By Eleazar Gonzales
The 2019-2020 NBA season has reached its halfway mark and the playoff picture is becoming both clearer and not by the day. Why?
We’re slowly getting clear picture as to who will likely face in the 2020 NBA Finals as the Los Angeles Lakers of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and the Milwaukee Bucks of Giannis Antetokounmpo, are still standing comfortably atop their respective standings. While the Lakers’ rise to the top may be a surprise for some, you shouldn’t be really surprised at all. The fact that they traded their future for one Anthony Davis is enough indication that the Purple and Gold wants to win and they wanted it done this June. Fortunately, LeBron James is playing as if he isn’t in his 17th season in the NBA and that’s more than what the Lakers need from him to make a run at a potential return to the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
On the other hand, the reigning MVP, Antetokounmpo and the rest of the league-leading Bucks have just notched their 40th win of the season after beating the Charlotte Hornets in Paris, France. But what if the season gets stopped out of the blue and the NBA decides to start the playoffs tomorrow? For one, the Bucks will get the homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. For another, this scenario will mean that the playoffs streak of the San Antonio Spurs will end at 22 straight seasons.
But let’s check the standings for both conferences, shall we?
(Screenshots from espn.com/NBA/standings)
The format for the first-round will be as followed
- 1 versus 8. 2 versus 7. 3 versus 6. 4 versus 5
- Top 4 teams will have homecourt advantage
- Best of 7
The First-Round Match-Ups: The Western Conference
Let’s start analyzing the potential first-round match-ups in the wild, wild Western Conference. The Lakers will face the Ja Morant-led Memphis Grizzlies. Now, assuming that both Anthony Davis and LeBron James are healthy plus Kyle Kuzma doesn’t get traded, this series will end in a sweep by the Lakers, or, in 5 games at the very least. Why? Experience is why and even though the Lakers are back in the postseason (potentially) for the first time since 2013, they have guys like Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard who are all playoffs veterans in the past. And yes, Dwight Howard was with the Lakers in 2013 so there’s that.
Then, we have the Utah Jazz against the Oklahoma City Thunder. To be frank, this series might be a tight one because on one hand, Utah is surging especially with Jordan Clarkson playing like a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate. On the other hand, OKC is surviving because of Chris Paul. In other words, don’t get surprised if this one goes down to a Game 7. Winner? Utah due to the homecourt advantage.
Next? The Los Angeles Clippers of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George going up against James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Houston Rockets. Now you have to trust me in saying this: this series is going to be a big one. We have two teams who both have a pair of superstars who can go supernova at any given time. This one can definitely go the distance. Who will win? I’m picking the Clippers because of their defense.
The match-up between the Dallas Mavericks and the Denver Nuggets? Two major things will dictate who will win the series: health and consistency. If the Luka Doncic-Kristaps Porzingis can stay healthy for the whole duration of the series and beyond, they will win it in 6 games, at most. If the Nuggets of Nikola Jokic can stay consistent and can keep Doncic at bay, they can win the series. Why Doncic? Simple: Luka Doncic is virtually unstoppable nowadays.
The First-Round Match-Ups: The Eastern Conference
The Bucks versus the Brooklyn Nets? The Bucks can win in 5 games. Why? Giannis Antetokounmpo is why. He can now shoot and make more threes. He also has a great supporting cast led by Khris Middleton. For the Nets to even have a chance, they need Kyrie Irving to lead them like there’s no more tomorrow because whether he will admit it or not, he can score. He’s a great basketball player. But is he a good leader? That’s a good question, right?
Now, the Miami heat and the Toronto Raptors are currently tied with a 31-14 record. But since the Heat have beaten the defending champs twice this season, they would get to face the Orlando Magic of Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic. The Magic are playing one of their best seasons since the Dwight Howard era but, this series will go to the Heat for one good reason: they are better coached. They have Jimmy Butler. They have 8 players who are averaging double digits in scoring. More than the Heat’s offensive prowess, the injuries that have hit their key pieces will hurt Orlando in this series.
Speaking of Pascal Siakam and the rest of the Toronto Raptors, they will be facing the Philadelphia 76ers- a team whose hopes hang in the balance after seeing Joel Embiid broke his left ring finger. The latest news is: Embiid has undergone through surgery to repair the finger and is set for a return next week. Why did I mention Embiid and his injury? Realistically, the Sixers won’t last long in the playoffs if Embiid is not healthy- let alone a series against the defending champions. If Philadelphia won’t have Joel Embiid in this series, this thing will be done in 4 games. And by the way, the Raptors are riding on a 6-game winning streak.
Now, if there’s one potential match-up that is going to be interesting, it’s the one between the Boston Celtics and the Indiana Pacers. Why? Simply put it this way: The Pacers beat the Celtics in a game where Kemba Walker scored 44 points for Boston. What is more interesting is that Indiana is faring well in the season without Victor Oladipo. Boston’s only edge in this series is that they have Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, and Gordon Hayward on their team Indiana, on the other hand, has a lot of X-factors on their team, namely Malcom Bogdan, Domantas Sabonis, Jeremy Lamb and yes, even Doug McDermott who is shooting 45% from the three-point line. Prediction for this series: 4-3 in favor of Boston. Why? Tatum and Walker would be unstoppable by then.