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“And Your 2020 NBA Champions Are” – A Breakdown of the Probable Playoff Match-Ups (Pt. 4)

Here we are, with the fourth and final installment of my playoff predictions if the NBA were to adopt a 1-16 bracket. Today we’re going over my picks for who will make and win the NBA Finals. It’s important you go back and take a look at parts 1 through 3 if you’ve missed anything. In the those articles I go over the earlier rounds as well as things like why a 1-16 playoff bracket is a realistic possibility. Check them out here. And without further ado, lets jump into it.

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NBA Finals

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2): Ahh, we’ve made it. The NBA Finals baby! And what a matchup we’ve come to. Despite the shake up of a one through sixteen bracket, both conferences are still represented by their best teams. A competitive matchup sure to go down in history as the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers face off for the chip. Taking a look at the regular season, both teams stole a win from the other. The Bucks earned a 7 point win on December 19th, the Lakers a 10 point win on March 6th. Neither team ever appeared to have a significant edge over the other. So which team will ultimately come out on top? Well with Giannis putting up his numbers and both Lebron and AD doing their thing, we have to look at each teams supporting cast.

The Lakers

First we have the Lakers. Outside of Lebron and AD, their third option tends to fluctuate but is most commonly Kyle Kuzma. Kuzma, who’s scoring 12.5 points a game on an underwhelming 43.2% from the field and 29.7% from behind the arc, hasn’t exactly stepped up as that third option as most Lakers fans hoped he would to begin the season. He hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t been good either. In his two games against the Bucks this season, he’s averaging 11 points on a dismal 27.3% overall. He took care of the ball and averaged an impressive 8 rebounds in the small sample size. But in a seven game series, you need more out of him.

Next there’s Danny Green who, unlike Kuzma, played well against the Bucks this season. In those two games, he averaged 13.5 points (the most outside of Lebron and AD) on an efficient 47% from the field including 53% from three. Green looks to be the Lakers most effective role player in this series. His effectiveness from range bodes well against a Milwaukee squad that loves to lock down the paint and force opponents to shoot the ball. He also has plenty of experience in the Finals as well, shooting 43.1% from three in his 3 Finals appearances to date.

Next you have LA’s rotation of centers. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, who take up a majority of minutes at the five, have combined for a decent season. Neither of their numbers look spectacular individually, but together they’ve averaged 14 points, 13 rebounds, and nearly 3 blocks while splitting time at the position. Those numbers are comparable to those of Rudy Gobert this season, so I’ll take that. Neither one of them played well against the Bucks this season however. Both got into foul trouble in those games and played limited minutes.

Avery Bradley would be another role player for the lakers worth mentioning however, he has decided not to travel with the team to Orlando. His spot on the roster will be filled by guard JR Smith who signed with the team earlier this week. Smith has been out of the league since last season, when he played just 11 games for the Cavaliers. Hard to say how he’ll play, but we’re all remembering the the last meaningful play he made. Though he does have history with Lebron, my guess is that he won’t be much of an threat.

The Bucks

Then there’s the Bucks. Let’s set Giannis aside for a moment because we all know what he is capable of. This team is still incredibly well built, and capable of comfortably playing their 13th man off the bench if needed. The next man up is obviously Khris Middleton, who’s perhaps one of the most underrated players in the league. A critical piece to the Bucks system, Middleton is likely going to be the 9th member of the NBA’s elite 50-40-90 club by season’s end. He averages 21, 6, and 4, plays great defense, and seems to make all of the little plays that don’t show up in the boxscore. He’s the ideal player to have alongside Giannis and the kind of teammate you want when facing a team like the Lakers.

Next up you have point guard Eric Bledsoe. Though one could argue he’s slightly past his prime, he’s still a player the Lakers will have to game-plan for. He’s 3rd on the team in scoring, putting up putting up 15.4 points to go alone with his 5.6 assists. Perhaps his best quality though is his defense. Coming off of an All-Defensive First Team selection in the previous season, Bledsoe is a gritty player who can lock up opposing guards night in and night out. He will likely be tasked with covering whoever the Lakers run at shooting guard, due to the 6’8″ Lebron running point (Bledsoe is only 6’1″) but look for him to be a pest against whoever he’s assigned.

Next you have the shooting guard tandem of Wesley Matthews and Dante DiVincenzo. Much like Howard and McGee for the Lakers at center, Matthews and DiVincenzo split time for the Bucks at the position. Matthews typically starts game and scores efficiently, while DiVincenzo plays well on both ends of the ball, but is more known for his defense. Regardless of the matchup on the court, Coach Budenholzer can put out the guard he needs more. If they’re down and need a three point threat, in goes Matthews. If a team is making a run and they need to hold a lead, look to see DiVincenzo in. The combo provides some great versatility in critical situations, especially late in games.

The rest of the team, like I’ve said before, is very complimentary to this core. Brook Lopez provides some solid rim protection and stretches the floor. George Hill will give you good minutes off the bench when the starters are out, as will guys like Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver, and Ersan Ilyasova. Brother to starter Brook, backup center Robin Lopez doesn’t wow you with his numbers but plays his role well.

And your 2020 NBA Champions are…

The Milwaukee Bucks. I know I’m probably the minority opinion here (at least if you ask @bigbucksbuckley I am). This is a star driven league after all. In that regard, LA has the definite advantage. I just think the Bucks are perfectly build to beat the Lakers in a seven game series. Giannis and his aggressive play will put AD in foul trouble early in games, limiting his impact. It will also force Lebron to do most of the heavy lifting on both ends of the court. The Bucks will lock down the paint, protect the rim, and force Lebron and the rest of the Lakers to rely on outside shooting and free throws. The Lakers bench will be exposed by a much superior second unit.

The Lakers are a great team. They’ve made it this far for a reason. They’ll win at least two games and possibly a third. But in the end Giannis will make a statement, finally and forcefully taking the throne from Lebron as the NBA’s undisputed best player. Lebron will be 3-10 in the finals, possibly ending any real hopes of winning another ring, and the narrative will be how he just couldn’t get it done when it mattered most.

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What do you think of my predictions? Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Who do you have in the Finals? Also, what do you think of a 1-16 format for the playoffs? I want to hear from you. Leave a comment and let me know what you think!

–Nick Hannigan (Twitter: @TheNickHannigan)

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