By: Ibrahim Ben Hadj Tahar

Finally, after a nearly five-month hiatus, the excitement and suspense of the NBA season has returned. The resumed NBA season will see 22 teams battle it out in Disney’s Wide World of Sports venue in Orlando. Once again, the question of which teams will deliver and impress in these playoffs comes into the spotlight. Will it be the veteran filled Lakers, whose back to back wins over the Clippers and Bucks earlier in the season cemented them in the eyes of some as title favorites? Or perhaps, another championship run for Kawhi Leonard, with the goal of capturing the Clippers’ first title. Regardless of the champion, the next few months of basketball promise to be exhilarating, as players look to cement themselves on the NBA landscape or further their already impressive resumes. 

Western Conference

Phoenix Suns

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 28-45 (2-6)

Outlook: Behind 5th year scoring phenom Devin Booker and his 26 points per game, the Phoenix Suns are trying to make it back to the postseason for the first time since their Western Conference Finals loss in 2010. Currently, they sit 6 games behind the 8th seed Memphis Grizzlies, which means if they are to finish as the 9th seed, they will need to gain 2 games on Memphis in order to trigger a play-in for the final playoff spot. In order for this to happen, they will need more offensive output from players like Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Kelly Oubre Jr. On top of this, head coach Monty Williams will have to find a way to improve this team’s defensive ability, a side of the ball in which they currently sit with the bottom 10 teams in the league (based on Defensive Rating). I see the Suns opening their schedule with an upset win over the Mavs, as well as a win in their 4th game against the Heat, but ultimately finishing 2-6 in the bubble. 

San Antonio Spurs 

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 28-43 (1-7)

Outlook: The Spurs come into the bubble behind an aging core headed by DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge mixed in with great young talents like guards Dejounte Murray and Derrick White, as well as backup center Jakob Poeltl. After losing to the 2nd seeded Nuggets in a grueling 7 game series last season, if Gregg Popovich’s team is to extend its playoff streak, they will need to drastically improve  their bottom 5 defense. Currently, they sit only half a game back of the 9th seeded Trail Blazers, which means if they string together some timely wins, a playoff berth is well within reach. They open their season on Sunday against the 8th seeded Memphis Grizzlies, and I think this will be the first of 5 consecutive losses, with their lone win coming on August 9th against the Pelicans. 

Sacramento Kings

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 30-42 (2-6)

Outlook: After last season’s 39 win season, the Kings look to push for their first playoff appearance since 2006, a 14-year drought. In order to accomplish this, it will take an improved scoring output from players like Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic, as well as the continued production from their young core of De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley. This is a team with a lot of potential and a chance to become a Western Conference powerhouse in the upcoming years. I see the Kings opening up their schedule with a win against the Magic before another win 5 days later against the Nets, but ultimately losing the other six and missing out on the postseason yet again.

New Orleans Pelicans

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 33-39 (5-3)

Outlook: Since the return of star rookie Zion Williamson, the Pelicans have clawed their way back into playoff contention, and they find themselves tied for the 10th position with the Kings and only behind Portland on the win percentage tiebreaker. The Pelicans high paced style of play (2nd in Pace) has given fits to the leagues best all season long, with notable wins coming over the Celtics, Rockets, and a season sweep over the Trail Blazers. Alvin Gentry’s team opens up action in a highly anticipated matchup against the Jazz on Thursday, a close game that I see them pulling out.  They follow this up with games against the Clippers and Grizzlies, both games I see them losing. After a shaky 1-2 start, I see them finishing their season 4-1, with another loss coming from the San Antonio Spurs. Nonetheless, this is a team that will undoubtedly be a title contender once their young core continues to improve. 

Portland Trail Blazers 

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 34-40 (5-3)

Outlook: One of the biggest benefactors of the NBA’s hiatus, the fully healthy Portland Trail Blazers look to once again make some noise in the Western Conference following their Conference Final berth just last season. Behind their star studded backcourt of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, offensive output has obviously been the strength for this roster, finishing top 10 in offensive rating and 8th in points per game. The Blazers welcome back Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic, two pivotal players who will undoubtedly improve this team’s ability to defend the paint on defense, in which they were bottom 4 in both opponent’s points per game and defensive rating. Just like New Orleans, I see this team winning 5 of their 8 games, with their wins coming against the Grizzlies, Rockets, Nuggets, 76ers, and Nets. This 5-3 finish means that the Blazers will edge out the Pelicans for the 9th spot and a chance for a play-in tournament by way of tiebreaker.

Memphis Grizzlies

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 35-38 (3-5)

Outlook: One of the youngest teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies have clearly been one of this year’s most surprising teams. Led by clear-cut rookie of the year Ja Morant and his nearly 18 points and 7 assists per game, Memphis currently sits in control of the 8th and final playoff spot. Because of the NBA’s new rules, they will most likely have to prove they belong in a gritty play-in tournament. They resume their season on Friday against the Trail Blazers, which promises to be an exciting battle with a lot at stake. Ultimately, I see Memphis winning 3 of their 8 games in Orlando, with wins coming against the Spurs and Pelicans and then a big upset against the Bucks in their last game. Their 3-5 record means that they will play their play-in tournament vs the Blazers, needing just one win to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.

Dallas Mavericks

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 45-30 (5-3)

Outlook: Behind arguably the best 2nd season for a 20 year old player in NBA history, Luka Doncic and the Mavericks have quickly reestablished themselves in the Western Conference landscape. The team doesn’t just stop with the 29-9-9 statline put up by Luka, as Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Seth Curry’s combined 47 points per game have contributed to this team’s top 3 offensive metrics in both offensive rating (finished 1st) and points per game. Combine this with sneaky depth with underrated players like Jalen Brunson and Delon Wright and the Mavericks have the potential to make a lot of noise in the bubble. I see the Mavs finishing 5-3 in the bubble, securing a 7th seed spot and looking to make a monster upset in the first round. 

Oklahoma City Thunder

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 43-29 (3-5)

Outlook: Just a year ago, this team looked dead in the water after the departure of both Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Now, 35 year old Chris Paul and most improved candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander look to continue to turn some heads with a deep playoff run. The Thunder have found their success with a top 10 defense, something that can only go up with the return of All-Defensive shooting guard Andre Roberson. Combine this with four players averaging over 17.7 points per game, and you get a dark horse candidate for a conference final berth. I see OKC winning 3 of their 8 games, causing them to slide down from the 5th seed to the 6th, with their wins coming against the Grizzlies, Wizards, and Suns. 

Houston Rockets

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 45-27 (5-3)

Outlook: Intriguing: That’s really the only word you can use to describe this Rockets team. Ever since the trade of Clint Capela to Atlanta earlier in the year, the Rockets have gone all in on their high paced, 3-point oriented game style. While it’s still too early to see how successful  this strategy has been for them, they turned heads with a win over the Lakers in the Staples Center. Is this finally the year where both James Harden and Russell Westbrook can get over their playoff demons and return to the finals for the first time since their OKC days? Only time will tell, but I have the high scoring Rockets winning 5 of their games, propelling them to the 5th seed in the West.

Utah Jazz

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 46-26 (5-3)

Outlook: It seems like so long ago when we learned about Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell’s shocking diagnosis of coronavirus, but months later, this Jazz team looks to get back on track in order to take the next step and make a deep playoff run. This talented roster has found their identity behind Gobert’s unbelievable paint protection, but 3 consecutive first or second round exits has brought into question if one of their two stars will be traded this offseason, especially with the chemistry issues that many believe exist in their locker room. Despite this, I see the Jazz winning 5 of their last 7 games following an opening night loss to the Pelicans, finishing as the 4th seed with  hopes of shocking the world and securing their first Finals berth since 1998. 

Denver Nuggets

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 47-26 (4-4)

Outlook: The Nuggets made headlines with their big lineup, highlighted by the emergence of rookie Bol Bol and the starting of Nikola Jokic at point guard. Last season’s heartbreaking game 7 loss to the Trail Blazers has lit a fire in the eyes of this roster, with the goal of establishing themselves on the level of both Los Angeles teams. I have Denver opening up their campaign 3-0 with wins over the Heat, Thunder, and Spurs, before just a win over the Jazz in a 1-4 finish, finishing as the 3rd seed in the West.  

Los Angeles Clippers

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 51-21 (7-1)

Outlook: As the clear title favorites for many NBA analysts, the Clippers come into Orlando with huge expectations placed on the shoulders of their superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Leonard, who’s coming off a championship run with the Raptors, has the chance to cement himself as the clear best player in the world. It’s seemingly clear that their road to the finals goes through LeBron and the Lakers, making the Clippers one of the biggest benefactors in the bubble, as it looked as if they were going to have to play essentially 7 road games at Staples Center in the conference finals. This is a team that is deeper than their city rivals, with 6th man of the year front runners Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, along with the timely additions of Reggie Jackson and Marcus Morris. I see this team’s lone loss coming from the Mavericks on the August 6th, but all eyes will be on opening night against the Lakers. 

Los Angeles Lakers

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 55-16 (6-2)

Outlook: The Lakers have sat comfortable on top of the West all season long behind their star-studded front court of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, a formidable duo which has led this team to be in the top 4 in both Offensive and Defensive Rating. The Lakers showed their ability to compete with the best in the NBA following their back to back victories over the Clippers and Bucks, which some felt was important enough to propel LeBron to the top of the MVP race. However, the biggest question for this roster comes from their supporting cast and how efficiently it can produce. The Lakers will definitely miss the loss of Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, two smart and defensively orientated veterans who gave this team flexibility. Replacing them are J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters, two players who will contribute to this team’s ability to stretch the floor and create shots. I see this squad going 6-2 in the bubble, with losses to the Clippers and Rockets, as LeBron takes his team into the playoffs looking for his 4th NBA championship.

Eastern Conference

Washington Wizards

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 25-47 (1-7)

Outlook: The Wizards come into the bubble missing their best player by far in Bradley Beal, who established himself as one of the league’s best offensive players, averaging nearly 31 points per game. If the Wizards are to make the playoffs, it will have to be on the backs of players like rookie Rui Hachimura and sharpshooter Davis Bertans. Ultimately, in an extremely tough schedule, I only see the Wizards winning their matchup against the Brooklyn Nets, losing the other 7 games, and sending this team into a summer of question marks.

Brooklyn Nets

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 30-42 (0-8)

Outlook: Zero. That’s how many games I see the Nets winning in the resumed season in Orlando. Unfortunately, this Nets team has been decimated by a combination of injuries and players opting out due to the coronavirus. These players include names like Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Deandre Jordan, and Taurean Prince. To fill these voids the Nets signed Jamal Crawford, an aging veteran who can bring some scoring and experience to this depleted roster. If the Nets are to prove everyone wrong and shock the world in the postseason, it will have to be on the shoulders of 4th year player Caris LeVert, who has impressed this season behind nearly 18 points per game. 

Orlando Magic

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 33-40 (3-5)

Outlook: After a first round exit in 5 games last season to the Raptors, the Magic once again find themselves fighting for playoff position nearing the end of the regular season. Behind their 7 double digit scorers, Orlando has established themselves as a gritty, defensive orientated team (4th best in opponents points per game) led by the underrated Nikola Vucevic, whose averages took a slight decline from the 2018-19 season. The Magic open up their schedule against the Nets and Kings, two matchups that I see them handling, before losing their next four. Their 3rd and final win will come against the Nets on August 11th before heading into the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s 7th Seed.

Indiana Pacers

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 43-30 (4-4)

Outlook: One of the more underrated teams in the league, Nate McMillan and the Indiana Pacers once again find themselves overlooked to the likes of Milwaukee, Boston, and Toronto. The Pacers bring in a solid core consisting of Victor Oladipo and newly added Malcolm Brogdon. With arguably their best player Domantas Sabonis recovering from a recent injury, the Pacers will have to keep up their impressive form if they are to hold the 76ers from catapulting them to the 5th seed. All eyes will be on their matchup with Philadelphia in their opening game on Saturday night. I see the Pacers going .500 in their 8 games, with wins over the Wizards, Magic, Rockets, and Heat. 

Philadelphia 76ers

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 44-29 (5-3)

Outlook: To this point, the 76ers’ season has been puzzling to say the least. Philly boasts the best record in the NBA by far at home, going 29-2, but they sit at just 10-24 on the road, one of the worst records in the league. All these glaring signs point to poor coaching and playoff disappointment, but I truly see this Sixers team as a playoff darkhorse to challenge the Eastern Conference throne. In the few scrimmage games so far, we have seen a new strategy for Brett Brown’s team, starting Shake Milton at the point guard position and Ben Simmons at the four spot. Combine this with Simmons’s improved shooting ability, and if Philly can figure it out, there’s no reason they can’t challenge a team like Milwaukee with their ability to throw multiple defenders at Giannis. In their 8 games, I see this potential translating to results, with them winning their first 4 games, before losses to Portland, Toronto, and Houston, ultimately finishing 5-3 and securing the 5th seed. 

Miami Heat

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 45-28 (4-4)

Outlook: A lot of analysts have pointed to the Miami Heat as the playoff darkhorse to make it out of the East, but I’m not buying the hype. Behind their two stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, the Heat have succeeded to this point through great defense and impeccable shooting from players like Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, and Duncan Robinson. Add this with some timely pickups like veteran Andre Iguodala and it’s easy to see the sheer depth this team has, making them a tough out for any Eastern Conference foe. The big question for Miami is how will their young players adjust to playoff intensity in their new roles. The Heat open their season up with two tough games against Denver and Toronto, in which I see them narrowly losing both. Erik Spoelstra’s team will follow this up with four wins out of their next six, finishing 4-4 in the bubble and securing the 4th seed.

Boston Celtics

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 48-24 (5-3)

Outlook: Just a year removed from their disappointing 4-1 loss to Milwaukee, this Boston team has seen a resurgence once again to become Eastern Conference contenders. Jayson Tatum has pounced on his increased role with the departure of Kyrie Irving, increasing his scoring from 16 to 24 points per game. Other than Tatum, coach Stevens’s team is spoiled with talent, with players like Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, and new additions Kemba Walker and Enes Kanter. The question to be asked is whether or not the Celtics can finally live up to their potential and turn it into another Finals appearance. I see the Celtics winning five out of their eight games, with their biggest victory coming over the Blazers on August 2nd. 

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Toronto Raptors

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 52-20 (6-2)

Outlook: The defending champion Raptors come into the bubble finally healthy after being decimated by injuries all season long. A lot of analysts have already overlooked Toronto’s ability to defend their throne atop the NBA landscape after their loss of Kawhi Leonard last summer. Coach of the Year front runner Nick Nurse’s squad ranked top of the league in terms of opponent points per game, and were on a scorching run before the break, winning a franchise record 16 consecutive games. Aside from their two stars in Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry, this team is absolutely littered with depth. Look out for names like Terrance Davis and Matt Thomas, on top of players like Fred VanVleet, O.G. Anunoby, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and many others who have expanded their role from last season. Toronto opens their season against former Raptor Danny Green and the Lakers, and following this loss, I predict that they will finish the season 6-1, with important wins over Boston and Philly.

Milwaukee Bucks

Predicted Record (Bubble Record): 60-13 (7-1)

Outlook: Undoubtedly the front runners in the East, MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks look to bounce back after losing four consecutive games in the Conference Finals last season. Despite the loss of Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks have seen players like Wes Matthews and Donte DiVincenzo step into Brogdon’s former role and flourish. Once again, questions surround this team with whether or not their season will end in disappointment once again, and whether or not this will contribute to the possible departure of Giannis in 2021 free agency. The Bucks have one of the more tougher schedules in the restart, with matchups against the Celtics, Rockets, and Raptors to name a few. Ultimately, I see this Bucks team winning their first seven games behind the focused Greek Freak and Khris Middleton before a loss to the hungry Grizzlies in their final game. 

2020 NBA Playoff Predictions

*All seeding for this prediction is based on my outlook above*

Play In Matchup

Memphis Grizzlies (8) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (9) 

Prediction: Portland Trail Blazers 2-0 Memphis Grizzlies

Analysis: Unique to this season’s new set of rules is the play in for the 8th and final spot. Should the 9th seeded team be within 4 games of the 8th seed, a play in tournament is triggered in which the 9th seed has to win 2 games before the 8th wins one. While the up and coming Grizzlies are going to be a playoff contender for the foreseeable future, I think the combination of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum on top of a newly healthy frontcourt will be too much for the inexperienced Memphis roster, ultimately leading to them dropping 2 consecutive games and being axed out of the 8th and final Western Conference playoff position.

First Round

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (9) 

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers in 5 Games (4-1)

Analysis: Immediately following their play-in victory, the Portland Trail Blazers are set up for a clash against the star-studded Lakers. Unfortunately for Portland, they match-up poorly against a Lakers squad which beat them 2 out of 3 times in the regular season, with the lone loss coming after a near 50 point triple double by Damian Lillard. The Blazers will greatly miss the loss of Al-Farouq Aminu, who would’ve given them a better defender to guard LeBron. Frankly put, the Blazers have no one capable of consistently slowing down AD and LeBron, ultimately leading them to win just 1 game, and sending them into an offseason questioning whether or not Lillard and McCollum can be title contenders together. 

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

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: This matchup promises to be an exhilarating series, with a head-to head matchup featuring two of the NBA’s best players in Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic. The Clippers are capable of throwing multiple defenders at Doncic like Patrick Beverley, Paul George and of course Leonard. The true matchup nightmare for LA is finding a suitable defender for the 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis. While the Mavericks and their #1 offense is undoubtedly going to be a tough out for the Clippers, the decreased rotations will benefit Doc Rivers’s squad, and ultimately, having the best player in the series is what will propel them to a first round win in six games.  

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

Prediction: Denver Nuggets in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: In one of the more interesting first round matchups, the Denver Nuggets and their “tall ball” lineup go up against the surprise team in the Oklahoma City Thunder. The two teams split their 2 games in the regular season, and they play on the 3rd, a game in which I see the Nuggets pulling out the victory. Despite their similar team metrics, these two teams have both found success in two very different ways. Expect this series to be slow paced and defensively oriented with low scoring games throughout. Ultimately, the best player in the series is by far Nikola Jokic, and on paper, the Nuggets roster is far more talented and deep. Look for the Thunder to put up a tough fight, tying the series after the first four games, but ultimately the better team pulling out the series in six.  

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

Prediction: Houston Rockets in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: A rematch of last year’s first round matchup, the Rockets look to once again advance to another second round, trying to finally take the next step and head back to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 90’s. Standing in their way is a gritty and defensive minded Utah team, whose additions in the offseason have improved them greatly. In the 3 matchups so far this season, the Rockets took two out of the three, with their loss coming by way of Bojan Bogdanovic. Frankly, this Jazz team matches up terribly with the high paced, small ball Rockets lineup. The last time these two teams played, the Jazz tried to combat Gobert’s inability to guard on the perimeter by putting him on Russell Westbrook, with the All Star point guard dropping 34 points, sending Quin Snyder back to the drawing board. While the Jazz are too talented to lose in five games again, I fully expect the Rockets to handle their business and once again advance past the Jazz.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Brooklyn Nets (8) 

Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks in 4 Games (4-0)

Analysis: Maybe the most lopsided playoff matchup ever in terms of roster talent, the Bucks start their 2020 playoff campaign with a matchup against the depleted Nets. Unfortunately for Brooklyn, they have no answer for the Greek Freak and Khris Middleton. The Bucks won their lone matchup against Brooklyn earlier this year, and look for the Bucks to once again quickly handle their business in a four game sweep.

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

Prediction: Toronto Raptors in 5 Games (4-1)

Analysis: A rematch of last year’s first round matchup, the Raptors look to continue their great run of form behind a roster which is finally fully healthy after being injury ridden all season long. If they are to continue to defend their throne, it will have to be behind Pascal Siakam once again elevating his production in the postseason. In the three matchups this season, Toronto easily won all three games. Once again, Toronto’s talent, experience, and defensive intensity will be enough for them to once again best Orlando in just five games.

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

Prediction: Boston Celtics in 5 Games (4-1)

Analysis: In another matchup from last year’s first-round, the Pacers and Celtics once again clash in a first-round matchup that promises to be gritty and defensive oriented. Once again, the Pacers find themselves missing a key piece to what made them so successful in Domantas Sabonis. With the departure of Kyrie Irving, look for Jayson Tatum to elevate as the clear cut number one option on this Celtics team who have set their ambition as championship or bust. Look out for the matchups of T.J. Warren and Jayson Tatum as well as Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon to dictate which team will have the most success. Unfortunately for Nate McMillians 7th ranked defensive team, they don’t have enough firepower to keep up with this loaded Boston roster, leading to them winning in just five games.  

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

Prediction: Philadelphia 76ers in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: Just a year removed from their heartbreaking game seven loss to the Raptors, the Sixers find themselves once facing off against the Miami Heat, but this time the stakes are much higher. Many analysts have labeled the Heat as the sleeper for the Eastern Conference, but I truly think that Philly will live up to their potential that saw many predict them as the best team in the East to start the season. Despite the Heat winning three of their four matchups against the Sixers this season, Philadelphia comes into this matchup boasting a new strategy involving Ben Simmons at the four in a desperate attempt to increase spacing. Look for this to be Philly sending a message to the rest of the NBA that they are back as a title contender, ultimately going up 3-1 but winning in six games. 

Second Round

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Houston Rockets (5) 

Prediction: Los Angeles Lakers in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: Following their predicted first-round wins, the Rockets and Lakers meet in the second round with a matchup featuring two of the best duos in the league, with Russell Westbrook and James Harden going up against LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It is here that the Lakers will most miss Avery Bradley, who undoubtedly would’ve been a great matchup for Westbrook. For Houston, the ball stops with James Harden, and if he is able to deliver in an efficient manner, there is a chance that Houston shocks the world and advances to the Conference Finals. Unfortunately, I see Houston’s small-ball strategy backfiring, with the team having no answer for Anthony Davis, who is primed to have a huge series. If the Lakers can successfully contain Houston’s scoring, they should win in a hard-fought six game series.

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

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: While many will be quick to write Denver off, look for them to really push this Clippers roster in six hard-fought games. I am a big supporter of the ideology that in a closely contested series, the team with the best player typically pulls it out and this is no different. Kawhi Leonard has shown that he is no stranger to the spotlight after last season’s unbelievable playoff run, establishing him as one of the most clutch players in the league with one timely shot after another. While the Clippers will struggle to contain the Nuggets big men Bol Bol and Nikola Jokic, expect Jamal Murray and Denver’s forwards to have inefficient series as a result of the Clippers defensive talent.  

This matchup promises to be an exhilarating series, with a head to head matchup featuring two of the NBA’s best players in Kawhi Leonard and Luka Doncic. The Clippers are capable of throwing multiple defenders at Doncic like Patrick Beverley, Paul George and of course Leonard. The true matchup nightmare for LA is finding a suitable defender for the 7’3” Kristaps Porzingis. While the Mavericks and their #1 offense is undoubtedly going to be a tough out for the Clippers, the decreased rotations will benefit Doc Rivers’s squad, and ultimately, having the best player in the series is what will propel them to a first-round win in six games.  

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (5) 

Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks in 7 Games (4-3)

Analysis: While some might feel that Milwaukee will be able to easily dispatch the Sixers, not so fast. Philly is head and shoulders in front of any other Eastern Conference team in terms of their ability to match up with Milwaukee. While Al Horford has been a disappointment all season, look for him and Ben Simmons to take on the assignment of guarding the Greek Freak. Combine this with Josh Richardson and underrated Matisse Thybulle on the sharpshooting Khris Middleton, and it’s easy to see how a successfully executed blueprint could lead Philly past the best team in the regular season. If Joel Embiid can assert his dominance down low, don’t be surprised to see Philly emerge as front runners for the East. I see Milwaukee pulling this grueling series out in a seven-game series, strictly based on their ability to better stretch the floor and create high percentage looks.

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

Prediction: Toronto Raptors in 7 Games (4-3)

Analysis: Undoubtedly the closest series on paper, it seems like the Raptors and Celtics have been on a collision course for one another for the past eight months. This series promises to be exhilarating, with two young stars in Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam as well as veteran guards in Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry leading their respective teams. Combine both of these teams unbelievable depth, high level coaching, and defensive prowess, and this series looks destined to go all seven games. Ultimately, I feel as if the Raptors experience will finally come through in a game seven where they will win in a close game, and advance to once again play the Milwaukee Bucks in the Conference Finals.

Conference Finals

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (2) 

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 7 Games (4-3)

Analysis: Ever since their opening night matchup, it has seemed destined that the Clippers and Lakers will meet up in an all Los Angeles Western Conference Final. The two Los Angeles teams have played three tightly contested matchups this year, with the Clippers getting the best of the Lakers two out of the three games. Of course, the matchup to watch out for in this series is Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James, with many believing this to be a battle between the two best players in the NBA. Watch out for Anthony Davis, who is once again primed to have a huge series on the offensive side of the ball. Ultimately, the Clippers’ ability to throw multiple players at LeBron like Kawhi and Paul George combined with their depth will be enough to propel them to a seven-game win over the Lakers, bringing into question whether or not LeBron squandered his best chance to win championship number four.

Eastern Conference

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Toronto Raptors (2) 

Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks in 6 games (4-2)

Analysis: In a rematch of last year’s Conference Finals, the Bucks and Raptors once again face off with an NBA Finals berth on the line. Both these teams have built their identity on the defensive side of the ball with the Bucks and the Raptors finishing first and second in defensive rating respectively. The Raptors were seemingly the only team to figure out how to slow down MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, running an unorthodox 3-2 matchup zone. With the absence of Kawhi Leonard putting a big hole in Toronto’s ability to successfully execute that plan once again, look for Milwaukee to pounce to a 2-0 series lead with Toronto once again clawing back to tie the series at 2. Unfortunately for Toronto, their lack of offensive production with the absence of Kawhi will lead to their elimination in six games, ending their hopes of going back to back.

NBA Finals

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (2) 

Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers in 6 Games (4-2)

Analysis: In their first-ever playoff matchup against one another, the 2020 NBA Finals promises to be an exhilarating and tightly contested matchup between two of the best teams on both sides of the ball. With Kawhi and Giannis meeting once again in a high stakes series, all eyes will be on  Giannis to see if he will be able to overcome the outstanding defense of Leonard, who held him to an inefficient 23 points per game. The questions for both these teams will be in the supporting casts’ ability to produce timely buckets. If the Bucks are to capture the title, they will need much more than 14 points per game from Khris Middleton, whose collapse was a major contributor to their defeat to Toronto last season. Despite each team most likely only using an eight-man rotation, look out for the bench battle to be a major contributor to which team can take control early in the series. Look for Milwaukee to bounce to an early series lead after a close-fought game 1 win, with the Clippers retaliating with wins in both games 2, and 3. After a Bucks win in game 4, I expect Kawhi and PG’s offensive output to be too much to handle, bringing home the Clippers first title, and cementing Kawhi Leonard as the undisputed best player in basketball. 

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