NBA Tier List: Way-too-early NBA restart impressions edition

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) and head coach Nick Nurse, pictured above. (Frank Gunn/CP)

The early returns on the NBA restart have been pretty damn good so far. Lots of competitive games around the league with surprising results all over the place.

The majority of teams have only played two games so far in the reset with some only playing one at the time of this list’s writing. This obviously isn’t a ton of evidence to work off of, but for the sake continuity with the NBA Tier List’s Monday tradition we’re pushing ahead with it anyway.

As such, here’s a way-too-early impressions edition of tier list.

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Undefeated and damn impressive looking

The Toronto Raptors have only played one game so far, but given how dominant they looked against the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday night — especially on the defensive end — it’s hard to place the defending champions anywhere other than the top of the mountain.

As for the Houston Rockets, they played their way into the top here, first by coming back seven-points down to force overtime against the Dallas Mavericks and eventually win it in a ridiculously high-scoring affair, then using clutch defence down the stretch of their Sunday contest with the Milwaukee Bucks to come back from eight points down and walk away with a big clutch win. The optics of these two victories demand the Rockets’ placement as a top-tier team.

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Flashes of strong play and some bumps along the way

It might be a little surprising to see the two Los Angeles teams and the Bucks down here in the second tier, but with each team already recording a loss in the bubble we can’t put them at the top. This is likely to course correct as more games are played, but this is how we see it for the time being.

More interesting in this grouping are the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder. They each have only played one game so far, but looked impressive doing so, picking up easy wins over two quality teams in the Denver Nuggets (Heat) and Utah Jazz (Thunder).

We should expect that both Miami and Oklahoma City grow from this. However, while that probably will be the case with the Thunder, it looks like the Heat might be in a spell of trouble with Jimmy Butler missing their last practice while not listed on the NBA’s official injury report, leading to questions about his status — especially after Heat forward Jae Crowder using the word “quarantine” in regards to him when reporters asked what was going on.

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The murky middle

This octet we have here are teams we still don’t know what to make of yet.

For example, the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs have racked up two wins already in the bubble — but even so, we aren’t yet prepared to anoint these as legitimate clubs who have arrived, despite the encouraging early returns.

The Orlando Magic are much the same as the Suns and Spurs, but with the season-ending knee injury to Jonathan Isaac — arguably Orlando’s best player — it’s really difficult to think the Magic can amount to much more now. But you never know, right?

Essentially, every team here has to show more until we can pass proper judgment on them. T.J. Warren’s 53-point explosion for the Indiana Pacers against the Philadelphia 76ers was fun stuff, but that doesn’t mean the Pacers are now going to go on a big run in the seeding games, either.

More has to be seen from each of these clubs.

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In trouble

All six of these teams are either currently in a playoff spot or, in the case of the New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings, were expected to be right in the hunt for one.

So far things have not gone according to plan for these teams trying to build momentum heading towards the post-season, each having yet to pick up a win in the seeding games — with the exception of the Brooklyn Nets, who beat the lowly Washington Wizards.

In particular, this is bad news for the Memphis Grizzlies, who are clinging to their No. 8 spot at the moment and seem to be losing grip with every game they and teams like the Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers play.

Obviously, each of these teams can turn the tide with a win at any time, but in the early goings here, things aren’t looking great for any of these clubs.

You’re really blowing it here

The Wizards — without Bradley Beal, Davis Bertans and John Wall available to them — are a flat-out bad NBA basketball team.

With that said, coming into the seeding games their goal was always to cut a 5.5-game deficit with the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference down to just four games so they can give themselves a chance at the post-season, by forcing the play-in game.

So far, however, Washington has dug itself into an even deeper hole, now sitting seven games back of No. 8 Brooklyn.

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