Everything to know about the 17 teams that can still win the NBA titleon August 14, 2020 at 8:02 pm

After 66 scrimmages and more than 80 seeding games — and plenty of fishing — the matchups for the 2020 NBA playoffs are finally set.

And in an unprecedented atmosphere that could negate the benefits of home-court advantage, we could be in for another wild two months inside Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

Which teams will find a spark and make a magical run? Which stars will emerge in the bubble?

Our experts break down all 17 teams still fighting for a championship, including each team’s bubble MVP, biggest questions and most intriguing matchups.

Note: Vegas odds provided by Caesars Sportsbook. Statistics provided by ESPN Stats & Information research.

MORE: What to expect when the Blazers face the Grizzlies image


Jump to a series:
East: BucksMagic | RaptorsNets | Celtics76ers | HeatPacers |
West: LakersBlazers/Grizz | ClipsMavs | NuggetsJazz | RocketsThunder


Eastern Conference playoffs


1. Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 56-17 (.767) | Bubble: 3-5
Basketball Power Index (BPI) odds vs. ORL: 95%
Vegas title odds: +300

The NBA-best Bucks have been mediocre at best inside the bubble. Injuries have contributed to those subpar contests, but the goal remains intact: win a title for the first time since 1971.

MVP of the restart: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Every time No. 34 suits up for the Bucks, he’s the best player in uniform. That was no different inside the bubble, as the reigning MVP displayed his ability, particularly against Boston in the opening game, with 36 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists. Antetokounmpo did, however, let his emotions get the better of him in the final seeding games and was ejected — and later given a one-game suspension — for head-butting the Washington WizardsMoritz Wagner. Antetokounmpo will have to keep his emotions in check as teams become more physical in an attempt to throw him off his square. That might be the only way to slow him down.

Biggest concern and how they address it
Will the Bucks be able to stop the 3-pointer? Defending the paint is no issue for the Bucks, with Antetokounmpo and Brook and Robin Lopez in the middle. But they give up far too many treys, which seems to be the recipe to beat them. On a per-game basis, the Bucks gave up the most 3s made and attempted in league history. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe will have to show up on the perimeter in a major way.


Vince Carter explains why the Bucks need to remove all distractions heading into the playoffs.

One big bubble stat
Before the season came to a halt, the Bucks boasted a league-leading defensive efficiency of 101.6. The difference between Milwaukee and second-place Toronto was the same as between Toronto and seventh-place Indiana. But the defense hasn’t been the same in the bubble, as the Bucks rank eighth since the restart (110.2).

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Four games vs. five games
The Magic haven’t offered much for the Bucks to be fearful of this season. They will need some Disney magic to avoid a Milwaukee sweep, even with unofficial home-court advantage. Orlando is winless (0-4) against the Bucks in four contests and will be playing without Jonathan Isaac (torn ACL), who would’ve been its best chance of slowing down Antetokounmpo.

One wild bubble prediction
The Bucks bring home the city’s first title since Motown ruled the charts. The 2020 NBA Finals MVP? Look no further than Walt Disney World superfans Brook and Robin Lopez, who share the award inside the bubble. After all, it is the place where dreams come true.

— Eric Woodyard


8. Orlando Magic
Record: 33-40 (.452) | Bubble: 3-5
BPI odds vs. MIL: 5%
Vegas title odds: +50000

Walt Disney World has not been the happiest place on earth for the hometown Magic. Jonathan Isaac tore his left ACL — changing the franchise’s present and future in the process. They’ve dealt with several injuries in the bubble and struggled to find any rhythm after a hot start. Their pre-stoppage season featured similar highs and lows — but Isaac’s injury is the low point for a team in desperate need of a star.

MVP of the restart: Nikola Vucevic
Big man Vucevic has been a model of consistency for this team for years and continued to provide stability for this beleaguered Magic group. He has been the most durable player for a team that has seen its fortunes shift hard after the restart. Vucevic’s ability to chip in 20 points and 10 rebounds almost every night is the greatest asset the group has at the moment.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The Magic play hard and they’re coached well by Steve Clifford — they just don’t have the firepower or the depth to match up with the Bucks, a team that has averaged an NBA-best 118.7 points per game. Isaac was supposed to provide a big defensive lift, but now it will be crucial for Vucevic and Aaron Gordon to rise to the occasion on both ends of the floor and try to control the pace as much as possible along with veteran guard Evan Fournier.


Mike Schmitz studies game film to explain how Markelle Fultz was able to turn his career around and become a promising starter for a playoff contender.

One big bubble stat
The Magic got off to a 2-0 start in the bubble but proceeded to lose five straight in part because of their poor 3-point shooting. During the losing streak, they shot 30% from 3. Prior to the hiatus, Orlando shot 34% from 3, 25th in the league.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Markelle Fultz vs. Eric Bledsoe
Aside from “Everybody vs. Giannis,” I’m interested to see how the Fultz-Bledsoe guard matchup plays out. Bledsoe is one of the better defensive guards in the league and should pose a huge challenge to the former No. 1 overall pick. Fultz has a chance to open eyes in the bubble and show that his improvement throughout the season was not a flash of unfulfilled promise. The key for Fultz — as always — is how he shoots away from the rim. After starting 4-for-4 from 3-point land in the bubble, he finished just 2-for-12 as teams repeatedly sagged off of him.

One wild bubble prediction
The Magic push the Bucks to six games, an impressive feat given how many issues Clifford’s group has endured. Realistically, the organization needs to make sure nobody else gets seriously hurt and hope for better days in the future.

— Nick Friedell


2. Toronto Raptors
Record: 52-19 (.732) | Bubble: 6-1
BPI odds vs. BKN: 86%
Vegas title odds: +1100

Toronto was the first team to arrive in Florida in June and hopes to be the last team to leave in October. The Raptors’ only goal for the seeding games was to stay healthy, and they did.

MVP of the restart: Marc Gasol
Gasol showed up at training camp in Florida in terrific shape and looked really good when he was on the court during the seeding games, helping Toronto form the league’s best defense during the restart. The Raptors will need Gasol to continue playing at that kind of level at the defensive end if they hope to make it through the postseason and repeat as champions this year.

Biggest concern and how they address it
A lack of offensive punch in the half court. Toronto has been remarkable defensively, with a roster full of physical and smart players who play on a string at all times. But where the Raptors can run into trouble is at the other end, particularly when teams can take away their elite transition game. Toronto can get stagnant in the half court, which leads to it needing some 3-pointers to fall. If Toronto goes cold from deep, it could get into trouble against the league’s better teams.


Jay Williams reacts to the Raptors’ win vs. the Lakers over the weekend and explains why their defense can fuel them to another NBA title.

One big bubble stat
The Raptors’ defense did travel to Orlando, leading all teams since the restart with a defensive efficiency of 101.8 (no other team is better than 106.4). Before the season came to a halt, the Raptors ranked second. Something to monitor is their turnovers — they lead all teams in the bubble with 18.7 per game.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Raptors vs. themselves
The Nets are a shell of the team they are supposed to be, with several players on their active roster not in Florida at all for the restart. Toronto should have no trouble dispatching them in four games — and needs to. Because of the compact nature of this year’s playoff schedule, every extra game played will take its toll — and that’s especially true for a team with as many veteran players as the Raptors. This is a series that should end quickly. Toronto needs it to.

One wild bubble prediction
OG Anunoby, whose offensive game has taken a step forward this season, will score 30 points in a playoff game — a total he reached exactly once this season.

— Tim Bontemps


7. Brooklyn Nets
Record: 35-37 (.486) | Bubble: 5-3
BPI odds vs. TOR: 14%
Vegas title odds: +100000

Arriving with little hope after losing virtually all their starters, the Nets shocked everyone by going 5-3 in seeding games to lock up the No. 7 seed in the East.

MVP of the restart: Caris LeVert
With Brooklyn’s two primary shot creators (Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving) both sidelined, LeVert took on a superstar-level usage rate (32.6%, sixth highest among players with at least 150 minutes, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Devin Booker, Luka Doncic, James Harden and Joel Embiid). While he wasn’t particularly efficient in that role (54.0 true shooting percentage), LeVert kept teammates from the uncomfortable role of having to create their own offense and averaged a team-high 6.7 assists per game.

Biggest concern and how they address it
Can the Nets pull off an upset against a motivated opponent? Brooklyn did beat both the Bucks and LA Clippers in seeding games, but those teams were sitting key players and had nothing to play for from a seeding standpoint. The challenge will be more formidable against the locked-in Raptors, who posted the league’s best defensive rating in seeding games after ranking second in the regular season.


Caris LeVert and Joe Harris account for 43 points as the Nets defeat the Kings 119-106 and clinch a spot in the NBA playoffs.

One big bubble stat
The Nets have been lighting up the scoreboard in the bubble. They kicked off the restart by scoring at least 115 points in six consecutive games, the longest such streak in team history.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: LeVert vs. Toronto’s defense
In OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam, the Raptors have a pair of strong individual defenders to throw at LeVert with the size and quickness to make his life difficult. Even when LeVert can draw a switch, Toronto doesn’t have a defensive weak link in its starting five. Against the Raptors’ defense, LeVert’s efficiency might fall below the point where his ability to sop up possessions is a net positive for Brooklyn.

One wild bubble prediction
Jamal Crawford, who looked good in his brief first action this season before suffering a hamstring strain, returns and beats his playoff career high of 32 points.

— Kevin Pelton


3. Boston Celtics
Record: 48-24 (.667) | Bubble: 5-3
BPI odds vs. PHI: 71%
Vegas title odds: +1100

Boston entered the bubble hoping to get All-Star guard Kemba Walker healthy and be properly prepared for the playoffs when they began. They have gone 2-for-2.

MVP of the restart: Kemba Walker
The pick here is Walker — not because he was dominant but because he was healthy. There was a lot of concern in Boston when Walker’s balky left knee, a huge problem for him in the weeks before the season shutdown in March, flared up again during individual workouts in Boston in June. But Walker has looked terrific when he’s been on the court in Florida, something the Celtics will need to continue if they want to make it out of the Eastern Conference and back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The main issue for the Celtics going into the playoffs is their lack of size and how they’ll slow down their opponents’ advantage inside. Boston’s theoretical path to the NBA Finals goes through the Philadelphia 76ers (Joel Embiid), the Raptors (Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka) and the Bucks (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez). Daniel Theis has been a revelation this season for the Celtics replacing Al Horford, but he isn’t big enough to bang with big centers. This is why Robert Williams has gotten more and more playing time during the seeding games. Expect him to get a chance to play in the playoffs.


Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combine for 40 points as the Celtics handily defeat the Nets in Orlando 149-115.

One big bubble stat
Walker is working his way back to game form, and while his scoring output isn’t there (13.8 points per game in the bubble, 21.2 before the hiatus), he’s certainly been efficient. He is shooting 47.9% from the floor and 41.4% from deep since the restart, compared to 42% from the floor and 38% from 3 before the hiatus.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Joel Embiid vs. Boston’s entire team
The Celtics had mixed results against Embiid in three regular-season matchups: He was held to 11 points and five rebounds on 1-for-11 shooting on Feb. 1 but torched Boston for 38 points and 13 rebounds on Dec. 12. The Sixers’ All-Star big has the ability to single-handedly wreck Boston’s title ambitions, but the Celtics will likely send plenty of double-teams Embiid’s way to goad Philly’s suspect outside shooting into trying to beat them.

One wild bubble prediction
Williams, who has barely played during the regular season — mainly due to injury — will wind up supplanting Enes Kanter in Boston’s rotation — and could potentially swing a game for the Celtics as a result.

— Bontemps


6. Philadelphia 76ers
Record: 42-30 (.583) | Bubble: 3-4
BPI odds vs. BOS: 29%
Vegas title odds: +5000

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like deja vu all over again.” Ben Simmons is out for the season after knee surgery, Joel Embiid has left multiple games with injuries, and the Sixers enter the playoffs less than the sum of their parts.

MVP of the restart: Joel Embiid
Embiid can be an enigma, but he’s clearly one of the league’s best and most dominant players. Without Simmons on the floor, Philly can try to maximize the amount of shooting that’s out there — and, in turn, give Embiid as much room to operate as possible. Against Boston, in particular, Embiid could be dominant enough to swing the series by himself.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The 76ers are still trying to adjust to life without Simmons, and figuring that out on the fly won’t be easy — especially against the Celtics, a deep, talented and versatile team. To do so, the Sixers are likely going to have to lean into playing as big as possible, which means getting as much out of the Embiid-Al Horford partnership as they can. To date, it’s been a middling success at best.


Kendrick Perkins and Paul Pierce agree the 76ers won’t go far in the playoffs because of the injuries to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.

One big bubble stat
Simmons played in just three games in the bubble. With him on the court, the 76ers scored 108.1 points per 100 possessions and were outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions. With him on the sideline, the 76ers have averaged 121.3 points per 100 possessions and have outscored opponents by 3.7 points per 100 possessions.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Horford vs. Boston’s wings
Horford, the former Celtic, is going to start against one of Boston’s wing players — either Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward. For Philadelphia to win this series, not only is Embiid going to need to dominate inside, but Horford is going to have to take advantage of going up against those smaller Celtics wings to give the 76ers the offensive boost they will need.

One wild bubble prediction
Embiid will be the best player on the court, by a significant margin, in Philadelphia’s first-round series against the Celtics … and it won’t matter.

— Bontemps


4. Miami Heat
Record: 44-28 (.611) | Bubble: 3-4
BPI odds vs. IND: 57%
Vegas title odds: +3500

The Heat have been up and down in the bubble because of injuries — but they are convinced they are ready to come all the way out of the East. Jimmy Butler has fit seamlessly into the role of team leader and Bam Adebayo is coming into his own as an All-Star. This team is deep, talented and confident it can win in the postseason.

MVP of the restart: Tyler Herro
Adebayo and Jae Crowder have each had some nice games as Butler and Goran Dragic dealt with bubble injuries — but Herro has given the Heat a lift almost every night and spaced the floor offensively. He had 12 turnovers in the eight seeding games, including five in the loss to Milwaukee, but the Heat believe the rookie guard is ready for the postseason stage.

Biggest concern and how they address it
It’s the same question that has hovered over the Heat all season: Who is going to help carry the offensive load if a team can slow down Butler in the playoffs? Adebayo is a gifted player, but he isn’t the create-his-own-shot wing who thrives in late-game situations. Herro will get his chances, and it will be crucial for young guards Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson to shoot well — but this team needs to find the player who can take some pressure off Butler.


Jimmy Butler and the Heat come alive in the second half to defeat the Pacers 114-92.

One big bubble stat
The Heat are second in the bubble in points per game off turnovers (20.9) and third in fast-break points per game (13.4). They ranked 24th and 25th, respectively, in those categories before the season came to a halt.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Butler vs. Warren
Oh, it’s on — again. Butler and T.J. Warren‘s history has been well chronicled over the past few months, but it’s a matchup that will define the Heat’s series against the Pacers. Butler loves taking on a personal challenge to slow a team’s best player and will be even more motivated to do it given the pair’s history. If Butler can stop Warren, the Pacers won’t have enough offensive firepower to get past the Heat.

One wild bubble prediction
I don’t believe the Heat can win it all this season — I think they still need one more star — but I do think an upset of the top-seeded Bucks is possible. Miami has the length and defensive intensity to match Milwaukee. This is going to be a lot of fun watching Giannis Antetokounmpo and Butler square off for seven games.

— Friedell


5. Indiana Pacers
Record: 44-28 (.611) | Bubble: 5-2
BPI odds vs. MIA: 43%
Vegas title odds: +15000

The bubble experience has been good to Indiana. Guard Victor Oladipo is in the lineup after initially opting out to continue rehab on his quadriceps. The Pacers won enough to avoid a first-round meeting with the Celtics, and they agreed to a contract extension with coach Nate McMillan on Wednesday.

MVP of the restart: T.J Warren
Those close to Warren knew he was locked in before entering the bubble, but hardly anyone could have anticipated just how much he was about to break out. He kicked things off with a 53-point explosion against Philly, averaging 39.7 points through the first three games on 65.3% shooting. Warren has always been able to put the ball in the hoop, but this team is dangerous if he can continue that 30-plus scoring average in meaningful showdowns against Jimmy Butler and the Heat.

Biggest concern and how they address it
How will Oladipo’s body hold up in the postseason? Longevity was his biggest concern as he debated playing in the restart, citing concerns over the effects of quickly getting back into shape as he continued to rehab his quadriceps tendon. So far he’s shown glimpses of All-Star form, but the real test will come when action fully ramps up. Indiana needs him at his peak ability.


T.J. Warren leads the way for the Pacers as he scores a career-high 53 points on 20-of-29 shooting from the field and 9-of-12 from 3.

One big bubble stat
Warren is on the short list of bubble MVPs. He scored 174 points in the first five games of the restart, tied for the fifth most by a Pacers player over a five-game span in their NBA history and the most since 2009, according to Elias Sports Bureau data.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Warren vs. Butler
Of course, there’s the obvious “beef” between Warren and Butler. Even with their past dustup, Warren considers it nothing more than “the nature of basketball.” That’s the sexy headline with those two, but this matchup could be a real factor in this series. They’re both defensive-minded with smart coaches, and it’ll likely come down to decision-making and attention to detail. One player won’t be able to win it alone.

One wild bubble prediction
Myles Turner goes on a defensive tear. Warren stays hot. Oladipo’s body holds up. This team shocks the East, upsets the Bucks and advances to the conference finals.

— Woodyard


Western Conference playoffs


1. Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 52-19 (.732) | Bubble: 3-5
Vegas title odds: +200

The Lakers looked flat in the seeding round, going 3-5 and appearing absolutely abysmal at times on the offensive end, but they did what they needed to do: secure the No. 1 seed and stay healthy.

MVP of the restart: Kyle Kuzma
It’s Kuzma, if only because LeBron James and Anthony Davis played below the standard we’re accustomed to. The forward hit the first game winner of his NBA career to beat the Nuggets in L.A.’s second-to-last seeding game and averaged 15.4 points on 44.4% shooting from 3 — a significant uptick from his season averages of 12.8 points on 31.6% from deep. “In order for us to win a championship, he has to be our third-best player,” James said of Kuzma. “We can’t win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”

Biggest concern and how they address it
Has there been too much upheaval since March? When the league went on hiatus, the Lakers had Avery Bradley in their starting lineup — someone with so much defensive acumen that coach Frank Vogel created the “Avery Challenge” in his name, pushing L.A. to reach dominant numbers on D — and Rajon Rondo as a playmaker off the bench. Bradley opted out of the Florida restart and Rondo fractured his thumb in training camp, leaving Vogel down two known rotation spots as he tried to fit four players — Dion Waiters, Talen Horton-Tucker, Markieff Morris and JR Smith — into the mix.


LeBron James goes for 17 points as he plays only a half in the Lakers’ final game before the playoffs.

One big bubble stat
The Lakers rank second to last since the restart in points per game (106.4), 19th in field goal percentage (43.8%) and last in 3-point percentage (30.3%). Before the season came to a halt, the Lakers ranked seventh in PPG (114.3) and led the league in field goal percentage (49%).

What the Lakers should watch most closely in the play-in
While Vogel said he split up scouting duties among his coaching staff for all four teams vying for the No. 8 seed down the stretch, he won’t truly lock in until the play-in round is completed. “Playoff mode is, ‘OK, this is the team we have to beat and let’s be completely consumed with beating them,'” Vogel said. “And until you know that, you can’t fully be immersed in that.”

Kuzma, however, didn’t have any problem entertaining what a matchup with Portland might look like. “I think that any time you can be tested early in the playoffs, it’s going to help you out in other rounds,” he said. “We’re ready to play anybody.”

One wild bubble prediction
Smith, teammates with James again after his infamous blunder down the stretch of Game 1 of the 2018 NBA Finals, wins the Lakers a playoff game after being out of the league for nearly two years.

— Dave McMenamin

Note: Los Angeles will play the winner of the West play-in between Portland and Memphis.


2. LA Clippers
Record: 48-23 (.676) | Bubble: 4-3
BPI odds vs. DAL: 65%
Vegas title odds: +300

The Clippers might’ve led the bubble in quarantine time. There were late arrivals and key players who left and returned with heavy hearts. Coach Doc Rivers is still waiting to see what they can do at full strength.

MVP of the restart: Ivica Zubac
That isn’t a joke. The starting center arrived late due to testing positive for COVID-19 but averaged 11.3 points, 11.1 rebounds (behind only Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid) and 69.6% shooting in his first seven games. Yes, Zubac took advantage of Montrezl Harrell being out. Nevertheless, the 23-year-old has been making a case for more minutes. Rivers will still lean on Harrell and JaMychal Green in the fourth quarter or when teams go small, but Zubac has been impressive.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The Clippers’ biggest issues followed them into the bubble. They still haven’t been whole due to late arrivals, players leaving and getting injured. Harrell has yet to play in a game and will have to get his timing and conditioning back during the first round. Without having a full roster available for practices, Rivers still isn’t sure if his team has that championship chemistry. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George did get valuable playing time together and will have to lead the way.


Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combine for 53 points in the Clippers’ 124-111 win vs. the Nuggets.

One big bubble stat
Since the restart, three players are averaging 25 points per game while shooting at least 48% from 3-point range. Two are members of the Clippers: Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. (Indiana’s T.J. Warren is the third.)

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Kawhi and PG vs. Luka
Can the versatile Luka Doncic find a way to escape elite defense from Leonard and George? Dallas’ only chance to make this a series is for Doncic to beat the waves of long, physical defenders the Clippers will throw at him. Doncic averaged 29 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 turnovers and is shooting 9-for-33 (27.7%) from 3-point range against the Clippers this season.

One wild bubble prediction
The Mavericks averaged 125 points in the bubble and have the most efficient offense in NBA history, scoring 116.1 points per 100 possessions. The Clippers, though, have a defense built for the postseason and will hold the high-powered Mavs under 100 twice in the series.

— Ohm Youngmisuk


7. Dallas Mavericks
Record: 43-32 (.573) | Bubble: 3-5
BPI odds vs. LAC: 35%
Vegas title odds: +4000

The Mavs’ clutch-offense misery, a season-long problem, reared its ugly head in a double-overtime loss to the Rockets in their restart opener. But was the OT victory over the Bucks a breakthrough?

MVP of the restart: Luka Doncic
Doncic consistently put up the kinds of stat lines that make you laugh and shake your head. He averaged a 32-point triple-double in the seeding games. He posted the fourth 30-20-10 night since the ABA-NBA merger, and that wasn’t even his best performance, placing second to a 36-14-19 beauty vs. the Bucks. The Mavs need their 21-year-old superstar to put up more historic numbers to have any chance at upsetting the Clippers.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The Mavs are an inexperienced team built around 21-year-old (Doncic) and 25-year-old (Kristaps Porzingis) stars who are about to make their NBA playoff debuts. The downside of their youth has manifested itself in the Mavs’ struggles to score down the stretch in close games, despite having statistically the most efficient overall offense in NBA history. J.J. Barea owns a championship ring, but his experience helps only so much as he cheers from the bench.


Rick Carlisle talks about Luka Doncic’s court vision, comparing the 21-year-old’s play to Larry Bird and Jason Kidd. He also admits that he “applauded” when he saw Doncic’s between-the-legs pass, saying he’d “pay money to watch him play.”

One big bubble stat
Doncic is about to get his first taste of NBA postseason basketball, and regardless of the venue, he continues to rewrite the record books. In just a few games in the bubble, Doncic became the youngest player with a 30-point, 20-rebound triple-double and will finish the season as the youngest player to lead the NBA outright in triple-doubles in league history, according to Elias research.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Porzingis vs. the Clippers’ bigs.
The Clippers will make Doncic’s life as difficult as possible by throwing waves of tenacious defenders at him, led by Patrick Beverley, Leonard and George. Porzingis has to take pressure off of his fellow franchise cornerstone. He has certainly provided reason to believe he’s capable, averaging an efficient 30.5 points per game in the bubble, including a 30-point outing on 9-of-19 shooting in a loss to the Clippers.

One wild bubble prediction
The Mavs take the Clippers to seven games, making it competitive enough that the discussion coming out of the series will be about how soon Dallas can become a bona fide title contender.

— Tim MacMahon


3. Denver Nuggets
Record: 46-26 (.639) | Bubble: 3-4
BPI odds vs. UTAH: 49%
Vegas title odds: +2000

Bol Bol! Michael Porter Jr.! The Nuggets got a glimpse of the future. But it’s been a bubble of mixed emotions for Denver with Gary Harris and Will Barton out.

MVP of the restart: Michael Porter Jr.
Apologies to the magnificent Nikola Jokic, but Porter emerged as a bubble star, averaging 22 points, 8.6 rebounds and 42.2% 3-point shooting in his first seven games. This is a massive development for the Nuggets, who need a third scoring threat to help Jokic and Jamal Murray. Porter gives Jokic an athletic 6-foot-10 target to pass to and stretches the floor. He has potential to be an elite rebounder. Like most young players, consistency and defense will be a question mark for the playoffs.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The Nuggets’ core has continuity but lacks consistency. And now coach Michael Malone’s rotation has been altered by injuries. Once healthy, Harris (hip) and Barton (knee) will have to be ramped up during the postseason. Those are two key defensive pieces for Malone, who will have to rely more on Jerami Grant for his defense, energy and, of late, aggressive offense. As always, the Nuggets must provide their Serbian quarterback with consistent outside shooting, especially with Utah’s Rudy Gobert roaming inside.


Michael Porter Jr. scores from all over the floor on his way to 30 points in the Nuggets’ 132-126 win vs. the Spurs.

One big bubble stat
Porter has been one of the surprising stars since the restart. His career-high 37 points came in the bubble, as have the second- and third-highest-scoring games of his young NBA career. He has a 20-point double-double in four consecutive games, the longest streak by a rookie in Nuggets history.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Murray vs. Mitchell
This series is a big man’s dream, with Jokic working his passing magic all over the court against perhaps the best defensive center in Gobert. No doubt the two All-Star bigs will have a major impact. But this series likely will be decided by Donovan Mitchell and Murray. Whichever scoring guard can take over games late, impose his will and have the better series could ultimately dictate who moves on.

One wild bubble prediction
Jokic will average a triple-double for the postseason and Bol will get some meaningful minutes. Jokic averaged 25.1 points, 13.0 rebounds and 8.4 assists in his first postseason and averaged 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists against Utah this season. And Bol flashed some amazing skill alongside him.

— Youngmisuk


6. Utah Jazz
Record: 44-28 (.611) | Bubble: 3-5
BPI odds vs. DEN: 51%
Vegas title odds: +7500

Utah’s primary goal of the seeding schedule seemed to be avoiding a first-round matchup with the Rockets, who have eliminated the Jazz the past two seasons. It was a mission the Jazz accomplished by selectively sitting starters.

MVP of the restart: Rudy Gobert
Donovan Mitchell is the face of the franchise, but Rudy Gobert remains the Jazz’s most impactful player. That was the case again during the seeding schedule, when Gobert averaged 15.3 points, 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. The most memorable bubble moment for the Jazz was Gobert, whose positive test on March 11 halted the NBA season, hitting the winning free throws in the restart opener against the Pelicans.

Biggest concern and how they address it
The Jazz just aren’t a very good offensive team without Bojan Bogdanovic, who underwent season-ending wrist surgery during the hiatus, and their depth is stretched way too thin without their starting power forward. The Jazz’s starting five has outscored opponents by 30 points in 84 bubble minutes together, but the bench minutes are a major problem. Coach Quin Snyder has to determine how much he can push his starters’ playing time in the playoffs.


Donovan Mitchell scores 18 points as he leads his Jazz past Ja Morant and the Grizzlies 124-115.

One big bubble stat
The Jazz have lost as many single-digit games as any team since the restart. Utah has lost four games by less than 10 points, tied with the Grizzlies and Bucks for the most in the bubble.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Gobert vs. Jokic
Gobert usually got the better of this matchup of elite big men before this season, a significant factor in the Jazz’s 8-3 record in those meetings. But Denver went 3-0 against Utah this season, in large part due to Jokic’s dominance, as he averaged 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists in those games. Jokic took over down the stretch of those games, scoring 29 points on 11-of-17 in 21 clutch minutes, when the Nuggets outscored the Jazz by 21 points.

One wild bubble prediction
Mitchell will have multiple 30-shot games in the first round, which might be a necessity for the Jazz.

— MacMahon


4. Houston Rockets
Record: 44-27 (.620) | Bubble: 4-3
BPI odds vs. OKC: 66%
Vegas title odds: +1200

So much for establishing some continuity heading into the playoffs. The Rockets didn’t have their full starting five for any of the seeding games — and Russell Westbrook is sidelined to start the playoffs due to a strained right quadriceps.

MVP of the restart: James Harden
The Beard looked fatigued in early March, but it seems he benefited from the hiatus, averaging 35.3 points, 9.2 rebounds and 8.7 assists while shooting 53.6% from the floor in bubble games. The notion that Harden has been a playoff underperformer is overblown — he’s averaged 28.2 points and 7.0 assists in playoff games with the Rockets — but Houston needs better efficiency from Harden than in recent postseasons to make a title run.

Biggest concern and how they address it
Aside from Westbrook’s availability, the big question is can the Rockets make a deep run if they consistently get dominated on the glass. This is a risk they took when they decided to scrap the center position and play small all the time, so it’s certainly not a surprise that Houston has the worst rebounding percentage in the bubble. And yes, it would help if Westbrook — the best rebounding guard of this generation — returns sooner than later.


James Harden has a monster night in Orlando, putting up 45 points and 17 rebounds while dishing nine assists in a loss to the Pacers.

One big bubble stat
Austin Rivers scored a career-high 41 points in the bubble. Rivers joined Harden, Westbrook and Eric Gordon as the fourth Rockets player to score 40 points this season. The Rockets are the fourth team in NBA history to have four different players score 40 points in a game, joining the 2007-08 Nuggets, 1988-89 Suns and 1969-70 Washington Bullets.

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Westbrook vs. Chris Paul
Let’s hope we still get a large dose of this matchup of future Hall of Fame point guards who were swapped for each other last summer. Storylines don’t get much sweeter than Westbrook facing the Thunder — his franchise for a dozen years — in his first playoff series in a Rockets uniform. And do you think Paul will be fired up to face the Rockets after he felt he was unceremoniously dumped last summer?

One wild bubble prediction
Tyson Chandler will take off his warm-ups at some point during a playoff game.

— MacMahon


5. Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 44-27 (.620) | Bubble: 4-3
BPI odds vs. HOU: 34%
Vegas title odds: +3500

The Thunder had become one of the most dangerous teams in the league before the break. Dennis Schroder‘s paternity leave and some minor injuries have slightly disrupted the progress they’ve made in regaining their chemistry, but winning a first-round series — against franchise legend Russell Westbrook, no less — would mark a successful season.

MVP of the restart: Chris Paul
CP3 has been the steady heartbeat for the Thunder all season. He’s reestablished himself as the Point God, taking control of the Thunder in his first season in OKC. And maybe most important: He’s been healthy. Paul has been leading the NBA in clutch-time points — by a wide margin — as the catalyst for the Thunder’s three-point-guard lineup. The Thunder consistently found themselves in close games, and Paul delivered. Can he keep it up when it counts against his former team?

Biggest concern and how they address it
The seeding games were choppy for OKC. Game 1 was an emphatic domination of the Jazz, followed by a lackluster performance against a patchwork Nuggets team. They routed the Lakers, then got routed by the Grizzlies. They blew out the Wizards, then got blown out by the Suns. The Thunder’s hallmark before the hiatus was consistency and stability, but the seeding games revealed some cause for concern. There’s a context here, though, with Schroder’s absence, Steven Adams missing a couple of games and some injury management. They are mostly whole again now, but after eight games without their trademark togetherness, the biggest question hasn’t exactly been answered.


Chris Paul’s 21 points and six assists lead the Thunder to a 105-86 win over the Lakers.

One big bubble stat
The Thunder have had one of the stingiest defenses in the bubble, ranking third in opponent points per game (109.7), seventh in opponent field goal percentage (44.9%) and first in opponent 3-point percentage (30.1%).

Matchup to watch in Round 1: Adams vs. small ball
Matchups? Take your pick: There are too many storylines, angles, X-factors and narratives in this one. Russell Westbrook vs. OKC. James Harden vs. Chris Paul. But on the floor, Adams’ role against the Rockets’ microball is a fascinating matchup. Common sense says Adams’ physicality and offensive rebounding prowess should play a major factor, but the Rockets have been able to counter that against sizable teams before. But it will be interesting to watch Westbrook battle against Adams for rebounds — as opponents — when they get cross-matched.

One wild bubble prediction
Every playoff game they play will be decided by six points or fewer, and half of them will go into overtime. They’ll even play a historic five-overtime game and set a new NBA record. The Thunder play close games. And they win a lot of them too.

— Royce Young


West play-in


8. Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 35-39 (.473) | Bubble: 6-2
Vegas title odds: +3000

All Damian Lillard wanted was a chance. And given one, he and the Trail Blazers did exactly what he thought they could do. Before the shutdown, the Blazers were slogging through a disappointing season filled with injuries and bad breaks, along with sloppy, inconsistent play. But with the time off and a boost in health with the returns of Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, the Blazers look like the team they thought they would be.

MVP of the restart: Damian Lillard
There’s supposed to be like 60 more words explaining why and using stats and things to show it. But really those 60 words just need to be “Damian” and “Lillard” over and over again. The legend of Dame only increased in the bubble, both in what he did with 40- and 50- and 60-point games, along with his razor-sharp social skills, clapping right back at Paul George on Instagram. All belief in the Blazers before the bubble was because they had Dame. And all belief that they could actually do playoff damage is because of him too.

Biggest concern for the play-in
CJ McCollum‘s injury — a nondisplaced fracture in his back — has clearly affected his play. He’s battling through it and still is a weapon for Portland, but so much of what made the Trail Blazers dangerous last postseason was the combination play of Lillard and McCollum. As much as Lillard did, especially with memorable moments, it was McCollum who won Game 7 on the road in Denver. If McCollum is limited, Lillard will need to shoulder even more, and look to rising role players such as Gary Trent Jr. to fill in the gaps.


Stephen A. Smith outlines why Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony can give the Lakers problems in a potential first-round matchup.

One big bubble stat
Lillard matched his career high with 61 points in a win against the Mavericks and joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three 60-point games in a season. Lillard scored 112 points in a two-game span, the sixth most by any player over a two-game span in the past 50 seasons, according to Elias research.

Matchup to watch in the play-in: Lillard vs. Ja Morant
This is the kind of matchup postseason series are made for. The young up-and-coming star against the established, veteran All-Star. One player looking to make a name and a statement, the other trying to grow his legend. The Grizzlies will probably throw multiple defenders at Lillard, and the Blazers will likely do the same to Morant, but at the core of this series it’s Lillard and Morant running their teams.

One wild bubble prediction
Lillard gets past Memphis and, during his first-round series against the Lakers, breaks Michael Jordan‘s record for most points in a playoff game (63). The Blazers will need everything Lillard has, and with his man-on-a-mission mentality, he is always ready to answer the call. He put 61 on the Mavs already. He can hit one more 3.

— Young


9. Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 34-39 (.466) | Bubble: 2-6
Vegas title odds: +100000

When the Grizzlies needed it the most, they picked up a win over Milwaukee to lift them into the play-in tournament. At 2-6 in the bubble, Memphis struggled at times — and lost Jaren Jackson Jr. to injury – but their 3 1/2 -game cushion heading into the restart helped keep them in the playoff race.

MVP of the restart: Ja Morant
The Rookie of the Year lock did everything he could to make sure the Grizzlies were going to have a chance at the playoffs and finished things off with a triple-double against the Bucks (12 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds). Morant averaged 19 points, 9.9 assists and 6.4 rebounds for the Grizzlies. You can also give a nod here to Jonas Valanciunas, who finished seeding-game play with a 26-point, 19-rebound, 12-assist triple-double.

Biggest concern for the play-in
The Grizzlies shot 31.7% from deep in the bubble, ranking 21st out of 22 teams (more on this in a second). But Memphis also has to worry about replacing Jackson, who will miss the play-in tournament with a torn meniscus. Jackson was averaging 25.3 points in the three games he was able to play before the injury.


With a 13-point win over the Bucks, the Grizzlies clinch a spot in the Western Conference play-in round, which begins Saturday afternoon.

One big bubble stat
Memphis’ victory Thursday to clinch a play-in berth came with even more history. Morant and Valanciunas became the first Grizzlies teammates to record triple-doubles in the same game, and they’re the 12th pair of teammates to pull off the feat in NBA history (including the playoffs).

Matchup to watch in the play-in: Morant vs. unders on screens
Morant struggled from distance during bubble play, going 9-of-40 (22.5%). Teams routinely went under on screens and challenged Morant to beat them from deep. Before the hiatus, Morant was shooting 36.7% from 3-point range on 2.4 attempts per game. If he can start knocking it down at a comfortable clip again, it’ll help Memphis’ offense.

One wild bubble prediction
Morant finds a way to dunk on three players at once. Some of them might be on his own team — that part doesn’t matter. But he’ll manage to give us a highlight we’ll talk about for a long time.

— Andrew Lopez

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