With the Portland Trail Blazers’ win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Play-in game, the 2020 NBA Playoffs field has been officially set. Through trials and tribulations we have finally reached the pinnacle of the NBA season…the NBA playoffs. This year’s playoffs is notable for a variety of storylines. The first being the number of number of familiar faces make their playoff debuts on new teams including LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Los Angeles Lakers, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on the Los Angeles Clippers, Russell Westbrook on the Houston Rockets (whenever he’s able to play), Jimmy Butler on the Miami Heat, and Kemba Walker on the Boston Celtics.
The next being extremely unique circumstance of their being no homecourt advantage for high-seeded teams meaning the potential for upsets are very high. This takes an NBA playoffs that under normal circumstances would be a three-team race and turns into a playoff race that is anybody’s to win. Whether or not lower-seeded are able to take advantage of that fact remains to be seen and it will surely be exciting to watch. Through all the uncertainty behind this year’s playoffs, one thing that will always remain the same is the playoff intensity from all 16 teams fighting to etch their names in NBA history on their quest to become NBA champions. All that’s left to do is to look at the playoff field round-by-round and give predictions leading up to the 2020 NBA Finals. Let’s get things started with my first round predictions!
Eastern Conference First Round: (1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (8) Orlando Magic
The Milwaukee Bucks will cruise past the Magic in this series in five games or a possible sweep. The Bucks just have too much depth for the Orlando Magic to be able to have a chance to win this series let alone win a game. The loss of Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu is huge for the Magic because that’s two less bodies in their frontcourt that could have possibly gave them a chance of limiting Giannis’ from being able to control the game. Not to mention from top to bottom, the Bucks just have a clearly better roster healthy or not. Maybe the Magic could catch the Bucks sleeping and sneak a game away from them but that’s the best I see them doing.
Winner: Bucks in 4
Eastern Conference First Round: (2) Toronto Raptors vs (7) Brooklyn Nets
Before I give my pick, can we talk about how much fun this series would be if both teams had their full rosters and were healthy? Just imagine all the talent we would have been able to see on display in this series: Kevin Durant, Pascal Siakam, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, DeAndre Jordan, Fred VanVleet, Spencer Dinwiddie, Marc Gasol, Caris LeVert, Serge Ibaka I could go on-and-on. Unfortunately, the Brooklyn Nets will only have one of the players I just mentioned from their roster in the bubble and the Raptors have all their respective players. Like the Magic, best case scenario for them is to sneak a win against the Raptors especially with how well Caris LeVert and Other than that, Raptors for the win.
Winner: Raptors in 5
Eastern Conference First Round: (3) Boston Celtics vs (6) Philadelphia 76ers
Despite Ben Simmons being out for the 76ers, this still has a chance to be a highly competitive first round series. In order for the 76ers to be able to get the win in this series, two things need to happen: 1. Joel Embiid needs to dominate and 2. and their role players need to help him out. Shaq and Charles Barkley got on Joel Embiid for half stepping and not doing his best to reach his full-potential and this series is his best chance to do so. However, with Ben Simmons out, only one other reliable scorer in Tobias Harris along with Joel Embiid and a thin backcourt/bench, it is going to be tough for them to beat a team like Boston. The best chance for the 76ers to win this series is to control the boards, containing the Celtics backcourt and dominate scoring in the low post. With all that being said, the Celtics winning this series but do not be surprised if this series went to seven games and the 76ers win.
Winner: Celtics in 6
Eastern Conference First Round: (4) Indiana Pacers vs (5) Miami Heat
This series is another that is affected due to a team missing a key player on their roster. Domantas Sabonis being out for the Pacers is huge and is the reason why they will lose this series. Now to be clear, this will definitely be a fun series to watch and this will almost certainly go to seven games. However, the Miami Heat are excellent defensively, they have more experience in the postseason and they have more depth. The two key players for the Pacers to pull off the win in this series is Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner. Victor Oladipo needs to return to the Victor Oladipo who proved everyone wrong in 2018 showing he was an All-Star caliber. Myles Turner, on the other hand, needs to be consistent. If Myles Turner and Victor Oladipo play consistently each game in this series the Pacers could have a chance to win this series. For right now the Miami Heat are the safe bet to win this series.
Winner: Heat in 6
Western Conference First Round: (1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Portland Trail Blazers
While I do not agree with Chuck’s (Charles Barkley’s) sentiments about the Blazers making it to the NBA Finals or even beating the Lakers in the first round for that matter, I do believe they have chance to beat the Lakers of all the team’s who fought for the eight seed in the bubble. They have the size and scoring to be able to give the Lakers problems. Two key factors for both teams will be the Lakers ability to stop Damian Lillard/Blazers’ backcourt and the Blazers ability to stop LeBron, AD and the Lakers frontcourt. Ultimately, it will be the Lakers taking the win but this will surely be a fun series to watch.
Sidebar: I love that we get to see LeBron James vs Carmelo Anthony in the playoffs again with Carmelo on a team better equipped to beat LeBron’s this time around.
Winner: Lakers in 6
Western Conference First Round: (2) Los Angeles Clippers vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
Another fun series, it will be interesting to see how Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis play in their playoff debuts against a title contender like the Los Angeles Clippers. For the Mavericks to have a chance in this series, their bench needs to be flawless. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis can only do so much it will take role players like Tim Hardaway Jr., Seth Curry, Trey Burke, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Boban Marjanovic, etc. to help give the Mavericks a chance in this series. It will be interesting to see how Montrezl Harrell adjusts to being back in the lineup not having played in any of the Clippers’ eight seeding games. It would not be entirely shocked to see the Mavericks take this series but its one of those things that’ll need to be seen to believe.
Winner: Clippers in 6
Western Conference First Round: (3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Utah Jazz
It has just been reported that Mike Conley will be departing the bubble for the birth of his son meaning there is a great chance he will be out for the entire series. This will be a huge advantage for the Nuggets and be the Jazz’s downfall. The Jazz could make this a good series with great defensive effort but the Denver Nuggets are such a deep team it will be hard for the Jazz to handle. Michael Porter Jr. had a great run in the Nuggets’ eight seeding games emerging as a potential threat for the team in their playoff run. Should Mike Conley be available for the Jazz in this series maybe they’d have a better shot but there’s no way he’ll make it back to the bubble and clear quarantine in time to make an impact in this series so the writing’s in the wall for the Jazz this season.
Also, Congratulations Mike Conley!
Winner: Nuggets in 5
Western Conference First Round: (4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
This Oklahoma City Thunder team is similar to the 2018 Pacers in the fact that people expected them to be among the worst teams in the NBA. They were coming off an postseason losing to the Trail Blazers in the first round via game winning three by Damian Lillard and an offseason where they traded Paul George and longtime star Russell Westbrook. Led by Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Dennis Schroder, they have shocked everyone not only making the postseason but looking like a team primed to make it past the first round. They will have to deal with a Rockets team that although undersized, they are among the top offensive teams in the NBA. However, the Rockets will be without the aforementioned Russell Westbrook to start the series as he will reportedly miss “a couple games.” This will work in the Thunder’s favor and they will make it past the Rockets in seven games.
Winner: Thunder in 7