After a four month hiatus, and eight seeding games, fans all over can finally say that the NBA Playoffs are here! There were doubts going into the restart that the bubble situation would work, let alone do as well as it has up to this point.
With zero positive cases of COVID-19 for the 22 teams in the bubble, it is clear that the bubble has done its job in keeping professional sports alive in the midst of a pandemic.
With the playoffs comes eight first-round matchups that will perhaps keep fans on the edge of their seats. Looking ahead to each matchup, these are solely personal predictions for how the first round in the playoffs will go. My name is Daniel Roberts and I have been covering the NBA through multiple mediums, newspapers and podcasts, for more than five years. I contribute to FPC NBA while mainly working for FPC Dolphins.
Upsets can happen in the NBA just like it does in March Madness. There is no home court advantage, unless fans want to say that the Orlando Magic have some type of edge with the bubble being at the Disney World resort. But without any physical fans in attendance, we’ll really get to see what teams have it together with their own intensity.
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic
Prediction: The Bucks sweep the Magic 4-0
This is a matchup that will most likely prove to be a runaway for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has proven to be a nightmare to the league, especially teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks swept the season series with the Magic, even winning one of the four games without Antetokounmpo. When they had the Most Valuable Player in the league, he dominated. Antetokounmpo averaged 26.3 points, 15.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game against the Magic — so long story short, at full strength, the Bucks should sweep past the Magic.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets
The Raptors win the series 4-1
Another matchup that should be a runaway for the higher seed is the Toronto Raptors. They’ve proven that they don’t need guard Kawhi Leonard to be a title contender. Under the leadership of guard Kyle Lowry and the emergence of forward Pascal Siakam, they took control of the No. 2 seed only falling behind the Bucks.
Looking ahead to this first round matchup, the Brooklyn Nets will not have any of their key players to make a run against the Raptors. The defending champions will be at full strength and can focus heavily on shooting guard Caris Levert. Levert has proven to be a problem for opponents in the league and he can possibly help the Nets steal a game from the Raptors even though it’s not very likely. The Raptors will take the series in five games.
(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers
Celtics win the series 4-1
This is an entertaining matchup on paper for sure. The Philadelphia 76ers had the Boston Celtics’ number all season long. Philadelphia won three of the four matchups, but will go into the playoffs without a key player indefinitely. The 76ers lost guard Ben Simmons to a knee injury back on Aug. 5. With no timetable on his return, Philadelphia has lost its most valuable playmaker, hurting them against a team that had three 20-point scorers in the regular season. Without Simmons this should be at the most a five-game series. The Celtics will get their revenge on the Sixers from the regular season.
(4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Miami Heat
Heat wins the series 4-2
This series has the potential of being the most exciting one in terms of competition. Two teams that are similar in terms of production, and the rivalry between guard T.J. Warren and guard Jimmy Butler will cause the series to not be a sweep for either foes. What separates the teams from each other is shooting. Miami has better shooters than Indiana, and Butler is just the guy that will look to get through the Pacers. Indiana however will play with a chip on its shoulders and steal two games since there is no home court advantage and its lineup can compete.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
Lakers win the series 4-1
This series is one that should be a quick one. The Lakers are the number one seed for a reason. They were the best team in the Western Conference behind small forward LeBron James and power forward Anthony Davis. Playoff James has not lost a first-round in his entire career which should concern the Blazers.
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Defense is something the Blazers struggled with, and Los Angeles having that star duo will be tough to defend. The Lakers will have their hands full with point guard Damian Lillard dominating during the seeding games as he dropped 61, 51 and 42 points respectively. Guard C.J. McCollum and small forward Carmelo Anthony can get going offensively as well, but the Blazers will have a tough time defending. They’ll need a great defensive effort from the team to win even a game against the Lakers. It will be a five game series with the Lakers coming out on top because of James and Davis.
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Clippers win the series 4-1
This is another series that should go no more than five or six games and I’m going to bank it finishes in five. The Clippers are both defensive and offensive juggernauts. Guard Luka Dončić and forward Kristaps Porziņģis have been superstars for the Mavericks during the seeding games, both averaging 30 point per game. The most Dallas should be able to get from the Clippers is one game. The problem with Dallas is that it does not have enough firepower to take down the likes of Clipper forwards Paul George and Leonard who can put up 30 points each on any given night. That goes along with a bench that has players like guard Lou Williams and forward Montrezl Harrell who are their own types of wrecking balls. The Clippers will be too much to handle and win the series in five.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz
Nuggets win the series 4-2
One of the more interesting matchups in terms of competition, this should be a series that goes back-and-forth more because of team depth and star power.
On Denver’s side you have center Nikola Jokic who has been a problem for defenses because of his playmaking abilities. Center Bol Bol and forward Michael Porter Jr. have dominated in the seeding games showing the Nuggets are more balanced in terms of production.
The Utah Jazz on the other hand have two players that can prove to be difference makers: guard Donovan Mitchell and center Rudy Gobert. Gobert has been a defensive anchor in the league for years and gives teams the work on defense while scoring buckets in the paint. Mitchell, on the other hand, is a crafty scorer that can get hot if defenses do not contain him. Without guard Mike Conley due to personal reasons, the series will go to at least six games, with the Nuggets coming out on top.
(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
Rockets win the series 4-2
This series will feature the star-studded matchup of the point guard position. The Oklahoma City Thunder traded guard Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets for guard Chris Paul. The Rockets have been the better team on paper behind the duo of Westbrook and guard James Harden, but the Rockets will miss Westbrook for a few games due to a strained right quad.
However, the Thunder have been a big surprise to the basketball world and not many likely thought it possible that Oklahoma City would obtain a playoff spot, let alone sustain the No. 5 seed. They did it behind a strong season from Paul and he has the ability to help the Thunder take advantage of the situation and steal a couple of games from the Rockets. Harden will be too much to handle however, having the capabilities to drop at least 35-40 points in the series. This matchup will go to six games at the most with the potential of being a sweep, however, with the Westbrook series I think that’s unlikely.
This first round should prove to be exciting because of the matchups and clear no home-court advantage. So, get your gametime snacks and food ready to go because the first playoff game will begin at 1:30 p.m. today between the Jazz and the Nuggets.