NBA Playoff predictions

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By WGR 550 SportsRadio

The official restart of the 2020 NBA season starts on Thursday night as two games tip-off the seeding portion of matchups in Orlando, Florida. 22 teams that were either already in a playoff spot, or within at least six games of the final seed in each conference, will play in eight "regular season" games to determine playoff matchups. 

If by the end of the four games a No. 9 seed is within four games of the No. 8 seed, they will matchup in a play-in tournament against the team holding that final playoff spot. The No. 8 seed would only need to defeat the No. 9 seed once to advance to the postseason. The No. 9 seed would have to win twice. 

Five non-playoff teams in the Western Conference will have a chance to get in, while just the Washington Wizards qualified as a team in the Eastern Conference that can still grab the final playoff spot. 

Here's a look at the teams participating in Orlando:

 

Western Conference:

  1. Los Angeles Lakers (49-14)
  2. Los Angeles Clippers (44-20)
  3. Denver Nuggets (43-22)
  4. Utah Jazz (41-23)
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24)
  6. Houston Rockets (40-24)
  7. Dallas Mavericks (40-27)
  8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-33)
  9. Portland Trail Blazers (29-37)
  10. New Orleans Pelicans (28-36)
  11. Sacramento Kings (28-36)
  12. San Antonio Spurs (27-36)
  13. Phoenix Suns (26-39)

 

Eastern Conference:

  1. Milwaukee Bucks (53-12)
  2. Toronto Raptors (46-18)
  3. Boston Celtics (43-21)
  4. Miami Heat (41-24)
  5. Indiana Pacers (39-26)
  6. Philadelphia 79ers (39-26)
  7. Brooklyn Nets (30-34)
  8. Orlando Magic (30-35)
  9. Washington Wizards (24-40)

What was already a parity-driven NBA season filled with star-duos across the league seems to have even more unpredictability with the restart in Orlando. Who will get into the big dance? Who is taking home, perhaps, the most unique championship in league history? 

Prediction time. 

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:
First Round:
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans

LeBron James is on a mission in 2020 and nobody is taking the top seed from him. Zion Willamson and the Pelicans are just 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the final spot. If they can stay within four, they will defeat Memphis in a play-in series. 

LeBron vs. Zion is a dream first round matchup. It will be wildly entertaining to see the current face of the league against, perhaps, the next face in the playoffs, but New Orleans isn't ready to seriously compete with the Lakers. 

Result: Lakers advance in four games

 

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks 

This should be a much closer first round series than Lakers-Pelicans. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are a tough first matchup for Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but the Clippers are just too loaded with star power and top-tier role players to be bounced in their first series. 

Result: Clippers advance in five games 

 

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

Team basketball is the name of the game for these two teams. They move the ball extremely well on offense, while having some incredible length to defend on defense. 

Outside of Chris Paul, there isn't a ton of playoff experience between the two, but Denver is a deeper, more talented team. They will advance. 

Result: Denver advances in seven games 

 

(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Utah Jazz

The Jazz should pray Oklahoma City hangs on to the fifth-seed because the Rockets are a nightmare matchup for Utah. 

Jazz center Rudy Gobert will be an extreme liability on defense having to defend outside the paint against the Rockets' zero-bigs lineup that features 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker at the five. Utah just doesn't have enough firepower without Bojan Bogdanovic to keep pace with James Harden and Russell Westbrook.

Result: Rockets advance in five games 

 

Second Round: 
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Houston Rockets

The Rockets have two former MVPs to test James and Anthony Davis and it certainly will be a series. However, Houston is just too inconsistent to take the Lakers down in a seven-game series. 

Result: Lakers advance in six games

 

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets 

Outside of the Lakers, Denver might match up with the Clippers better than anyone in the West with the depth of their bench. Regardless, nobody is stopping the battle of Los Angeles from taking place in the Conference Finals. 

Result: Clippers advance in six 

 

Western Conference Finals: 
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers

This is the matchup everyone is dying to see. James and Davis vs. Leonard and George. Each regular season matchup between these two teams were absolute wars. 

The Clippers have equal star power and better role players, but LeBron is getting to the NBA Finals this season.

Result: Lakers advance in seven games

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS:
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

No Kyrie Irving or Kevin Durant means no problem for the Bucks getting past the Nets. 

Result: Bucks advance in four games

 

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic 

Toronto is too battle-tested to get bounced in the first round by a team like Orlando. No buzzer-beaters by D.J. Augustin stealing games for the Magic this time. 

Result: Raptors advance in four games 

 

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Indiana Pacers 

The Pacers are a tough first round matchup for anyone, but Boston is the biggest threat to take down the Bucks in the East.

Result: Celtics advance in six games

 

(4) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (5) Miami Heat 

Even if Ben Simmons doesn't start taking jump shots in games that matter, Philadelphia should be favored over Miami. The Heat have a talented supporting cast around Jimmy Butler, but when Butler is your best player, it has been proven you don't go far in the postseason.

Result: Sixers advance in six games 

 

Second Round: 
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (4) Philadelphia 76ers

Length on length on length in this series. If anyone can guard the "Greek Freak" in Giannis Antetokounmpo, it is Philadelphia with defenders like Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle. 

Milwaukee is still a far more consistent team that can beat you in more ways than the Sixers can. 

Result: Bucks advance in six games

 

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics 

This series is destined to go seven games. Both the Celtics and Raptors are built in a similar way, featuring young stars in Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam, as well as proven veterans like Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry. 

These teams are no stranger to deep playoff runs. This should be one of the best series of the playoffs. 

Result: Celtics advance in seven games 

 

Eastern Conference Finals: 
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (3) Boston Celtics 

Although the Bucks have won three of the last four matchups against Boston, the Celtics know how to beat Giannis in the playoffs. They've done it before with far less talent on the roster. 

Tatum was playing like an MVP candidate before the season was postponed and he will likely pick up right where he left off. Tatum and Walker are going to get Boston back to the finals for the first time in over a decade. 

Result: Celtics advance in seven games

 

NBA Finals: 
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics

The classic finals matchup returns for the first time since 2009. Magic vs. Bird. Kobe vs. the "Big Three". Now, LeBron and A.D. versus Tatum and Kemba. 

Boston has always been able to give LeBron trouble throughout his career, and while this should be a back and forth series, the Lakers are going to have the storybook ending with a championship. 

What a story it would be. From the highs of signing LeBron in 2018 and trading for Davis in 2019, to the lows of Kobe Bryant's tragic death and the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lakers winning it all in 2020 would be the best possible outcome for the NBA. 

LeBron wins his fourth ring with a third different team, cementing himself as the greatest basketball player of all time. 

 

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