It feels very strange to be making NBA playoff pics at the end of July. This time one year ago, the dust had hardly settled after the Raptors took down the Warriors. We were eagerly awaiting the free agency decisions of Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving. We had already seen Zion Williamson and Ja Morant taken in the NBA draft. We were ready for the summer league to start up.
But, it’s 2020 – everything is strange.
So, after 140 days off, the NBA is set to pick up (kinda) where it left off. With just eight seeding games before the playoffs, here’s my predictions for who gets in and how each round will finish.
The East will be very cut and dry. Washington was the only team not in the top eight that was welcomed to the bubble, and they’re 5.5 games out. With Bradley Beal not expected to play, there’s no way they make up that ground.
The West, on the other hand, could get interesting. The NBA seems hellbent on getting Zion into the playoffs, inviting his 10th seeded Pelicans to the bubble and designing the play-in format to give any team that’s four games out a final chance at the eighth seed (the Pels are conveniently 3.5 games out). But with the Grizzlies holding a 3.5 game lead on both them and Portland, I don’t see Ja Morant losing his playoff spot.
With only eight games to be played, I doubt anyone can seriously climb up the standings. But there should be a little bit of movement. Sparing you the details of picking game by game, I believe the playoff seeding will end up looking like:
1. MIL 2: TOR 3: BOS 4: MIA 5: PHI 6: IND 7: ORL 8: BKN
1: LAL 2: LAC 3: DEN 4: UTA 5: HOU 6: OKC 7: DAL 8: MEM
*bold indicates change from current standings
-Unfortunately, one team will be sacrificed to the Bucks. The Nets draw the short stick here, and will be out in four (maybe Adam Silver lets them go home after just three).
-Toronto has been (somewhat surprisingly) dominant all season long. The Magic did steal Game 1 from them last year, so I’ll say they go down in five again.
-Boston took a pretty sizable leap in talent and consistency this year following the switch for Walker for Irving. Indiana, on the other hand, has been shaky all year. With Victor Oladipo opting out of the remainder of the season, I only give The Pacers one victory.
-Miami took three out of four against Philly this year, and Philly’s lack of depth will certainly hurt them. Fortunately for them, though, home court advantage won’t be a thing. I’ll take Miami, but in six.
-Similar to the East’s one vs eight match up, this seems like a technicality. Lakers in four.
-This is an interesting one. Any 2k “MyLeague” players will be familiar with the “seven seed glitch”, and there’s a chance it might actually come true this year. The Mavericks’ offense has been deadly all season long, and they feel much better than a seven seed. I still have to go with the Clippers because they are significantly more talented, experienced, and deep. But it’ll be a tough six game series for them.
-A Northwest division match up in the first round will certainly be fun. OKC’s three headed point guard match up will give any team they face issues, but Denver is deeper and more talented across the board. Another neck and neck series, though. Denver in six.
-It’s hard to call a five seed beating a four seed an upset. But technically, I’m taking the upset here. James Harden and Russell Westbrook were the definition of unstoppable post-Capela trade, and their pacing is incredibly difficult to match up with. Now, you may be concerned with how they will match up with Rudy Gobert, but I’m not. I don’t think his 15 PPG will make that much off a difference. I’m taking Houston in six (hopefully seven).
-Miami took both games vs the Bucks this year – once in an OT thriller, and the other in a complete blowout. If any team in the East could knock out The Bucks, it’s The Heat. Coach Spoelstra had a great defense set up to neutralize Giannis, similar to what Toronto did to him last year. This round does have serious upset potential, but I can’t pick against the best team in the league all year long. Miami will be hurting from not having their trusty home crowd in this round as well. Bucks in six very tough, close games.
-Toronto and Boston might end up being the most interesting series this round. Two very well balanced teams. This is truly a coin flip series. Boston took two out of three in the regular season, but Siakam didn’t play in the last two. In all three, Lowry and Walker played great. Both teams are very well balanced on both ends, but different in their own way. I’m literally typing this without even being 100% who I think will win. But due to nothing more than depth, I’m going with Boston. Boston doesn’t really have a good match up for Siakam, but between Kemba, Tatum, Brown, Hayward, Smart and Kanter, there’s too much talent across the board for Toronto to compete with. But again, it’s real hard to be confident in this pick. Boston in seven.
-Lakers vs Houston feels like the Boston-Toronto match up. Two great but different teams. The Rockets did beat LA very early in their no-center experiment. LA will have a hard time matching up with Harden and Westbrook due to Bradley and Rondo being out. On the other side of the same coin, though, Houston certainly has no good match ups for Bron and AD. This is going to be a very offense-oriented series. But with LA being the better defensive and rebounding team and having the size advantage will be the difference. Especially since the Lakers will have cruised through the first round, where Houston had to really battle. Lakers in six.
-Believing in the Nuggets feels foolish (at the moment, anyway). They’ve yet to prove they are more than just a regular season team. This will be the second straight year they have to really struggle to get out of the first round, and look what happened last year when they ran into Portland. Their size might be awkward for LA, but the Clips have way too much talent and experience. LA in five.
-Milwaukee and Boston split the season series, so this isn’t as cut and dry as it might seem. Boston won’t go down easy, but unlike Miami, there’s not a single player on that team that can hang with Giannis. Not to mention Lopez and Illyasova’s floor spacing will certainly clear the lane for Giannis (as if he was at all concerned by Kanter, Theis or Poirier). Bucks in five.
-The long awaited battle of Los Angeles, except it’s taking place in Orlando. This would be much harder to pick a few months ago. But the Clippers were already the much deeper team. With Rondo and Bradley out, The Lakers will truly struggle to slow down Lou Williams. The Lakers will have to get creative with lineups against the Clips to really stand a chance in that regard. But this is the most rested LeBron will have ever been in the playoffs, and that shouldn’t be ignored. It will be a fun, close series, but the Clippers really do blow the Lakers out of the water when it comes to talent (Kawhi, PG, Lou Will, Harrell, Pat Bev, Morris, Zubac vs James, AD, Kuz, Dwight…Caruso?). As much as I would love to see LeBron win his fourth, I don’t see it happening this year. Clippers in 6.
This match up definitely doesn’t come as a surprise. Even though it’ll be taking place months later than expected and it’ll be following some unforeseen circumstances, most people’s preseason pick was Bucks vs Clippers. Once again, this will be a very fun match up. The MVP vs the reigning Finals MVP. Three superstars, two phenomenal coaches. Regardless of outcome, NBA fans will have won with this exciting of a series (this year’s Finals will be much more interesting and entertaining than the previous three). The Bucks took the both regular season games, but they only won the first by five in a game where George and Leonard didn’t play. Giannis did average 28.5, 11.5 and 6.5 in those games, though. But I have a feeling that Doc Rivers will do to him what Nick Nurse did last year. Using Kawhi, PG, Harrell and Morris to stifle the MVP is certainly doable. This series could very well come down to The Bucks’ role players. Middleton, Lopez, Bledsoe, and George Hill will all need to seriously step up. But once again, the Clips talent and depth will be too much to overcome. Their bench would be a damn good starting five, and their whole roster creates serious mismatches. This is another tough pick, but the 2020 NBA Champs will be the LA Clippers after six or seven grueling games.
Let’s be honest. LeBron and Giannis will probably outplay Kawhi throughout the entirety of the playoffs. Recreating his historic ’19 run will be near impossible. And guys like Luka, Tatum and Siakam will be special as well. But if the Clippers do win, Kawhi will not only win FMVP, but will be the first player to ever win the award with three different franchises (so would LeBron if the Lakers win, so that’s some bragging rights right there).
And what would a FMVP mean for different players. For LeBron, it’s number four and he gets that aforementioned record. Giannis would get to add it to his two regular season MVPs, which would certainly bolster his career into legendary status. Same would go for Harden or Westbrook. What about a youngster like AD, Luka or Tatum?
That’s what’s so great about this bubble scenario. Everyone’s fresh, home court advantage won’t exist, and it truly feels like anything could happen. As confident as I might be in my picks, there’s a pretty good chance most of them are wrong – which is thrilling.
It’s 2020, and everything is strange. Let’s just sit back and enjoy the fact that NBA basketball is back.
*stats provided by ESPN