nba-july-26-pr.png
CBS Sports graphic

This is not a drill, people. Despite countless obstacles and logistical nightmares, actual NBA basketball games that count are set to begin on Thursday. It's a small miracle that the league has made it this far, especially since a few players have left and returned to the bubble already. Who knows whether we'll make it all the way to the Finals, but it sure feels good to have NBA basketball back on our screens.

Our last set of Power Rankings came nearly a month ago after the schedule release, so quite a bit has changed since then. The Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers have only cemented their spots at the top, but other contenders like the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets face serious questions based on personnel issues. There was also big news in the East, as Indiana Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis may miss the rest of the season with a foot injury, and slightly less important news as Ben Simmons made another 3-pointer in a Philadelphia 76ers scrimmage game.

It's surreal to be talking about basketball again, and hopefully this is the first of many Power Rankings in the NBA restart.

Biggest Movers
2 Raptors
4 Nuggets
Rk
Teams
 
Chg
Rcrd
1 Bucks The Bucks offense looked outstanding in their first two scrimmages, putting up 113 points in 40 minutes in Thursday's win over the Spurs, then scoring 131 (including 80 in the first half) in a 48-minute win over the Kings on Saturday. Giannis Antetokounmpo has looked like his normal, dominant self, and the Bucks remain the favorite to come out of the East. More good news for Milwaukee: Eric Bledsoe has joined the team in the bubble after his bout with COVID-19, though he didn't play in either scrimmage this week. --56-17
2 Lakers LeBron James may have a little extra gray in his beard, but he looked refreshed in the two scrimmages this week. With him and Anthony Davis rested and healthy, the Lakers are as formidable as any team in the league. They still have to sort out their backcourt rotation and see if Dion Waiters and JR Smith can be regular contributors, but the eight seeding games should go a long way in that department. --52-19
3 Raptors The remainder of the NBA season could end up being a war of attrition, and at this point the Raptors have one of the deepest arsenals at their disposal with a full, healthy roster. For that reason, they get a little bump in the rankings heading into the seeding games. This is a veteran group with championship experience, which could be a huge advantage in the unfamiliar bubble setting. 253-19
4 Clippers The restart was supposed to provide a clean slate for the Clippers and give them a chance to finally compete with a full squad. Instead the biggest headline has been Lou Williams leaving to bubble to go to a strip club. Not ideal. Williams will miss at least two seeding games while undergoing a 10-day quarantine, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac and Landry Shamet have reportedly arrived but will need time to get back up to speed, and Montrezl Harrell is still out of the bubble with an excused absence. The Clippers may very well be at full strength to start the playoffs, but it would have been beneficial to have a complete roster to work out the kinks in the seeding games. 149-23
5 Celtics Brad Stevens said he thought Kemba Walker "had his burst" during Sunday's scrimmage win over the Suns, but the Celtics will certainly keep their eye on his nagging left knee injury and possibly limit his minutes during seeding games. Boston is in good position to make a deep playoff run, particularly if it can stay in the No. 3 seed or move up to No. 2, but it will need Walker at least close to full strength. 148-24
6 76ers Ben Simmons was praised for his lack of hesitation when shooting two corner 3-pointers in the 76ers' first scrimmage (making one), but then didn't attempt one on Sunday. Shooting aside, Simmons has looked healthy and tremendous as the Sixers hope to live up to preseason expectations with a clean slate in the bubble. Al Horford hit 4-of-5 3s on Sunday in a loss to the Thunder, a great sign considering his 3-point percentage this season is his lowest since 2014-15. 143-30
7 Heat Kendrick Nunn and Bam Adebayo are back with the team, so the Heat should be at full strength to start seeding games. They're incredibly deep, which could serve them well in the unpredictable bubble terrain, and have a proven playoff performer and leader in Jimmy Butler. With the Pacers depleted, moving up to the No. 3 seed may be in Miami's best interest, but it will be tough to make up 2 1/2 games to pass Boston in the short seeding schedule. 144-29
8 Thunder The Thunder brought a full, healthy roster to the bubble, and received an emotional boost when Andre Roberson returned to the court this week for the first time since 2018. Don't expect him to get significant minutes in the seeding games or the playoffs, but having an extra veteran wing defender is never a bad thing. The three-man closing lineup of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder continues to be one of the league's best, and should serve them well in playoff crunch time. 144-28
9 Rockets Houston got a little bit of a scare with Russell Westbrook contracting COVID-19 and James Harden arriving late to the bubble, but they both looked ready to go during scrimmage games this week. The Rockets are the matchup nobody wants come playoff time given their high-variance, small-ball, 3-point-heavy attack and MVP backcourt, and they could end up anywhere from No. 3 to No. 7 in the West based on their seeding games. 144-28
10 Nuggets The Bol Bol show and super-gigantic lineups have been fun, but it's been hard to get a sense of how the Nuggets look since a good chunk of their rotation has yet to take the court. Nikola Jokic is as slim as advertised, and looked excellent playing point guard in the two scrimmages this week. Given their lack of personnel thus far, the Nuggets will start their seeding games with at least a slight disadvantage as they fight for playoff positioning in the competitive middle tier of the West. 446-27
11 Mavericks The biggest question mark for the Mavericks entering the bubble was what kind of shape Luka Doncic would be in, but he looked fit and sharp their first two scrimmage games. With him and Kristaps Porzingis healthy, the Mavericks have a real chance to move out of that No. 7 spot to avoid a first-round matchup with the Clippers. If they do, advancing to the second round is a real possibility against any of the 3-6 seeds out West. --43-32
12 Jazz The Jazz will have trouble making up for Bojan Bogdanovic's scoring and shooting, and the responsibility will fall on Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson and, of course, Donovan Mitchell. The discord between Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is well known, but it hasn't seemed to affect them much on the court. We'll see if the bubble environment leads to increased agitation, especially if and when the Jazz lose a few games. --44-28
13 Pelicans As long as all goes according to plan, the Pelicans will have Zion Williamson available for opening night as they attempt to forge their way into the postseason. This is one of the most exciting teams in the bubble with everything to play for, and they had the seventh-best net rating in the league after Zion's debut in late January. Stay tuned. 130-42
14 Grizzlies Justise Winslow would have been an interesting X-factor in the race for the No. 8 seed, but unfortunately he suffered a season-ending hip injury before he could make his Grizzlies debut. That being said, Memphis has impressed all season without him, and this will be great experience for Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. as they fight to cling to their playoff berth. 134-39
15 Pacers Possibly losing Domantas Sabonis for the remainder of the season due to a foot injury is absolutely devastating for the Pacers. Not only is the All-Star the team's leading rebounder and second-leading scorer, but he also facilitates the offense, averaging five assists per game. This also has ramifications for Victor Oladipo, who may now elect to sit out the rest of the season since Indiana's chance of advancing in the playoffs significantly decreases without Sabonis. For what it's worth, Oladipo has played in both scrimmages so far, scoring 16 points in 28 minutes on Sunday. 245-28
16 Kings Sacramento was hoping that Marvin Bagley III would be a big part of its playoff push, but a right foot injury will keep him out for the remainder of the season, after a left foot injury caused him to miss considerable time earlier this year. The Kings are solid in their big rotation with Richaun Holmes, Alex Len, Nemanja Bjelica and Harry Giles, but Bagley could have added a different element to the attack. Sacramento had the league's eighth-best net rating while going 7-3 after the All-Star break. --31-41
17 Magic Markelle Fultz didn't play in either of the Magic's scrimmages this week, but he should be good to go when seeding games begin. Given the Nets' depletion, the Magic will have a good chance to move into the No. 7 spot out East, avoiding a potential play-in series with the Wizards and a first-round matchup with the Bucks in the process. 133-40
18 Trail Blazers The Blazers were energized in their first scrimmage games as Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins looked great in their returns. The chemistry between Nurkic and Damian Lillard was on display immediately, and the Blazers are going to be a tough matchup with their frontcourt size and backcout scoring. Their schedule makes it tough to catch the Grizzlies for the No. 8 spot, but if there's any team that can catch lightning in a bottle for eight games, it's the Blazers. 135-39
19 Nets Things are looking rough for the Nets, who are without the majority of their core players for the restart. More responsibility will fall on Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Garrett Temple to lead both on and off the court, while this could be a nice chance for Jarrett Allen to further develop. It's looking like Brooklyn could slip into the No. 8 spot, and losing to the Wizards twice in a row in a potential play-in series isn't out of the realm of possibilities. 235-37
20 Spurs It's going to be a rough climb to the playoffs for San Antonio without LaMarcus Aldridge, but this could be a good chance to get an extended look at young guards Dejounte Murray, Derrick White and Lonnie Walker IV. Barring an absolute miracle, it looks like the Spurs' incredible streak of 22 consecutive postseason appearances will come to an end. --32-39
21 Suns With virtually no chance of making the postseason, the Suns will use their bubble time to build chemistry between their two stars, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, and evaluate their young talent. Mikal Bridges has looked great in the team's first two scrimmages, and is exactly the type of two-way player Phoenix needs around those two. Kelly Oubre didn't play in either scrimmage this week, so we're still not sure about his status for the seeding games. --34-39
22 Wizards The Wizards only have to make up 1 1/2 games on the Magic (or two on the Nets) to force a play-in series for the No. 8 spot, but even that seems unlikely at this point given Washington's current roster. They were already the worst defensive team in the NBA, and now they're missing the majority of their offense with Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans sitting out of the restart. On the plus side, they'll get to see what things look like when they run the offense through rookie Rui Hachimura. --25-47
23 Hornets The Hornets' season is over, but they can take solace in the fact that they outperformed expectations and developed three players -- Devonte' Graham, Miles Bridges and PJ Washington -- who could be legitimate franchise cornerstones moving forward. They'll hope for lottery luck and continued growth this offseason, but the rebuild in Charlotte has just commenced. --23-42
24 Bulls It was a disappointing season for the Bulls, who finally gave in and revamped the front office after years of speculation. Chicago has talent -- Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. -- but it has yet to find a way to translate it to wins. We'll see if the new brass opts to shuffle the deck this offseason. --22-43
25 Hawks The Hawks were really bad this year, just behind Cleveland for the third-worst net rating in the NBA, but there's reason to be hopeful with the development of Trae Young and John Collins, plus the addition of Clint Capela to potentially shore up their defensive woes. They have a promising young crop of wings with Kevin Huerter, De'Andre Hunter and Cam Reddish, and will likely get another high draft pick this offseason. Sooner or later, though, you have to actually start winning games. --20-47
26 Timberwolves D'Angelo Russell averaged nearly 22 points per game after coming over from the Warriors, but shot just 41 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point range. He'll obviously benefit from the presence of Karl-Anthony Towns, and the franchise hinges on the duo's success. Now it's time to start putting quality pieces around them. --19-45
27 Knicks We didn't learn much about the future of the Knicks this season -- we're still not sure how good RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson are, and we don't know whether Kevin Knox and Frank Ntilikina will be part of the team's plans. After a front office overhaul, the highest priority this offseason was finding a coach, and they finally zeroed in on Tom Thibodeau after interviewing several candidates. We'll see how he does with a rebuilding Knicks roster. --21-45
28 Cavaliers The Cavs would have loved to have gotten a better look at Andre Drummond, but only got eight games out of him after trading for him at the deadline. Given the financial landscape of the league, he says he plans to exercise his $29 million option for next season, so the decision wasn't really in Cleveland's hands anyway. Collin Sexton made a huge leap toward the end of the season, so the Cavs will hope he can build off of that while they continue to try to find a trade destination for Kevin Love. --19-46
29 Warriors The long, strange trip is finally over, as one of the most bizarre seasons in NBA history comes to an end. The Warriors gained valuable knowledge this year, namely that D'Angelo Russell didn't fit and that Eric Paschall is pretty good, but all eyes immediately shift to next season, when a healthy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins, plus whatever they get out of their high draft pick, should make Golden State a title contender once again. --15-50
30 Pistons In terms of NBA futures, it doesn't get much bleaker than the Detroit Pistons. Blake Griffin's monster contract will run through 2022 when he picks up the option, and the most promising young players on the roster are Luke Kennard and Bruce Brown. Christian Wood probably did enough to get the Pistons to make him a good offer this summer (who else are they going to spend money on?), but Detroit may be the leader in the clubhouse to enter next season with the league's lowest win total projection. --20-46