Predicting Every First Round Match-Up in the 2020 NBA Playoffs

March 6, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) reacts against the Milwaukee Bucks during the second half at Staples Center.

Four months later than usual, the NBA Playoffs are finally upon us. Given the unique circumstances, this has the potential to be one of the most entertaining playoffs of all time. With no actual home-court advantage for the higher seeds, we could witness some incredible upsets. Here are predictions for the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs. 

Western Conference

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Portland Trail Blazers

Oct 18, 2018; Portland, OR, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) hug after their game at Moda Center.
Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers should feel very fortunate even to be here. They were one shot away from being eliminated last week, winning a close one against the Nets. From there, they defeated the Grizzlies in the play in game to secure their place in the playoffs. Portland will have their work cut out for them, matching up against the top dogs in the West. The Lakers took hold of first seed for the early in the season, and haven’t looked back since. Although their play in the Bubble hasn’t been impressive, it is nothing of concern. The Lakeshow wrapped up the first seed early in the seeding games, meaning the remaining games were nothing but playoff preparation. With LeBron, Davis, and the recent improvement of Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers are rightfully heavy favorites in this series. While Lillard has been on fire lately, it will not be enough to get past LA.

Prediction: The Lakers beat the Trail Blazers in Five Games

#2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks

Aug 6, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard, right, applies pressure on Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic (77) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. at HP Field House.
Ashley Landis/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

The Clippers were another team with little to play for in the seeding games, given their position in the standings. With the likes of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell all back in the lineup, the Clips have one of the most talented rosters in the league. The Mavericks, on the other hand, are the most intriguing team in the Bubble. Luka Doncic has transformed into a near top-three MVP candidate, and Kristaps Porzingis has been incredible in bubble seeding games. They are surrounded by a great supporting cast, including Seth Curry, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Maxi Kleber. However, this is a matchup nightmare for the Mavs. A team dependent on the three-point shot and play on the perimeter is bound to struggle against Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Patrick Beverley. Combine this with the youth and inexperience of Dallas, and this series has Clippers written all over it. 

Prediction: The Clippers beat the Mavericks in Five Games

#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Utah Jazz

Jan 5, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell (45) guards Denver Nuggets guard Jamal Murray (27) in the third quarter at the Pepsi Center.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Nuggets have been one of the biggest storylines in seeding games so far. We witnessed the first ever game time of 7’3 Bol Bol, and Michael Porter Jr.’s play leading to an all bubble second-team spot. Denver is undoubtedly in a better position than before the shutdown. The same cannot be said for the Jazz, unfortunately. Utah lost Bojan Bogdanovic to injury coming into the Bubble, and have not been great so far. Their only wins in Orlando have come against non-playoff teams. The Jazz do match up quite well here, with the ability to switch positions 1-4, while having Rudy Gobert on Nikola Jokic. With that being said, Denver will have too much of an advantage in this series and will advance. Furthermore, Mike Conley just left the Bubble for the birth of his child. He will miss at least the first two games.

Prediction: The Nuggets beat the Jazz in Six Games

#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Oklahoma City Thunder

Jan 9, 2020; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook (0) pressures Oklahoma City Thunder guard Chris Paul (3) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

This may be the most highly anticipated encounter of the first round. The Rockets and the Thunder have formed a rivalry in the past few seasons, with several heated matchups. OKC was one of the biggest surprise stories in the league, after being given less than a 1% chance of making the playoffs. An All-Star campaign from Chris Paul, traded by the Rockets last offseason, led them this far. Their Cinderella story has a legitimate chance of continuing, especially with injury news out of the Houston camp. Former Thunder guard Russell Westbrook will miss at least the first few games of this series with a quad strain. Even without Russ, James Harden, surrounded by elite shooters, is difficult for any team to come up against. Barring a disappointing series from the Beard, he should be able to get it done in a tightly contested series. 

Prediction: The Rockets beat the Thunder in Seven Games

Eastern Conference

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #8 Orlando Magic

Feb 8, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) moves past Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9) and guard Evan Fournier (10) during the second half at Amway Center.
Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks disappointing play in the Bubble so far should be of little concern, with the top seed sealed. Giannis, Middleton, and co will use this series as preparation for what is to come. The Magic are a franchise stuck in no man’s land. They seem to consistently finish around the eight seed every year. They would be given absolutely no chance in this series, but now they have even less hope after the injury to Jonathan Isaac. This should be a walkover for Milwaukee. 

Prediction: The Bucks beat the Magic in Four Games

#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Brooklyn Nets

Feb 12, 2020; Brooklyn, New York, USA; Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam (43) drives against Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie (26) during the first half at Barclays Center.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

This is another series with only one possible outcome. Despite losing Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have continued to be successful this season. Their roster may not have someone of Leonard’s caliber, but they have incredible depth, and one of the best defenses in the league. Brooklyn has been without their All-Stars for the majority of the regular season, but still managed to get into a playoff spot prior to lockdown. They have been one of the surprise teams in the Bubble, going 5-3 with a limited roster. The incredible play of Caris LeVert to go alongside Joe Harris’s efficiency may be enough to win the Nets a game. 

Prediction: The Raptors beat the Nets in Five Games

#3 Boston Celtics vs #6 Philadelphia 76ers

May 5, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) dribbles against Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the first quarter in game three of the second round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at Wells Fargo Center.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The complexion of this series is completely different after the injury to Ben Simmons. A potential nail-biting matchup now looks like it is going to be easy work for the Celtics. The Sixers have been disappointing all season, and the loss of their All-Star right before the playoffs will not help them. On the other hand, Boston seems to be improving day by day. With Kemba Walker off his minutes restriction, the Celtics could potentially come out of the Eastern Conference. The major concern here is with Joel Embiid. A big man rotation of Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter will have extreme difficulties guarding the Cameroonian superstar, who could have a huge game early on in the series. However, it isn’t easy to see Philadelphia winning more than a couple of games.

Prediction: The Celtics beat the Sixers in Six Games

#4 Indiana Pacers vs. #5 Miami Heat

Jan 8, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; After Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) is called for an offensive foul then Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren (1) reacts by clapping back which resulted in a second technical foul and ejected from the game during the third quarter at Bankers Life Fieldhouse
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Just like in the Western Conference, the 4 / 5 matchup in the East will be extremely close. On one hand are the Pacers. Despite not having All-Star Domantas Sabonis in the Bubble, they were extremely impressive. TJ Warren was selected to the All-Bubble first team, surprising everyone in the eight games. On the other hand, there is the Miami Heat. The Heat have the ultimate combination of defense, perimeter shooting, and squad depth to make a playoff run. The slight edge here goes to the Heat. With Butler, Iguodala, Crowder, and other versatile and switchable defenders, Indiana will find it very difficult to break down the defense. It will be a very close series, however, and could go either way. 

Prediction: The Heat beat the Pacers in 7 Games

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