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Power Rankings: Title contenders, sleepers and pressing concerns ahead of seeding games

It's happening! The NBA season is upon us - again.

After several days of scrimmages, we're just days away from the seeding games that will impact the standings.

While there's plenty left unsettled with respect to different rosters, the scrimmages have given us an idea of what to expect from some teams, as well as their preparedness to make a postseason run.

With that in mind, here are our power rankings ahead of the seeding games, taking the first part of the NBA season and early returns from the NBA Campus in Orlando, Florida into account.

10. Oklahoma City Thunder

Record: 40-24

First three games: vs. UTA, vs. DEN, vs. LAL

Teams aren't going to want to see OKC in the postseason.

The backcourt of Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has been fun to watch all season, and that will be no different once the seeding games get back going. Factor in Sixth Man of the Year Dennis Schroder, an oft-underrated stretch four in Danilo Gallinari and the business-as-usual big man in Steven Adams and you have a team that is most accurately described as solid.

Because the Thunder can realistically finish anywhere between third and seventh, there will be a heightened sense of urgency from the opener against the Jazz, who they trail by one game in the standings. OKC is a sneaky team that should be on everyone's radar during the restart.

9. Houston Rockets

Record: 40-24

First three games: vs. DAL, vs. MIL, vs. POR

Houston has to be the most fascinating team to follow during this process.

From the revolutionary small-ball approach to the dynamic backcourt of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, there are plenty of reasons to tune in to the Rockets once they take the floor.

MORE: Rockets' small ball has unleashed Westbrook

More than anyone, the time away could prove to be most beneficial for Harden and Westbrook, who have struggled to get over the hump in recent years during the postseason. Teams are going to have a tough time slowing down a rejuvenated version of this Houston backcourt, which could be the difference in a postseason series.

The Rockets are also in a jumbled part of the West standings and can move up as high as No. 3 or slide down to No. 7, meaning they'll have to activate a "playoff mode" earlier than other teams.

Houston just might prove to be the West's biggest sleeper.

8. Philadelphia 76ers

Record: 39-26

First three games: vs. IND, vs. SAS, vs. WAS

The Sixers' new starting lineup which features Ben Simmons at the power forward position has made headlines and proven to be effective in early scrimmages, where Simmons has shown newfound confidence in his 3-point stroke.

MORE: How Simmons looked in his first scrimmage

Philadelphia is one of the most talented teams in the league, but important questions still loom. Will Joel Embiid be durable enough for a playoff run in a unique setting? Is inserting Shake Milton into the starting lineup sustainable in the long-term? How effective can Al Horford be as the sixth man?

If these calculated risks prove beneficial for Brett Brown and Philly, the best-case scenario is a sneaky Finals run. If things don't turn out so smoothly, it could end up being an opening-round exit.

It will certainly be fascinating to watch how it unfolds.

7. Miami Heat

Record: 41-24

First three games: vs. DEN, vs. TOR, vs. BOS

We've already outlined how the Heat have the formula to make a deep run in the postseason, as well as the importance of where they finish in the jumbled middle of the Eastern Conference standings , making them one of the more intriguing teams to follow.

With that in mind, this hard-nosed Miami team will look to follow the lead of All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in order to cement itself as a true contender in the East.

MORE: Adebayo is becoming Miami's version of Nikola Jokic

The time away has benefitted the Heat in regards to health, with Meyers Leonard and Tyler Herro finally putting some pesky injuries behind them. Deadline acquisition Andre Iguodala can benefit from a pseudo-training camp while veterans Jae Crowder and to a certain extent, Solomon Hill, look to contribute as well.

6. Denver Nuggets

Record: 43-22

First three games: vs. MIA, vs. OKC, vs. SAS

For the Nuggets, the scrimmage games have mostly been about rookie sensation Bol Bol and the experimentation with some absurdly tall lineups.

While the above have been fun to admire, it's important to not lose sight of the roster questions surrounding Jamal Murray, who missed the team's first two scrimmages despite being in Orlando the entire time and the duo of Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr., who were late arrivals to the NBA campus in Orlando.

Denver has the potential to be a sleeper team, but it will need peak-level performance from each member of the roster. And they'll need to get them back in action to perform.

5. Boston Celtics

Record: 43-21

First three games: vs. MIL, vs. POR, vs. MIA

Many considered the Celtics to be a sleeper team going into Orlando, but the health of Kemba Walker, who is still dealing with a lingering knee injury, is an issue that warrants heightened concern.

Outside of Walker, Jayson Tatum is still shaking the rust off while Jaylen Brown has stood out early on in Boston's scrimmage action.

MORE: Can the Raptors hold off the Celtics in the standings?

With an outside shot to overtake the East's No. 2 seed, the C's have plenty to play for in the seeding games. In opening with the Bucks, the frontcourt rotation that includes Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter will be put to the test early.

4. Toronto Raptors

Record: 46-18

First three games: vs. LAL, vs. MIA, vs. ORL

The defending champs are healthy, confident and poised to make another deep postseason run.

Considering the team's injury luck - or lack thereof - during the first part of the season, it's frankly amazing that Toronto has the fewest roster questions of each team gearing up for the restart.

A beneficiary of a pre-bubble bubble in Fort Myers, the Raptors appear to be picking up right where they left off prior to the season's suspension. Kyle Lowry's taking charges, Serge Ibaka's as efficient as ever, Pascal Siakam is making things happen and OG Anunoby seems to have added a little to his game.

The Raps shouldn't be slept on, and they'll get a chance to show exactly why as they open with tests against the Lakers and Heat.

3. LA Clippers

Record: 44-20

First three games: vs. LAL, vs. NOP, vs. PHX

LA was the first team to take the floor in Orlando, with Paul George stealing the show as he looks to be 100% healthy.

The time away looks to have done some good for George while there's been some rust from Kawhi Leonard, who shot 6-for-24 in the first two scrimmages.

Concerns for the Clips start and end with availability, as both Landry Shamet and Ivica Zubac were late arrivals to Orlando, while Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams leaving Orlando to deal with family matters. With Williams entering a 10-day quarantine following his return, he will miss the first few seeding games of the restart; LA will certainly feel the absence of the Sixth Man of the Year candidate, as he's averaging PPG.

2. Los Angeles Lakers

Record: 49-14

First three games : vs. LAC, vs. TOR, vs. UTA

LeBron seems to have some bounce in his step, AD is well, being AD, and the Lakers' chemistry looks to be on point, even with new additions.

The absence of Avery Bradley and injury to Rajon Rondo will both be causes of concern, but J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters appear to be buying into new roles with their new team.

MORE: Six major questions for the Lakers

If Kyle Kuzma can be a solid scoring option off the bench, the Lakers will be in a good spot, but that might be a large ask.

LA has all but clinched the West's No. 1 seed, but will be put to the test early as it opens up with the Clippers, Raptors and Jazz to start the seeding schedule.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

Record: 53-12

First three games: vs. BOS, vs. HOU, vs. BKN

113 points in 40 minutes. 131 points in 48 minutes. Milwaukee's No. 6 ranked offence was firing on all cylinders to open the scrimmage games, and the team isn't even at full strength yet.

AWARD PICKS: Will Giannis repeat as MVP?

Of course, it all starts with Giannis, who is on a mission with the postseason in sight. Our favourite to take home both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards, it's clear that the Bucks will go as he and his All-Star teammate, Khris Middleton, lead.

A potential cause for concern appears to be sorting itself out, as Eric Bledsoe and Pat Connaughton have both joined the team in Orlando after returning negative coronavirus tests.

Milwaukee stumbled ahead of the season's pause, and the time away will likely do some good.

The rest

11. Utah Jazz

The absence of Bojan Bogdanovic puts a spotlight on both Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles, who will need to make up for his production in different ways. With All-Stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell re-figuring out their on-court chemistry, a serviceable level of production from Mike Conley could be the difference-maker for Utah.

12. Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are on the verge of making what will likely be the first of many postseason appearances as the duo of the Mavs' future. Dallas is right there in the jumbled middle of the West and could make a push to get out of the first round, depending on its opening-round matchup.

13. Indiana Pacers

The excitement surrounding Victor Oladipo's decision to play didn't last long as All-Star Domantas Sabonis suffered a foot injury that required medical attention outside of the NBA's campus. The Pacers still have talent with Oladipo, Malcolm Brogdon, T.J. Warren and Myles Turner, but they're not nearly as scary of a first-round opponent without their do-it-all big.

14. Portland Trail Blazers

While Trevor Ariza opted out and Rodney Hood is unavailable, returning Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic is huge for this Blazers team.

With a rejuvenated frontcourt rotation and the backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland is looking like a No. 1 seed's worst nightmare.

15. New Orleans Pelicans

After stepping away for a family matter, Zion Williamson is back. New Orleans is primed to make a play for the West's No. 8 seed and has the talent to pull it off, too, with Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram displaying some good chemistry in Orlando.

16. Memphis Grizzlies

As great as Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have been, Memphis' youth and brutal schedule might be too much to overcome to hold on to the West's No. 8 seed.

17. Orlando Magic

Is it home-court advantage if it's 25 miles from your home arena? Orlando will put that theory to the test as it looks more and more likely it lands at No. 7 in the East. They'll need everyone, as Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac missed the team's first two scrimmages.

18. Sacramento Kings

De'Aaron Fox is back from an injury and Harrison Barnes has joined the team, but Sacramento suffered a key loss in Marvin Bagley III, who is out for the season. The Kings are fun and have exciting pieces, but that won't be enough for a playoff run.

19. San Antonio Spurs

It looks like this is the year that San Antonio's famed postseason streak comes to an end. DeMar DeRozan has been solid all season and you can never truly count out a Gregg Popovich-led team, but without LaMarcus Aldridge, this team just doesn't have too high of a ceiling.

20. Phoenix Suns

The odds are probably too much for the Suns to overcome but as a franchise, Monty Williams is leading the young core of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges and Cameron Johnson in the right direction. Being a part of the restart is big for the re-establishment of Suns' culture.

21. Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn has Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and a 40-year-old Jamal Crawford but its roster has taken a huge hit, with seven players not playing in the restart for various reasons. The Nets have more talent than the Wizards, but not enough to do much once they (likely) make the playoffs.

22. Washington Wizards

Without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans, the Wizards will rely heavily on rookie Rui Hachimura.

A push for the No. 8 seed might be too much of a burden for the 22-year-old to bear.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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