It feels like eons ago that we watched Rudy Gobert rub his hands all over microphones after a press conference. Since then, the world has gone through an incalculable amount of change, and the sports industry, one of the tens of hundreds of thousands affected parties, saw the world's major leagues go on hiatus.
In actuality, it's only been a matter of months. And though it's felt like a lifetime, we're now hopeful and finally ready to welcome back at least a couple of our beloved sports leagues. The NBA's transition back to action was conceived of relatively early, with reports about a potential Disney return to play floated around in late April.
Those reports have turned into reality, as the NBA Board of Governors approved a 22-team restart to the season in Orlando at Disney's Wide World of Sports complexes, shortly followed by the players' approval. For a schedule of all the dates, check here.
There isn't a lot of time -- just eight games -- for a team outside of the current eight playoff seeds to make a late-season charge. But the bottom of the Western Conference adds intrigue to the beginning of the resumed season, leaving a play-in tournament as a possibility before entering a normal playoff format.
Which bubble teams have the best chance of stealing the Western Conference eighth seed away from the Grizzlies? Which teams have a chance to rise up the standings and upset a higher seed? Who benefitted from the hiatus? Who suffered the most? Which teams feature players who won't be taking part in the resumed season?
Let's look into all of these questions and rank what each team brings to the table as we inch closer to the return of the NBA.
22. Washington Wizards (24-40 | 5.5 games back)
Strengths: Bradley Beal is an absolute stud and has been the reason -- pretty much the only reason -- the Wizards have won a chunk of their games. So far, he's topped the 30 point per game mark for the first time in his career and reset his personal best for assists (6.1 per game). Joined by an intriguing duo of scoring threats -- Davis Bertans, a sharpshooter who takes more than three out of every four shots from three-point range, and Rui Hachimura, whose arsenal is much more diverse -- scoring is not necessarily the weak point of this team (sixth in the NBA).
Weaknesses: Scoring is not necessarily their opponents' weak point, either. In fact, I think I could find some success scoring against the Wizards, who allowed 119.7 points per game (second-worst in the NBA). John Wall's continued absence hurt the team a ton, and he said that he doesn't think it's safe or right to return to play right now, putting away any hope that he might make a return. This team has no business making the playoffs, and they have the lowly Eastern Conference's bottom half to thank for that. To make matters worse, Davis Bertans won't be joining the Wizards in Disney in order to preserve his value for free agency. Consider their chances for a miracle run at very, very close to 0%.
21. San Antonio Spurs (27-36 | 4.0 games back)
Strengths: Experience, experience, and experience. What they lack in show-stopping talent they make up for with veteran presences like DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay and, most importantly, Gregg Popovich. The above guys are versatile scoring threats as well.
Weaknesses: A lack of talent is a simple enough flaw of this team to point out. Young and rising stars like Dejounte Murray and Derrick White haven't done enough to really make this team a competitor and have actually disappointed in some fans' eyes (especially Murray). Their defense isn't great either -- good luck watching this team successfully slow a determined LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, or Paul George -- and they're just boring to me. UPDATE: LaMarcus Aldridge will not return after shoulder surgery.
20. Orlando Magic (30-35 | East No. 8 seed)
Strengths: The Magic has both consistent, established figures (Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier) and guys who are maddeningly inconsistent, but show flashes of potential often (Aaron Gordon, Markelle Fultz, Jonathan Isaac). They also have a home-court advantage... kind of? We're not really sure if that will play a role at all.
Weaknesses: The aforementioned inconsistency of key players that are working to establish themselves as regular cogs in the lineup. Jonathan Isaac is out, which hurts, and they have not shown many signs of success against top Eastern Conference rivals (0-3 vs. Toronto, 0-3 vs. Milwaukee, 0-2 vs. Boston, 1-3 vs. Miami, 0-2 vs. Indiana -- though they are 2-0 vs. Philadelphia). And who's their go-to star? Fournier? Meh.
19. Sacramento Kings (28-36 | 3.5 games back)
Strengths: The Kings were 7-3 after the All-Star break, and De'Aaron Fox was playing really well and proving his early-season skeptics wrong (both before and after injury). He averaged 23.4 points and 5.8 assists per game over a nine-game stretch after All-Star Weekend. There's also potential for Richaun Holmes to bounce back to his early-season form after an injury kept him out for a bulk of the season. Marvin Bagley could also return, but it may not be right away (via NBA insider Jason Jones).
Weaknesses: Then again, Holmes and Bagley may not have smooth returns, and Harry Giles and Alex Len don't inspire all too much confidence. The hiatus may also have acted to slow the Kings' momentum, and of the four teams with a real shot at the final seed in the West, they're the least dangerous.
18. Phoenix Suns (26-39 | 6 games back)
Strengths: Though they're the team that's furthest away from the playoffs in the West, and I don't expect them to make a serious run at the spot, they possess more talent than some of the teams that are in higher standing. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton form a dynamic duo that's underrated and lost in the shuffle of some of the scary tandems throughout the West. Ricky Rubio and Kelly Oubre (who could come back during the resumed season) are two more players capable of having big nights and keeping the Suns competitive in big matchups.
Weaknesses: The Suns are probably just happy to be playing a few more games and exposing their young lineup to some good competition. It's probably better for the Suns to get a better draft pick, anyway, and the team is only one splashy acquisition away from suddenly becoming a team to fear in the stacked West. UPDATE: Kelly Oubre will not be playing in the season restart.
17. Brooklyn Nets (30-34 | East No. 7 seed)
Strengths: Explosive talent is how this team can pull off a massive upset, and we've witnessed that before. Caris LeVert absolutely erupted for 51 points in a nine-point upset over the Celtics, and he has become a nightly scoring threat with 24.1 points per game (to go with 5.4 assists and 5.3 rebounds) after the All-Star break. Spencer Dinwiddie is capable of the same thing, with seven 30-point outings and an additional 31 games where he dropped between 20 and 29 points.
Weaknesses: Well, there's likely no Kyrie Irving and there's definitely no Kevin Durant. So without the core that the Nets decided to shape themselves around, they can't be expected to go too far. It just doesn't seem as though they have the talent to stack up with any of the teams seeded higher than them in the east, and they are likely looking forward to these games as an opportunity to play under new head coach Jacque Vaughn and see if he's truly the man for the job.
16. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33 | West No. 8 seed)
Strengths: This team has a fight in them. They competed when everyone else, including veteran acquisition Andre Iguodala, ruled them out. Ja Morant is as talented a young guard as we've seen in a long time. Jonas Valanciunas is quietly dominant, and put up 18.4 points and 15.0 boards per contest in March while Brandon Clarke and Jaren Jackson were inactive. Even without those two young frontcourt talents, Memphis won an impressive game over the Lakers (105-88) before the season ended prematurely. They have a comfortable lead in the West, and the return of Justise Winslow isn't all that significant, but it certainly isn't nothing.
Weaknesses: People continue to count out and doubt the Grizzlies, but this time, it's for good reason. Though I mentioned that their hold on the eighth seed was relatively comfortable -- because it is - there are a few teams that are putting a lot of pressure on them to hold on for dear life. Both Clarke and Jackson are expected to be available, but they'll have to regain speed right out of the gate and avoid a stretch of games similar to one they experienced in late February (five straight losses to the Kings, Clippers, Lakers, Rockets, and Kings). Kudos to them if they hold on to their playoff spot, but don't expect them to escape the first round.
15. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36 | 3.5 games back)
Strengths: Zion. Williamson. While we shouldn't count out the likes of Brandon Ingram (24.3 ppg) or veteran leader Jrue Holiday (19.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 6.9 apg), there's been a sneaking suspicion that the NBA's return format looks the way it does so that Zion Williamson could be included. The rookie is a money maker, for sure, but he also gives this team a legitimate chance to storm upwards in the standings and challenge the Grizzlies for the final spot. His success out of the gate is unprecedented, and it's going to be really, really hard not to award him with Rookie of the Year honors if his Pelicans do successfully dethrone Morant's Grizzlies. The Pelicans started 6-22, but are 11-9 since Williamson's debut. Among five-man lineups that have logged over 200 minutes together, no squad has a higher net rating than Lonzo Ball, Holiday, Ingram, Williamson and Derrick Favors.
Weaknesses: The Pelicans have won some big games after Zion's debut, including one against Boston and one against Miami. But they've also lost to Dallas, Oklahoma City, Milwaukee, Houston, and the Lakers (twice) in that same span. Can they truly compete with the bigwigs even if they do somehow make it into the playoffs? They need to cut down on mistakes (27th out of 30 teams in turnover percentage) and up their defense (27th out of 30 in opponent points per game).
14. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37 | 3.5 games back)
Strengths: There's reason to be optimistic that the Blazers can burst out of the gates and top the Grizzlies once the season resumes. For one, Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have formed the core of a team that has made the playoffs in six straight seasons. That's not by mistake, and they're healthy and will play at a high level. But two members of what could be Portland's starting lineup in Orlando are guys that have played a combined total of three games in the 2019-20 season. Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins could both be back to some extent, and will join Hassan Whiteside and Carmelo Anthony in a crowded frontcourt.
Weaknesses: Even when Lillard was on an insane tear, averaging 40.9 points and 9.3 assists per contest over an 11-game span, Portland was just 6-5. Everyone around Lillard -- McCollum is an exception, as he's as reliable a wingman as there is -- will need to prove more consistent and productive to assist Lillard's efforts out there. The struggle to figure out the best frontcourt lineup, while continually inching players back to full speed, could prove to be a tough coaching job. Trevor Ariza reportedly declined the opportunity to return to play for personal reasons.
13. Utah Jazz (41-23 | West No. 4 seed)
Strengths: From strictly a talent standpoint, Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert form one of the best pairings in the league, covering all the bases from inside and outside scoring to competitive perimeter and interior defense. They bring energy, they bring an urge to win, and they bring some flash and swagger to fuel momentum. Mike Conley took a while to get going this season, but he started to find his niche with the team, and you can only hope that continues when they need him most: as an experienced playoff veteran. They're also unbelievably streaky -- which is both a good and a bad thing in the playoffs -- but you can see the damage they do when they get hot. Going back to early December, their streaks have gone like this: W5, L1, W10, L1, W4, L5, W4, L4, W5, L1.
Weaknesses: The chemistry is the obvious factor to look at here. Did Mitchell and Gobert actually patch up the holes in their relationship caused by the coronavirus outbreak and Gobert's irresponsible behavior? Can they work cooperatively and productively? It seems inevitable that anything that could be viewed as a lapse in chemistry will be pounced upon by the media, the fans and the opposing team and it will be tough to escape that stigma. And this is all without mentioning the loss of Bojan Bogdanovic, Utah's leading scorer in three of their final five games, to season-ending wrist surgery.
12. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24 | West No. 5 seed)
Strengths: It's always nice to have someone like Chris Paul on your side, especially after a season in which he demonstrated that he was still capable of carrying a team to prominence despite low expectations. I get the feeling that a lack of expectations for playoff success will persist, which could benefit the extremely well-put-together team going forward. He's surrounded by a number of capable scorers, including veteran Danilo Gallinari, breakout Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the all-important sixth man Dennis Schroder, whose 22.5 points per game paced the team in March. Interior defense won't be an issue with Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel, and so long as this underdog squad continues to perform well together and look in-sync every step of the way, they can't be ruled out. The NBA's best five-man lineup, in terms of net rating with over 100 minutes played together, is Paul, Schroder, SGA, Gallinari and Adams.
Weaknesses: But while they can't be ruled out... come on. Is this really the team that's going to dethrone either of the Los Angeles teams at the top of the conference? I can see them winning a series over the Jazz, over the Rockets, maybe even over the Nuggets, to be honest with you. But Chris Paul is a descending star and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is an ascending star, and I still need that current superstar presence if I want to invest in OKC. That guy you can count on for a 30-point game on any given night in the playoffs. None of the Thunder's players really seem to hold that capability, and while balance is great, outright star power will often topple that.
11. Philadelphia 76ers (39-26 | East No. 6 seed)
Strengths: If you like to evaluate rosters on talent over everything else, then the Sixers should be a dark horse in these playoffs. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are both capable of putting a team on their backs for long stretches. Though Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson never quite found a perfect fit in Philly this year, you can't deny their talent on both ends of the floor. And say what you will about Al Horford's fit, but he's still as experienced and composed a player as you can ask for in a playoff scenario. There's depth with recent acquisitions Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III, and there's young, rising talent in Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz. The roster is talented. The roster is deep. And, most importantly, the roster could be healthy, though recent reports on Simmons may indicate otherwise. And we've seen that this roster, when healthy, can make a deep playoff run.
Weaknesses: But basketball isn't just about talent. It's about teamwork, it's about chemistry, it's about a system that works. And those factors have been elusive for the Sixers this year; the fact that their 39-26 record is disappointing to many serves as an example of what this team is capable of as opposed to what they've produced. It's almost painful to see Al Horford, who they spent big bucks on in the offseason, come off the bench and play limited minutes depending on Embiid, but that's a definite possibility, and that's just one of many question marks. There still remains the question of the long-term viability of the pairing of Simmons and Embiid, in addition to their health. There's the question of why they appear to be so flustered in clutch situations. There's the question of whether or not Brett Brown is going to be the head coach after this season. There's the question of why they were 29-2 at home and 10-24 on the road, and how that will affect them. The Sixers are about as volatile a team as you'll find in the 2020 playoff field.
10. Indiana Pacers (39-26 | East No. 5 seed)
Strengths: The Pacers are 39-26, and they achieved that record without the services of their best player for a large part of the season. And when we last left off, that player had exploded for 27 points in a playoff-type game against the Boston Celtics. That player, of course, is Victor Oladipo, who also has to play his tail off for his own personal gain, seeing as his future is in question after this season. He and Malcolm Brogdon (now healthy) form an intelligent, athletic, pesky, and collected backcourt, while Domantas Sabonis and Myles Turner form a terrific front court, often staggered so that one of them is on the floor at all times. And you can't count out TJ Warren, who turned up his performance down the stretch.
Weaknesses: We still don't know, in full, how this team will gel when all of its stars are on the court and healthy together. Brogdon, Oladipo, Warren, Turner and Sabonis have only played 85 minutes together this season, so we need more proof that they'll mesh if we want to really give them the chops that the team warrants on paper. Playoff history also hasn't been kind to the Pacers in recent years, as they've lost in the first round in each of the past four seasons.
9. Dallas Mavericks (40-27 | West No. 7 seed)
Strengths: The Mavericks should be better than the No. 7 seed, and they very well may be at the end of this eight-game regular season. They'll likely have games against a handful of teams lower in the standings than them based on the rest of their schedule, including Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, Memphis and Brooklyn. With a healthy duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, the sky's the limit for Dallas, particularly on the offensive end. Three different three-man lineups in Dallas appear on the league's top 12 in terms of offensive rating (min. 600 minutes), including that of Doncic, Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. Most, if not all, of the team's success hinges on Luka Doncic, and the reports are that Doncic should be healthy after being banged up throughout the regular season. Steph Curry's late-season bloom also helps to diversify the Mavericks offensive approach. Resiliency is another strength, as the Mavs never lost more than two consecutive games throughout the season. They were also particularly good on the road, which certainly can't hurt.
Weaknesses: Kristaps Prozingis' consistency is key, as the Mavs will need second-half Porzingis if they want to make a real deep run. Dwight Powell made the team stronger, and the Mavs are likely going to scour free agency to see if they can find a playoff presence to fulfill a big man role, and the lack of time and chemistry may come back to hurt them. The same goes for the void that may be left behind by Jalen Brunson, who might not return from injury.
8. Miami Heat (41-24 | East No. 4 seed)
Strengths: The Heat possess a scary blend of veteran leadership (Jimmy Butler, Andre Iguodala, Goran Dragic) with an even scarier core of explosive youth (Bam Adebayo, Kendrick Nunn, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson). When everything is firing on all cylinders, this team can beat anyone, and handily. They crushed a healthy Bucks team 105-89 a week before the season ended. They beat the Sixers by 31 in February. And any of the aforementioned players can be the reason that the Heat find success on any given night. The home-road splits aren't great, but the home-state advantage may or may not be a benefit to the Heat, whose Western road trips were often met with failure this year.
Weaknesses: Is Jimmy Butler truly the star that can lead this team through the playoffs and navigate past undeniably larger stars like Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James? It's the same question that many teams have to ask themselves, and while Butler seems to be the one that Erik Spoelstra trusts in to get that job done, he's come up short before in other cities. Outside of Butler, you love having someone like Iggy there for playoff experience, but you also have to wonder how the rookies will fare on the big stage.
7. Houston Rockets (40-24 | West No. 6 seed)
Strengths: Having two guys with the ability to pop off for 50 points on any given night holds an incalculable value in playoff situations. Both James Harden and Russell Westbrook averaged over 25 points per game in March, supplemented by double-digit scoring from Robert Covington, Jeff Green and Eric Gordon. The team at least has some experience and evidence that the radical small-ball method can work, including a win over the Lakers and a six-game winning streak involving victories over the Jazz, the Grizzlies and the Celtics (twice). Everyone above brings some playoff experience to the table, as well.
Weaknesses: The team also endured a four-game losing skid toward the end of the season, with some losses to pretty lowly teams. Can we expect the small-ball strategy to really come to fruition once teams figure out how to exploit the potential holes in the system in a playoff series? Will the Lakers not be able to dominate with Anthony Davis and correct their mistakes from the first go-around? That, and some shoddy defensive efforts in recent games, make for some questions.
6. Toronto Raptors (46-18 | East No. 2 seed)
Strengths: The Raptors are rightfully brimming with confidence as they enter the resumed NBA season and eventual postseason. They're fresh off a championship ring and are right back in the thick of it after the departure that was supposed to bring a downfall to the team's productivity. So much for that. While there's one major departure, there are many key returners from the title run (Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, etc.). They're all healthy, as VanVleet was able to heal himself over the hiatus. Nick Nurse is going to continue coaching at an elite level. Powell provides the team with a much-needed bench scorer that is one of the best in the playoff field. And this team didn't have the same Siakam, the same VanVleet, the same O.G. Anunoby last year as they do this year. The new-and-improved Raptors have a great chance at running through the East.
Weaknesses: Well, they did lose Kawhi Leonard. The guy that they leaned on, at times single-handedly, to carry them throughout the 2019 Playoffs. And though I mentioned how they've shrugged off that departure and continued their tremendous play, you wonder who the go-to, ice-in-his-veins guy is on Toronto right now. Do you want Siakam taking that last-second jumper? VanVleet? Lowry, who was just recently considered a frequent playoff choker? Additionally, the Raptors have a losing record against the Bucks, the Celtics and the Heat this season, and so they may have a record that's skewed slightly toward their lesser competition.
5. Boston Celtics (43-21 | East No. 3 seed)
Strengths: The Celtics have guys that I'm comfortable taking a last-second shot, which is a big reason I have them over the Raptors. In crunch time, I'd take Jayson Tatum over potentially anyone in the Eastern Conference, and Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown are all viable options. The core of Tatum and Brown is young, athletic and extremely durable, and can remain in the game for almost the entire duration. Marcus Smart is also a dogged playoff veteran and brings enviable competitiveness. He upped his game toward the end of the season when Brown missed some time, and he's never scared of a big moment. The Celtics also somehow remain underrated, as many don't realize they were a top five offensive and defensive team this season.
Weaknesses: Though Daniel Theis was fine as the center, the duo of him and Enes Kanter just doesn't worry me too much, especially in the face of teams like the 76ers (who gave them trouble this season) and the Pacers (Sabonis and Turner). Additionally, though Jaylen Brown missed four straight games before the pandemic took hold, it's Kemba Walker's health that is the larger concern. He missed time down the stretch and didn't play so well after a return, and there could be an offseason procedure in store for his knee (via Jay King).
4. Denver Nuggets (43-22 | West No. 3 seed)
Strengths: Though the starting five is the team's strong suit, there is plenty of depth in Denver. The starting lineup is deep, in that Jamal Murray, Will Barton, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic all averaged over 13 points per game in March. Jerami Grant chipped in an additional 10.8 off the bench and Monte Morris can be an explosive option. Everyone brings something different to the table, too, as Jokic is obviously one of the most versatile players the league has to offer, the rest of the lineup is capable of scoring inside and out and they have proven defensive weapons, as well, like Gary Harris on the perimeter if they need a stop. Their slow pace is also something I like to see, as it reduced turnovers and keeps the game in their control. They've shown they can beat both LA teams and shouldn't be counted out of any series.
Weaknesses: Though I like the fact that the roster is largely the same as last season, it still doesn't quite stack up to other teams in terms of pure star power. I continue to reference the go-to guy in crunch time, and though there are capable options, there isn't one guy who I really feel comfortable with in a close game. I'm also not sure they have someone who can keep a taller, longer wing in check. Harris is too small, Millsap is too slow and Jerami Grant can't do it all himself. The team is also sporadic and seems to either click well (victory over Milwaukee on the road) or collapse in sync (crushing defeat against the Clippers).
Unknown: Nikola Jokic was never one to boast about his fitness, but... if it ain't broke, don't fix it? I have no clue if this will affect how good he is and/or in what direction it will affect him, but it's obviously intriguing.
3. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20 | West No. 2 seed)
Strengths: Kawhi Leonard is the player I'd select first overall if I were drafting a team for the 2020 playoffs. He's fearless on offense, he's fearless on defense, and he's fearless in his leadership qualities. If he did it with Toronto last year, he can do it in LA this year, with Paul George's knockdown shooting a plus that Leonard didn't have in the past, and Patrick Beverley's indefatigable effort another priceless bonus. Overall, I think his supporting cast here is better than what he had in Toronto, and they're at full health for now. Doc Rivers is as battle-tested as it gets in terms of playoff coaching, and he's been particularly active throughout the hiatus in his attempts to keep his players united and ready to get back in the swing of things.
Weaknesses: The Clippers beat the Lakers twice early in the season, but it's the third matchup that scares me. Anthony Davis did what he wanted en route to a 30-point performance in a nine-point victory for the Lakers, and George, Ivica Zubac and new addition Marcus Morris were helpless in their combined efforts to slow LeBron and AD without fouling them. Additionally, though Paul George is a trusty shooter, the Clippers fall short in guys who Leonard can kick out to for a knockdown three. Lou Williams is a potential player that could sit out of the playoffs, as he agreed with Kyrie Irving's position on the NBA's return.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12 | East No. 1 seed)
Strengths: If it's not enough to have the most dominant player in the league, they also have a perennially underrated superstar as his right-hand man. Giannis Antetokounmpo can't be stopped more often than not, and he has enabled the Bucks to be so utterly dominant in certain games where he's taken out of the game early against good teams. Khris Middleton could lead a team himself, I think, and the fact that he's second-in-command is just unfair. He's a knockdown shooter and one of the best pure wing defenders in the entire NBA. But it doesn't stop there. Eric Bledsoe can step up his game in big moments, and Brook Lopez has developed into a versatile threat and improved defender. The bench is full of dangerous veterans (Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, Ersan Ilyasova) and an especially intriguing young talent (Donte DiVincenzo). This team has a serious drive to win, and the future of their star could be at stake as added motivation.
Weaknesses: I have trouble coming up with a strong weakness here, but it's worth noting that they entered the break on a three-game losing streak, and they're probably the team that least wanted to take a sudden break and slow their momentum. Philadelphia, who is likely their biggest adversary due to matchups, could also be healthy and gave them some problems in the regular season.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14 | West No. 1 seed)
Strengths: There's tons of experience and talent in this lineup. LeBron and AD is quite possibly the best superstar duo that the league has ever seen, and their versatility pretty much covers every single role on the floor that you can ask for. Add in trusty veterans like Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and potential sit-outs Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard, and you've got a team that should remain cool and composed given the bevy of playoff experience they all have. A weekend in which they won against the Bucks and the Clippers right before the hiatus was their official way to claim ownership of the "team to beat" title.
Weaknesses: There's not as much depth as you might prefer for the top dog in the race, especially if Bradley and Howard sit out in their support of Kyrie Irving's stance against the league (UPDATE: Bradley will indeed skip the restart of the season). The center position can thankfully be manned by Anthony Davis, but it's a little weak all in all. There's buzz that they could look to a DeMarcus Cousins-type fill in through free agency (via Nate Loop of Bleacher Report).