Mavs Donuts: Ranking The Top 12 NBA Contenders In The Bubble

Mike Fisher

DALLAS - The NBA is inviting 22 teams into the Orlando Bubble for a shot at the 2019-20 NBA title. At the risk of being dismissive of the 10 teams, I believe lack "it'' (Suns, Spurs, Wizards, Magic, Kings) and teams that almost do but don't (Grizzlies, Pelicans, Blazers, Thunder) ... here's my ranking of the top 12 contenders ... in Donuts ...

DONUT 12: Indiana Pacers (39-26) East No. 5 seed Another injury-problem team. The Pacers have survived without a fully-healthy Victor Oladipo, but now he can team with Malcolm Brogdon, along with Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis, and TJ Warren to give Indy a quality group ... though due to injuries it might be a group with very little on-court chemistry.

DONUT 11: Utah Jazz (41-23) - West No. 4 seed We all wonder about the issue of cohesion here between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert; they may have very little interest in sitting within six feet of one another even if COVID-10 goes away. But with Mike Conley? That's a Big 3, talent-wise.

DONUT 10: Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) East No. 6 seed The concern here is health. Joel Embiid is fine. Is Ben Simmons? The depth in talent with Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Alec Burks is notable, too ... though maybe a lessen factor in a shorten-the-rotation playoff environment. Oh, and they were 10-24 on the road before the hiatus ... and after the hiatus, all of the Sixers games will be on the road.

DONUT 9: Toronto Raptors (46-18) East No. 2 seed I remain surprised that the Raps' bubble hasn't burst. They were a surprise winner of last year's title. lost their singular star in Kawhi Leonard ... and they're back again sitting in second in the East?

Credit to coach Nick Nurse for taking Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, and Fred Van Vleet to these heights. But the bubble's gotta burst. Doesn't it?

DONUT 8: Dallas Mavericks (40-27) West No. 7 seed The Mavericks are the No. 7 seed in the West, so how can they be the No. 8 team in the rankings? I think the eight regular-season games to close gives them a primo chance to move up from 7, first off.

Brooklyn, Memphis, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento ... there are ways on this schedule to jump up 1.5 games or so. Dallas is a very good road team (welcome to the road in Orlando!) and boasts the thrilling unknown of what a dynamic duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis might do together with rest, minutes and high stakes.

DONUT 7: Miami Heat (41-24) East No. 4 seed They have a star who wants the ball in his hands in Jimmy Butler. They have a vet who knows how to get it there in Goran Dragic. They have kids like Bam Adebayo.

And the Heat might have something else: Could it be helpful that coach Erik Spoelstra's club is staying in-state for this thing? A comfort level? A feeling of "home''? Miami may feel the weirdness of all of this less than any contending team.

DONUT 6: Boston Celtics (43-21) East No. 3 seed Kemba Walker is a star (I don't have to remind Dallas fans of that) and Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart are all "stars'' at what they do.

Boston is a top-ranked offensive team ... and a top-ranked defensive team. That's rare enough ... and important.

DONUT 5: Denver Nuggets (43-22) West No. 3 seed The Mavs, of course, took them down on March 11 at the AAC, in the final game before the hiatus ... and I'm still not sure how they did it.

Boban outplaying Nikola Jokic, I guess?

Word is Jokic has upgraded his frame and fitness over the hiatus, in theory making him even a more dangerous all-around big man threat. Additionally, Denver has a collection of five or six guys who on a given night can emerge.

But ... just as in Dallas we talk of the Mavs as needing a "third star,'' the Nuggets, good as this roster is, might actually need a "second star.''

DONUT 4: Houston Rockets (40-24) West No. 6 seed If a team with James Harden teamed with a similarly-skilled mate (this year's edition of the Rockets boasts Russell Westbrook) never really gets it done, maybe Harden deserves to be remembered unflatteringly. But in the regular season, they whipped through high-powered foes with frequency, and it often looked to me that during stretches when they failed to do so, Harden and company were going through the motions.

Maybe that's the indictment here, the thought that they can "flip a switch.'' And I must note that The 75-Member Staff thinks I'm nuts to give the Rockets this much respect. We're about to find out who is right.

DONUT 3: Los Angeles Clippers (44-20) West No. 2 seed This is Mavs Kryptonite right here, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George each offering challenges on the wing - big, strong, athletic, great - that Dallas cannot match. Of course, the Mavs are not alone here; chances are good that few teams will be able to handle the clutch of Kawhi and company.

DONUT 2: Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) East No. 1 seed Is it Giannis Antetokounmpo's turn? He's got a shot at back-to-back MVPs after the Bucks did a good job keeping the band together. Khris Middleton is a star and old pal Wesley Matthews and other vets seem to almost be able to taste a title. I think the Bucks stand alone as the class of the East.

DONUT 1: Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) West No. 1 seed Hunger. Talent. Experience. LeBron James teaming with Anthony Davis is barely even fair. Danny Green and others have accepted their lesser roles, an easy thing to do when it's LeBron asking it of you.

This might be LeBron's last, best chance at another title ... in this players' league, one of the reasons I believe the NBA is going to resume play to begin with.