NBA Tier List: Raptors reigning supreme in Orlando bubble

Jonas Valanciunas, right, of the Memphis Grizzlies defends Marc Gasol, left, of the Toronto Raptors during the first half of an NBA basketball game. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

The first full week of seeding games are in the books and with only one more to go before the playoffs begin, there’s not much time left for teams to either find their footing and build momentum for the post-season journey ahead or to even make it into the dance to begin with.

In this week’s edition of the NBA Tier List, we’re grouping teams based off of how prepared they appear to be for the upcoming gauntlet and how they’ve looked in the bubble thus far.

Ready to repeat

A homer pick for sure, and their demolishment by the Boston Celtics on Friday probably makes this looks worse, but quite frankly the Toronto Raptors have not only been among the most impressive teams in the bubble so far with a 4-1 record, but of the presumptive contenders, they’ve also appeared to be the surest.

As mentioned before, the Celtics loss looked bad, but they were completely cold that game and, as such, there wasn’t a ton to read into. Other than that blip, the Raptors have consistently looked either very good to downright dominant, and even better yet, on Sunday leading scorer Pascal Siakam appeared to get uncorked after a slow start in Disney World.

With the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference officially locked up, the Raptors can coast through the rest of the seeding games and experiment with rotations to get more of their guys going in time for next Monday.

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Elite, but not looking like it

This trio of teams, along with the Raptors, make up the favourites to win it all this year, but unlike Toronto, the Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks have looked anything but their usual elite selves. The Lakers sport a 2-4 record, the Clippers are at just 3-3 and Milwaukee only 2-3 in the bubble.

In the case of the Clippers and Lakers, they’ve been playing a little short-handed so their relative struggles are a little more understandable. The Bucks, on the other hand, are a mystery as they’re fully loaded, yet sport a loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the restart.

Given their track record for the better part of the season, we still have this trio ranked pretty high, but their bubble play probably isn’t inspiring much confidence in their respective fan bases at the moment.

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Great eight

All of these teams have proven themselves to look outstanding in the bubble, with only a few hiccups on the way, the exception being the Phoenix Suns.

The surprising Suns are the only undefeated team in the bubble and, as a club that was sitting four games back of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference when the restart first kicked off, Phoenix has done everything it could to cut that lead down to 2.5 games and potentially position itself to get into the play-in game.

Additionally, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out the best player in the bubble, T.J. Warren, who’s averaging 24.8 points per game on outrageous 60.5 per cent shooting from the floor and a 55.6 per cent mark from three-point range as his Indiana Pacers have gone 4-1 even without all-star Domantas Sabonis.

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Good and bad news

For the Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs some congratulations are in order for a job well done so far. The Nets secured a post-season berth for the second straight season and the Blazers and Spurs have done an excellent job of making things interesting in this last week in that battle for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

On the other hand, the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz look to be in trouble. The Sixers have lost star point forward Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid is dealing with an ankle injury – although it’s not supposed to be that serious. Meanwhile, the Jazz haven’t looked very good in the bubble, sporting just a 2-4 record, including a double-overtime loss to Denver Nuggets, their likely first-round opponent and a matchup that’s proven to be a nightmare for Utah. Nikola Jokic has feasted versus Rudy Gobert and the Jazz, averaging nearly 30 points and just one assist per game shy of a triple-double against them.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Just hanging in there

The Memphis Grizzlies are 1-5 in the bubble and thanks to a combination of a loss of rising star Jaren Jackson Jr., and just being outplayed by their competition, it feels like they’ll lose that No. 8 spot in the West by the time this week’s up. It would be neat to see them hold on tight, but even if they can’t, this has been a fantastic season for Memphis and its future looks very bright with presumptive rookie of the year Ja Morant appearing to be destined for superstardom.

And in regards to the Orlando Magic, they clinched another post-season berth, but their reward is the Bucks in the first round, so it looks like they’re just going to have to once again wait until next season to see if they can make any real progress with the core they’ve assembled.

Enjoy your off-season

All three of these teams have been eliminated from playoff contention, which means about the only reason for them to still be in the bubble (other than to maybe play spoiler) is to take endless rides on Space Mountain.

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