Sports IllustratedChris Mannix detailed the potential playoff changes on Thursday. Today we’re going to delve into the current list of post-season clashes, going through the playoffs with the standings as it currently stands. Will Kawhi go away? Can Giannis win the crown as the best player in the league? Check out our 2019-20 playoff simulation below.
Bucks over Magic (four games)
Giannis and the Bucks completely rolled the Pistons in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, winning all four games by at least 16 points. And this year’s Milwaukee team is better than the previous version. The magic is not without talent, and their stock of wings could make them look lucky at home. Expect a more respectable scan this time.
Raptors over Nets (four games)
I might feel better if the Nets had a game if Kenny Atkinson was still at the helm. Brooklyn could potentially steal a match on a hot shooting night at Spencer Dinwiddie or Caris LeVert, but it’s not a Raptors team that will sleepwalk into the playoffs. Nick Nurse will have Toronto ready to roll, robbing Brooklyn of consecutive seasons with a playoff victory.
Celtics over 76ers (six games)
It would have been the worst-case scenario for the Celtics 12 months ago, and a healthy Joel Embiid is a major problem for Brad Stevens and Co. However, these Sixers have been largely a mess this season, and it is difficult to see a prolonged suspension (without training) functioning as a magic elixir. Boston has its own resident superstar, and it feels much more complete throughout the list. An abridged playoff loss may not be enough to dislodge Embiid or Ben Simmons. The status of Brett Brown is another story.
Heat over Pacers (five games)
Indiana has fought valiantly without Victor Oladipo for much of the season, and Nate McMillan deserves credit for maintaining a solid position in the Eastern Conference despite a slim team. But Miami probably has the top two players in the series (sorry Domantas Sabonis), a championship coach and a carefully crafted roster. Do not expect an early release for Erik Spoelstra and Co., even if the final remains long.
Lakers over Grizzlies (four games)
LeBron James’ 2019-2020 often looked like a revenge for old men, and a dominant sweep of the first round would fit perfectly with the king’s dominant year. Don’t expect the Grizzlies to descend without fighting. Ja Morant is as hard as a nail, and there is enough talent to potentially wipe out a game in Memphis. But betting against James seems silly. Take out the brooms.
Clippers on Mavericks (five games)
This could be the most exciting first round series, although it’s hard not to trust Kawhi Leonard’s playoff chops after his dominant run in 2019. The Clippers should be healthy and rested at approaching the playoffs. They can be the best basketball team. Los Angeles will be tested, but not knocked down in the first round.
Rockets over Nuggets (seven games)
It would be a relative shock if this streak did not last at least six games. The Rockets and Nuggets are a study of stylistic contrasts, and each team fights against its fair share of inconsistency. Houston doesn’t quite have the staff to contain Nikola Jokic. It’s hard to see Denver face James Harden and Russell Westbrook for seven games. When the push comes to fruition, choosing a pair of MVPs seems like a prudent decision.
Thunder over Jazz (seven games)
We cannot leave the first round without a single upheaval, and Chris Paul continuing his revenge tour would perhaps mark the best story of the season. And a victory in Oklahoma City is not out of the question. Utah could have serious difficulty containing the Thunder’s three-headed guard monster, and the Jazz has no second clear playmaker alongside Donovan Mitchell. If Mike Conley and Jordan Clarkson are struggling, Paul and the Thunder have a way to the second round.
Celtics over Raptors (seven games)
It’s a bit of a gamble to count the Raptors, who play with unsurpassed swagger and confidence after last year’s final. But when things are felt, Boston has too many perimeter weapons compared to Toronto. Jayson Tatum made a legitimate leap in All-NBA consideration. Jaylen Brown plays at an All-Star level and Kemba Walker is an overqualified complementary piece. No disrespect for the champions, but Boston is a real threat to the Eastern Conference crown.
Bucks over Heat (five games)
All the respect due to Spoelstra and the nail-hard heat, but Miami does not have the talent to line up to compete with Giannis and the Bucks. Expect a gentleman’s hit, though each game can be decided by unique numbers.
Lakers over Thunder (five games)
Paul’s race will end in the second round, but again, don’t expect the Thunder to fall without a fight. The crowd in Oklahoma City is said to be enraged in a clash with the Lakers, and a hot night of Dennis Schroder’s probably in store. But this series will not be close as Los Angeles heads for the final of the Western Conference.
Clippers over Rockets (six games)
Josh Smith won’t be there to save the Rockets this time, although we may see a classic second-round clash between Houston and Los Angeles. There is serious animosity between Westbrook and Patrick Beverley, and watching Harden and Leonard swap shots would be great. We’ve already had a pair of exciting regular season games between these two teams. Don’t be surprised if this potential clash lasted seven games.
Lakers over Clippers (seven games)
Similar to the Warriors’ escape from Houston in 2018, this Western Conference final could be viewed as the real finale. And what more could you ask of a basketball fan? Lakers vs Clippers would include perhaps the top two players on the planet, and perhaps four of the top ten. Add the same building (except an alternate site) and serious little brother status, and the intensity will be unmatched. Why give the Lakers an advantage? The size of LeBron and Co. seriously seemed to bother the Clippers in a road victory on March 8, and the Lakers’ size advantage could prove to be crucial as the game slows and more possessions become more and more important. After eight consecutive finals, LeBron will only need a one-year break before returning to the biggest stage of the match.
Bucks Over Celtics (seven games)
Toronto had a fantastic season before the coronavirus suspension, although I think Boston is best equipped to stop Milwaukee in the playoffs. Tatum can potentially go hand in hand with Giannis, and the Bucks could find it difficult to contain the Boston five-game rosters. Giannis has yet to prove his playoff wins, as does Milwaukee’s supporting cast. But last year’s disappointment is more like a runway for the final than a harbinger of things to come. With an improved Antetokounmpo and a stronger core, the Bucks should be able to survive the Celtics in a potential instant classic.
Lakers over Bucks (six games)
Will the torch finally pass from King James to the Greek monster? Not enough. Los Angeles’ size should be enough of a deterrent to slow tin tin Antetokounmpo, and Anthony Davis could feast on the Lopez brothers.
The x’s and o’s can however be incidental. A fourth ring would bring LeBron closer to Michael Jordan in the GOAT debate, and for some, he could have a case like the greatest player in game history with another ring. Four championships and 10 appearances in the final with three teams are quite historic. Good luck stopping James with anything but a great team as he watches another Larry O’Brien trophy.