However fun it might be to overreact to certain results in the Bubble, and make big adjustments to the rankings, it would certainly be more unfair to not take teams’ performances in Orlando into consideration before ranking them. The following are the rankings of the Eastern Conference teams as they head into the Playoffs.
#8 ORLANDO MAGIC
The Orlando Magic. The only home team in the bubble. Their highlight of the pre-bubble regular season was probably Aaron Gordon’s performance at the Dunk Contest and Jonathan Isaac’s development in what was yet another injury riddled season for him. Orlando started well in the Bubble with strong performances against the Grizzlies and the Brooklyn Nets. But proceeded to go 0-5 and failed to capitalise on the opportunity to jump to the 7th seed over a Nets roster which had to be completely overhauled coming into the Bubble. The Magic are set to play the Milwaukee Bucks again in the First Round and 12 years after Kobe Bryant and the Lakers won the championship in Orlando, another victor will be crowned in the city, but it almost certainly won’t be the Magic.
#7 BROOKLYN NETS
As 22 Teams entered Disney World, the goofiest roster of them all belonged to the Brooklyn Nets. An island of misfits, old players and Caris Levert entered the Bubble. Considering all of the players missing for the Nets, they’ve actually been highly successful in the bubble, winning against The Bucks and Clippers, this team continues to grow under Jacque Vaughn. They might’ve actually had a shot to win a few playoff games, if it wasn’t for the fact they’re locked in with a First round matchup against the Raptors. Very few teams are as well rounded as the Raptors are, and even fewer shoot the deep-ball as well as they do. This was never supposed to be the Nets year, but they are certainly the team to watch for next season.
#6 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Things are looking pretty bad for the Sixers after the news that Ben Simmons will undergo Surgery, but that might be a blessing in disguise for Brett Brown. The 76ers have looked like a pretty discombobulated team offensively all throughout the season, but maybe this injury forces the 76ers staff to rethink their role for Joel Embiid. Maybe instead of standing 25 ft. from the basket, Embiid will be allowed to dominate in the post with shooters to complement him. These are too many “maybe’s” for a team expected to represent the East in the Finals. Brett Brown described it as “Obvious”, when asked about how he would set the team up in the absence of Simmons. With a first round matchup against a familiar foe in the Boston Celtics, the Embiid led Sixers certainly won’t go down without a fight.
#5 iNDIANA PACERS
Not many teams have had as good of a Bubble experience as the Indiana Pacers, and that’s mostly down to TJ Warren who has proven himself to be the bubble version of Michael Jordan. All kidding aside, as Victor Oladipo works his way back from Injury, Warren has slid in as the go-to Offensive option for the Pacers. They face a tough first round matchup against the Miami Heat, who would quiet fancy themselves against a Pacers side lacking in firepower. But an upset isn’t off the cards. If Oladipo can go back to his All-NBA level and become that talismanic scorer again, the Oldaipo-Warren duo can matchup offensively with Butler and Herro on the Heat.
After a slow start in the NBA bubble, the Celtics are now into the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, with a First Round matchup against Philly. The main positive for Brad Stevens is the return of Kemba Walker. Walker has hit 42.8 percent of his 3-point attempts on high volume. He has averaged 19.4 points and 5.3 assists per 36 minutes throughout Boston’s first six games — not far off his full-season averages. Especially when considering how many question marks surrounded Walker entering the restart, the early returns have been good. Now all he has to do is hold up physically over what he hopes will be the first lengthy playoff run of his career. A group of Jayson Tatum, a rejuvenated Gordon Hayward and Kemba Walker form the core for a probable deep playoff run for Boston.
This Heat team is built to withstand whatever is thrown at them and are the dark horses to make the Finals. The Heat have a near perfect blend of Shooting with guys like Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, a strong mentality epitomised by Jimmy Butler and most importantly Defence. In particular defence against the Bucks. Miami will be favourites against the Pacers, but the biggest threat to their Championship aspirations will arise in the form of the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. Miami have defended Giannis extremely well in 2 out of their 3 meetings(Jimmy Butler was out in the most recent one). The lion share of the credit for this goes to Bam Adebayo, who has been nearly unstoppable running the pick-n-roll, and effective defensively against bigger guys like Giannis and Embiid. The Miami Heat also have Championship Pedigree with Coach Erik Spolstra, GM Pat Riley and veteran players like Andre Iguodala, so don’t be surprised if you see them around in late September.
#2 Milwaukee Bucks
There’s something bizarre going on with the Milwaukee Bucks right now, and it was actually happening some prior to the shutdown in March. The Bucks have been one of the most historically dominant teams in NBA history, and yet a lot of the teams looking to take them down don’t seem to fear the deer at all. In fact, Miami, Toronto and Boston seem to want a piece of the Bucks. With a First Round matchup against the dismal Orlando Magic, Giannis could sit out the first round and the Bucks would still probably win in five games. But they are likely to face Miami and Toronto on their way to the Finals, both of whom certainly won’t make it easy for the Bucks.
#1 Toronto Raptors
The Raptors continue to build momentum from a narrative standpoint when it comes to the team that might represent the Eastern Conference when it comes to the NBA Finals in the bubble. The defending champions are no longer doubted. Their coach has beyond proven himself in his second season. The remaining players from the title run over a year ago are locked in and never seem to panic. They present tons of problems for Milwaukee, Miami and the lot. Coming into the Bubble they looked like the only team who hadn’t missed a beat since the season hiatus. Kawhi Leonard will certainly be missed in the playoffs but this Raptors team has time and time again proven to be more than the sum of their parts. They’ll matchup against the Brooklyn Nets in the first round and the Raptors don’t really have to worry here. As long as they stay healthy, Toronto will most likely sweep its first-round matchup.