NBA Playoffs 2020 Predictions

After the weirdest four months of my lifetime and an awesome bubble restart, the NBA playoffs are finally here. The COVID break also meant that nagging injuries could be dealt with and fatigued guys could recover, so we should be in for one of the more competitive playoffs of all time. 

Eastern Conference First Round:

Milwaukee Bucks (1 seed, 56-17) vs Orlando Magic (8 seed, 33-40)

The Bucks are the best team in the league, plain and simple. They have the best defensive and net rating by far. And they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will probably win his second straight MVP award and might also take home Defensive Player of the Year. The Magic have some good pieces, but lost Jonathon Isaac for the rest of the playoffs. Even if Isaac was playing, the Magic don’t really have a shot. Bucks in 4

Toronto Raptors (2 seed, 53-19) vs Brooklyn Nets (7 seed, 35-37)

Nick Nurse had a phenomenal second season as head coach of the Raptors. After losing Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in Free Agency, Toronto hardly missed a beat. Pascal Siakam took another step forward towards stardom, role players OG Anunoby and Norman Powell had very solid years, and Kyle Lowry and Marc Gasol provided a very steady veteran presence. Despite entering the bubble without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan, the Nets have looked pretty good. Caris LeVert is a star in the making and Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris have looked tremendous in Orlando, but the Nets don’t have the pieces this season to make noise in these playoffs. Raptors in 4

Boston Celtics (3 seed, 48-24) vs Philadelphia 76ers (43-30)

Boston had both the fourth best offensive and defensive ratings in the league this season and came out of the bubble seeding games at full health. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are both studs and Kemba Walker, while not as good an individual talent as Kyrie Irving, fits Boston much better due to his style of play and leadership. Gordon Hayward also looked much better this season after a rough 2018-19, and Marcus Smart is a tremendous defender as well as a positive offensively. The Sixers lost Ben Simmons for the season to a knee injury last week which is a huge blow. Some people on the internet don’t think that Ben Simmons is good, but those people are wrong. Philly still has really good players in Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, and Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle have really impressed this year. Al Horford has been a bit of a disappointment, especially factoring in his contract, but is still a good player. However, without Simmons to check any of the Boston scorers, I just don’t think Philly has enough. Celtics in 6

Indiana Pacers (4 seed, 45-28) vs Miami Heat (5 seed, 44-29)

This has the potential to be the best matchup of the first round. Victor Oladipo came back from his quad injury prior to the shutdown and the time off only helps in the recovery. The Pacers are well coached, have a really good big tandem in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis, and Malcolm Brogdon is as steady a point guard as they come. Their biggest piece is T.J. Warren. Warren was named to the All-Bubble First Team after a tremendous stretch in Orlando that included a 53 point game and a beef with Jimmy Butler. Butler led the Heat to the seventh ranked offense in basketball, with shooters like Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro spacing the floor. Potential Most Improved Player Bam Adebayo also had a massive season, taking a leap forward to the foot of stardom. Kendrick Nunn was undrafted in 2018, spent all of 2019 in the G League, and then became a finalist for Rookie of the Year in 2020. Erik Spoelstra is an unbelievable coach, and this should be a great series. In a toss up series, I trust the vets on Indiana a little bit more than the young guys flanking Jimmy Butler. Pacers in 7

Western Conference First Round:

Los Angeles Lakers (1 seed, 52-19) vs Portland Trail Blazers (8 seed, 35-39)

The Lakers have two of the three best players in any series that they play, and that’s no different here. Dame Lillard won MVP of the bubble, but CJ McCollum is playing hurt and the Blazers still finished under .500. LeBron and AD have more depth behind them and are pretty healthy, this one shouldn’t be a contest. Out of respect to Lillard, I’ll give them a game. Lakers in 5

Los Angeles Clippers (2 seed, 49-23) vs Dallas Mavericks (7 seed, 43-32)

The Clippers added Kawhi Leonard and Paul George last offseason and it’s clearly working out for them. They had the second best offense and fifth best defense in the league and two finalists for Sixth Man of the Year in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Harrell missed several games after leaving the bubble for personal reasons but should be good to go for the postseason. While the Clippers had the second best offense in 2019-20, the Mavs had the best offense of all time. That’s not hyperbole, the Mavs offensive rating of 115.9 beat the previous record set in 18-19 by the Warriors, and the Mavs came with a 21 year old point guard running the show. Luka Dončić is incredible. He took a massive leap from Rookie of the Year to All-NBA and borderline MVP level, and was on the First Team AllBubble. Kristaps Porzingis blew by all expectations while playing his first basketball in 18 months, improving all year to the point where he was on the Second Team AllBubble (Kawhi Leonard was as well). Seth Curry, Dorian Finney-Smith, and Tim Hardaway Jr. are strong pieces surrounding Dončić and KP, but the Clippers are too tough a matchup for the Mavs to crash the NBA’s party this season. Leonard, George, and Patrick Beverly can all take turns checking Dončić, and, while the Mavs superstar might pull out a game or two, will be able to keep him in check over the course of a series. As a Mavs fan, I’m legally obligated to not make this a sweep, but I also do think the Mavs make it a fun and competitive series. Clippers in 6

Denver Nuggets (3 seed, 46-27) vs Utah Jazz (6 seed, 44-28)

Denver was a game away from going to the Western Conference Finals last season and returned everybody. Nikola Jokic had another great season, Jamal Murray took a small step forward, and Will Barton impressed as well. However, the biggest piece for them moving forward might be Michael Porter Jr. MPJ was thrust into the starting lineup for the bubble and dominated, averaging 22 points and 9 boards and shooting 42% from 3. He was named to the Second Team AllBubble for that performance. The Jazz added Mike Conley in a trade last summer but he didn’t live up to the hype, struggling to replicate his normal solid production for much of the year. He did improve as the season went on and played well in the bubble, but left due to personal reasons and will miss a couple of games. Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell were the alarms for COVID to the entire country, but both had very nice seasons surrounding that. Gobert is once again a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year while Mitchell had easily the best season of his young career. Joe Ingles is still a knockdown shooter and Royce O’Neale is a nice player, but Bojan Bogdanovic did not go to Orlando because of a wrist injury. The Nuggets have more talent at the top and more depth at the bottom, and should dispatch Utah fairly easily. Denver in 5

Houston Rockets (4 seed, 44-28) vs Oklahoma City Thunder (5 seed, 44-28)

The Rockets have embraced small ball this season to very impressive results. After trading Chris Capela, the Rockets 6’7’’ and shorter lineup was really good. That move really allowed them to unleash Russell Westbrook, who struggled for the first month or so of the season before reverting back to his AllNBA level performance. Russ will miss at least the first game of the playoffs with a quad injury, which is definitely a blow. In his absence, PJ Tucker and Eric Gordon had great seasons as role players and can step up as needed. But the key to the Rockets is James Harden. I think that I’m in the minority, but I love watching Harden play. His mastery of the modern NBA offense is second to none and was a positive defensively. He’s a finalist for MVP and will likely finish third in the voting, but, in my humble opinion, shouldn’t be less than second and might deserve to win it. OKC lost their two best players last offseason and is still the 5th seed. That’s an incredible testament to Head Coach Billy Donovan and the veteran presence of Chris Paul. CP3 had a terrific season after a rough last year in Houston and Dennis Schroeder is a finalist for Sixth Man of the Year after a huge bounce back campaign. Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were part of the return for Paul George and had very strong seasons. In the end, I think the top end talent in Houston will win out over OKC but the Thunder will make it a really fun series. Rockets in 6

Eastern Conference Semis:

Bucks vs Pacers

The Bucks are just flat out better than Indiana. The Pacers have a lot of really good talent but they can’t match up with Giannis, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, and all of the depth that Miwaukee had put around them. Another big piece might swing things a bit, but as constructed I don’t see Indiana having much of a shot. The Pacers should take a game because Warren and Oladipo can light it up, but the Bucks aren’t losing until at least the Conference Finals. Bucks in 5

Raptors vs Celtics

This series will be awesome. Brad Stevens and Nick Nurse are two of the best coaches in basketball and have perfect players to run their systems. The Celtics have more star power, the Raptors have more depth. Kyle Lowry and Fred Van Vleet could win games by getting hot, just like they did in last year’s postseason, but Brown and Tatum have previous post season successes as well. I think Boston’s stars put them over the top in this one, but hopefully it takes 7 games to find out. Celtics in 7

Western Conference Semis:

Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets

LeBron and AD vs. Harden and Russ. Two teams built around stars and both did a solid job in finding the right pieces around them. The Lakers are missing a couple of guys who opted out, but with rotations tightening in the playoffs they should be able to minimize the damage. LeBron has played his least amount of basketball maybe ever, over the last year and a half, so he should be well rested and ready to go. I love Russ and Harden, but they won’t be able to take down the Lakers and their stars. Lakers in 6

Los Angeles Clippers vs Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets might have found another star in MPJ. Jokic will probably win an MVP in the next few years and Jamal Murray should be an All-Star soon. They have good players at every position and are set up for years to come. They have pretty cool alternate uniforms. They’re a good team. The Clippers are a great team. Clippers in 5

Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks vs Celtics

The Celtics have three bonafide stars on the court most of the time in Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. All three of them averaged over 20 points a game this season. Milwaukee can counter these three with plus defenders in Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, and, of course, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Celtics are incredibly well coached and may have an answer for that but Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer is up to any challenge that Brad Stevens can throw at him and has the pieces to counter. The Bucks just have too much for the Celtics. Bucks in 6

Western Conference Finals: Lakers vs Clippers

The battle for L.A. would be the battle for the Western Conference. The Clippers have a better team than the Lakers, top to bottom. I don’t think anyone can debate that. But I think that the Lakers have the best player and two of the top three players in the series. Frank Vogel has shown that he is competent enough to stagger LeBron and AD’s minutes and put them in the best position to succeed over a seven game series, and that really matters. Kawhi Leonard is incredible, but LeBron is well rested, healthy, and on a mission this season. And, unlike his last couple years in Cleveland, he has enough talent around him to make that matter with respect to a finals run. Lakers in 7

NBA Finals: Bucks vs Lakers

I picked this matchup before the season started, so why stray from it now? The presumptive top two finishers for MVP will square off here, both with All-NBA level sidekicks and good shooters around them. Mike Budenholzer is a better coach than Frank Vogel and the Bucks bench is better than the Lakers. Giannis is also probably a better player than LeBron at this stage of their careers. HOWEVA, I gotta go with Los Angeles. The Lakers have two top five players in basketball. Anthony Davis has been awesome this season and ranks well above Khris Middleton as the third best player in this series. He might even be on the LeBron/Giannis level. Danny Green is a huge factor here as well. Green can light it up from downtown and has also been a huge piece of two NBA Champions in the last seven years. Giannis and the Bucks got to the Conference Finals a season ago, so they have some postseason experience, but nothing close to what LeBron and the Lakers have. Even Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have been part of teams that went to the finals. I’m taking postseason LeBron in a very fun series. Lakers in 6

Featured image courtesy of SportsLogos.net

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