both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. Nurkic has had a huge impact on the team’s success so far and Carmelo Anthony has hit some big shots for them. Now that Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have some backup the team looks great. Their depth is a bit of concern, but their starting unit is very good.

13. Phoenix Suns

The Suns came to Orlando to play some basketball, they got a strong win against a bad Wizards team to open their bubble schedule and then followed it up with close wins against both Dallas and the Clippers. Devin Booker is averaging over 30 points over the 3 games and hit one of the toughest game-winners I’ve ever seen against the Clippers. With Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges coming into their own, this Suns team is looking tough enough to fight for a playoff spot.

12. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder have a blowout of the Jazz and an overtime loss to the shorthanded Denver Nuggets on their record in the bubble so far. They’ve had success all year going to a 3 guard lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Dennis Schroder, but the latter has recently left the bubble so they’ll have to survive without him for a while. Chris Paul’s veteran savvy is what will keep this team dangerous. I doubt many teams are looking forward to a series against the Thunder.

11. Dallas Mavericks

LukaDoncic has been phenomenal in the bubble, but the team hasn’t seen much success. They just got their first win of the bubble against the Kings, but it took overtime and a phenomenal performance from Luka Doncic to get it. It looks like this team might just require too much from one player to make a real run in the playoffs. Luka is an incredible player, but it might just be too big of a weight for him to bear this early in his career.

10. Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers remain the biggest enigma in the league. They have incredible talent but have a hard time finding the right combination of guys to lead to success. Joel Embiid has been great in their two games, but their only win came against the Spurs and they needed a game-winner from Shake Milton to pull it out. The team’s reliance on Embiid is concerning based on his history of injury and poor conditioning. They are likely going to have to find ways to be successful when he’s not on the court.

9. Indiana Pacers

The loss of Domantas Sabonis should have dashed their hopes of playoff success, but as it turns out Bubble TJ Warren is the greatest basketball player of all time. In their 3 wins, Warren is averaging nearly 40 points a game on 61% shooting from 3. This means Bubble TJ Warren is averaging nearly 10 more points a game than Michael Jordan and shooting about 18 percentage points better than Steph Curry. Bubble TJ Warren might just end forever the Jordan/Lebron GOAT debate.

8. Denver Nuggets

Denver has started 1-1 in the bubble, but more concerning than the blow out to the Heat is the fact that they’ve been without 3 starters because of injury. Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Jamal Murray are all out with injuries and it’s unclear what their time tables are. The team managed to get a big win against the Thunder without those guys, but for them to have any sort of playoff success they are likely going to need at least two of those guys to be at 100%. This team tends to play well when facing adversity, but in a 7 game series, they are going to need their rotation as intact as possible.

7. Houston Rockets

Houston is now 2-1 in the bubble and all their games have been close. With their small-ball lineups, they are consistently putting themselves at a disadvantage simply by being unable to keep up with their opponents in the rebounding battle. They have two ways to overcome this disadvantage: The first is James Harden going nuclear or dominating the 3s and frees. Harden dropped 49 in the overtime win against the Mavs and outscored the Bucks from the 3 point line and free throw line by 46 points. In both cases, they just barely won. In the loss to the Blazers, neither one of those things happened and they couldn’t pull it out. It feels like every game they play is a coin toss if they can hit shot they have a chance.

6. Boston Celtics

(AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

The Celtics are now 1-2 in the bubble with losses to Milwaukee and a Miami team without Jimmy Butler. It seems like this team goes as Jayson Tatum goes. He struggled big time in a tough matchup against the Bucks, but was fantastic in their win over the Blazers and solid in the loss to the Heat. The Celtics are going to need him to play like a star consistently for them to make a big run come playoff time.

5. Miami Heat

The Heat now sit at 2-1 in the bubble with their only loss coming against the Raptors in a close game. They took care of business in a blow out against the short-handed Nuggets and then pulled off a big win against the Celtics without Jimmy Butler. Duncan Robinson seems to be the X-factor for this team. He’s a great shooter and has to get a lot of shots for this team to have their best chance to win. This is a deep team with good shooters and good defenders, they have a chance to surprise some teams if everything goes their way.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are a hard team to judge as it seems they are not taking these seeding games very seriously. Their record in the bubble sits at 1-2, and one was against a very shorthanded Nets team. However, both losses were close and Giannis Antetokounmpo is only averaging 27 minutes a game. It’s not hard to imagine them being 3-0 if they chose to play Giannis normal starter minutes. Instead, it seems they prefer to preserve his body for the playoffs. Seeing as this power ranking is about how they’ve performed in the bubble so far they had to drop, but because they clearly aren’t trying their hardest they couldn’t drop too far.

3. LA Clippers

The Clippers also sit at 1-2, with both losses coming in close games: first to the Lakers and then to the Suns. The Clippers have been playing a bit short-handed with a couple of key reserves missing games for personal reasons and wings, but they are the deepest team in the league and managed to fill those holes with talented players. A couple of two-point losses isn’t all that concerning for another team that is more focused on the playoffs than the seeding games. The team has looked good for the most part and I imagine when the games matter the intensity will go up.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers sit at 2-1 in the bubble with their only loss coming against the Raptors. While LeBron James hasn’t looked as sharp as we’ve come to expect, Anthony Davis has more than picked up the slack. They’ve also had good contributions from their bench with Kyle Kuzma and Dwight Howard both playing well and Dion Waiters being a spark plug offensively. The main reason the Lakers aren’t number one is simply that their only loss was a blowout loss to the team above them.

1. Toronto Raptors

Everyone has slept on the Raptors this season. The Raptors have the best coach in the NBA and a team that truly plays as one collective unit.  Kyle Lowry has been on an absolute tear to start these seedings games, and Fred VlanVleet has been on fire. The Raptors have a real shot at getting to the NBA Finals for their second season in a row. This team is playing so well, and it’ll be fun to see how they compete in the Playoffs.

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