It’s been over a month since the NBA season was put on hold. Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus, and Adam Silver swiftly suspended the 2020 NBA season for the time being. Since then, the NBA and all other sports have been placed in a waiting room. There’s no clear indication of when the NBA will return, and it remains plausible that the 2020 season could be cancelled entirely. Though, the league could also opt to jump right into the playoffs in order to make up for lost time. What would the playoff matchups look like if they started today? Here, I will preview all eight potential first round playoff series, and give a prediction for each.
The Orlando Magic are this year’s Detroit Pistons. They have a star big man who flies under the radar, and Blake Griffin-lite. That’s good enough to win about 40 games, but not much else. They also have a couple of young players with intrigue. However, Milwaukee’s roster is one of the deepest in the league. I wouldn’t expect them to play around in this series. They certainly didn’t last year with Detroit in an opening round sweep. Even if Nikola Vucevic gives a Dwight Howard-esque performance, it still won’t be enough. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton will lead the way in what should be an easy series win for the Bucks.
Prediction: Bucks in four
The Miami Heat have outperformed preseason projections. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo form one of the most fun duos in the east right now. Indiana is an intriguing team, but Victor Oladipo may not be truly 100% until next season. Miami is very tough to beat at AmericanAirlines arena, and they have a good mix of youth and experienced veterans. Domantas Sabonis deserves credit for a fantastic season, but the Pacers may not have enough firepower to keep up. Not to mention that the Heat’s Erik Spoelstra is one of the best coaches in the business. This would be an intriguing series to watch, but it doesn’t feel as evenly matched as the seeding would suggest.
Prediction: Heat in six
The return of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving? It’s a fun thought, but highly unlikely. This means that the Nets will be heavily reliant on Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie. Many experts though the Raptors would go down the tube, as soon as Kawhi Leonard left town. However, the opposite couldn’t be more true. The Raptors have been the best team in the East all season long, if you take away Milwaukee. Pascal Siakam is a true superstar now, but he’s not a solo act on this Toronto team. Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka are all talented veterans who’ve appeared in many playoff games throughout their careers. The Nets will be a sneaky finals contender in 2021, but they wouldn’t make much noise this year.
Prediction: Raptors in five
This right here is the playoff series to watch. If you’re looking for star power, you’ve found it. Oh, and these two teams hate each other, which makes for even more fun. Philadelphia was a hot pick to win the Eastern Conference this season, but they have underwhelmed in large part. Both of these teams are excellent at home, especially the 76ers. Although, Boston has shown competence on the road, whereas Philadelphia has not. Everyone thought Kemba Walker would be Boston’s #1 threat this year, but Jayson Tatum as ascended to superstar status. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid have absurd levels of talent, but they don’t always compliment each other well on the basketball court. This would be a must-watch series, but the 76ers may have a couple more question marks than the Celtics currently do.
Prediction: Celtics in seven
LeBron James versus Ja Morant would be more exciting than most 1/8 playoff matchups in NBA history. The Memphis Grizzlies are a pleasant surprise after being pegged to finish near the basement of the standings this year. Meanwhile, the Lakers are poised for yet another run at an NBA title. The addition of Anthony Davis gave LeBron his most talented since Dwyane Wade. Los Angeles will need to find a consistent #3 scoring option if they hope to hang another banner. But as long as they stay healthy, it will be very challenging to beat them in a seven game series. Could this older Lakers team experience extra rust after a long layoff? Sure, but not enough to cost them in this series. Memphis has a very bright future, but it will have to wait for now.
Prediction: Lakers in five
This has the makings of a coin flip series. Interestingly, these were the two sides set to tip-off just minutes before Rudy Gobert’s positive coronavirus test. So if you’re looking for another intriguing storyline, you’ve found one. As for on the court, both the Jazz and Thunder experienced several roster changes this offseason. Utah entered the year with immense expectations, while the Thunder entered as an afterthought. This series would feature two sensational young guards; Donovan Mitchell and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander. In addition to that, both rosters are loaded with playoff experience, and both teams have quality coaches. In a series that could go either way, small differences such as home court advantage are key. But it is entirely possible that all playoff games this season could be played in one or two locations. If that’s the case, the better squad should come out victorious.
Prediction: Thunder in seven
The Dallas Mavericks may be the best seven seed I’ve seen in many years. NBA cinderellas don’t come around too often, but this Mavs team should not be overlooked by LA. Kawhi Leonard took this team from good to great, but he has an impressive roster around him. The Clippers owned one of the league’s deepest rosters back in October, but still managed to add Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson. Between Leonard, Paul George and Lou Williams, the Clippers have at least three guys who can get smoking hot at any moment. The Dallas Mavericks have a 21-year-old phenom in Luka Doncic, and a 7-footer averaging 19.2 points, with the ability to knock down triples. Grab your popcorn for this series, you’re going to see some fireworks. Dallas is set up very nicely for the future, but Kawhi knows what it takes to go all the way.
Prediction: Clippers in six
Talk about two teams with vastly different superstars. In many regards, Denver’s star center Nikola Jokic doesn’t even look like an NBA player. Yet, he’s one of the most talented big men the league has to offer. Conversely, the Houston Rocket’s Russell Westbrook is a freakish athlete who speeds down the floor like a roadrunner. And he’s not even their best player! James Harden, who is the best player, once again finds himself in MVP chatter as he continues to fill up the basket. Houston is fully committed to the “small ball” style of play, which could bode well for them against a Denver team that won’t blow you away athletically. Denver’s worst nightmare may prove to be a fully rested James Harden and Russell Westbrook combo. Even though Jokic and shooting guard Jamaal Murray are highly skilled players, they’re the less talented duo in this playoff series.
Prediction: Rockets in six
If the NBA Playoffs began today, who would be your picks in the opening round?
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