Well, the NBA playoffs are happening. The first tip will come on August 17, more than two months of when the originally scheduled NBA Finals was supposed to end. And when a team wins the Larry O’Brien trophy this year, it will be with nobody there, in the middle of October, at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida’s Disney World.
Pretty weird but at least we are getting playoff basketball in 2020. So, here is a preview/prediction of each first round series, with heavy analysis on the matchups.
#1 Lakers over #8 Blazers: 4-2
Well Dame, here’s your time. The hottest player in the league leads a Blazers team, whom after reaching the western conference finals a year ago, has stumbled this year as they were one Caris LeVert shot away from going home without even making the play-in round. But with all the challenges the Blazers have faced this year. the Lakers will be the biggest. Waiting for Portland in the first round is the best playoff player in the world LeBron James, the best big man in the game Anthony Davis and one of the deepest benches in the league.
The best of the west have rolled through every opponent they have seen this season and with Portland’s meager defense, they won’t stop. Damian Lillard will ball in this series and could drop at least 40 multiple times but even if he scores 100, the Lakers aren’t going anywhere. Dame will keep the Blazers in the series but with nobody to guard Bron or AD, they take over and advance the Lakers to the second round as Portland’s underwhelming season ends early.
Series MVP: LeBron James
#2 Clippers over #7 Mavericks: 4-3
This is one of the most underrated first round matchups we’ve seen in a while. The NBA’s current best defensive duo in Paul George and Kawhi Leonard versus one of the best offensive tandem in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. The Clippers hold a massive advantage in terms of championship experience most notably in 2x Finals MVP Leonard and coach Doc Rivers.
The Mavericks, other than coach Rick Carlisle, have not come up against any meaningful playoff runs. This edge of knowing what to expect will help the Clippers contain the Mavs’ blistering offensive attack as Leonard, George and Montrezl Harrell hold down Doncic and Porzingis on defense while the Dallas defense cannot handle the several scoring options for the Clippers. The European young studs hold their ground and steal two games but ultimately do not have enough to upend the unbelievable deep Clippers who advance to the second round in 6 great games.
Series MVP: Paul George
#3 Nuggets over #6 Jazz: 4-3
This might be the most evenly matched playoff series the NBA has seen in a long time. Each sides have their all star big man in Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Utah’s Rudy Gobert. They both have game changers at guard in the Nuggets’ Jamal Murray and the Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell. Both coaches have won playoff series’ in the last two years while being seemingly outmatched. So what sets these teams apart?
The Nuggets have their biggest contributors. With Utah losing the scoring of Bojan Bogdanovic the rest of the way and with the personal abscence of Mike Conley for at least the start of the series, wing players like Gary Harris and Michael Porter Jr. can score at will while providing aid on defense that will ultimately swing the series. Denver’s vast scoring options will outnumber Utah’s and lead to the Nuggets advancing on in the playoffs in a tough 7 game series as the Jazz’s bizarre season ends.
Series MVP: Michael Porter Jr.
#4 Rockets over #5 Thunder: 4-3
This series is the ultimate grudge match. Both James Harden and Russell Westbrook take on the team that drafted them, got them to the finals, and then traded them albeit nearly seven years apart. Chris Paul returns to meet the team that traded for him, were the 2nd best team in the West for two seasons, then traded him to Oklahoma.
The Westbrook-Paul trade is what will decide this series in the end. Houston’s small ball offense will succeed against the Thunder defense, but OKC’s normal offensive gameplan will wreck havoc on Houston’s subpar defense. The Thunder will get an early advantage in the series but once Westbrook returns from injury, OKC will find it impossible to guard both Russ and Harden. The highest scoring duo in NBA history will lift the Rockets to a first round victory as their shooting and coaching outmatch Oklahoma and the Thunder, yet again, end their season in the first round.
Series MVP: James Harden
#1 Bucks over #8 Magic: 4-0
Not much to see in this series here folks. The Bucks are the most complete team in the NBA. They have the superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is accompanied by his all star sidekick, 3&D wing Khris Middleton and valuable veterans in Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Kyle Korver and George Hill. The Magic, whom have basically been rebuilding since Dwight Howard left nearly a decade ago, have no hope in this series. Milwaukee rolls over the hometown Magic and walk to the East Semifinals.
Series MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
#2 Raptors over #7 Nets: 4-0
If the Nets were at full strength, this series would be over before it started. But since they aren’t, it already is over before it starts but in favor of Toronto. The defending champions bring back almost the exact same group that won the championship last year and with an unmatched defensive effort, Caris LeVert by himself won’t even manage a win. Led by breakout star Pascal Siakam and franchise leader Kyle Lowry, the Raptors dominate the Nets and easily advance to the second round for the 5th straight year.
Series MVP: Pascal Siakam
#3 Celtics over #6 76ers: 4-2
If the 76ers had Ben Simmons, Philadelphia would have a very serious chance to take out the rival Celtics. But without their game changer on the floor, the Sixers will suffer. Losing their best defensive sopper on the perimeter will allow guys like Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown to have much easier matchups outside and both of those guys, not to mention Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, will be able to rain in buckets as Joel Embiid can only watch.
The big man along with Tobias Harris are the guys Philly relies on for scoring, but since they or anyone else on the team can’t defend Hayward, Brown, Tatum and Walker whom are all capable of 30 point games every night, the Sixers don’t have much edge. And with the Celtics being far more deeper and better coached, Boston will avenge Philly’s win in the season series and knock them out of the playoffs in 6 games, sending the Celtics to a date with Toronto and ending the Sixers very disappointing season.
Series MVP: Jaylen Brown
#4 Heat over #5 Pacers: 4-2
These two teams are very similar, but not in the ways you would see on paper. Both play with the underdog mentality and leave it all on the floor. Each have playoff hardened leaders that come in Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Oladipo, Andre Iguodala and Goran Dragic. But when it comes down to crunch time, only one man on the floor in this series can be the game changer, Yes, it is obviously Jimmy Butler.
The Pacers do not have any sort of two way threat that can contain the ultimate gamer that is Butler who will run circles on both ends all series around Indiana. While TJ Warren has been a bucket in the bubble, we’ve already seen Butler knows how to lock him and Oladipo down on offense. And it sure doesn’t help that the Pacers all star big man Domantas Sabonis is injured and thus leaves Bam Adebayo to dominate the paint. Miami’s shooting and defense will be the deciding factor as the Heat handle Indiana on defense and rain in shots to end the series in 6 as the Pacers first round curse keeps living while the Miami surprise moves on.
Series MVP: Jimmy Butler
Photo: USA TODAY Sports