With the extremely unusual and unique regular season now complete, NBA fans can look forward to what should one of the most hotly contested post-seasons of recent years. With the seedings now locked in after Portland’s victory over Memphis in the eighth seed play-in game, let’s take a look at each of the first-round matchups that are set to begin early on Tuesday morning Australian time.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)
Blazers’ star Damian Lillard has carried his team to the playoffs on the back of some ridiculous individual performances. With guard Avery Bradley sitting out of the Orlando bubble, question marks surround how the Lakers can limit Lillard and his backcourt partner CJ McCollum who continues to provide solid output despite playing with a fractured back.
It’s for this reason that some believe Portland can cause an upset against a Lakers squad that’s been relatively unimpressive in the bubble so far. This belief seems anti-Lakers sentiment more than anything, it seems unlikely Davis and James will have much trouble getting past these Blazers.
Prediction: Lakers 4-1
Los Angeles Clippers (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)
Can Dallas’ young duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis match the older superstars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George? Even if they did, expect the Clippers to be too strong, too experienced for a Mavericks team still on the rise and with a bright future.
Prediction: Clippers 4-1
Denver Nuggets (3) v Utah Jazz (6)
Utah’s plans of an upset series win over Denver has just gotten a lot harder with news point guard Mike Conley has left the bubble for the birth of his son. Even more pressure now sits on the young shoulders of Donovan Mitchell, whilst Aussie Joe Ingles will also likely take on greater responsibilities. The Nuggets, led by Nikola Jokic, are too deeply talented to let the Jazz move past them.
Prediction: Nuggets 4-1
Houston Rockets (4) v Oklahoma City Thunder (5)
Of the first-round matchups in the western conference, this contest may provide the most intrigue. The Thunder have been the surprise packet of the 19-20 season, finishing fifth in the west despite many tipping a huge rebuild following the departures of Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Chris Paul continues to defy the critics and now has an opportunity to go against former teammate James Harden, and the aforementioned Westbrook whom the Rockets traded him for. Expect an extremely close, competitive series with Houston to just prevail.
Prediction: Rockets 4-3
Milwaukee Bucks (1) v Orlando Magic (8)
Probably the most one-sided contest in the first round with the imposing Bucks against a Magic side that scraped into the playoffs with a 33-40 record.
There best chance of stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo would have been the young defensive juggernaut Jonathan Isaac, but unfortunately he went down with a serious injury earlier in the bubble. Can see a few blowouts as the Bucks move forward comfortable.
Prediction: Bucks 4-0
Toronto Raptors (2) v Brooklyn Nets (7)
How exciting would this matchup have been had the Nets been anywhere near full strength? To be fair, they’ve been surprisingly really good thus far in the bubble, led by the ultra-talented Caris LeVert. Still, can’t seem them being a match for the defending champions who should move on with relative ease.
Prediction: Raptors 4-1
Boston Celtics (3) v Philadelphia 76ers (6)
Another series that’s been cruelled by injury with Aussie Ben Simmons ruled out for the remainder of the season. Without Simmons, can Joel Embiid, also with injury concerns, carry the 76ers to an upset series win? It’s not out of the realms of possibility, particular if he gets some help from his teammates including former Celtic Al Horford. Ultimately, the Celtics wings of Tatum, Brown and Hayward, along with Kemba Walker, should prevail.
Prediction: Celtics 4-3
Indiana Pacers (4) v Miami Heat (5)
Another eagerly anticipated matchup, mostly due to the feud between the Heat’s star player in Jimmy Butler, and the Pacers T.J Warren who’s been red hot thus far in the bubble.
These teams were separated by just one game over the course of the regular season and it’s difficult to envisage anything less than a highly competitive series. Giving the slight edge to the Heat with Butler to really stamp himself as the best player in the series.
Prediction: Heat 4-3