NBA Playoff Bracket 2020: Predictions for Remainder of Postseason Picture | Bleacher Report

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Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard (2) loses a rebound against Dallas Mavericks' Dorian Finney-Smith, left, during the first quarter of Game 1 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Monday, Aug. 17, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo via AP)

Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The NBA bubble has provided plenty of drama for fans, and the start of the playoffs on Monday has only added to the excitement.

The Toronto Raptors opened their championship defense with a bang, swamping the Brooklyn Nets.

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell put up 57 points against the Denver Nuggets, the third-highest scoring performance in playoff history. But Jamal Murray’s heroics in the fourth quarter and overtime helped the Nuggets hang on for a big opening victory.

The Boston Celtics took Game 1 over the Philadelphia 76ers thanks in part to their backcourt of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but Gordon Hayward’s fitness is questionable after he suffered a sprained ankle.

Meanwhile, Dallas Mavericks big man Kristaps Porzingis was the subject of a controversial ejection, altering his team’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers. 

Given some of the surprises the restart has already thrown at fans, it is anyone’s guess as to which team will be crowned champions in Orlando, Florida.

Time to strap in, because this is only the beginning.

          

Full NBA Playoff Predictions   

Western Conference First Round

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers: Lakers in five games.

No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers in five games.

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Utah Jazz: Nuggets in five games.

No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder in seven games.

         

Eastern Conference First Round   

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic: Bucks in four games.

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets: Raptors in four games.

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers: Celtics in five games.

No. 4 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 Miami Heat: Heat in six games.

             

West Semifinals   

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder: Lakers in five games.

No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets: Clippers in six games.

          

East Semifinals   

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 5 Miami Heat: Bucks in six games.

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 3 Boston Celtics: Raptors in six games.

              

Conference Finals   

West: Clippers over Lakers in seven games.

East: Raptors over Bucks in seven games.

            

NBA Finals   

Raptors over Clippers in seven games.

          

Series to Watch: No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder   

Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

There are any number of reasons why Rockets-Thunder is possibly the best first-round series. For starters, both point guards square off against their former teams.

Chris Paul only played two seasons with the Rockets, yet he nearly helped Houston dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 West finals and has since led a young, upstart Thunder team to a surprising playoff berth. 

Russell Westbrook‘s tenure with the Thunder saw him become one of the best players in franchise history in OKC, but the team swapped him for CP3 in order to start the rebuilding process. Or, so most fans thought.

The Rockets have the star power in Westbrook and James Harden, who averaged 35.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 9.5 assists over his last four games. But the Thunder have an interesting combination of spacing, length and clutch scoring that could help them upset Houston.

Will health be the ultimate determinant? Westbrook has already been ruled out for Game 1, and his status is something of an unknown going forward.

Regardless, expect this to be among the most competitive of the first-round series. Harden’s superb offense should keep the Rockets in the mix, but the supporting cast has looked pretty lackluster in Orlando.

Harden’s teammates shot below 30 percent from the field in last Wednesday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers. If Westbrook cannot go again in Game 2, the Rockets might find themselves with an early deficit. 

Conversely, the Thunder have far more balance from a scoring standpoint. Paul is the veteran leader, but Darius Bazley has quietly played like a star in Orlando, and this series might also be Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s chance to break loose.

           

Can the Raptors Repeat?   

Kevin C. Cox/Associated Press

The Raptors will be unable to rely on a historic run from Kawhi Leonard this time around. Yet, there is every reason to believe Toronto can retain the NBA title.

For starters, Nick Nurse’s team is sound defensively: The Raptors rank first in opponents’ scoring average and second in defensive rating, per Basketball Reference. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka swallow opposing bigs in the paint, and Toronto’s guards and wings hound the ball up top and contest everything.

But as good as they are at preventing perimeter offense, the Raptors can also shoot the ball. Toronto ranked third in three-pointers made and fifth in three-point percentage. Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell are both shooting better than 39 percent from deep, and Ibaka and Gasol can stretch the defense and make opponents pay in pick-and-pop.

The Raptors shot 50 percent from beyond the arc in their Game 1 win over the Nets, as VanVleet poured in 30 points and six other Toronto players scored in double figures. 

That latter point is key, because it signals Toronto’s tremendous depth. Guys such as Terence Davis can fill it up off the bench. OG Anunoby is a fairly reliable scorer and a menace of a defensive wing, while Powell adds playmaking and shooting. 

Toronto will have a tough road if it hopes to repeat. But if any team is capable of running the gauntlet using its formula of defense and shooting, it’s the Raptors.

            

All stats obtained via Basketball Reference, unless otherwise noted.