Breakdown and Predictions for the First Round of the NBA Playoffs
The most unorthodox NBA postseason kicks off on Monday!
The time to crown a new champion is finally here.
For the first time in NBA history, home court advantage holds no meaning as the bubble will be sure to crown the most deserving of champions. The Toronto Raptors will look to defend their title against some intriguing competition, including the upstart Miami Heat, the Giannis Antetokounmpo-led juggernaut Milwaukee Bucks, and the two super-teams out in California in the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers.
There are many interesting storylines of note heading into this year’s playoffs but above all, we are all just very excited to get the postseason rolling! So without further adieu, let’s jump into our breakdown and predictions of the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs!
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic
We’re going to make this one quick as there is really very little need for discussion here.
The Milwaukee Bucks have championship aspirations, anchored by MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the number-1 ranked defense, and a collection of knockdown shooters (1st in the league in effective field goal percentage, 3rd in true shooting percentage). Meanwhile, their opponents have failed to make any significant progress since last season and now enter the postseason having lost Jonathan Isaac with a knee injury.
This will not last long.
You can envision the Bucks potentially struggling against tougher teams, especially considering their three-point shooting has been hot-and-cold all season. Moreover, if a team presents legitimate defensive options against Antetokounmpo, the opposition may have a chance to contain the reigning MVP and cause the Bucks some trouble, but that opponent is by no means the Orlando Magic.
Again, the Bucks have championship aspirations, while the Magic will scratch and claw to hopefully pull out a single victory.
Prediction: Bucks win series 4-0
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets
Raptors fans, prepare yourselves for Game 1 of the postseason because you just don’t know how it’s going to go.
It was DJ Augustin last year, who will it be this year? Chris Chiozza?
God, I hope not.
Moving past the fact that the Raptors will need to give up a ceremonious Game 1 to truly indicate that the NBA playoffs have started, the Raptors will prove to be too good and too deep for an injury-riddled Brooklyn Nets team.
Entering the postseason healthy and ready to go, the Raptors are an elite defensive team, they are well-coached, they are deep, and have seen just about everything the playoffs can throw their way. In the absence of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors were still able to achieve the franchise’s best winning percentage in franchise history and that is a testament to the incredible steps forward a number of players took this season.
Kyle Lowry has once again been incredible. Believe it or not, Pascal Siakam took yet another step forward in his development. Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka are all in the midst of their best career seasons, while Marc Gasol remains an elite defensive anchor and protector of the paint. OG Anunoby missed the Raptors playoff run last season, but has developed into a top-5 perimeter defense and a key contributor to a team that gives up the fewest points per game of any team in the league.
Their success on the defensive side of the ball can be attributed to their high IQ, length, athleticism, and understanding of their schemes. They protect the three-point shot at an elite pace and give up very little around the basket. Offensively, they will struggle in the half-court, especially when defensive intensity jumps up a couple of ticks in the playoffs, but if there is one thing that this season has taught us, it’s not to underestimate the hearts of a champion.
Be sure to check out our more in depth breakdown of this series here.
Prediction: Raptors win series 4-1
(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers
For the betterment of this Philadelphia 76ers team, they should get absolutely destroyed in this first round matchup.
No Ben Simmons, a brutal front office led by general manager Elton Brand, and a head coach in Brett Brown who has not particularly found his footing in Philadelphia in what has been a tenure that, let’s be honest, has overstayed its welcome. The acquisition of Al Horford has fallen flat on its face, while the organization has failed to provide Simmons with any shooters to utilize their franchise point guard’s greatest strengths – his elite vision and passing ability.
The Boston Celtics on the other hand have been just fine since moving on from locker-room instigator Kyrie Irving.
Both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have taken their games to All-Star levels, while the acquisition of Kemba Walker has added some much-needed stability to a team that looks to have a championship ceiling. Outside of the Los Angeles Clippers, the Boston Celtics are the only team in the league with a top-5 ranked offence and defense – they are legit, believe me.
Much like the other elite teams in the Eastern Conference, they are also very well coached and should have very little problems getting past a dysfunctional Sixers team that will have many questions to answer this upcoming offseason.
Prediction: Celtics win series 4-2
(4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Miami Heat
In stretches, the Miami Heat look awesome and at other points, the Heat look like a completely different team.
On paper, they look deep, they’re elite at shooting the three, they are stout defensively, they are very well coached and have a perfect balance of veteran leadership and exciting youth. Jimmy Butler is a superstar calibre player who can carry a team and provide offense no matter how good opposing defenses happen to be, while Bam Adebayo has reached new heights and may very well be the most important player on the Heat roster, let alone one of the best players in the entire conference.
Between Duncan Robinson, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, and Tyler Herro, the Heat have plenty of shooting and Kendrick Nunn and Goran Dragic provide stability at the point guard spot.
Yet, we still have no idea which type of Heat team we will see in the playoffs.
They may be the team that dismantled the Bucks in the first half of their last matchup, or the team that got obliterated in the second half of the same exact game.
Meanwhile, the Indiana Pacers have their own problems, primarily when it comes to health. All-Star Domantas Sabonis is out, Jeremy Lamb is rehabbing a torn ACL, and Victor Oladipo has not been the same since returning from knee surgery. TJ Warren has found new life since the Pacers have decided to go smaller with their starting lineup and Malcolm Brogdon has proven to be an amazing addition to a team that at full health is honestly quite intriguing.
This series will surely be a battle, but when it comes down to talent, the Heat have the two best players in the series and shoot the three at a prolific rate. The Pacers take the fewest perimeter shots in the league and are middle of the pack at converting on the shots that they do take.
Prediction: Heat win series 4-2
The 2020 NBA Playoffs Bracket! #WholeNewGame
— NBA (@NBA) August 15, 2020
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
If the buzzer-beating shot by Caris LeVert went in, the Portland Trail Blazers would have become the best 10-seed in NBA history.
Fast-forward a couple of days and the Blazers are set to meet the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. The Blazers have looked like a completely different team since the return of Jusuf Nurkic, while the Los Angeles Lakers have looked very disengaged and disinterested since arriving to the Bubble.
That being said, it’s probably not the best idea to count out LeBron James. Many people may take away a little bit too much from the Lakers lacklustre bubble play, but it is important to note that the Lakers essentially had the top seed clinched before ever even arriving to Orlando.
Don’t fall for small sample sizes. The Lakers have length and can create matchup nightmares for the Blazers.
Additionally, let’s not forget that the Lakers still boast the third best defense in the league and give up very little around the rim, and despite a lack of shooting depth surrounding James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers should have enough firepower to score on the 28th ranked defense in the league. The Blazers’ high-powered offence may struggle when the pace slows down in the playoffs and will be forced to make defensive stops in a matchup where they really have no legitimate defensive options for James and Davis.
Lillard may mess around and drop 50 a couple of times and the Blazers may make things interesting, but otherwise, Portland will struggle with what will be a tough matchup for a poor defensive team.
Prediction: Lakers win series 4-2
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks offense is firing at a historic pace, and the play of Kristaps Porzingis and Luka Doncic should have Mavs fans excited for years to come.
There is truly a lot of firepower here and it will put the Clippers elite perimeter defense to the test. The Mavericks boast the top ranked offence in the league, will take a ton of threes and will make a bunch of threes (ranked 10th in the league in three-point percentage and fourth in the league in both effective field goal and true shooting percentage). That being said, they are going up against a team that is healthy, and ranked in the top-3 in both offence and defence, which is no easy feat to accomplish.
The Los Angeles Clippers are deep and are led by two superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
The Mavericks defense will be tested throughout the series, while Doncic will be operating with Leonard and George on him for the majority of the series. Although a good three-point shooting team, the Clippers don’t take a lot of shots from the perimeter, meaning if the Mavericks can heat up from long range, their offence will have a chance to make the series interesting.
Nevertheless, the Clippers are just far too talented to fall to a young and inexperienced Mavericks team.
Prediction: Clippers win series 4-2
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz took a big hit after loosing Bojan Bogdanovic to wrist surgery and although defensively, they remain stout with Rudy Gobert roaming the paint, the Jazz will struggle scoring the ball.
Meanwhile, the Denver Nuggets have just been a joy to watch inside the bubble.
Nikola Jokic is the best big man in basketball, while Michael Porter Jr. has been showing that Kevin Durant-esque potential that evaluators saw in him as a high school prospect and a star in his brief tenure in Missouri. Compounded by their depth, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris in the backcourt and phenomenal coaching from the sideline from Mike Malone, the Nuggets may be a very tough out in these playoffs.
Although their offence is ranked in the top-five and a lot of that is attributed to their effectiveness moving the ball (ranked 5th in the league in assist ratio), they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to shooting the basketball and defending the opposition. They also have the second slowest pace in the NBA, which may make the Nuggets easier to guard in the postseason.
The Donovan Mitchell-Mike Conley experiment has also not worked out as well as the Jazz have hoped, spelling what should be a tough series for the Jazz.
Prediction: Nuggets win series 4-2
(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
Quite possibly the most intriguing series of the first round of the playoffs, the Oklahoma City Thunder will look to keep the string of surprises going against the analytically-driven juggernaut, the Houston Rockets.
For every fight that Chris Paul instigates against his former team, take a shot.
Behind a top-10 defense and an elite backcourt tandem in Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder have been able to find their way back to the postseason, and they are more than just a feel good story. They are a well-coached and disciplined team, but the playoffs is a different animal, and they are going up against an explosive offensive team that deserves far more credit for their defensive improvements since trading away the last of their big men at the deadline.
The Rockets are testing the boundaries of what is possible in the modern NBA.
Their ideology is based around shooting tons of threes and getting to the free throw line – the two most efficient shots in basketball. Very rarely will you see them settle for a mid-range jump shot and with wing players like Robert Covington and PJ Tucker, the Rockets pose a very stout defensive unit despite lacking height. Moreover, the Oklahoma City Thunder are by no means world-beaters when it comes to rebounding the ball (22nd in rebound percentage and 23rd in rebounds per game).
While we do not have a set return date for Westbrook just yet, his absence may turn this series into one that can go all the way, but ultimately, the Thunder will struggle to match the offensive juggernaut that is the Rockets shoot-happy offence.
Prediction: Rockets win series 4-3