The NBA invited the top nine teams in the East which means Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston, Miami, Indiana, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Orlando, and Washington will be competing. Unfortunately, some of these teams will be missing key players. The Nets will be without Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Spencer Dinwiddie, as well as several others. The Wizards will be without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans.
As for the schedule, the teams will take part in seeding games from July 30 to August 14. If the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth-place team then a play-in series will happen between the two. The eighth seed has to win one game but if the ninth-place team wins two games then they will replace the eighth seed in the playoffs. The playoffs will run from August 17 to no later than October 13.
With all of the teams staying in Orlando this year postseason will have no home-court advantage and could produce some compelling series especially in the later rounds. There is also the risk of players contracting the COVID-19 virus and that could not only ruin a team’s chances but an outbreak could cause the league to have to shut down again.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Seeding games opponents: Boston, Houston, Brooklyn, Miami, Dallas, Toronto, Washington, Memphis
Outlook: Before the season was stopped the Bucks were not just playing the best basketball in the league but they were putting up numbers that were among the greatest teams in NBA history. The Bucks had an SRS that was top-10 of all-time. SRS is a stat that measures how good a team is and is used on Basketball-Reference.
Milwaukee was also benefiting from another MVP season from Giannis Antetokounmpo as well as a career year from Khris Middleton. As long as both of them can get back to where they were before the stoppage then the Bucks should be viewed as the favorites in the East as well as the NBA.
Milwaukee had title hopes last season only to see Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors upset them in the Eastern Conference Finals en route to winning the NBA championship. For the Bucks and Antetokounmpo its Finals or bust this season.
Burning question: Can Eric Bledsoe avoid another bad postseason?
2. Toronto Raptors
Seeding games opponents: LA Lakers, Miami, Orlando, Boston, Memphis, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Denver
Outlook: The Raptors have been one of the bigger surprises of the season as many expected them to fall off after losing Kawhi Leonard in the offseason. Instead, the Raptors have looked like a legit title contender this season and could enter the postseason as the biggest threat to Milwaukee.
The emergence of Pascal Siakam becoming an All-Star this season certainly helped the Raptors remain contenders.
Burning question: Who will replace Kawhi Leonard as the team’s playoff closer?
3. Boston Celtics
Seeding games opponents: Milwaukee, Portland, Miami, Brooklyn, Toronto, Orlando, Memphis Washington
Outlook: The Celtics enter the Orlando bubble fully healthy which is huge as PG Kemba Walker admitted to playing earlier this season at less than 100 percent. Between his health and Jayson Tatum taking a big step, the Celtics are a big threat in the East.
A major question for the Celtics is Gordon Hayward who will leave at some point in the playoffs for the birth of his child. He could miss a few games so it will be worth monitoring when his absence may occur.
Burning question: Is Boston the biggest threat to Milwaukee in the East?
4. Miami Heat
Seeding games opponents: Denver, Toronto, Boston, Milwaukee, Phoenix, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Indiana
Outlook: The Heat have one of the hardest, if not the hardest, schedules of any team in the Orlando bubble. To make matters worse the Heat are only two games up on the 76ers and Pacers. Should they struggle then they could drop to the sixth seed and a possible series vs Toronto or Boston.
The Heat also have had players test positive for COVID. Expect Jimmy Butler to put on a show no matter what though.
Burning question: Can the Heat avoid falling to the sixth seed?
5. Indiana Pacers
Seeding games opponents: Philadelphia, Washington, Orlando, Phoenix, LA Lakers, Miami, Houston, Miami
Outlook: The Pacers appeared to be in trouble when Victor Oladipo announced he was not going to play in the NBA’s restart. He recently has changed his mind and it appears he will play now for Indiana. With Oladipo the Pacers will be a tough team but without its hard to see the Pacers pulling off an upset come playoff time.
Malcolm Brogdon has had an outstanding year as has Domantas Sabonis. Those two along with Oladipo give the Pacers a solid, young core that should impress come playoff time.
Burning question: What will Oladipo look like if he plays?
6. Philadephia 76ers
Seeding games opponents: Indiana, San Antonio, Washington, Orlando, Portland, Phoenix, Toronto, Houston
Outlook: The 76ers might be the biggest question mark of the NBA returns as far as teams go. Philadelphia was one of the league’s best teams at home and one of the league’s worst on the road. With all of the games on a neutral court in Orlando which 76ers team shows?
The 76ers also are going to run with Ben Simmons at PF instead of PG. Philadelphia is making a smart move to help its offense but with only eight games before the playoffs can they make it work?
Burning question: Will the 76ers be better with Simmons at PF?
7. Brooklyn Nets
Seeding games opponents: Orlando, Washington, Milwaukee, Boston, Sacramento, LA Clippers, Orlando, Portland
Outlook: Brooklyn will be without several starters and key rotation players. The Nets will not have Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Spencer Dinwiddie as well as few other players.
Look for Caris LeVert and Joe Harris to become the focal point of the offense and expect to see several new faces.
Burning question: Will the Nets make the playoffs?
8. Orlando Magic
Seeding games opponents: Brooklyn, Sacramento, Indiana, Toronto, Philadelphia, Boston, Brooklyn, New Orleans
Outlook: The Magic enter the restart only half-a-game behind the Nets for the 7th seed. Given that Brooklyn is missing almost half of its roster there is a good chance the Magic can gain one game on the Nets.
Orlando has some solid young players that deserve attention such as Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon.
Burning question: Can Orlando pass Brooklyn for the 7th seed?
9. Washington Wizards
Seeding games opponents: Phoenix, Brooklyn, Indiana, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Boston
Outlook: The Wizards come into Orlando 5.5 games behind the Magic for the final playoff spot. The Wiz must be within four games of whichever team finishes in eighth place.
That woulda tough task for Washington at full strength but unfortunately, the Wizards will be without both Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans for the remainder of the season.
It’s tough to see the Wizards doing much other than playing eight games and leaving.
Burning question: Will the Wizards win more than one game in Orlando?
No Play-in game