22 of the NBA’s 30 teams completed an eight-pack of seeding games and, for the most part, the quality of play was top-notch. Unfortunately for the league, some of the drama of playoff positioning evaporated before the final day but, in contrast, basketball observers were treated to a wildly entertaining play-in game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Before the playoff begin on Monday, it is time to wrap up the seeding games and put them in a shiny bow. As was the case with the first two editions of our DIME power rankings from the Bubble, these are Bubble-only considerations and, well, that becomes quite obvious right out of the gate.
Here we go.
1. Phoenix Suns (8-0, Last week — 1st)
The Suns didn’t make it to the playoffs. In fact, Phoenix didn’t even make it to the play-in tournament. Still, Monty Williams, Devin Booker and company put on quite a show in Orlando, going undefeated and putting legitimate pressure on the Blazers and Grizzlies. These are Bubble-only rankings and, well, nobody has a better profile at Walt Disney World than the Suns.
2. Toronto Raptors (7-1, Last week — 2nd)
Despite the reality of a locked-in seed, the Raptors posted the best defensive rating in Orlando by a comfortable margin. In some ways, that shouldn’t be a surprise, but Toronto’s 7-1 mark speaks for itself. They were very good in the seeding games and enter the playoffs feeling very good about things.
3. Portland Trail Blazers (7-2, Last week — 5th)
Technically, the play-in game didn’t count in the standings, but Portland really won seven of their nine games before the playoffs. Damian Lillard was absolutely unbelievable and, with a spot in the postseason on the line, C.J. McCollum and company also stepped up. It will be tough sledding against the Lakers, but the Blazers took care of business and now at least have a shot at a shocking playoff run.
4. Boston Celtics (5-3, Last week — 4th)
Boston essentially punted the finale against Washington but, before that, the Celtics were playing at a high level. Boston finished only behind Phoenix in terms of net rating in the seeding games and, without high-level injury concerns that plague some other teams, the Celtics are in fine shape ahead of their first round matchup with the Sixers.
5. L.A. Clippers (5-3, Last week — 8th)
The Clippers haven’t been able to deploy their entire roster yet. That’s a bit of a concern with a deep playoff run looming but, on the bright side, they have been good even while missing pieces. Everyone is now in the Bubble, and soon we should see Doc Rivers deploy his full rotation.
6. Brooklyn Nets (5-3, Last week — 11th)
Not only did the Nets finish above .500 in the seeding games, but Brooklyn managed to keep the No. 7 seed despite having arguably the least impressive roster of available players. Shouts to Jacque Vaughn for getting this group to buy in, and the Nets nearly kept the Blazers out of the playoffs with their feistiness.
7. Indiana Pacers (6-2, Last week — 9th)
A blowout loss to the Heat may be a harbinger of ugliness to come but, from a Bubble standpoint, Indiana played well. It is probably fair to assume that T.J. Warren isn’t the best player in the NBA, but he was quietly good before the shutdown in March and the Pacers were operating without Domantas Sabonis.
8. San Antonio Spurs (5-3, Last week — 6th)
The Spurs had a puncher’s chance to reach the play-in game and they nearly pulled it off. Gregg Popovich’s team played quite well for the most part in Orlando and, with a break here or there, the famed playoff streak could still be alive.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (4-4, Last week — 10th)
Oklahoma City didn’t need to put the pedal to the floor in the seeding games, and they largely didn’t. At the same time, there were encouraging signs, particularly in the development of Darius Bazley and the presence of Andre Roberson. The Thunder should be more than frisky in the first round against Houston.
10. Houston Rockets (4-4, Last week — 3rd)
Speaking of Houston, it was a largely unremarkable run for the Rockets in the seeding games, and that is fine. James Harden is (very) good but, if Russell Westbrook misses most or all of the first round series against OKC with a quad injury, the Rockets could be in for a big-time battle.
11. Milwaukee Bucks (3-5, Last week — 13th)
Milwaukee didn’t need to care about their performance in the seeding games. At all. The Bucks still played their guys at times, to largely positive results, but any consternation about Milwaukee’s showing is probably overblown. They’re still good.
12. Los Angeles Lakers (3-5, Last week — 15th)
The sentiment shared about the Bucks above also applies to the Lakers, at least to some degree. With that said, Los Angeles really didn’t play well at times, leading to some blazing takes on the internet. When the lights come on, LeBron and company should be fine, but they also don’t have a ton of lineups that everyone loves at the highest levels.
13. Philadelphia 76ers (4-4, Last week — 14th)
Without Ben Simmons, it is tough to pick the Sixers in the first round against the Celtics. In terms of Bubble-only evaluation, Philadelphia was generally fine-ish, though unimpressive in the grand scheme.
14. Miami Heat (3-5, Last week — 7th)
When it mattered, the Heat sent quite a message by thumping the Pacers. Other than that, however, it wasn’t a tremendous run for Miami in the seeding games. The Heat did make the change to start Bam Adebayo at center, though, and that is a wrinkle they project to lean on as the playoffs continue.
15. Dallas Mavericks (3-5, Last week — 12th)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Dallas was really good on offense in the seeding games. Dallas was also really bad on defense in the seeding games. Some of that is noise with altered/limited lineups, but the Mavericks are going to have to figure out how to get stops in a hurry if they want to threaten the Clippers.
16. Denver Nuggets (3-5, Last week — 16th)
In the spirit of bad defense, we have the Nuggets! Denver finished dead-last in the seeding games in defensive rating, allowing 121.7 points per 100 possessions, and it felt ghastly at times. On the bright side, the showcasing of Michael Porter Jr. has inspired confidence in Denver’s offensive upside, and they do have a winnable first-round matchup in a shorthanded Utah team.
17. Utah Jazz (3-5, Last week — 18th)
Without Bojan Bogdanovic, expectations were measured for the Jazz as the restart began. Through eight games, it appears those expectations may have been accurate, with Utah struggling a bit to a 3-5 mark. Donovan Mitchell did explode late in the process, though, and he is capable of carrying the Jazz on the offensive end when it counts.
18. Memphis Grizzlies (2-6, Last week — 20th)
Memphis put together a quality performance in the play-in, nearly outlasting the Blazers to force a second game. Before that, however, the Grizzlies really struggled, and their built-in advantage for the No. 8 seed crumbled as a result. They’ll be back, but it was clear by the end that Memphis wasn’t operating as a playoff-level team, especially with a limited roster.
19. Orlando Magic (3-5, Last week — 17th)
Well, the Magic made the playoffs. Their prize is a matchup against the Bucks. Best of luck.
20. Sacramento Kings (3-5, Last week — 21st)
To their credit, the Kings didn’t just pack it up after they were eliminated. Sacramento won their last two games, albeit against opponents that weren’t invested, and their overall statistical profile improved as a result. The Kings were still a disappointment, but it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been and now major organizational changes are coming.
21. New Orleans Pelicans (2-6, Last week — 19th)
Thanks for nothing, Pelicans. New Orleans was featured on national television throughout the process but, in the end, the Pelicans put together a listless performance that they will want to forget as quickly as possible. It just wasn’t great.
22. Washington Wizards (1-7, Last week — 22nd)
With Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans out of action, the Wizards had the worst available roster in the bubble and the results displayed their weaknesses. Washington did end on a high note with a win over an unmotivated Celtics team, though, and it was nice that every team garnered at least one victory in Orlando.