The first half of the 2020-21 NBA season is in the books. 37 games in, less for some teams who have had to postpone games due to Covid-19. There have been 70+ cases of Covid among NBA players and staff since just before the season began. We haven’t even mentioned the large spate of injuries that have effected teams across the league. Despite all of it, the NBA has made it to the middle point of its first season during the pandemic not played in a bubble.

Here are the power rankings for the first half of the 2020-21 season.

1. ) Utah Jazz

Record: 27 – 9 1st Western conference

The Jazz are a good example of the power of chemistry and depth. They have plenty of talent but, Utah also happens to have players that compliment each other near flawlessly and fit like a well crafted puzzle.

Mike Conley didn’t seem to fit when he was traded to Utah in 2019. But, he has found his place with the Jazz, and continuity from last season has paid off. It also helps, that they have been able to stay healthy admidst a season overshadowed by Covid and injuries elsewhere around the league.

The Jazz had back to back 11 and 9 game winning streaks. They have been dominant on both ends of the floor. They lead the league in point differential (8.8). A lot of the credit needs to go to coach Quinn Snyder who will win coach of the year should Utah keep up their strong effort into the second half and stay atop the west.

 

2.) PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Record: 24-12 1st Eastern Conference

Daryl Morey and Doc Rivers have helped elevate the 76ers from a team that should have been a contender in the east the past few seasons to one that is. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are having their best seasons as 76ers. Embiid may very well win MVP.

Moving Josh Richardson and Al Horford this offseason to bring in Seth Curry and Danny Green has paid off, opening up the 76er offense. Tobias Harris, despite his inflated contract is having a strong year too.

3.) Phoenix Suns
Record: 24-11 2nd Western Conference

Coach Monty Williams is bringing the best out of his young team. It helps to have an all star duo of Devin Booker and Chris Paul. The Suns had a sizzling start last season to but fizzled out quickly and never regained composure till late in the season season when they made a run for the playoffs on an 8 game winning streak, including winning all 7 of their games in the bubble. They fell short of the play-in though and missed the playoffs.

After another hot start this season many wondered if it was yet again a fluke, but the Suns have only gotten better ending the first half of the season on a 4 game winning streak. They have won 16 of their last 19 games. They have the #3 defense in the league.

4.) Brooklyn Nets
Record: 24-13 2nd Eastern conference

The Nets have undergone a series of changes to the roster and have suffered from injury. They moved Caris Lavert, Jarret Allen, Taurean Prince, and Rodions Kurucs to bring in James Harden to ally him with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. The Nets big three haven’t played much together though because of injury and safety protocols. In fact they have only played 7 games together. They will play a lot more together the end half of the season and they get to add Blake Griffin into the mix. Whether he helps or hurts them is yet to be seen. The once all star level big man has been severely limited by injuries. He isn’t the player he used to be. Will Brooklyn revitalize him? We’ll see.

5.) Los Angeles Lakers
Record: 24-13 3rd western conference

After an 11-3 start to the season, and a 7 game winning streak in February, the defending Champs have fallen back to Earth. That has a lot to do with Anthony Davis’ sore Achilles. Davis has been out since Febuary 16th. In the 9 games he has been absent the Lakers have gone 3-6, including a 2 game losing streak to end the first half of the season.

Davis will likely return within a few weeks and the Lakers will take up where they left off, but how far will they continue to slide in the meantime? The offseason trade for Dennis Schroeder proved beneficial on both ends of the floor for LA. Montrez Harrell is still trying to adapt to playing for the other LA team. If they can get healthy, the Lakers are the favorites to win it all again.

6.) Los Angeles Clippers
Record: 24-14 4th Western Conference

Losing Montrez Harrell in the offseason was a surprise, but the Clippers brought in Serge Ibaka and Nicolas Batum. They also replaced head coach Doc Rivers with Tyronn Lue after the Clippers failed to make the WCF once again.

The interruption in continuity and injury have effected the Clippers. Both star players Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have missed games due to injuries. Ibaka hasn’t exactly been the force the Clippers hoped they would be getting from the 3x all defensive big man.

Still, the Clippers should easily stay in the top 4 of the west as the season continues. They did start the season 21-8, but they also went on a 3-5 slide to enter the all star break.

7.) Milwaukee Bucks
Record: 22-14 3rd eastern conference

The Bucks are a very different look this season and it’s taken time for chemistry to set. Giannis Antetokounmpo was used to playing with Eric Bledsoe and George Hill, but had to get comfortable next to Jrue Holiday and DJ Augustin, not to mention new comers Bobby Portis and Bryan Forbes.  Younger players on the roster are taking bigger roles. They will continue to get better and more cohesive as the season continues. Don’t be surprised if they move back up to win the east.

8.) Portland Trail Blazers
Record: 21-14 5th Western Conference

The Blazers have been victim to the injury bug and were at one point without 4 of 5 starters. They will be out Zach Collins for the remainder of the season. They have been without both CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic since January when they went down with a fractured foot and hand respectively. They will both be back shortly after the break.

The Blazers have endured though thanks to Damian Lillard and a deep bench. Lillard is having a terrific year, averaging 29.8 points, 8 assists, and 4.3 rebounds per game. He has had helped Portland win so many close games in the clutch this season, it’s not even funny. He can shoot from anywhere (including halfcourt which he showcased at the All Star game) and come alive at any moment.

McCollum was having g his best season so far before he fractured his foot. With players coming back and the bench all the better for the adversity, the Blazers have put themselves in good position to finish in the top 5 and possibly with home court advantage for the playoffs. Portland has their best record after 35 games since Aldridge left.

 

9.) Denver Nuggets
Record: 21-15 6th Western Conference

The Nuggets have struggled this season after losing Jerami Grant, Mason Plumlee, and Terry Craig in free agency. Their strength was in continuity.

Jamal Murray was hurt early in the season and the Nuggets haven’t been able to find consistency. They dropped low in the standings early on but dug out of their hole, helped by impressive numbers from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, both of whom have set records this season. Out of the ashes of changing roster composition, their phoenix is Michael Porter Jr who seems to get better every year and has a bright future as a star in this league.

The Nuggets will likely find themselves in the second half of the season. They always seem to be dominant down the stretch.

10.) Boston Celtics
Record: 19 -17 4th Eastern Conference

The first half of the season was underwhelming for the Celtics. Kemba Walker played in only 20 of the Celtics 36 games because of his left knee. Marcus Smart has played in only 17 games and is expected back after the All Star break. The Celtics haven’t be able to consistently find their shot and they find themselves just 2 games above .500. It’s good enough for 4th in the east, but nothing to be proud of for a team that made the ECF last postseason.

11.) SAN ANTONIo SPuRS
Record: 18-14 7th Western conference

The Spurs made the playoffs 22 seasons in a row before missing out last postseason. They still haven’t really rebuilt since Duncan, Parker, and Ginobli left. They are relying on veterans to keep them afloat, but Aldridge, DeRozan, Mills, and Gay are all free agents this summer and will likely be gone forcing San Antonio’s hand.

Still, it seems whatever roster is playing under Gregg Popovitch perhaps the NBA’s best current head coach, is going to win games. It is hard to know whether San Antonio will ship out its expiring veterans and embrace a true rebuild or try to make a run for the playoffs with what they have, keep an eye in the rearview because the Spurs are always in it.

12.) Dallas Mavericks
Record: 18-16 8th Western conference

Porzingis has again been hampered by injury, has struggled, and may be moved at the deadline. Luka Doncic meanwhile is playing yet another exceptional season nearly averaging a double double with 29 points, 9 assists, and 8 rebounds a game.

The Mavericks had a tough start (2-4) and suffered through a 6 game losing streak, but have won 9 of their last 11 games.

13.) Miami Heat
Record: 18-18 6th eastern

Miami has not looked at all like the eastern conference champs they were last season. They have been inhibited by injuries and covid protocol and have had to limp through most of the first half of the season. They have have only had star Jimmy Butler for 22 of their 36 games. But, since his return the Heat have come on strong, winning 7 of their last 8 games before the break, including a 6 game winning streak. Expect them to look more like last year’s team the 2nd half of the season.

14.) Golden state warriors
Record: 19 – 16 9th Western conference

The Warriors are without Klay Thompson. They have star Stephen Curry to fall back on, but with little depth to their roster, the Warriors don’t have enough firepower to be more than a .500 level team. Rookie James Wiseman is coming along, Wiggins is unimpressive, Green seems bored, but it’s enough along with Oubre Jr and Kent Bazemore to keep them in the race for the playoffs.

15.) New York Knicks
Record: 19 – 18 5th eastern conference

The Knicks have been a pleasant surprise in the east. They find themselves in 5th place powered by Julius Randle who was voted an All Star this season for his dues. The Knicks have some talented youth in Barret, Toppin, and Quickley as well as some good supporting cast. Coach Tom Thibodeau is turning the ship around. Don’t be starled if they keep it up and make the playoffs.

16.) Memphis Grizzlies
Record: 16 -16 10th Western conference

Jaren Jackson has yet to play this season recovering from a knee injury that happened back in the bubble. Ja Morant suffered a level 2 ankle sprain and missed some games too. Several Memphis games were postponed because they didn’t have enough players, due to injury and protocols, but they have soldiered on are still at .500 despite all the adversity. Memphis narrowly missed the playoffs last season after losing the play-in. They will be in the chase again.

17.) Charlotte Hornets
Record: 17 -18 7th Eastern conference

Lamelo Ball will very likely be rookie of the year. Gordon Hayward has finally found himself after a tough start with a new team and injury. PJ Washington had a career high 42 points a few weeks ago. They have won 7 of their last 12 games and sit in the race for the playoffs.

18.) Toronto Raptors
Record: 17 -19 8th eastern conference

The Raptors lost Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol in the offseason but brought on Aaron Baynes. Toronto had a dismal 2-8 start. They then seemed to find solid ground with Fred Vanvleet setting records. It seems uncertain whether him and Lowry will stay together past the deadline. The Raptors have had some woes to end the first half of the season with coaches and covid drama. They have lost 4 of their last 5 games.

19.) Indiana Pacers
Record: 16-19 10th easTERN cONFERENCE

The downfall of the Pacers season began with the fractured foot of forward TJ Warren. It proceeded with Victor Oladipo being traded for Caris Lavert who had to undergo a surgery to remove a tumor from his kidney.

Domantas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon can only do so much without wing help. Sabonis did get chosen as a replacement for Kevin Durant in the All Star game. A bright light for the Pacers has been TJ McConnell who has been averaging career highs and broke an NBA record for steals in a half.

If the Pacers had a healthy roster they would dangerous.

 

20.) CHIcago Bulls
Record: 16-18 9th eastern conference

New head coach Billy Donovan is getting everything he can out of a young Chicago team. Zach Lavine has had a monster year and was named an All Star. He is averaging career highs in points (28.7), rebounds (5.2), assists (5.1), and 3pt%(43%). Chicago has an up and coming front court in Markannen and Williams as well as a PGOTF in Coby White.

The Bulls could very well make the playoffs or at least the playin in LaVine can Maintain his star level of play.

21.) Atlanta Hawks
Record: 16 -20 11th eastern conference

The Hawks looked to make a jump this season but were saddled with injuries from the get go. Bogdan Bogdanovic who the Hawks snatched from the Kings fractured his knee. Danilo Galinari who they sniped from the Thunder sprained his ankle. DeAndre Hunter underwent surgery on his knee. Khris Dunn…Rajon Rondo…well you get it.

The Hawks picked a bad year to try and go all in. It cost head coach Lloyd Pierce his job. Nate McMillian is now in charge of trying to put humpty dumpty back together again.

As it is they sit only 4 games below .500 and can get back in the race for the playoffs or at least the play-in if they can some how get healthy.

 

22.) New Orleans Pelicans
Record: 15-21 11th Western conference

Zion Williamson is dominant in his first full season as a Pelican. The Pelicans replaced Alvin Gentry with Stan Van Gundy. Brandon Ingram has improved this season and is near star level. Lonzo Ball meanwhile has become an assassin from three point land. Minus Jrue Holiday this season, the Pelicans defense has worsened.

Inconsistenty is overulling talent at this point, but the Pels will have the second half of the season to get it together and make a push.

23.) Washington wizards
Record: 14 -20 12th eASTERN conference

After swapping John Wall for Russell Westbrook the Wizards suffered a nasty 3-12 start. They lost Thomas Bryant for the season with a torn ACL. Things looked bleak for Washington, but Westbrook and Beal finally figured things out. They have won 8 of their last 11 headed into the all star break and despite being 6 under .500, the Wizards are on the cusp of the play- in.

24.) Oklahoma City Thunder
Record: 15 -21 12 Western conference

Chris Paul was traded. Danilo Gallinari left in FA. The Thunder roster as we knew it was mostly disassembled and after a draft and more than a handful of trades the Thunder are a mysterious hodgepodge of youth and veterans that would not seem to mesh well.

They still have up and coming Shai Gilgeous Alexander, the very athletic Luquentz Dort, several talented rookies in Theo Maledon and Isiah Roby, and some savvy veterans in Al Horford, George Hill, and Mike Muscala.

Do they have enough to make a real push for the playoffs, probably not. But, hey they are already playing better than expected this season.

25.) Sacramento kings
Record: 14-22 13th westERN conference

The Kings have been a let down in a crowded west. Despite some victories over winning teams, they haven’t been able to put enough w’s together and are on the outside looking in. The Kings have been mostly healthy. De’Aaron Fox has been lighting it up and rookie Tyrese Haliburton has been making his case for Rookie of the year, but the Kings can’t escape the leagues worst ever defense. Head coach Luke Walton might not be able to escape it either. They better try and make some sort of a run as close as they were to making it to the playoffs last season or Walton might be out.

26.) Cleveland Cavaliers
Record: 14 -22 13th easTERN CONFERENCE

The Cavaliers were able to jump in on the Harden trade and get Jarret Allen and Taurean Prince for pretty much nothing. That’s a win right? They aren’t getting many other W’s. Collin Sexton continues to progress to the next level, Darius Garland a few steps behind him. Kevin Love and Andre Drummond want out.

The rebuild will continue for Cleveland. Who knows maybe another star from Akron is waiting in the wings. For now the focus is on developing youth and turning Love and Drummond into complimentary players for Sexton and Garland and picks to bolster the future.

27.) Orlando magic
Record: 13-23 14th easTERN cONFERENCE

DJ Augustin walked away in FA, but that was OK because Markelle Fultz was ready to step up and he did with a great start before he tore his ACl and was lost for the season. Jonathan Isaac has been out since he tore his ACL in the bubble. Aminu and Gordon have been on the Injured list too.

The Magic have relied on youth and Nikola Vucevic. But, it’s not nearly enough. Aaron Gordon will likely be traded at the deadline and though the Magic would love to take a mulligan, they will likely have to look to next season already 10 under .500 as it is.

28.) Houston Rockets
Record: 11 – 23 14th Western conference

The Rockets traded Westbrook for John Wall and were optimistic after snagging Christian Wood in FA. But, a disgruntled Harden made for a bad start to the season for Houston. They went 4-6 to start the season before they traded Harden to the Nets in a four team trade that brought back Victor Oladipo.

But, any hopes a Wall/Oladipo/Wood trio would pan out have yet to materialize. While Wall has adapted well to playing in Houston, Oladipo has not, and Wood has been out after straining his ankle. They have lost their last 13 games of the first half of the season. Things are not looking good. Houston we have a problem.

29.) Detroit Pistons
Record: 10 -26 15th eastERN cONFERENCE

The Pistons rid themselves of the mistake that was Blake Griffin. They will now continue to rebuild around Jerami Grant, Saddiq Bey, Killian Hayes, and Isaiah Stewart. They weren’t expected to win alot of games this season and they aren’t.

30.) Minnesota Timberwolves
Record: 7-29 15th eastERN cONFERENCE

Star Karl-Anthony Towns has missed 20 of the Timberwolves 36 games because of a fractured left wrist and a positive Covid-19 diagnosis. #1 pick in the draft Anthony Edwards hasn’t been as good as expected. Malik Beasley has gotten in legal trouble.

The Timberwolves fired head coach Ryan Saunders after a 7-24 start. They over looked associate head coach David Vanterpool and hired Raptors assistant Chris Finch, which hasn’t really helped matters. The Timberwolves are 1-11 since Towns return and have lost their last 9 before the break. 

Editor-in-chief
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