The restart of the 2020 NBA season is just a day away. It seems like forever ago Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans were making a playoff push while LeBron James and the Lakers were cruising to the No. 1 seed in the West. After four months of loneliness and despair, basketball is finally back.
All 22 NBA bubble teams have played three scrimmage games in preparation for the league resuming on July 30. Here are the five teams that look the best heading into the 2020 season restart:
5. Houston Rockets
Two words — James Harden. The Rockets’ superstar picked up right where he left off in March, scoring whenever and however he wanted in Houston’s three scrimmage games.
In the team’s final tune-up, Harden scored 30 points and hit seven threes in the first half against the Boston Celtics. The Rockets finished the game with 137 points and an easy victory.
The Rockets improved in every game in the NBA bubble so far, but this team will go as far as Harden can take them.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers went 1-2 in their three scrimmage games, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Philadelphia switched up its starting lineup heading into the bubble, and boy does it look dangerous.
Head coach Brett Brown moved Ben Simmons to power forward and slotted Shake Milton into the starting lineup at point guard, and the new starting five came out firing on all cylinders. Philly took a 26-point halftime lead in their first game and built a 24-point lead in their second before pulling the starters. Ben Simmons even hit a 3-pointer against the Memphis Grizzlies.
As long as Joel Embiid’s calf injury isn’t serious, the Sixers will be a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference.
3. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder have been a pleasant surprise all season long, and that continued into the NBA bubble. Oklahoma City went a perfect 3-0 in their scrimmage games, with wins over the 76ers, Celtics, and Trail Blazers.
OKC has a unique blend of veteran leaders and raw talent. With Chris Paul joining the young core in the offseason, NBA fans were skeptical about how the roster would mesh, but they seem to improve as a team each and every day.
Defensive stopper Andre Roberson is also back on the court after a lengthy absence, and he played surprisingly well over the last week. The Thunder play well as a group and approach every game as if it’s their last. Are they the most talented team in the West? Not even close. But does any contender want to meet the Thunder in a playoff series? Absolutely not.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
No surprises here.
The Bucks picked up right where they left off in the regular season, looking dominant in their first two scrimmages. Giannis Antetokounmpo scored an effortless 22 points in the team’s 21-point win against the San Antonio Spurs. A few days later, the Bucks scored 131 points in their win over the Sacramento Kings.
Milwaukee has been the best team in the East all season, and that hasn’t changed inside the bubble. They can outscore you, out-defend you, and when all else fails, give the ball to their MVP and just get out of of his way.
With a healthy Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are the clear favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2020 NBA Finals. They haven’t missed a beat even with four months off.
1. New Orleans Pelicans
The Bucks are by far a better team than the Pelicans, but that’s not what we’re measuring here. This list is solely based on the team’s performance in the bubble, and no team has been more impressive than New Orleans.
The Pelicans started off bubble play with a 31-point romp of the Brooklyn Nets. They followed that up with a 15-point victory over the Denver Nuggets and a 21-point win over the Bucks. Oh, and Zion Williamson wasn’t active in any of the three games.
With Williamson back in the fold, the Pelicans have a chance to make a playoff run. They currently sit 3.5 games back of the No. 8 seed, but New Orleans proved it can hang with the NBA’s elite in the bubble.
All stats courtesy of ESPN