The 2020 NBA playoffs are taking place in Orlando with no fans in the seats due to the ongoing global Covid-19 pandemic. Without fans, there is pretty much no home court advantage to the highest ranked teams in each match up. This means that if a game seven were to occur, it’s fair game for both teams as there are no fans cheering the “home team” on. With games being played at a neutral site, arguments can be made that upsets are more likely to occur but when it comes to playoffs, it’s all about a balance of talent and depth to carry a team through four rounds and win it all.
With that being said, here is what could go down in Orlando, during the 2020 NBA playoffs!
Trail Blazers Give the Lakers a Scare
Heading into the resumption of the NBA season the Trail Blazers weren’t even in a playoff spot, but thanks to superhuman performances by Damian Lillard, Portland finds themselves taking on the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round. Both teams are known for their duos albeit at different areas on the court. The Trail Blazers have arguably the best back-court duo of Lillard and C.J. McCollum while the Lakers have the best front-court duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Both are key members of their respective offensive game plans but on the other side of the ball, things are different. While it will likely be LeBron covering Lillard behind the arch, it will most likely have to be Davis who will be manning the key and guarding Jusuf Nurkic who has done spectacular in the bubble after not playing all year. This leaves McCollum being guarded by a weaker defender like Kyle Kuzma and despite LeBron having six inches on Lillard, he has looked lost on the court when his team doesn’t have the ball.
Lillard should be able to put up 30+ points a night while getting significant help from McCollum and Nurkic but the key difference maker for the Lakers will be Davis slowing down Nurkic in the paint. The Trail Blazers will give the Lakers a run for their money and will pull off a win or two but they won’t be making it past the first round.
Thunder Get Past the Rockets
Prior to the start of the season, the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder swapped point guards which promptly made the Thunder a worse team as Russell Westbrook is a more all around player than Chris Paul is. Fast forward to now and the Rockets and Thunder are facing each other in the playoffs as the 4th and 5th seeds respectively.
To start off the series, the Rockets will be without Westbrook due to a quad injury which will have the Rockets relying heavily on James Harden to put up big numbers. As Harden will be the primary scorer and ball controller, either Paul or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will cover him. At times, Harden could be double teamed by both of them who are strong defenders.
As Harden and Westbrook are prone to missing shots (they combine to shoot 45.7% from the field and 33.5% from three) the ball will be going off the rim a lot. This puts the Rockets in a tough situation as they don’t have a typical center. P.J. Tucker, who’s 6’5”, will be handling the five position for Houston. With 6’11 center Steven Adams under the net for the Thunder, the Rockets will find it very hard to get rebounds, offensively or defensively, which will hurt their chances of putting the ball in the basketball or taking control of the game.
With most teams typically having at least two guys on the court who are 6’8 and above, the Rockets have zero with their tallest guy on their court usually being Robert Covington who stands at 6’7. Because they traded away their center in Clint Capela at the deadline, this move will come back to bite them as their lack of ability to rebound the ball is what will ultimately get them ousted in the first round.
Raptors Don’t Make it Past the Second Round
The defending champions Toronto Raptors finished second in the Eastern Conference and are set to take on the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round. They won the first game 134-110 and should get through a depleted Nets team without any issue at all. Round two is where the real basketball starts for them. They are to face the winner of the Boston Celtics/Philadelphia 76ers matchup in which the Celtics should emerge victorious as the 76ers are without Ben Simmons.
The Raptors are 1-3 against the Celtics in the regular season with their latest matchup coming on August 7th in the bubble where Boston won by 22 points. If anything, their most recent matchup showed that the Raptors aren’t able to line up with Celtics which has been common in recent seasons.
The Celtics have the best player in this matchup in Jayson Tatum who averaged 23.4 points and showed how he’s one of the up and coming superstars in this game. Arguments can be made that Kemba Walker is a better player than Kyle Lowry as Walker averaged a full point more than Lowry did and shot better all over the court compared to Lowry.
While the Raptors have the best defense across the league, the Celtics have a solid defense too. Walker will be able to hold Lowry or Fred VanVleet in check while the other will be guarded by Marcus Smart who’s a strong defender according to NBA standards. Enes Kanter is an underrated center in the league who has two inches over Serge Ibaka and will have no issue taking on Marc Gasol. Tatum will be guarding Pascal Siakam while Jaylen Brown will take on whoever else is on the court for the Raptors and make things difficult for them.
This matchup will be a back and forth one that will most likely go the distance but the Celtics will crush the Raptors hopes of repeating as champions.
While Kawhi Leonard’s former team will not be returning to the NBA Finals this year, Leonard will be as I see the Clippers advancing in the West to take on the best team in the east, the Milwaukee Bucks. This matchup will feature two of the top superstars in the league Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokoumpo.
In the Eastern Conference finals last year with the Raptors, once Kawhi was put in charge of covering the Greek Freak, he was able to slow him down which propelled the Raptors to four straight victories after losing the first two games. In a finals matchup between the Bucks and Clippers, Doc Rivers won’t even hesitate to put Kawhi on Giannis in hopes that he can stop him in the playoffs for a second year in a row.
Aside from the superstars, the Clippers have a much better second option in Paul George compared to the Bucks secondary option in Khris Middleton. While the Bucks possess a more tantalizing frontcourt, this won’t affect the Clippers game plan as Brook Lopez is usually found hanging behind the arch while Montrzel Harrell or Ivica Zubac can be found under the net waiting for the rebound.
The Bucks have a strong defense but the Clippers can match up with them defensively on paper too. Kawhi, George, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and company gives the Clippers a solid defensive unit. Speaking of Lou Will, he’s the reigning Sixth man of the Year award recipient and can put up 20+ points coming off the bench. The Bucks don’t have the strongest bench unit, especially from an offensive standpoint, as they rely far heavily on their starting unit to put up the stats when on the court.
Since both teams have a similar starting lineup talent wise, it will all come down to how the bench units perform in which the Clippers get the edge. This is what will ultimately get them to hoist the Commissioner’s trophy.
Featured image credit: Associated Press
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