The NBA is back baby!
On June 4th, the Board of Governors voted 29 to 1 in favor of a plan that will send 22 teams to Orlando to resume the NBA season. Basically, the 8 teams from each conference as well as the 6 additional teams (5 from the west and 1 from the east) that are within 6 games of playoff contention will each play an abbreviated 8-game conclusion to the regular season before (FINALLY) beginning the playoffs.
Now, it has yet to be determined how the playoffs will be structured, but I’m still hopeful for a 1 through 16 structure, similar to a march madness bracket. We’ve covered this before so I won’t go over it again, but today I want to take a deeper look at the match-ups we would see if we did away with conferences and restructured the playoffs.
Before we begin I need to mention two things. First off, this breakdown is based off of the 8 teams from each conference currently eligible for the playoffs. Yes 6 other teams could make the playoffs, but honestly I don’t think any of them will. The only team who could from the east are the Wizards who are 5.5 games out and out west the 8-seeded Grizzlies hold a commanding 3.5 game lead. Secondly, I’m breaking down the match-ups based off of current records, which are obviously bound to change slightly with the conclusion of the regular season. This is not fool proof or perfect by any means but damn it the NBA is back and I’m hyped! So please, just humor me with this.
As a reminder, here’s this new format would look like if the playoffs were to start today:
Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Orlando Magic (16): Lol. I might consider giving Orlando a game in this series if Jonathan Isaac was healthy – his defensive prowess would have been fun to watch against Giannis – but this will be a cake walk. Bucks in 4.
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (15): Our first inter-conference match-up. And what an incredible series this could be. But without Kevin Durant – who has stated he will not be returning for the 2020 season – or Kyrie Irving, this otherwise entertaining Nets team will prove to be nothing more than a formality for Lebron and co. Look for Spenser Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert to each have step up with solid individual performances, but fall to the Lakers in 4 game that won’t be very close. Lakers in 4.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (14): It’s crazy what a few years and a championship will do to change your outlook on a team. Two years ago I may have called for an upset here. Lead by future rookie of the year Ja Morant and other young up-and-comers like Jaren Jackson Jr., and Brandon Clarke, this Memphis team is athletic, firey, and and fun to watch. But they have to face the Raptors just have too much grit on the defensive end and experience in the playoffs. I look for Memphis to keep it close through four games, tying the series at 2-2, but Toronto will take control and win the next two to close out the series. Raptors in 6.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Dallas Mavericks (13): I’m so hyped for this series. The best rising superstar in the NBA in his first playoff series (Luka) vs. arguably the best defender and playoff performer in the NBA (Kawhi). While I’m rooting for Luka and the Mavericks here, I have to go with the Clippers. Kawhi will play in every game and his team is much more well rounded. Look for Luka to put up video game numbers in his first playoff appearance, but ultimately lose the series. Clippers in 5.
Boston Celtics (5) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (12): This is arguably the most interesting match-up of the first round. Both the Celtics and Sixers were seen as powerhouse teams that would contend for the top spot in the west. Though neither team lived up to that hype, the Boston has vastly out-performed Philly throughout the season. Impaired by underperforming max contracts and supposed locker room tension, Philly fell in disappointing fashion to the 6th seed in the east (12th best overall) – setting up a series against the Celtics that many thought could have come in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Its a bit hard to make a prediction here. When Philly is on their A game, they are a tough matchup for Boston. They have the experience and skill to keep up with a Celtics core that looks poised to make deep playoff runs for years to come. That said, I don’t think Philly will show up. They’re experiencing adversity while Boston’s young stars are emerging as NBA elites. While this could be a seven game series, everything is working in the Boston’s favor. They win in 5.
Denver Nuggets (6) vs. Indiana Pacers (11): If this were next year, I’d give Indy more of a shot. They’re a relatively young team with a super talented core, and great team chemistry. They don’t have one superstar but they play great team ball and do the little things right. But with their best player Victor Oladipo slowly getting back to form after a gruesome knee injury, I just don’t see them taking down this Nuggets team. The Pacers will make this a great series to watch, but it’s just not their year. Watch for Jokić to have a monster close out game as the Nuggets advance in 7.
Utah Jazz (7) vs. Houston Rockets (10): I’m so curious to watch the Utah Jazz return. All eyes will be on Rudy Gobert, who infamously touched all the mics during a press conference when asked about his concern for COVID-19, then tested positive a day later triggering the suspension of the league. It’s going to be must watch TV to see how teams respond (I only wish fans could be there) to the once well-liked player. Also, how has their team chemistry been impacted? In either case, they run into an unfortunate match-up against the Rockets. Houston’s commitment to small ball will prove effective against Gobert and his interior defense. Russell Westbrook makes it out of the first round for the first time since 2016. Rockets take the series in 5.
Oklahoma City Thunder (8) vs. Miami Heat (9): Here’s a matchup nobody thought we’d see. Not only is it an inter-conference match-up, but who’d have thought the Heat and Thunder would both be in the playoff with better records than half of eligible teams at that! This is a fun series. Both teams have young players who are exciting to watch. Both teams have veteran leadership and play great defense. In the end however, I think the Heat have a deeper roster with more talent. Look for this to go the at least 6 games, with the Heat winning in 7. Props to the Thunder though. Preseason predictions didn’t have them anywhere near a game 7 in the playoffs.
I’ll conclude with part two next week.
-Nick Hannigan (Twitter: @TheNickHannigan)
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