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If the NBA Playoffs Started Today

Sports across the world have come to a halt, and in the case of the MLB, have had to postpone the start of their season entirely. The NBA has seen some of their teams play up to 67 games out of the full 82 game season. That gives us a large enough sample size to have the 16 teams set for the playoffs. Memphis is 3.5 games ahead of the trio; Portland Trailblazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Sacramento Kings, and 4 games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the historically more competitive Western Conference playoff race. In the Eastern Conference, the Orlando Magic have a more than comfortable lead, 5.5 games, over the ninth place Washington Wizards. Now we take a look at who will be fighting for the Larry O’ Brien Trophy, and who will be the 2019-2020 NBA Champions.

Eastern Conference:

  1. Milwaukee (53-12)
  2. Toronto (46-18)
  3. Boston (43-12)
  4. Miami (41-24)
  5. Indiana (39-26)
  6. Philadelphia (39-26)
  7. Brooklyn (30-34)
  8. Orlando (30-35)

Eastern Conference Round 1:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic

With the best record in the NBA, and the likely MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are set to cruise past the 8th seed Orlando Magic. In addition to being the outmatched team, Orlando’s young forward Jonathan Isaac suffered a knee injury in January and it doesn’t look likely that he will play again this season regardless of when the playoffs start.

On the other end, the Bucks will be restarting the season at full strength and a clear injury report. The Bucks have a 6.5 game lead over Toronto, nearly clinching the best record in the East, and home court advantage throughout.

Milwaukee will quickly send the Magic packing and rest up for the second round.

Milwaukee Bucks in 4

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets

Brooklyn has had a roller coaster season to say the least. A bright spot for the Nets is the emergence of Spencer Dinwiddie, but unfortunately the good news ends there. The superstar signing of Kevin Durant this past offseason set the expectations for the new look Nets very low. Kyrie Irving was supposed to show his leadership qualities this season while Durant recovered from his torn achilleas, which is set to keep him out for the entire 2019-2020 season, but Irving as only played in 20 games this season. He and Dinwiddie have not shared the court or the ball well this season. The Nets also fired head coach Kenny Atkinson.

The Toronto Raptors have exceeded pre-season expectations and are building a competitive winning culture North of the boarder. The defending champions lost Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in free agency to the Los Angeles Clippers, but first time All-Star Paskal Siakam has emerged as the team’s cornerstone going forward. Fred VanVleet suffered a shoulder injury on February 28th and hasn’t stepped on the court since, but given the long hiatus he should be back before the playoffs officially start.

A full-strength Raptors team should have no trouble sending the Nets home early this postseason.

Toronto Raptors in 4

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers

In what is looking to be the most exciting first round matchup, two of the Eastern Conference heavy weights go head to head. The biggest question mark in this matchup is the health of Ben Simmons, who has been dealing with a lower back nerve issue since February 20th. No timeline is set for his return, but with this long holdout, Philadelphia is hoping this gives him enough time to return for the playoffs. Philadelphia would need a big performance from Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid if Simmons is forced to sit out any games.

Boston on the other hand doesn’t have any major injuries, just the usual lingering ones from a long regular season. Boston’s team this year has much better continuity and team chemistry with the departure of Kyrie Irving and addition of Kemba Walker. Boston is a dangerous team when everything is clicking for them, and Tatum has emerged has a future superstar.

Health is a big question in this matchup but I see Boston advancing regardless, just a matter of how many games it takes.

Boston Celtics in 6

(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Indiana Pacers

Miami started the season on fire and surprised the entire league with their emergence. Rookie Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn have had a great start to their career, Nunn is a top 5 rookie this season. Most improved player candidate and first time All-Star Bam Adebayo has taken a leap in his career and is looking like a consistent All-Star moving forward. The trade to acquire Jimmy Butler is looking like a great move for both the Heat and Butler. He has jumped from team to team in recent years, but has finally found his home in South Beach.

The Indiana Pacers have been without Victor Oladipo for most of the season and have still managed a strong 39-26 record. First time All-Star Domantas Sabonis has stepped up for the team and has improved his entire game. Malcom Brogdon may be out for the playoffs with a quadricep injury. A huge loss for Indiana that could make winning this matchup very difficult.

Miami has struggled on the road this season (14-19), allowing the Pacers an opportunity to steal game or two from them.

Miami Heat in 5

Eastern Conference Semi-Final:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (4) Miami Heat

The Bucks matchup well with Miami across the board. Giannis and Middleton can give Butler a hard time on both ends. This Heat team doesn’t have much NBA experience, yet alone playoff experience. Giannis is motivated more than ever to make a big playoff run and win a title in Milwaukee. Miami will have a tough time holding off the Bucks at home, although they have a second best 27-5 record. The Bucks have been one of the best, if not the best, defensive team this season and it will only get better in the playoffs.

Miami has won both games against the Bucks this season, this first in overtime and the second a blowout. They’ve been able to do what most teams have not this season and that is contain Giannis, but will they be able to do the same in the playoffs? The Heat will have their work cut out for them and the Bucks will be motivated after getting embarrassed the last time these two teams played.

Miami may be able to steal a game against Milwaukee, but anything more than that is wishful thinking. The Bucks lockdown and Giannis shows the league why he is the MVP this season.

Milwaukee Bucks in 5

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics

The more interesting of the second-round matchups, has Boston battling the defending champion Raptors. Toronto although having an impressive season, is down on the head to head matchup this season, losing two of the three games, with one left to be played. The Celtics core will be a handful for the Raptors, especially without the game changing defense of Kawhi Leonard. Jayson Tatum will look to make the leap and be the game changer every title contending team needs. It will be exciting seeing Siakam and Tatum battle it out, while veteran point guards Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry go head to head. Fred VanVleet will look to use the playoffs as a platform to showcase his skills and leadership. He stepped up big in last seasons NBA Finals, and the Raptors guard is entering free agency for the first time since his rise in the league.

If any series in the Eastern Conference can go the full seven games, this one. Although the Raptors will be at home, it will not be a walk in the park.

Boston Celtics in 7

Eastern Conference Finals:

(1) Milwaukee vs (3) Boston

In a rematch of last years semifinal matchup, both teams look different with some key offseason changes. The big question is if Kemba Walker can be the difference that puts Boston ahead this time around. Giannis and Middleton will have their work cut out for them with slowing down Tatum, Gordan Hayward, and Jaylen Brown.

Defensively Boston will struggle to slow down the bigger, longer Bucks team, and the three-point shooting improvement of Giannis is not going to make it any easier Boston will put up a better fight than last season, and if they can shock the Bucks again and take game 1 we may see a huge upset.

Without a Kawhi Leonard or LeBron James to get in his way, Giannis will have the easiest path to the Finals he may ever have in his career. Tatum is still young, and although he could be a star one day, he will struggle eliminating Giannis from the playoffs anytime soon.

Milwaukee Bucks in 6

West:

  1. Lakers (49-14)
  2. Clippers (44-20)
  3. Denver (43-22)
  4. Utah (41-23)
  5. Oklahoma City (40-24)
  6. Houston (40-24)
  7. Dallas (40-27)
  8. Memphis (32-33)

Western Conference Round 1:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies

The surprise of the Western Conference has the young Grizzlies team facing the star-studded Lakers in round 1. Although the likely hood of them advancing is very slim, the experience will be valuable for the core moving forward. Even just 4 games for Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson, and company against this Lakers team will accelerate their growth. Memphis will have a tough time matching up with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the rotating big man on the Lakers roster. The Lakers signed forward Markieff Morris and Dion Waiters after the trade deadline to improve their bench. They cut center DeMarcus Cousins, which they may regret if this long hiatus allows the star center to return from his injury in time for the playoffs.

Los Angeles will use this matchup as an opportunity to fine tune their game for a run at the Championship.

Los Angeles Lakers in 4

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

The large separation between the 7th and 8th seed in the west is surprisingly larger than recent memory. Dallas has two young stars, with one being arguably the best young player in the league at the moment. Luka Doncic has made a case as the league MVP already, in just his second season and is only 21 years old. We are seeing the growth of a future MVP, Champion, and could go down as one of the best to ever play the game. The trade to acquire power forward Kristaps Porzingis, gave Mavericks fans a flashback to the dynamic Steve Nash and Dirk Nowitzki duo they had many years ago. We still have to wait and see if Porzingis can return to his form and potential before he tore his ACL in February 2018. Dallas has a bright future but they don’t have the pieces around them to take the next step. The supporting cast hasn’t played up to playoff level needed to make an impact in the powerful Western Conference.

The Clippers arguably had the best offseason in the league picking up top 3 MVP and Defensive Player of the Year finalist last season, Paul George, and Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard. They gave up their bright future Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and a plethora of draft picks to acquire Paul George. The Clippers probably gave up more than they should have for George, but if it meant acquiring Leonard than it was well worth it, and realistically speaking if the Clippers win a title than it won’t matter what the trade package was. This year the Clippers look like the deepest team, and a busy trade deadline bolstered the already powerful bench. Los Angeles traded for Knicks forward Marcus Morris, signed point guard Reggie Jackson, and signed center Joakim Noah right before the hiatus. The bench unit that already consisted of the deadly tandem of Lou Williams and Montrez Harrel will take time to build chemistry, but once they start clicking, the better watch out for this team’s potential.

              Doncic can single handedly win a game by himself, and that is all Dallas will be getting in this series.

Los Angeles Clippers in 5

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Houston Rockets

Houston has split the season series with Denver after four games, but we have not seen this matchup after the Rockets shocked the league and traded away their only centers on the roster at the trade deadline. This team is built for coach D’Antoni’s 7 seconds or less offense, and run n gun style. Defense will not be a priority with this team and they hope to out shoot their opponent every night. Former Rocket Clint Capela led the team in rebounds with 13/game and started all four games against the Nuggets, with point guard Russel Westbrook second at 7/game. There is no doubt this team will struggle to rebound the ball against Denver and All-Star center Nikola Jokic.

Jokic averaged 23 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists per game in the four games he started. Denver will look to capitalize on the size advantage they have over Houston and look to slow the game down. Houston is the highest scoring team in the Western Conference, while Denver is third from the bottom. Denver likes the slower pace and doesn’t shoot nearly as many three pointers as Houston does, a 30 to 44 attempt difference. Denver allows the second lowest point per game in the west.

In a clash of styles and opposites, Denver will look to take advantage of the altitude and home court advantage and hold off the MVP tandem of James Harden and Russel Westbrook.

Denver Nuggets in 6

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder have surprised the NBA and exceeded expectations this season, having traded away their two best players from last season, Paul George and Russel Westbrook. The shock comes when you look at the standings and the Thunder are tied with the Rockets at 40-24 and even hold the tie breaker winning two of three matchups this season. OKC has a well-balanced team this season, and 6th Man of the Year candidate, Dennnis Schroder, has allowed head coach Billy Donovan to mix up the guards and find what works against opposing teams. Both teams won a game against the other with two games left to be played. In a very tight matchup and both teams only separated by one game, this is the toss up of the first round out west. Danilo Gallinari is providing the scoring, making 3 three pointers a game at 41 percent shooting, and veteran leadership this team needs to be successful in the playoffs.

Utah has had locker rooms issue all-star center Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19 and seemed to take the virus very lightly. He was seen joking about it in front of media and the locker room stories were not any better. Shooting guard Donovan Mitchell also tested positive after Gobert’s diagnoses sent the NBA into a frenzy. The game they were set to play was postponed while fans were sitting in their seats and the teams were warmed up ready to tip off. Mitchell was said to be upset with Gobert and they may try to play it down, but a rift is apparent.

Given the tension and uncertainty in the Jazz locker room, I will give the edge to the Thunder but it won’t be easy.

Oklahoma City Thunder in 6

Western Conference Second Round:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Lakers will be well rested for this series, and on the other end the Thunder will have just finished a tough battle against Utah. Los Angeles matches up well against OKC and have won all three games they have played this season. Anthony Davis and LeBron were a handful for the Thunder, with Davis averaging 33.5 points, 9 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game in the two games he played in this matchup. LeBron averaged an impressive 24 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 12 assists in two games.

Oklahoma City struggled shooting the three ball at only 32% and gathered only 37 rebounds on average during the three games. The Lakers shot a remarkable 49% from three and pulled in 48 rebounds per game. The Thunder exceeded all expectations this season and have a young star in the making, Gilgeous-Alexander, and the playoff experience will only bold well for the point guard.

Los Angeles Lakers in 4

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets

The more competitive of the two Western Conference second round matchups has the Nuggets battling the Clippers. The teams split the two games they played against each other with one more scheduled to be played. The Clippers blew out Denver by 29 points in their most recent matchup. Denver was at full strength both games, but shooting guard Gary Harris struggled during the second game putting up only 4 points and power forward Paul Milsap didn’t score in 21 minutes. Jerami Grant did impress putting up 20 points, but if Denver wants to win, they will need a better performance from Harris and Milsap. The Clippers bench was dominating the game with four players in double digit.

The Clippers will need their bench to play at a high level to go far in the playoffs, and this team is built to win a title. LA will have trouble slowing down Jokic, but if they can slow down the rest of the Nuggets core, they should be able to advance to the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Zubac has the size to bother Jokic, Beverly has the defensive intensity to disrupt point guard Jamal Murray, and their bench can separate themselves from Denver’s once the second units hit the court.

The Clippers will have a chance to keep all Western Conference Finals games in Staples Center, but it will not be an easy task.

Los Angeles Clippers in 6

Western Conference Finals:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers

The much-anticipated playoff matchup will have Staples Center buzzing for the length of the series. The Lakers struggled to matchup with the Clippers during the regular season, losing the opening night matchup without Kyle Kuzma and Paul George for both teams respectively. All three games were very competitive and this playoff series will be no different. The Lakers stars did what they had to in all 3 games, LeBron averaged 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists, while Davis averaged 26 points, 7 rebounds, and 1.7 block and steals in three games. The Lakers will need their supporting cast to keep up with the depth of the Clippers.

The Clippers will need to limit the effectiveness of the big men on the Lakers and they are hoping the signing of Joakim Noah can help with that. The two teams’ averages were very close through the three games and the easier route for the Lakers can help them in this series. Kawhi and the Clippers have been practicing the less than popular “load management” this season, preparing for a long playoff run. This unprecedented hiatus has to favor LeBron and the Lakers though, and at age 35, he is playing 35 minutes/game. Kawhi has played 52 games this season and Paul George has played 42. The two very unselfish superstars know what it takes to win and chemistry is not a concern this deep into the postseason for the title hopeful Clippers.

The heavyweight bout has fans expecting the series to go the full seven games and home court will not play much of a factor, will the Lakers being the favorite team of Los Angeles natives. The Clippers will attempt to shock the Lakers and the NBA, upsetting the Lakers.

Los Angeles Clippers in 7

 

NBA Finals:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers

The Bucks will be fighting for the title on the big stage for the first time since 1974 and the Clippers for the first time ever. Milwaukee won both matchups against Los Angeles this season, the second being a dominant 28-point win. Giannis and the Bucks were a handful for the Clipper on the defensive end, averaging 9 steals and 8.5 blocks in the two games. The MVP front runner showed up during their matchups, averaging 32.5 points, 13.5 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. The Greek Freak will be tough to contain for any team, but no team has the wing defenders that the Clippers have to attempt to slow him down. The Bucks will need running mate Kris Middleton to put up more than the 15 points he averaged against LA.

The bright side for the Clippers is that they were not at full strength against the Bucks in their two matchups. They didn’t even have new faces, Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, and Joakim Noah. The Clippers will need to keep Middleton and Giannis at bay to give them the best shot to win this matchup. The Clippers will need to shoot better than the 38.5% from the field and make a bigger impact in the blocks column. The bench will be asked to help with the scoring as Lou Williams and Montrez Harrel were the leading scorers against Milwaukee. Los Angeles will have to maintain home court throughout the series as Milwaukee will have game 7 at home if it comes to it.

This will be an exciting Finals matchup and both teams will need to dig deep to lift the Larry O’Brien trophy once it’s all said and done. The Clippers have Kawhi Leonard who sent the Bucks home last season while he was on the Raptors, and he went on to win the NBA Finals. The Bucks home court advantage could be the difference in this series.

I have gone back and forth with this series and I believe the Clippers will have enough star power to edge out the Bucks.

Los Angeles Clippers in 6

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Written by Edward Shamirian

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