Tier 2: Won’t Last Long
19. Orlando Magic
Similar to Phoenix, Orlando is a fun, young team with a bright future. And it’s hosting the damn thing, so that counts for something. But the Magic are 27th in the NBA in scoring, and can’t shoot. They’ll make it past the 8 seeding games, but ultimately they’ll be a first-round playoff exit.
18. Sacramento Kings
With De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, this is a pretty explosive backcourt. They’ll just be exploited defensively. And with Marvin Bagley out due to injury, chalk the Kings out after a solid season. Another exciting team, another early departure.
17. San Antonio Spurs
These aren’t the Spurs of old. It’s hard to count out a team coached by Gregg Popovich, but the absence of LaMarcus Aldridge will be simply too much for San Antonio to overcome.
Tier 3: Fighting for a Playoff Spot
16. Memphis Grizzlies
A couple of years from now, Memphis may very well be topping lists like this and it might surprise some in the Orlando Bubble. Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke will both likely finish in the top three in MVP voting, and Jaren Jackson Jr. is another star in the making. This is a well-balanced team, but the stage might be too big currently for the young core.
15. New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans were absolutely blessed by the scheduling gods, with only three games against teams currently in playoff spots but with Zion Williamson exiting the bubble with no signs of return, New Orleans can’t rank higher than 15th. The rookie used his time off to get JACKED.
He was terrific in his 19 games, averaging 23.6 points and 6.8 boards, and the Pelicans were on a roll right before the restart. But if he has to miss games due to quarantine, the Pels won’t be able to fend off the Portland Trail Blazers. If he’s back and able to play all eight, you’ve got yourself a dark horse.
14. Portland Trail Blazers
Speaking of dark horses, the Blazers are such an interesting team. Damian Lillard is having his best year as a pro and Carmelo Anthony has had a resurgence, but the real reason why Portland is a team to keep an eye on is the return of Jusuf Nurkic.
He hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since March 2019 but his floor-stretching abilities and playmaking will give Portland another piece to play within its rotations. He’s likely going to play a lot of power forward alongside Hassan Whiteside, and that pairing could be dynamic if Whiteside plays to his potential. The Blazers are provisionally placed at 14, but don’t be shocked if they’re much higher in these rankings next week.
Click on the next page to see what other “dark horse” teams could make a run.