The NBA is less than a month away from restarting the 2019-20 season.
With teams beginning to arrive at Walt Disney World on Tuesday and training camps set to begin on Thursday, it’s time to take stock of the teams that will face off later this month at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Each roster is full of questions that need to be answered during the eight seeding games and before the playoffs begin. Our experts are breaking down the biggest topics surrounding all 22 teams.
Notes: These rankings are based on which teams voters — a group of more than 40 reporters, insiders and editors — think belong higher heading into the remainder of the 2019-20 season. Title odds were provided by Caesars sportsbook.
How much can Milwaukee’s supporting cast provide?
The Bucks were in the midst of a historic run, with the league’s best record, when the season was suspended on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The burning question surrounding Milwaukee is whether Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s supporting cast will step up in big games. Antetokounmpo, for his part, has likely defended his MVP title this season. Will Eric Bledsoe erase his playoff struggles from the past two years in a fan-less environment? Can Khris Middleton, who earned his second consecutive All-Star nod in the midst of a career-best season, help the Greek Freak push for a title? We will see in Orlando. — Eric Woodyard
Remaining schedule: BOS, HOU, BKN, MIA, DAL, TOR, WSH, MEM
How will the Clippers deal with another interruption?
Since the first day of training camp, the Clippers have been trying to create chemistry while meeting constant speed bumps. Lingering injuries, which affected both Paul George and Kawhi Leonard, and limited practice time due to the schedule led to erratic play to start the season. The Clippers then had to incorporate new additions such as Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson at the trade deadline. Still, they won seven of eight games before the NBA halted the season. Now, they aim to pick up where they left off while proceeding cautiously with Leonard, George and their veterans after a four-month layoff. The Clippers will have to build their chemistry again while dealing with an unprecedented situation. — Ohm Youngmisuk
Remaining schedule: LAL, NO, PHX, DAL, POR, BKN, DEN, OKC
What happens if Dwight Howard opts out of Orlando?
Anthony Davis was reluctant to play the 5 this season, even though the Lakers’ defensive efficiency was at its best with him there (allowing a minuscule 101.4 points per 100 possessions, according to ESPN Stats & Information research). Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he is “hopeful” to not saddle Davis at center “any more than we were doing prior” if Howard isn’t available. That leaves the lion’s share for JaVale McGee, who averaged only 16.8 minutes per game as the starting center this season. — Dave McMenamin
Remaining schedule: LAC, TOR, UTAH, OKC, HOU, IND, DEN, SAC
Stephen A. Smith asserts that LeBron James’ leadership and playoff experience will lead the Lakers to an NBA championship in Orlando, Florida.
What will Toronto’s rotation look like?
The Raptors dealt with a string of injuries to key players throughout the season, with their top seven players, excluding OG Anunoby, missing at least a month during the regular season. Now that everyone is healthy, coach Nick Nurse can spend the next few weeks figuring out how he wants to deploy a versatile roster once the playoffs arrive. Once they do, the Raptors are confident that they have a chance to make another deep playoff run as they try to defend their title. — Tim Bontemps
Remaining schedule: LAL, MIA, ORL, BOS, MEM, MIL, PHI, DEN
How will the Rockets tweak their microball approach?
Coach Mike D’Antoni noted that the Rockets are the only team in the NBA that drastically altered its philosophy on the fly this season, so he believes Houston stands to benefit more than any other team from having a training camp before games start. It seemed like the league had figured out how to handle the Rockets’ microball style before the stoppage, as a heavy-legged Houston team lost four of its last five games. D’Antoni has had months to come up with counters and now has camp to implement his tweaks. — Tim MacMahon
Remaining schedule: DAL, MIL, POR, LAL, SAC, SA, IND, PHI
What will Kemba Walker look like?
Walker was nowhere near himself in the weeks leading up to the shutdown in March, thanks to lingering knee issues. His play particularly dipped after the All-Star Game, as he repeatedly posted poor shooting nights and failed to play with his usual burst. The Celtics were thrilled by Jayson Tatum‘s star turn, and they like the balanced offensive attack they have with Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward on the wing, but Walker needs to play like an All-Star if this team is going to have a chance to make it out of the East. — Bontemps
Remaining schedule: MIL, POR, MIA, BKN, TOR, ORL, MEM, WSH
How does Al Horford fit in now?
It appeared that Sixers coach Brett Brown had crossed the rubicon with Horford when he chose to bench him in February. Then Ben Simmons got hurt, and the season was shut down. As Brown admitted during a recent interview, the Sixers haven’t figured out how to mesh Horford and Joel Embiid together, as the numbers with both of them on the court — as well as with Simmons — bear out. Horford’s nagging knee injury has had time to heal, and the playoff games he was signed to play in are around the corner. If Philly is to reach its ceiling, it will need to figure out how to get the best out of him. — Bontemps
Remaining schedule: IND, SA, WSH, ORL, POR, PHX, TOR, HOU
Kendrick Perkins breaks down his top three ballers from the Eastern Conference who will be worth paying attention to once the NBA season returns.
What will Joker 2.0 bring to the bubble?
A slimmed-down Nikola Jokic gives the Nuggets a completely new look and brings up questions they didn’t have before. Are we sure Jokic, who tested positive for the coronavirus in late June, is going to be a better player? Part of his brilliance was in his physicality, using his frame to work angles, carve space and lull defenders to sleep. The change could mean Jokic has a more explosive first step, is conditioned better for long stretches of playing time and can combine his unique skill set with more athleticism. If that’s the case, Denver might have had one of the most striking improvements of any team during the break. — Royce Young
Remaining schedule: MIA, OKC, SA, POR, UTAH, LAL, LAC, TOR
Is the bubble atmosphere perfect for the Heat?
Jimmy Butler has always believed that he could be the face of a championship-caliber team, despite some doubts across the league that his game is better suited for a secondary role. He has his chance now, as the Heat — who have cultivated a basketball-centric culture for years — believe they come into the bubble with a competitive advantage, given how business-like their mindset is. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra believes the bubble environment can bring the best out of Butler. — Nick Friedell
Remaining schedule: DEN, TOR, BOS, MIL, PHX, IND, OKC, IND
Can Doncic and Porzingis pick up where they left off?
The top priority all season for the Mavs, who are a win away from accomplishing their preseason goal of making the playoffs, has been to tap in to the potential of the partnership between Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Mavs’ young franchise cornerstones didn’t click immediately, but Dallas has averaged 117.4 points per 100 possessions (significantly higher than its league-best overall offensive rating) in 307 minutes with that duo on the floor since Porzingis shifted to center on a full-time basis in late January. With Doncic healed from some nagging injuries, there’s a lot of excitement about watching the stars continue to grow together. — MacMahon
Remaining schedule: HOU, PHX, SAC, LAC, MIL, UTAH, POR, PHX
How will the Jazz overcome the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic?
He played much of the season with an injured right wrist, but you sure couldn’t tell by Bogdanovic’s shooting stroke, as the prized free-agent addition lived up to expectations by averaging 20.2 points per game and shooting 41.4% from 3-point range. It will be a massive challenge to replace Bogdanovic’s production and the benefit of how his shooting opened the floor for his teammates. Maybe Mike Conley, with more offensive responsibility than he has had all season, can morph back into the dynamic player who averaged 20.5 points per game the previous three seasons in Memphis. — MacMahon
Remaining schedule: NO, OKC, LAL, MEM, SA, DEN, DAL, SA
Can OKC rekindle its chemistry after the layoff?
Before the hiatus, the Thunder were clicking at a level as high as that of any team in the league, playing with obvious connection and chemistry. That was their greatest strength: balanced scoring and a decidedly unselfish mentality. They’ve tried to maintain some of that chemistry during the break, organizing weekly video calls and checking in with one another, but nothing can replicate playing together. The Thunder had clear rhythm and momentum before, posting the third-best record in the league since Thanksgiving. For them, the eight games will be more about rediscovering that than jockeying for seeding. — Young
Remaining schedule: UTAH, DEN, LAL, MEM, WSH, PHX, MIA, LAC
Who will Indy turn to without Victor Oladipo?
After Oladipo told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Friday that he isn’t going to participate in the bubble, Indiana will go into the playoffs for a second straight year without its best player. Beyond that, the Pacers have to decide how to fill Oladipo’s spot in their starting lineup. With the team already down another shooting guard after Jeremy Lamb tore an ACL in February, it seems likely that either T.J. McConnell or Aaron Holiday will play next to Malcolm Brogdon (assuming he recovers from COVID-19) in Orlando. — Bontemps
Remaining schedule: PHI, WAS, ORL, PHX, LAL, MIA, HOU, MIA
How will the Magic handle being so close yet so far from home?
Amway Center, the Magic’s home arena, is a 30-minute drive from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The Magic know it’s going to be strange to be so close to their families while being in the bubble, but they remain outwardly confident that they’ll be able to handle the mental strain. Once they start playing, Markelle Fultz has an opportunity to build on his solid play this season and continue his career renaissance with the Magic. — Friedell
Remaining schedule: BKN, SAC, IND, TOR, PHI, BOS, BKN, NO
Can the Pelicans maximize Zion Williamson‘s time on the floor?
Williamson’s 10.4 net rating was highest on the team, dwarfing the next-highest rating, Derrick Favors‘ 5.8. In fact, Jrue Holiday (0.6) and Lonzo Ball (0.5) were the only other players with positive net ratings. The Pelicans went 10-9 in games with Williamson on the floor this season and will have to play better than that if they want to make the playoff push that many expect them to. — Andrew Lopez
Remaining schedule: UTAH, LAC, MEM, SAC, WSH, SA, SAC, ORL
Zion Williamson works on various moves at the Pelicans’ practice facility to prepare for the NBA season’s restart.
Should the Blazers be thinking about free agency inside the bubble?
All three Portland frontcourt starters as of March 11 (Trevor Ariza, Carmelo Anthony and Hassan Whiteside) are questions. Portland’s games in Orlando will give the team an idea of whether there are still roles for Anthony and Whiteside, with Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic likely back in the starting lineup, as well as whether to guarantee Ariza’s $12.2 million salary. Although Ariza won’t be playing because of a visitation window with his son, his value might be evident in his absence. — Kevin Pelton
Remaining schedule: MEM, BOS, HOU, DEN, LAC, PHI, DAL, BKN
What can Memphis get from Justise Winslow?
The Grizzlies, whose goal is to hang on to the eighth seed in the West, will use camp to get Winslow up to speed and comfortable in their system. They paid a steep price to get Winslow in a midseason trade with the Heat because the Grizzlies believe the athletic, playmaking, 24-year-old forward will fit well with their promising young core led by Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. Winslow, who has been sidelined because of a back injury, was on the verge of making his Memphis debut when the season was halted. He’s fully healthy now and will have much more practice time than anticipated before he gets rolling with the Grizzlies. — MacMahon
Remaining schedule: POR, SA, NO, UTAH, OKC, TOR, BOS, MIL
Can De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield rise to the challenge?
Hield signed his big-money extension in October, and Fox is in line for a massive extension of his own. Now is the time for both young players to lift the franchise back into the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The pair is averaging 40 points per game, but the two have yet to show that they can elevate those around them to a different level of winning. Now is the time. — Friedell
Remaining schedule: SA, ORL, DAL, NO, BKN, HOU, NO, LAL
Who will take the court for Brooklyn?
The deadline for finalizing teams’ traveling parties has come and gone, but which Nets players will make the trip to Orlando remains unclear. DeAndre Jordan announced that he won’t be traveling to Orlando following a positive test. Wilson Chandler opted not to go to spend more time with family. Spencer Dinwiddie has not committed to making the journey, though he is on the traveling list. When the season halted, all three players were in the starting lineup. The Nets have eight seeding games to not only hang on to their top-eight seed but also figure out who will be on the floor when the playoffs begin. The team playing in Orlando likely will look vastly different from the one fans have seen all season. This is a real test for Jacque Vaughn, who is looking to secure the head-coaching job. — Malika Andrews
Remaining schedule: ORL, WAS, MIL, BOS, SAC, LAC, ORL, POR
Brian Windhorst and Paul Pierce analyze the Nets’ options going into the bubble without DeAndre Jordan and possibly Spencer Dinwiddie.
How will the Spurs replace the production of LaMarcus Aldridge?
Aldridge, who had season-ending shoulder surgery in April, will be tough to replace as the Spurs chase a spot in a potential play-in for the West’s No. 8 seed. Trey Lyles, who averaged 15.3 points in the last six games before the shutdown, will have to take on a bigger offensive role, as will center Jakob Poeltl. The team also added Tyler Zeller, who had not played in the league this season, to deepen its roster. — Lopez
Remaining schedule: SAC, MEM, PHI, DEN, UTAH, NO, HOU, UTAH
What can Phoenix build inside the bubble?
The Suns’ young core needs experience. Although the Orlando restart is certainly going to be a unique one, the Suns can use the urgency to start building toward next season. Deandre Ayton‘s early-season suspension disrupted some positive momentum, and the Suns are unlikely to make a push for the postseason, but more reps for Ayton, Devin Booker and the rest of Phoenix’s group could set a tone. — Young
Remaining schedule: WSH, DAL, LAC, IND, MIA, OKC, PHI, DAL
What should Washington be playing for?
That multiple Nets players are staying home cracks the door open for the Wizards to force a play-in matchup and possibly reach the playoffs, but realistically, they’re first-round fodder without impending free agent Davis Bertans. Washington has a chance to be more competitive with John Wall returning from Achilles surgery in 2020-21, so the biggest goal for the Wizards will be getting experience for their young players without risking an injury to star Bradley Beal that could linger into next season. — Pelton
Remaining schedule: PHX, BKN, IND, PHI, NO, OKC, MIL, BOS