We’re less than a week away from the NBA Restart. The teams listed here are the ones who aren’t necessarily contenders but could make some noise in the playoffs. Click here for the previous installment of this series.
NBA Restart: And Then There Were 22, Part 2
16) Orlando Magic
You might think that the Magic are a bit higher on this list than they should be. And you may be right, but if their team stays how it is, they will be higher in the standings and the playoff race. As of now, Orlando sits at the eighth seed, a mere half-game behind the Brooklyn Nets. They have a talented roster, with All-Star Nikola Vucevic leading the way. Former lottery busts Markelle Fultz and Michael Carter-Williams have found new success in Orlando, both playing integral roles. There is some injury concern for defensive stalwart Jonathan Isaac. However, if he comes back with full health, the Magic will be in a good place. The only thing holding them back is their place in the standings. The highest they’ll get to is the seventh seed, which would pit them against a top team in the first round. They might be able to pull out an upset, but it’s an uphill battle.
The Pelicans started the offseason by trading away franchise legend Anthony Davis for a package that included Brandon Ingram and the fourth-overall pick. After some wheeling and dealing, they came out of the offseason with a good young core and set plan for rebuilding. Focusing on number one overall pick Zion Williamson (who started the season late due to injury) and All-Star Ingram, this team has defied expectations and now could make a run for the playoffs.
The reason they are this far down is because of their relative inexperience in the playoffs and current seeding. Their veteran leader, Jrue Holiday, has had his fair share of playoff games, as has big man Derrick Favors and sharpshooter J.J. Redick. But other than that, the young core hasn’t had any experience in these high-pressure situations. They’re also sitting 3.5 games out of the eighth seed and will have to compete with other great teams for one playoff spot. They shouldn’t be counted out of the NBA Restart yet but let’s wait for them to make the playoffs first.
One word. Dame. Damian Lillard is one of the greatest clutch performers in the history of the game. He’s also one of the best guards in basketball, period. Lillard is averaging almost 29 points and eight assists while averaging a career-high in minutes with 36.9. But he earns his salt in the playoffs, averaging about 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds in 51 career playoff games. The rest of the team isn’t bad either. Lillard’s number two, CJ McCollum, is doing his thing, averaging 22.5 points. The team got some welcome news during the bubble, with center Jusuf Nurkic returning to the court for the first time since March 25, 2019. But there is some bad news. They aren’t in the playoffs as of now, which might not be a problem for Dame and Co. But they are hurt. While Nurkic might be back, they are missing key bench player Rodney Hood, and forwards Trevor Ariza and Caleb Swanigan opted out of the restart. Rookie forward Nassir Little might also miss a few games because of a concussion. The Blazers aren’t in the best position, but you can never count out Dame.
13) Indiana Pacers
Admittedly, I made this list before all of the bad news broke about the Pacers. But they are sitting at a nice 39-26 and the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The loss of All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis is a big one, and it definitely will impact the team moving forward. Sabonis was part of the Pacers’ top six five-man lineups (in terms of minutes) and is averaging 18.5 and 12.5 in 35 minutes a game.
Ultimately, the Victor Oladipo situation will determine whether or not Indiana goes far. At first, the former All-NBA player said that he wasn’t going to play in the restart due to his rehab from injury. But after joining the team and participating in some workouts and scrimmages, the decision is up in the air. If he does play, he’ll be tasked with leading a great supporting case of T.J. Warren, Myles Turner, and Malcolm Brogdon to some wins. The team is talented enough to make a run, but the loss of Sabonis and the impending decision by Oladipo could make or break their season.
12) Utah Jazz
Sigh. Oh, the Jazz. They were in a great place before the shutdown, making it all the way to the fourth seed. Unfortunately, the shutdown was due to the antics of All-Star center Rudy Gobert. Reports of discord between Gobert and fellow star Donovan Mitchell were spread everywhere, but things have cooled down between the two, according to a recent USA Today article. Utah restocked this offseason, trading for former Grizzlies legend Mike Conley and scooping up sniper Bojan Bogdanovic. Those moves, along with an early-season trade for sixth man Jordan Clarkson, have led the team to be pretty successful. Unfortunately, Bogdanovic was sidelined with wrist surgery in May, and Conley has not played up to expectations. The Jazz have the pieces to make a run, but another first-round playoff exit wouldn’t surprise many people.
11) Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks went from a lottery team to a contender thanks to two main moves: the draft-day trade for Luka Doncic and the midseason acquisition of Kristaps Porzingis. Luka was sensational last season, winning Rookie of the Year, but his improvement this year is nothing short of astonishing. He’s averaging almost a triple-double en route to his first All-Star appearance and a league-leading 14 triple-doubles. Meanwhile, his partner-in-crime Kristaps Porzingis came over at the deadline last season after requesting a trade from the New York Knicks. He picked up right where he left off after more than a year off from basketball. The Unicorn is averaging 19.2 and 9.5 while playing every game this season. This pairing led the Mavs to a 40-27 record and the best offense in the league.
The duo isn’t the only ones on the team, though. The supporting cast is one of the greatest in the NBA Restart. Dallas has the perfect blend of shooting, defense, and anything else you may need in a basketball team. So why are they not in the top ten, you may ask? Sitting at the seventh seed in a very good conference with two young superstars looks great for the future, but not so much for the present. The good news is that they do have veteran leadership on their team, complete with a veteran coach in Rick Carlisle. They should be in good hands.
Embed from Getty Images