As we anxiously count down the days until NBA basketball officially returns, in which it seems like the days couldn't be moving slower...it's time to start getting excited folks. Even if you're like us and you're constantly convincing yourself every day that this is actually going to work, let's just move forward full steam ahead. Now there are around 24 days until meaningful professional basketball games are going to be back in our lives again. With teams set to travel to Orlando this week, it seems as if this is no longer a matter of "if" but "when." All of us will no doubt be glued to our phone to hope we don't get a terrible woj/sham bomb in the upcoming weeks, but there's some growing optimism moving forward that the NBA is going to actually do this thing.
With that being said, there's a lot to discuss regarding the teams that will be involved in the bubble. As you may know, there will be 8 "warm-up" games to decide the rest of the season and potential playoff seeding. As well as a potential play-in tournament which just seems like pure chaos waiting to happen but hey...let's get crazy. Let's take a look at each team heading to Disney World and what question must be answered moving forward.
Will the real Kemba Walker come out to play?
There's no denying that the Boston Celtics will find themselves as one of the "darkhorse" teams to come out of the Eastern Conference. While some might point to if Jayson Tatum can continue on his terror before the league was put on pause, Kemba Walker is the focus moving forward for the Celtics. Walker was dealing with a nagging knee injury that he has admitted was playing a huge impact on his gameplay. Walker has admitted that the time off was a game changer, and if he's back to full health...he could be a huge piece moving forward for the Celtics roster. Boston currently looks like a favorite to finish third in the East, and could potentially find themselves with a first-round matchup against the Indiana Pacers.
Who is taking the court for Brooklyn?
We don't mean to try to provide a comedic relief here in this article but here we are...what a terrific audience. In all seriousness, it's been a rough couple of weeks for Nets fans, who now look to have a thin roster heading to Orlando. Kyrie Irving, Deandre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, and Wilson Chandler have all been announced out for Orlando. There's potential that the Nets could slide in the standings in a hurry and it's important to remember that there are draft implications around the Nets pick if the team doesn't make the playoffs. As of now, the Nets find themselves as the 7th seed with a .5 lead over the Orlando Magic.
Can Luka and Porzingis take off?
It seemed as if down the stretch run both of the Dallas Mavericks star players were dealing with some nagging injuries. What better cure than an extended pause from NBA action. Dallas finds itself in an interesting position. Although they currently find themselves as the 7th seed and project to have a date with the Los Angeles Clippers in the first-round, there's some upset appeal when it comes to Dallas. Much will fall on the play of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. If the two stars can hit the ground running in Orlando, Dallas could become a dangerous first-round opponent.
How will the "improved" Joker look?
Let's not sugar coat this one folks. You know it and I know it. We ALL want to see what type of player "skinny" Nikola Jokic is going to be. There's a serious argument that Jokic losing weight could be a negative impact on his overall game. But the dreams of seeing a Nikola Jokic in-shape are about to come true. While most of the attention will be paid to how Jokic is as an "improved" player...the Nuggets are a team to keep an eye on moving forward. This team has all of the pieces to make some noise in the playoffs and will be a team to look out for.
Can small ball take flight in Orlando?
The small ball experience for the Houston Rockets was getting exciting right before the season was put on pause. The question on everyone's mind when it comes to the Rockets will be if they pick up right where they started...Will teams be ready for the Rockets ball more than ever? Will this new style of play be better in Orlando for some chaotic reason? There's going to be a lot of excitement as well to see the "slim" version of James Harden and I cannot convince myself that Russell Westbrook won't be the most in-shape player in Orlando for some reason.
How do the Pacers replace Oladipo?
It was a bit of a buzzkill for Pacers fans this week when the reported news came out that star player Victor Oladipo would opt out of Orlando in order to continue his rehabilitation. It makes all of the sense in the world and as a basketball fan...you simply cannot argue with Oladipo's decision. Sorry Pacers fans, but it was the right move for Victor. That piece makes Indiana a whole different team now. The Pacers still will be a tough out against any opponent but the idea of adding Oladipo to the puzzle for an Orlando push impacts their deep playoff run hope. Indiana currently sits as the 5th seed in the East with the Philadelphia 76ers breathing right down their necks.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
Are the Clippers healthy and ready to roll?
This will be one of the more intriguing storylines to monitor, especially out of the Western Conference. It's been no secret that the Clippers have had minimal time this year with a fully "healthy" roster. Kawhi Leonard has been on load management, Paul George has been dealing with the injury bug, and a number of Clippers have been in and out of the line-up. The Clippers could have the most to gain from the downtime, and if this team is ready to run on all cylinders, they could be a scary unit moving forward.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Do the Lakers have enough depth to blossom?
While the Los Angeles Lakers look to be the favorite to come out of the West with Lebron James and Anthony Davis ready to go at full force...there's still a number of questions that have come to fruition. The loss of Avery Bradley, who has opted out of attending the Orlando bubble, cannot be overstated. Bradley was a key component to this team's success and would have been an x-factor in the playoffs. The Lakers do have some intriguing bench pieces in Dion Waiters and JR Smith. Both players have the ability to impact a game with their microwave ability and they should come in line quickly with a legit chance at a title run. It will be interesting to see if Dwight Howard decides to make the trip to Orlando as well, as he's reportedly on the fence about his decision and would be another major loss for the Lakers rotation.
Can the young Grizzlies shake up the west?
While some might have their attention to the New Orleans Pelicans playoff chase for the 8th seed in the Western Conference, the Memphis Grizzlies have other plans at mind. Make no mistake, the Grizzlies will know that teams will be breathing down their necks throughout the Orlando experience, and it will be crucial that Memphis hits the ground running. The Grizzlies are more than fortunate to have the "break" in NBA action, as the injuries were starting to pile up. With a healthy roster moving forward, Memphis should be more than motivated to make their push towards a playoff berth.
Are the Miami Heat contenders?
After catching the "surprise" of the NBA landscape this year, it will be interesting to see if the Miami Heat can continue their momentum and attempt to make some noise in the playoffs this year. The bench and overall rotation for the Heat this year were fantastic. Now the question will be if those key rotational players can keep the momentum up once things get started again. The Heat find themselves positioned in the 4th seed currently and it looks like they could be in line for a first-round match-up against the Philadelphia 76ers if Indiana falls in the standings.
Can the Bucks keep up the momentum they had?
The most intriguing storyline out of the Eastern Conference will be if the Milwaukee Bucks can continue their impressive play from earlier this year. If you hadn't been watching the Bucks closely, you've missed what a well-oiled machine looks like operating at full force. The Bucks were firing on all cylinders and Giannis Antetokounmpo is considered the favorite in most circles as this year's MVP candidate. While the Bucks roster is filled with a number of players who have been together for an extended time, it's still difficult to pick up where you left off...especially under these circumstances. Although the Bucks find themselves as a lock for the 1st seed in the East, don't be surprised if they use the "warm-up" games to try and get back that chemistry.
NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Is their a minutes restriction off for Zion?
Yes, this is an important question to consider. Zion was getting his fair share of the "careful" card played by the New Orleans Pelicans coaching staff prior to the shutdown. Can we please unleash the beast without any restrictions. All eyes will be on Zion and the Pelicans to see if they can give the Memphis Grizzlies a run for the 8th seed. As it stands right now, both the Pelicans and the Portland Trail Blazers find themselves 3.5 GB of the Grizzlies. Yes, there's the play-in tournament that still will most likely decide some of this potential chaos.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Can the Thunder re-create the previous chemistry?
Before the NBA season came to a halt, it looked as if there was something special brewing in Oklahoma City. This Thunder team has been one of the more pleasant surprises of the NBA season this year. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul have been spectacular for the Thunder and should have the full attention of basketball fans moving forward. The pieces were all fitting perfectly for the Thunder and with the stop in momentum, it will be interesting to see what OKC team shows up in Orlando. The Thunder need to hit the ground running and if they can, they look like a team that can ruffle some feathers in the playoffs.
Can the Magic shock the East?
This young Orlando Magic squad will most likely get overlooked when it comes to serious playoff contenders, but the Magic will have the closest possible thing to "home court advantage" than any other team here. You can argue the Heat too but let's pump the breaks for a second. Orlando can benefit from some additional playoff experience and yes, we will still have our attention paid to the play of Markelle Fultz. As of now, the Magic find themselves as the 8th seed with a 5.5 game lead on the Washington Wizards.
What version of the 76ers are we going to get?
Ah yes, the team in the Eastern Conference that defined the word "anarchy" this year. In all seriousness, it will be fascinating to see if the time off was just what the doctor ordered when it comes to the Philadelphia 76ers. A preseason "darkhorse" to come out of the Eastern Conference, things just haven't worked out for the 76ers so far this year. But, there's no denying the overall ability that this team has if things can start to click. Philadelphia currently finds itself as the 6th seed but finds itself in a perfect position to potentially overtake Indiana for the 5th seed. That would mean a first-round match-up against the Miami Heat.
Can the Suns make a run at this?
It was an incredibly huge buzzkill to hear the news that energetic wing Kelly Oubre Jr wouldn't be making the trip to Orlando because of a previous injury. Still, it will be fascinating to see what the Suns can do with all odds stacked up against them. DeAndre Ayton will be one to keep an eye on in Orlando as he's taken a big leap in his development during his sophomore year. Make no mistake, the Suns have their work cut out for them but they can make a run at this. They will need to hit the ground SPRINTING and stay hot...but in the words of Lloyd Christmas "So you're telling me there's a chance..." Phoenix currently finds itself 6 games back in the Western Conference and needs some luck to get in for the play-in tournament.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Are the Trail Blazers the sleeper of the West?
Consider the Trail Blazers the absolute wildcard of this entire Orlando experience that is about to take place. The reason why? Health. Finally, the Blazers are getting some major pieces back to the puzzle. As Damian Lillard announced previously, it is expected that both Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins will be ready to roll once play resumes at Disney World. Nurkic will be a bit of a wildcard because he hasn't played in so long, but it's still an exciting development. As things stand currently, the Blazers have some ground to cover but they can make it happen. Portland currently sits 9th in the Western Conference standings and is 3.5 games back of Memphis.
Can the Kings rise to the occasion?
Sacramento is a team that people just continue to overlook throughout these discussions. Remember, this Kings team was starting to come together in the second half of the season and was making a serious run at a playoff berth. It will be interesting to see if the Kings continue to roll with Buddy Hield off of the bench, which was a move they made before their second-half surge. The Kings currently find themselves as the 11th seed but are in a three-way "tie" for 9th with the Blazers.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
How will the Spurs replace LaMarcus Aldridge?
The uphill battle that the Spurs were going up against just seemed to get a bit tougher. It's been reported that LaMarcus Aldridge will miss the Orlando experience after recovering from a previous surgery. Alridge was a major piece to this Spurs team and it will be interesting to see how they "try" to replace his production moving forward. It doesn't look great for the Spurs, but I have personally made an oath to never overlook Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me if Luka Samanic suddenly starts averaging 15 a game.
Are the defending champs ready to roll?
Can the defending Champs finally get some RESPECT?! Seriously though, the Raptors have been absolutely outstanding this year and will be one of the toughest teams to deal with in the Eastern Conference. Pascal Siakam has continued to blossom this year and this Raptors team is playing like they are out to prove something. One of the "advantages" that the Raptors have is they are already in Orlando. As of now, the Raptors are in position for a first-round match-up against the Brooklyn Nets...although things could change.
What version of the Jazz are we going to see?
One of my personal preseason favorites to make some serious noise in the Western Conference, it's been about the exact opposite of that for the Jazz faithful. I'm still trying to convince myself that this Jazz team can figure it out. Obviously, the Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell relationship has been an awkward storyline throughout the pandemic, and it will be interesting to see if the Jazz can regroup on the fly and focus on the court. The loss of Bojan Bogdanovic is MASSIVE. Bojan was fantastic for Utah this year and will be a massive hole to fill. As of now, the Jazz find themselves as the 4th seed with a 1 game lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets.
What can Washington gain from Orlando?
While we like to try to install some hope for each team on this list, the Washington Wizards have a Mount Everest type of climb to get into playoff consideration. Washington finds themselves 5.5 games back with 8 to play, meaning they need to get hot and get some luck their way as well. Regardless of the playoff implications, there's some intrigue to the Wizards. Bradley Beal has been one of the most impressive players with his level of play this year, but recently announced he won't be attending Orlando due to a previous injury. Eyes will be on some of the young pieces for the Wizards including last year's lottery selection Rui Hachimura, as well as players like Thomas Bryant and second-round selection Admiral Schofield.