With the NBA restart now well underway, teams are into the hunt to earn the last playoff spots. So far, the competition in the bubble has been fierce, with many games coming down to the final minutes. Thankfully, some spectacular individual performances have provided entertainment and hope for basketball fans everywhere. Because of this fantastic play, I will examine five teams that have surprised early on in the NBA restart.
Still one of the most underrated teams in the league, the Raptors have picked up right where they left off. With wins against the formidable LA Lakers and a high powered offense in the Miami Heat, the team looks primed and ready to defend their title from last season. One of the deepest teams in the league is head coached by Nick Nurse, who rolls a rotation of eight guys. Undoubtably, each of these guys plays significant minutes and contributes offensively. Most impressively, the Raptors have maintained their stellar defensive play from the early part of the season. This has led to their 104.7 team defensive rating to put them only behind the Milwaukee Bucks as the second-best defensive team in the NBA.
Fresh off a huge win over the Houston Rockets, the Trail Blazers have looked dangerous over six games. Finally back healthy, the star duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum has been one of the best in the bubble. Both players are averaging over 20 points per game. Along with this, Portland has received steady play from veterans Jusuf Nurkic, Zack Collins, and Carmelo Anthony, who have all made shots in big situations. With a tough schedule remaining featuring games against Dallas and Brooklyn, the team will have their work cut out for them in trying to land the eighth and final seed in the western conference.
3. Phoenix Suns
A team that no one expected to be a factor in the western conference playoff race, the Suns have gone 5-0 since the restart and now sit just two games back of the Grizzlies for the eighth and final playoff spot. Led by superstar guard Devin Booker, who is averaging over 30 points per game, the team has knocked off the Clippers, Mavericks, and Wizards. One of the most pleasant surprises for Suns fans has been the team’s defensive play as they are among the top five teams in defending the rim through five games while forcing over 15 percent of their opponent’s possessions to end with a jump shot, the third-highest total in the league.
Quickly emerging as a team that no one wants to play in the west, the Rockets are one of the five teams that have surprised early on in the NBA restart. Led by one of the best offensive players in the league in James Harden, who exploded for 42 points in his second game back against the Mavericks, the team has looked in a rhythm offensively. After being criticized for their lack of defense throughout the season, Houston has improved mightily in that category, with the team able to make critical stops in late-game situations. Currently projected to square off with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round of the playoffs, the Rockets are loaded with firepower and are a tough matchup for any team in the west.
Perhaps the biggest shock of the entire NBA restart, the Pacers are 5-1 through six games. Led by a breakout performance from former Suns forward T.J. Warren, who is currently averaging over 34 points per game in the bubble, the team has rattled off wins against the 76ers, Magic, and the formidable LA Lakers. Furthermore, with the play of Warren paired with superstar guard Victor Oladipo and longtime Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, the Pacers look ready to square off with the Miami Heat in one of the most interesting matchups in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.
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