Believe it or not, we are just one week away from the 2020 NBA playoffs. We took quite a path to get here and some thought it might never happen, but at the conclusion of the seeding games and Western Conference play-in series this coming weekend, we will have the field of 16 ready to battle it out for the Larry O'Brien trophy.
So far in the bubble we've seen some tremendous performances from the usual suspects like Damian Lillard, James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic, but this past week has really stood out due to the relative newcomers to stardom putting up monster performances. T.J. Warren has taken the league by storm and has the Pacers sitting with a 4-1 bubble record despite being severely shorthanded. Michael Porter Jr. has exploded to become the Nuggets' leading scorer in seeding games while their team gets healthy.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, however, is Devin Booker leading the Phoenix Suns to a 5-0 record in seeding games, putting them right in the mix for a playoff spot. It just goes to show that things are as unpredictable as expected in the restart, and it will be fun to watch the Suns, Spurs, Trail Blazers and Grizzlies battle for the final playoff spot this week.
Before that, though, let's take a look at this week's Power Rankings.
|The Raptors picked up three more wins this week, but the blowout loss to the Celtics is somewhat concerning given their potential second-round playoff matchup. Toronto continues its spread attack on offense with five players averaging double-figure points this week, and the defense has been relentless outside of a couple of quarters against Boston. The Raptors have looked the best out of any of the league's top teams in the restart.
|The Celtics started off the week by losing to the Jimmy Butler-less Heat, but followed that up with three straight wins, including a dominant performance against the Raptors. Kemba Walker still doesn't look quite right and Marcus Smart had a rough shooting week, but Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward have been good. Boston is locked into the No. 3 seed, and will now wait to find out its opponent.
|With their convincing win over the Lakers this week, the Rockets have now beaten the NBA's two best teams in the bubble, and are looking like a formidable playoff matchup. The defense has been great in the seeding games, which bodes well for the Rockets' postseason hopes, especially if Russell Westbrook is able to come back strong and healthy. Houston is the first-round matchup nobody wants to see among the No. 3 through No. 6 teams.
|Phoenix decided to save its longest winning streak since 2014 for its first five games in the bubble -- simply remarkable. Devin Booker has been sensational, but it's been a full team effort on both ends that has the surprising Suns right in the thick of the playoff race. We all thought the bubble environment might yield some unexpected results, and so far the Suns are shocking the world.
|The Clippers tried their hand at some gamesmanship by sitting Kawhi Leonard (and Paul George in crunch time) against the Blazers, but it didn't work and they got the win anyway. It's all about getting healthy for the Clippers, and they hope Montrezl Harrell will be ready to go when he returns to the team after leaving the bubble for a family emergency. Expect plenty of rest for the Clippers' stars this week as they prepare for what they hope is a long playoff run.
|The Bucks suffered one of the worst upsets in NBA history against a depleted Nets roster to start the week, but they sat Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton in the second half so we'll give them a pass. More concerning was how Luka Doncic absolutely ripped apart their league-best defense on Saturday. Even their win over the Heat wasn't too encouraging, as they gave up 73 first-half points before clamping down in the second half. The Bucks, like the Lakers, haven't looked sharp in the bubble, but they're still the favorite in the East until proven otherwise.
|The only game the Blazers lost this week was the one the Clippers were seemingly trying to lose on purpose, but we quickly found out what happens when you make Damian Lillard mad. Patrick Beverley mocked Lillard for missing two clutch free throws, and the very next night Lillard dropped 51 points in a win over the Sixers. Portland now trails the Grizzlies by a half-game, with the ability to get the No. 8 seed and therefore only need to beat the No. 9 seed once to get into the playoffs.
|Still without Gary Harris and Will Barton, the Nuggets managed to go 3-1 this week, including the most exciting seeding game thus far -- a double-overtime win over the Jazz on Saturday. Jamal Murray returned in a huge way in that win, putting up 23 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes, though he looked like he needed an oxygen tank to make it to the end. Nikola Jokic has been his normal, spectacular self and with the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. (29.3 points, 12.5 rebounds this week), the Nuggets could be dangerous if they get back to full strength.
|So how many of you predicted the Pacers to start 4-1 in the bubble with T.J. Warren averaging 35 points per game? Don't all raise your hands at once. Warren has been utterly breathtaking, punctuating the week with a dagger 3-pointer over Anthony Davis to cap off a 39-point performance in a win over the Lakers on Saturday. Lost in the Warrensanity is the fact that Victor Oladipo has looked pretty darn good in the restart, priming him to be an impact player come playoff time. One thing's for sure, despite being down Domantas Sabonis and Jeremy Lamb, Indiana certainly doesn't look like the playoff pushover some expected it to be.
|The Thunder lost to the Nuggets and were blown out by the Grizzlies this week, but looked great in a convincing win over the Lakers (they also beat the Wizards, but ... you know). They're still battling for seeding, but should feel comfortable with any of their potential opponents as long as they don't slide down to the No. 7 spot. OKC received strong contributions from supporting cast members like Luguentz Dort, Darius Bazley and Hamidou Diallo this week, and the Thunder are going to need at least something from them offensively if they're going to have a shot to advance in the playoffs.
|Maybe none of it matters. Maybe the Lakers are the best team in the West and they'll be all systems go when the playoffs start next week, but they have looked dreadful in the seeding games, particularly on offense. They have by far the lowest offensive rating in the bubble at 97.9 points per 100 possessions, and Anthony Davis has been great in the two wins, but awful in the four losses. Frank Vogel is trying out different pieces and lineups so again, we might just laugh at this when the Lakers steamroll their way to the conference finals, but it's hard not to be at least slightly concerned with what we've seen during the restart.
|Luka Doncic may have played the best game of his career as he picked apart the Bucks in an overtime win on Saturday, going for 36 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high 19 assists. They're going to have trouble defending the Clippers, if that's the matchup they end up with, but when the Mavs are clicking they can outscore anyone in the league. It'll be fun to watch Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis in their first playoff action.
|The Sixers went 3-1 this week, but things went from bad to worse as they learned Ben Simmons will likely miss the rest of the season after a knee injury and Joel Embiid was forced to miss the majority of the team's loss to the Trail Blazers on Sunday with an ankle injury. Josh Richardson and Alec Burks stepped up and kept things close on Sunday, but needless to say they'll need Embiid to be healthy and in top form if they're going to make any noise in the playoffs.
|Miami lost three games this week, two without the services of Jimmy Butler. The Heat were also missing both Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic for Saturday's loss to Phoenix, but the silver lining is that Tyler Herro played well in extended minutes. Andre Iguodala also seems to be integrating himself into the team with his Swiss Army knife skills. At full strength, the Heat are still a dangerous Eastern Conference contender.
|The Spurs kept their playoff hopes alive by taking down the Pelicans on Sunday in what amounted to a must-win game for New Orleans. Derrick White has been a revelation in the bubble, and they'll hope that the leg injury he suffered in that game isn't serious. Without LaMarcus Aldridge they've opened up their offense, starting essentially four guards and playing at a much faster pace. They still don't shoot a lot of 3-pointers, but they've hit 41 percent of them in seeding games. Keeping the 22-season playoff streak alive is still a real possibility.
|The Jazz went 1-3 this week, including a game in which they rested most of their starters and a heartbreaking double-OT loss to the Nuggets. They're still struggling to fill the gap left by Bojan Bogdanovic, but Mike Conley has played well in the bubble in addition to Donovan Mitchell's consistent production. As they work to find their offense, they're going to need to be elite defensively, and they simply haven't been thus far in Orlando.
|Coming in with one of the least powerful rosters in the bubble, the Nets managed to go 3-1 this week, including a monumental upset over the Bucks, bringing their record in seeding games to a surprising 4-2. Caris LeVert looks dynamic as the lead scorer and playmaker, while Joe Harris has proved he's much more than just a spot-up shooter. The Nets might not upset their first-round opponent, but they certainly won't go down easy.
|Despite a promising win over the Grizzlies to start the week, the Pelicans were eliminated from playoff contention with Sunday's loss to the Spurs and the Blazers' win over the 76ers. After a slow start to the game, Zion Williamson picked things up and looked great in the second half of the Spurs game, and we'll have to wait and see how New Orleans decides to handle him for the remaining seeding games. Many expected the Pels to get into the play-in series out West, but their future is incredibly bright nonetheless.
|The talk before the bubble was about which team the Grizzlies would draw in the play-in series. Now they might not even make the play-in series. Memphis has lost five of six seeding games, opening the door for teams like the Blazers, Suns and Spurs to unseat it from playoff position. The season-ending injury to Jaren Jackson Jr. is brutal, and now you have to think that even if the Grizz make the play-in, it's going to be tough for them to advance.
|It was a rough week for the Magic with four straight losses plus a hamstring injury to Aaron Gordon -- this after losing Jonathan Isaac for the foreseeable future due to knee surgery. The offense regressed after a torrid start to the seeding games, which was expected, particularly given their injuries. Orlando can still move into the No. 7 spot with a good final week, but either way it's likely looking at an early playoff exit.
|The Kings were officially eliminated from playoff contention for the 14th consecutive season, ending a disappointing attempt at a postseason run in the bubble after building some momentum before the hiatus. De'Aaron Fox looks like a true star and they have solid pieces around him. They'll hope with a potentially healthy Marvin Bagley III will help Sacramento end the drought next season.
|The Wiz are the only winless team in the bubble after dropping all four games this week. They probably don't have much of a chance against the Bucks and Celtics in their final two seeding games, but their trip to Orlando hasn't been a total loss. Thomas Bryant has averaged 18.3 points, nine rebounds and 2.2 blocks on 37 percent 3-point shooting, while Troy Brown Jr. has put up 16 points, 7.3 rebounds and five assists per game. They both look like solid rotation pieces moving forward, and Jerome Robinson has also done well for himself in the bubble, scoring 15.5 points per game on 38 percent 3-point shooting.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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'll almost certainly 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.
|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.
|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.