NBA Playoff Power Rankings 5-9

By: Darryl Rice, Kevin Reyes, Rex Eastwood, Jordan Whitney and Jake Becker

theBRKDWN NBA Power Rankings

What’s happening y’all? Darryl, Kevin and Rex have emerged from the debate room ranking each squad’s ability to win the championship. We’ve tapped in passionate fans in Jordan and Jake to talk about their squads in the edition. We are diving into our final and top tier teams. These are the cream of the crop! Any of these teams can possibly take the chip home. Let’s take a dive into these final teams to determine who wins The 2019-2020 NBA Championship.

9. Denver Nuggets – Jake

The Nuggets were 3rd in the West before the season halted, posting a 43-22 record. Denver is arguably one of the best teams at home, going 25-8 this year. Luckily for Denver, their whole roster has now arrived in Orlando, after Gary Harris and Torrey Craig were the final missing pieces. The Nuggets boast one of the deepest lineups in the NBA, which could be a key factor after the four month long hiatus. Nikola Jokic, one of the best centers in the NBA, will be asked to carry the load for Denver once again in the playoffs. Last year, Denver lost in game 7 to Portland in the Western Conference semifinals. After surprising the league and locking in the #2 seed in the West, their season came to somewhat of a disappointing end. A lot of people pointed to playoff experience, as the only player on the roster with significant postseason playing time was Paul Millsap. Denver didn’t add any veterans, but they now travel to Orlando with new components such as Jerami Grant and Michael Porter Jr. These are the players that will need to step up to take the load off of Jokic’s shoulders. Jamaal Murray has shown flashes of excellence, but has had somewhat of an inconsistent start to his career. In my opinion, Murray will be the X factor for Denver in Orlando. When the offense runs through Murray and he’s able to consistently be a threat with the ball in his hands, Denver becomes very dangerous. Let’s also not forget Will Barton, who is a very underrated scorer.

Expected starting lineup:

Murray-Harris-Barton-Millsap-Jokic

Key bench players:

Plumlee-Grant-MPJ-Morris-Craig-Vonleh-Mcrae

The Nuggets will need to take advantage of their early seeding schedule, as it only gets more difficult throughout the eight. Ending their regular season with both LA teams and Toronto is a tough task, and they don’t want to fall down in the standings due to the West being so tight. Only 2.5 games separates Denver and Houston (#6 seed). Although home court advantage isn’t going to be that crucial, the Nuggets will need to accumulate momentum entering the first round.

Denver shoots 47.1% from the field, which is the league’s sixth best. They are also the second best offensive rebounding team in the West. There’s no secret that besides Jokic, Denver has a lot of pieces that can also put up 20 a night. They average the 4th most assists per game in the league, and are one of the best ball moving teams across the NBA.

8. Miami Heat – Kevin

When talking about the surprise teams of this season, many people point to the Miami Heat and say: “That’s one of them”. But those people completely miss the point. The Heat aren’t a “surprise team”: they’re a team that has fulfilled their potential for this season, and no one was paying attention. Why is that? Well it’s pretty easy quite frankly: They entered the season as a young team that had not proven anything. They missed the playoffs last season and would have to move on without Dwyane Wade (this time for good), with Jimmy Butler taking over as the new star. While Butler’s status as a two-way star is solidified, he has many detractors, especially since his departure from Philly. And while many pointed to his previous stints with teams that had locker room problems (Chicago and Minnesota), all ignored the sole reason Jimmy came to Miami in the first place: Heat Culture.

It’s been that Heat Culture that’s gotten them to this point. It’s what’s given this Miami Heat team that edge that no other team in the league has.

The Heat Culture has made Jimmy Butler’s impact on the team great. Because if his offense isn’t clicking (which it hasn’t been for most of the season), his defensive impact is still a major difference.

The Heat Culture has also led to Bam Adebayo having a top 5 season for a big-man this season, becoming one of the best passing bigs and unlocking only the beginning of his potential

Goran Dragic sacrificed his starting role and has emerged as one of the best 6th men this season. The other players of their young core stepping up has also helped: Tyler Herro has been one of the best shooters in this class, Kendrick Nunn has been one of the sensations this year in his rookie season, Duncan Robinson has been the best shooter of this season, and Derrick Jones Jr. has had the best season of his career. Personally, I find that Jones Jr’s is the most impactful on the team besides Butler, Adebayo and Dragic. Not only has he improved his offense, but he provides strong defensive play that no one else on the team can provide. He is 6’6”, has long arms, and can legitimately guard all five positions. This season alone, he’s matched up defensively against Giannis Antetokounmpo, Damian Lillard, Trae Young, Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Anthony Davis and Bradley Beal, and has done a great job against them.

All of this, with the contributions of the rest of the supporting cast that includes the mid-season additions of Andre Iguodala, Jae Crowder and Solomon Hill, makes the Heat one of the toughest teams to beat in a 7 game series. Their versatility on both ends of the floor makes them tough to beat, and they’ve proven they can beat some of the league’s best teams this season (beat Milwaukee twice, Toronto twice, Houston, Oklahoma City, Dallas twice, Indiana twice and Utah). They showcased this perfectly in a win they had before the season ended against the Bucks in South Beach, a game in which they shut down the Bucks and the current MVP.

They enter the bubble as the fourth seed, 6.5 games behind the Raptors at second, 3.5 from Boston in third, and two ahead of Indiana and Philadelphia at fifth. If they get to the playoffs with a top five seed, I have no doubts that they will get past the first round. And I’ll go out on a limb and say they just might be in the Eastern Conference Finals, and everyone will act surprised because they weren’t paying attention.

7. Houston Rockets – Kevin

It may seem like an eternity at this point, but two years ago, the Rockets were serious title contenders. Still, many like to believe that if Chris Paul didn’t get hurt they would’ve won the championship. Losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute really hurt them on the defensive end, and even with CP3 healthy they still couldn’t beat the Warriors in the Conference Semifinals last year. After that, they traded away Paul with their entire bag of first round draft picks to get Russell Westbrook and team him with a perennial MVP candidate in James Harden. Many questioned the pairing due to their fit alongside each other. After a slow start for the team, the Rockets started clicking and found themselves in the heart of the Western Conference playoffs. But what differentiates them from the rest isn’t the fact that they have two of the three last MVP winners, but rather that they have no centers in their rotation.

The Rockets have fully embraced Moreyball, implementing a full-on 5-out offense that features a 6’7” Robert Covington as the tallest starter on their team, followed by P.J. Tucker at 6’5”, and their tallest rotation player being Jeff Green at 6’8”. They went 11-6 after permanently going with a small starting lineup, including wins against the Lakers and Jazz who have star bigs. However, I don’t like their chances in the playoffs.

They enter the bubble as a team that could finish as high as second or third, but as low as missing the playoffs. So right off the bat they have a tough road ahead to even make the playoffs, and then face a team with a significant size advantage. On top of that, their style of play isn’t conducive to winning in the playoffs.

That’s ultimately what holds them back. Sure, it gets them a lot of regular season wins, but for the playoffs, with the game naturally slowing down, it doesn’t work. In the playoffs, it’s been proven that teams NEED a player that can consistently make a mid-range shot (guys like LeBron, KD, Kawhi, Steph). Harden can be that guy, but the Rockets system doesn’t allow him, and their constant dependence on the three point shot down the stretch of games hurts them more than it helps (see Game 7 against the Warriors in 2018). Funny enough, that same year they had their best shot to win a championship, due to their defense and that they had that mid-range shot maker in Chris Paul.

No matter how well they play in the regular season, this style of play will always be their Achilles’ heel. This unwillingness to adjust in the playoffs is what’s going to cost them a championship every year. And it’s going to be what will limit them to being a second round out this season (if they even get there).

6. Philadelphia 76ers – Rex

If playing on the road is your biggest concern with this squad, then throw that out the window for Orlando. With the full team in the Bubble, there is nothing holding them back from winning the title. What might bring them there is an adjustment to the starting lineup. With Simmons moving to the power forward, Al Horford to the bench and Shake Milton to start at point, the offense can play in a different rhythm than before. The addition of Milton into the lineup allows the Sixers to space the floor and have a reliable option to shoot from deep at point. He averaged over 16 points in the last ten before the season ended. That could drop slightly but his 45.5 percent from deep on the season will not. With Shake at 6’5”, Philly will not lose any height and length by moving Horford to the bench.

Ben Simmons playing a true point forward should max out his abilities. With two creative ball handlers on the court, teams won’t be able to focus as heavily on him. Add in the shooting around him, his passing will be on the next level. Philly drafted a player to play this position, but he never panned out and was sent to hang out with Mickey Mouse. Yes, his shoot looks smooth from all the videos coming out from the bubble, but until Ben proves he will consistently shoot from mid-range or deep, I’m not buying it. Don’t sleep on his defense either as he is in contention for defensive player of the year. He leads the league in steals and has been successful guarding the number one scoring option on the opposing team.

Fully healthy, in-shape and rested, Joel Embiid will dominate in Orlando. Most of his best minutes come when Al Horford is not on the court. Brett Brown has stated, he and Big Al have not practiced in the same unit together yet in Orlando. The switch in the starting five that allows for better spacing will benefit him significantly. He will have more room in the post and will continue to own other big men on both sides of the court.

The areas that can hold the team back is the depth and coaching. However, it seems they have found a solid eight-man playoff rotation. With Horford coming in for Embiid, they have the best center options in the Bubble. Matisse Thybulle can be the lock down defender and energy guy off the bench. Then the question mark comes in with three options for the last spot: Alec Burks, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III. With no player solidifying this spot throughout the regular season, it could change game to game depending on the matchups. I think Burks brings the most potential of the three. Now it’s all up for Brett Brown to prove his coaching. He’s been given (and justifiably) slack for his rotations and coaching. A run to the Eastern conference finals would begin to quiet those loud voices in Philly.

5. Boston Celtics – Jordan

I am buying all the Celtics stock in the NBA Restart. A disciplined team filled with dads, gamers, Enes Kanter and Tacko Fall and one of the easiest eight game schedules bodes well for Boston. While other players or teams complain about food, or living conditions or boredom – Celtics are playing golf, beach volleyball and building on what some call, the best chemistry in the bubble.

Brad Stevens, a noted tactician amongst the NBA coaching hierarchy, has been in the lab preparing his squad for this eight game stretch, with many pieces to work with on a sneaky deep team. The Celtics have had no players opt-out of the restart and return with everyone healthy. A team boasting Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward AND Jaylen Brown is nothing to scoff at. Currently, the Celtics are the third seed, sitting three games behind Toronto and 2.5 ahead of Miami.

While the offense is undoubtedly led by perennial all-star Kemba Walker, almost all of the guards on the team have the ability to create their own shot. Their athleticism and youth will shine through in their eight games leading up to the playoffs and will certainly be a difference maker in the playoffs. The Celtics come in as one of the most efficient offenses in the league, feature two high volume three point shooters and clean the glass as well as any team – despite the narrative of them being a small team.

While Boston runs an efficient offense, and has one of the better scoring margins in the league – they are not going to run teams off the floor. The Celtics, led by the human-bulldog Marcus Smart boast one of the stingiest team defenses in today’s league. Through lockdown perimeter defense and the ability to rotate inside the paint, this team is amongst the league’s elite defenses and capitalizes frequently on turnovers and rebounds to always put pressure on their opponents.

The Celtics weaknesses lie in their front court. While having Tacko Fall on the squad is cool, and Enes Kanter is funny on social media – if we play a juggernaut front court, the team will struggle. The 4 and 5 spot also have the tendency to get into foul trouble, which can leave the team vulnerable to mismatches.

The floor for this team is a first-round playoff exit. While I highly doubt this would occur – it is plausible. The ceiling? An NBA Championship appearance. That’s right, I am calling on my hometown Boston Celtics to make it to the NBA Finals, shocker – huh?

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