NBA Bubble Playoff Predictions: Pre-Playoffs

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

This Thursday, July 30th, the NBA season will restart in the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, where games will take place with 22 teams in multiple arenas in the ESPN complex. Each team will play 8 games and then go into the playoffs as the standings are after 8 games (standings will be based on win percentage as not each team will have played the same total number of games throughout the entire season). With the restart just around the corner, we thought we should dive into our pre-playoff Playoff predictions. Here are the consensus standings we made, as well as the individual series predictions for the entirety of the NBA Playoffs:

Consensus Standings

SeedEastern ConferenceWestern Conference
1Milwaukee Bucks (60-13)Los Angeles Lakers (57-14)
2Toronto Raptors (50-22)Los Angeles Clippers (50-22)
3Boston Celtics (49-23)Denver Nuggets (49-24)
4Miami Heat (46-27)Utah Jazz (45-28)
5Philadelphia 76ers (41-29)Houston Rockets (44-28)
6Indiana Pacers (41-32)Oklahoma City Thunder (43-29) 
7Orlando Magic (33-40)Dallas Mavericks (44-31)
8Brooklyn Nets (32-40)Portland Trail Blazers (34-40)

Saransh’s Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Round 1

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

This series would have been a lot more entertaining had guys like Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie, Nicholas Claxton, Wilson Chandler, and Kevin Durant gone to the bubble. Or at least Kyrie. There is not much else to say besides what this series could have been, and what the Nets are capable of doing, but being that severely undermanned and having a tough schedule is going to get them this tough of an opponent. 

Prediction: Milwaukee in 4 games.

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic

Orlando is a sneaky team here because even though they have a tough road in Orlando and they will not win the series, this is a team that prides itself on its depth, and actually has depth that can match Toronto. In the end, it really comes down to the fact that having guys like Fred VanVleet and Marc Gasol off your bench, as well as the huge discrepancy in starting lineup talent, that Orlando will not be able to keep up. I think like last season, Orlando will get a win in a close, last-second win, but there will not be much else Orlando can walk out of the bubble with. To see them improving every year, however, is very promising, and with the young players they are developing, they can make trades come free agency and surprise people (DeMar DeRozan or Victor Oladipo?)

Prediction: Toronto in 5 games

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Indiana Pacers

If Indiana was going to have Domantas Sabonis playing in the bubble, this series would go the distance, but with his foot injury results showing the doubts of that happening, this is going to be another quick one. Indiana is built around Oladipo, but there is just too much he would have to do to keep up with the depth and talent on Boston’s side, and not to mention that he is not 100% healthy either. Tatum will probably see Myles Turner guarding him and that might slow him down, but Kemba Walker against TJ McConnell, Gordon Hayward against Doug McDermott, and Boston’s bench against Indiana’s, all of those matchups that go Boston’s way and keep this series from being longer than it should be. If Sabonis is able to come back, this series goes the distances, but if not, this will be a quick one. Either way, the winner is the same.

Prediction: Celtics in 5 games

(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers are really experimenting with new ways to unlock their full potential. They are playing Ben Simmons at the 4, Shake Milton at the point guard, and playing Al Horford off of the bench as the Sixth Man. While all of this seems great, there are a few problems with this. In scrimmages so far, they have had Ben Simmons play inside on defense along with Joel Embiid, but it is creating a huge hole on the perimeter for defense, and is even creating, in my eyes, a bit of a rotational issue. Guys like Al Horford, Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle, and Furkan Korkmaz have been seeing their usual minutes alongside guys like Embiid and Simmons be rationed out a little more than usual (it is just scrimmages so far, but still), and while having Simmons play more freely than usual seems like a great thing and he has been the best player for Philadelphia since the Orlando restart, he somehow is still managing to do the one thing that Brett Brown tried to fix, which was him taking the ball out of the hands of guys like Embiid. Against one of the league’s deepest teams in Miami, a team that matches up perfectly against the likes of Philly, but can separate themselves with their unbelievable 3-point shooting, who are the best in the league in terms of 3-point percentage. 

The deciding factor will be how guys like Harris, Milton, Richardson, and Thybulle match the 3-point shooting of Robinson, Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn. With the offense being less perimeter centric due to Simmons freelancing ability now, the Sixers could get caught behind trying to defend the 3-point line, and not having Simmons on the perimeter to get back in transition to stop those 3-point opportunities is going to hurt Philly. Miami has shown too much consistency all season to falter against this new-look Sixers team that Brett Brown is using to try to save his job.

Prediction: Miami in 6 games

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (4) Miami Heat

The best team in the Eastern Conference against the most likely team to take them down in the Miami Heat. Miami leads the season series 2-0 and the most noticeable thing is how much the Miami depth makes a difference. Not only is the Miami bench able to give them the boost over Milwaukee that they have needed, but they have also found the perfect matchups to slow down Giannis’ supporting cast, by throwing guys like Jimmy Butler and Kendrick Nunn on Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. Much like last year against Toronto, where the Bucks will struggle is the depth and offensive production outside of Giannis. This could be the beginning of the end of Giannis in Milwaukee. 

Prediction: Miami in 6 games

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics

This series is honestly the hardest to predict of them all. Both teams have great starting lineups with stars around their superstars, have great depth, and two of the best coaches in the game. No home court advantage for either team certainly does not make the prediction any easier. My decision really comes down to the starters, where Toronto has the advantage at center and power forward, the small forward battle is actually neutralized due to OG Anunouby’s ability to defend, which will slow down Gordon Hayward a ton, but Boston’s backcourt takes the win. The matchup between Jaylen Brown and Norman Powell clearly goes in favor of Brown, who can give you 20-25 points a night, as can Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. The consistency is what takes Boston over the hump.

Prediction: Boston in 7 games

Eastern Conference Finals

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Miami Heat

Boston and Miami is a rivalry that saw Miami win each of their 3 matchups of the 2010s, and kicking off the 2020 Eastern Conference Finals with this only seems fitting. Miami and Boston have been neck-and-neck all season in standings, and are neck-and-neck in terms of talent. Like the Toronto series, the advantage is given to them in the backcourt with Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, who can match the 3-point shooting excellence of Robinson, Nunn, and Herro, and are scoring machines. It will be a close series thanks to Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, but Miami is a year away from the NBA Finals. The luck of the long run unfortunately runs out here, but man, oh man will they surprise people.

Prediction: Boston in 6 games

Western Conference Round 1

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

Give Portland credit if they make it to the playoffs and have to fight through being behind in the standings and have to play in the play-in tournament. But like always, there is too much talent in the way of Lillard and McCollum, and not enough talent with them to get over the hump.

Prediction: Lakers in 4 games

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

I wish I could say that Dallas is ready to make this upset, but it is simply too early. The team is young and has loads of potential, and Luka Doncic is the next face of the NBA, but right now, guys like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are too much for Dallas to handle.

Prediction: Clippers in 5 games

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

Who would have thought that a team that had acquired 7 first-round picks over a span of trading 2 of the NBA’s best players in Russell Westbrook and Paul George, would find themselves in the playoffs and as this good of a team? Seriously, I never thought this would happen, and I doubt most Thunder fans thought that either. OKC is quietly one of the league’s most exciting and upcoming teams, with the perfect balance of young and veteran talent, with guys like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul leading the way. Denver, like OKC, matches up in a very similar way in terms of young talent, with guys like Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. leading the way. The big difference is going to be the guy that has stolen the show in Orlando so far, and that is Bol Bol. If Coach Mike Malone can utilize him right, it could cause major problems for Oklahoma City, given his defensive prowess to block shots, and his scoring ability.

Prediction: Nuggets in 6 games

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets

This series features 2 teams running small ball lineups, but one of those 2 teams does not have a 7-foot tower inside. The Houston Rockets are going into the bubble with the tallest player in their rotation being just 6’8”, so expect Rudy Gobert to take a bit more of the offensive load for the Utah Jazz. Utah would be the obvious pick for this series, but missing out on a third scoring option like Bojan Bogdanovic due to injury is crucial, especially for size and defnse, and Houston should capitalize on the opportunity. Utah, despite having Gobert, actually does not have a lot of taller players like Houston, and so having guys like James Harden and Russell Westbrook who can rebound well, could help them take this series away from Utah. Expect Westbrook to take defensive responsibility against Donovan Mitchell, and then dominate on the offensive end. 

Prediction: Rockets in 6 games

Western Conference Semifinals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (5) Houston Rockets

In this series, size matters for Houston more than it will against Utah, because the best big man in the league in Anthony Davis is who the Rockets have to try and slow down, and simply put, no matter how great Westbrook and Harden are, no one is stopping Davis. LeBron will have his usual great playoff mode series, but Davis will just prove to be too much.

Prediction: Lakers in 5 games

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets

This is an interesting series because on paper, Denver clearly has the better frontcourt, better point guard, and maybe even the better bench, but the starpower is lacking for them. While Nikola Jokic is the best center in the league, I am not sure he can match that of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and the bench of Denver will not be able to match the bench of the Clippers, led by Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. Bol Bol and Michael Porter Jr. can help make this series interesting, but their star potential that everyone is expecting from in a few years, needs to show up over these few games, and I simply do not see it happening. Expect Jokic and Millsap to dominate the weaker frontcourt of the Clippers and they certainly will keep it close and win some games, but they do not have enough firepower to match Kawhi and PG at the end of it all. 

Prediction: Clippers in 6 games

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers

The battle of Los Angeles is here… in Orlando. Yeah, that is 2020 in a nutshell. Not that homecourt advantage would have mattered in Los Angeles, but having seen this series with fans would have been a whole new atmosphere for playoff basketball, although Orlando gives us a never-before-seen feel to everything, so it all works out in the end. In the regular season, the Clippers took two of the first 3 games, and have a fourth coming to kick off their seasons in Orlando on July 31st. The Lakers won the third matchup by going away from small ball and benching Kyle Kuzma for JaVale McGee, which gave some mismatches for guys like Anthony Davis, who often drew Marcus Morris Sr., or occasionally Paul George, and LeBron drew Kawhi or Morris. Having JaVale helped limit points in the paint, and starting Danny Green also gave them good perimeter defense and a great shooting option on the perimeter. The difference in this series will be with guys like Green, and having guys that can shoot the 3 and defend on the perimeter as well, and the Lakers have more of that than the Clippers, despite having 2 Sixth Man of the Year-caliber players off of their bench. The additions of guys like JR Smith and Dion Waiters certainly helps in that department. That, the mismatches that Anthony Davis will have, and the relentless drive and heart of this team, led by Playoff LeBron, will be too much for the Clippers to handle.

Prediction: Lakers in 6 games

NBA Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (3) Boston Celtics

The 2010s decade kicked off with a Celtics-Lakers NBA Finals for their 12th matchup, where Los Angeles came back from down 3-2 to win in 7 games in one of the most intense NBA Finals series I have ever witnessed. In the 13th installment of the rivalry and the NBA Finals that kicks off 2020, we see a much more different type of game being played, one of that is more premier-oriented and fast-paced, unlike that last series, where scoring 100 points as a team was an accomplishment. Talent wise, these are the best teams in their conference, and this series would come down to who guards LeBron and Davis, as does every other series. Even if Boston was to put Tatum and Brown on Davis and LeBron, there would be too many holes for LeBron and Davis to exploit with their passing, and players like Danny Green, Dion Waiters and Alex Caruso, can feast off of open 3s with weaker defenders and pull the game and series apart that way. Not to mention how huge of an advantage experience is for Los Angeles, I mean, LeBron has literally been to 9 NBA Finals, this would be his 10th, and this win would put him as the GOAT, having overcome the biggest circumstances, both inside and outside of the bubble, that any NBA player or team has ever endured. This Celtics team is a great one, but too young and inexperienced to match that of LA. Jayson Tatum will prove he is the leader of this team, but will not be enough to stop The King.

Prediction: Lakers are 2019-20 NBA Champions, winning the Finals in 6 games

Anish’s Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Round 1

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

The matchup between the Bucks and the Nets would be fairly easy for the Bucks as the Nets are currently missing both their superstars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Nets are still a solid all around team but I don’t think they have what it takes to pull an upset over the Bucks

Prediction: Bucks in 4 games

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic

No one expected the Raptors to be where they are today, that being said it’s still surprising for them to be at the #2 spot after losing their Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard. However, the Magic lack the playoff experience that the defending champs hold and I believe the Raptors will dominate this series.

Prediction: Raptors in 4 games

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Indiana Pacers

The Celtics are a young team that can put up a fight to be one of the best in the Eastern Conference. Both of these teams lack one clear superstar and are held up by their starters and role players evenly. In times like the playoffs having a superstar is a big factor so with these teams lacking I see the series being close with Celtics on top.

Prediction: Celtics in 6 games.

(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Philadelphia 76ers

Now this is an interesting matchup. No one expected the Heat to climb all the way up to 4th seed and no one expected the Sixers to fall down to 5th seed. After the Sixers heart crushing end to last season to the championship team, I believe they will come back with a vengeance and fight harder than ever. Miami has proven to be a solid team with Butler and their young stars but in a close series I put the Sixers on top.

Prediction: Sixers in 7 games.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (5) Philadelphia 76ers

With the Sixers coming underperforming this season I don’t see them beating the Bucks. The Bucks have been firing on all cylinders this season while the Sixers have fallen short on their expectations. The Sixers beating the Heat is about as far as I can see them in these playoffs.

Prediction: Bucks in 5 games.

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics

Now this will be a very close matchup for both teams. Again with two teams lacking one clear superstar but their role players and starters are great with potential this will be a series to watch. I believe this series can go either side, people may favor the Celtics because of Tatum, Walker, and Brown vs the Raptors known name only in Siakam and maybe Lowry/Vanvleet. The Celtics were strong last season with a weak team like the Pistons but got blown out when they faced the Bucks. On the other side it’s hard to compare last season with this Raptors team after losing their best player but they have managed to pull away with a better record. I believe this series will be very close and with their second time through the Celtics will come on top as the Raptors just don’t appear to have any one player they can rely on to carry them in the playoffs like last year.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (3) Boston Celtics

This appears to be a familiar matchup as last year the Celtics were defeated 4-1 in the series. However, this year they have acquired Kemba Walker as a less dramatic version of Kyrie Irving. As the Celtics will learn from their mistakes from last year the Bucks have also developed as a team and Giannis continues to put on a show. I see this series fairly close but give the Bucks the edge.

Prediction: Bucks in 6 games.

Western Conference Round 1

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

It was a tough fight for the Blazers to even get here as it seems like on the other hand the Lakers have been cruising through. Just looking at the Lakers roster their star power in LeBron and Davis is unmatched for the Blazers Lillard and McCollum. Although the Blazers now have 2 great interior forces with Nurkic back in the lineup alongside Whiteside, I still don’t think it’s enough to overcome the Lakers. The series will be close but I have the Laker on top.

Prediction: Lakers in 6.

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

The Clippers duo of George and Leonard are one of the best on both sides of the ball. It’s also a surprise to see the Mavericks make the playoffs led by the great performance of Luka Doncic. However, with this matchup I feel like with Luka clamped on ball with either George or Leonard it makes it very hard for the Mavericks to win.

Prediction: Clippers in 5.

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Nuggets again have shown to outperform expectations in the hard Western Conference and only one bigger surprise comes in this Thunder team. Who would have though that with their two biggest stars in Westbrook and George that instead of this team going in rebuild mode, as many people assumed, they would have made the playoffs. As much as this is the underdog squad led by Chris Paul, I don’t see the practicality of them going very far in the playoffs. The Nuggets are also a young team but learning from last year they should be able to put this Thunder team away.

Prediction: Nuggets in 5.

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets

As much as the Jazz improved with Mike Conley the Rockets have also improved adding Westbrook. Many fans would see this as an easy win for the Rockets however there may be more to the story. With the addition of Westbrook there are two ball dominant point guards on one team, they managed to make it work during the regular season, but the playoffs are a whole different story. The Jazz are one of the best defensive teams with great defense not only in the paint with Rudy Gobert, but their perimeter is locked with Conely and Mitchell. Although the Rockets win the frontcourt battle they’re missing one key element, a solid paint presence. Rudy Gobert is a one of a kind shot blocker and intimidator in the paint and makes it tough to score inside. This wouldn’t have been a problem for the Rockets, however they traded away Clint Capela to run their small ball lineup. With the Jazz good defenders on the perimeter it’ll make it hard for the Rockets to find options on offense. These are two elite teams but I give the Jazz the edge.

Prediction: Jazz in 7 games.

Western Conference Semifinals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Utah Jazz

Now comes the trouble for the Jazz where this is as far as they go. Without a clear superstar and the Lakers having 2, the Lakers have the easy edge. The series won’t be that close and I give the Lakers the edge.

Prediction: Lakers in 4 games.

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets have done an awful lot with their young lineup, but even with their one year experience I don’t think it’s right to put them over the Clippers. The Clippers have Paul George and Kawhi Leonard who will perform during the playoffs as they have experience and the former Finals MVP isn’t easy to stop. I give the Clippers the edge and it’s not very close.

Prediction: Clippers in 5.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers

Now this is the matchup everyone is expecting, nothing new. Kawhi can handle LeBron while George and Davis are still able to perform. It can’t get more even than this watching this matchup would be equivalent to the NBA Finals. That being said I see this series going neck and neck to a game 7. I give the Lakers an edge because as well as the Clippers have done, LeBron has had his 2nd season with the Lakers team and understands the unit better than Kawhi and George joining the Clippers for one season. Although Kawhi has done a similar thing in Toronto, I don’t see them getting past LeBron in the playoffs because even aging LeBron in the playoffs is another level and I wouldn’t bet against him.

Prediction: Lakers in 7 games.

NBA Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (1) Milwaukee Bucks

The two best teams with the 2 clear MVP candidates going head-to-head is what we’ve all been waiting for. The Bucks have been surprising with how dominating they have taken the Eastern Conference while the Lakers seemt to be in a battle with the Clippers. However, an important thing in this series is LeBron James. During the NBA finals LeBron has shown to be an unstoppable force. As much as we’d say Giannis is similar he hasn’t quite stretched the floor as far as LeBron and his jumpshot (still not great but better than Giannis). Also placing Anthony Davis who is a phenomenal defender on Giannis almost cancels him out. There’s no one really on the Bucks completely capable of shutting down LeBron and that is why I give the Lakers the edge.

Prediction: Lakers in 6 games.

Nikhil’s Playoff Predictions

Eastern Conference Round 1:

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets

The sheer amount of disparity between these two teams sort of speaks for itself. On one hand you have the MVP and DPOY candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, and on the other, you have a hopelessly depleted Nets team missing most of their offensive firepower. Again, pretty self-explanatory here.

Bucks in 4.

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Orlando Magic

The Raptors have proven to the rest of the league that even with the loss of Kawhi Leanord over the offseason, that they are still a quality basketball club, and still have hopes of another ring in the future. The Magic are, well, the Magic. Again, it’s relatively easy to see who wins here.

Raptors in 4.

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Indiana Pacers

It is worth mentioning how well the Pacers have worked around key pieces in order to contend in the playoffs this year. Oladipo is a known star in this league, however the rise of Domantas Sabonis, as well as Myles Turner and the rest of the team have vaulted them into relevancy. That being said, this Celtics team seems to have finally found the right mix of star power and teamwork, centralizing around Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. Team chemistry is off the charts as of now, and they will be carrying that momentum into this matchup. The Pacers will be able to put up a fight, however I don’t think it will be enough.

Celtics in 6.

(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Philadelphia 76ers

Man, this Heat team is one of the most fun to watch in a long time. With Butler at the helm, with excellent young pieces in Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro, as well as all-star support in Bam Adebayo, this team is poised to go far. That being said, this 76ers team is no slouch, and with their own mix of superstars including Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, they give the Heat a very valid run for their money. In all honesty, this is the matchup I’m most looking forward to in the East, and I think the Heat take it, but it’s a close and hard fought fight that realistically can go either way.

Heat in 6.

Eastern Conference Semifinals

(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (4) Miami Heat

Here it is folks, my first upset within this set of predictions. Giannis Antetokounmpo is an undisputed FORCE in this league, and yes, this Bucks team is beyond dangerous. However, it just seems to me that this team is so centralized around him, even with an all-star in Khris Middleton paired with him. It’s to the point where you don’t think of the team as much anymore, you think of the one player. In this sense, Miami is the complete opposite. They have so many options when it comes to offensive productivity, and are a solid team on defense as well. I think during the series they will be able to capitalize on the moments that Antetokounmpo isn’t on the floor, and contend well enough when he is. Again, it won’t be without a concerted effort, but if anyone can do it, it’s the Heat.

Heat in 7.

(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics

This is probably the closest matchup within the Eastern Conference, and in my opinion, it’s between the two most meticulously crafted clubs within the conference as well. The Raptors again have defied all expectations this season, and have shown a lot of heart to get to this point. The Celtics have lived up to the hype, and have matched the expectations that were placed on their shoulders this offseason. Both teams have earned the right to be where they are in the standings, and yet it is still so hard to pick one. In the end, I’m leaning towards the Celtics to take it solely based on their talent within their starting line up. If their team chemistry can shine, and they can not rely on Jayson Tatum for every source of offensive production, they have the slightly better chance to take the series

Celtics in 7.

Eastern Conference Finals

(3) Boston Celtics vs. (4) Miami Heat

In many ways I see the Celtics as the improved version of the Heat. They have the same sort of variation in offensive production, however the Celtics have a bit of an edge in terms of offensive production and overall team experience. Thus, I would pick them over the Heat 9 times out of 10. It does hurt a bit to go against Miami though, they are so fun to watch and can be such an underdog story at times. I just think their luck runs out here.

Celtics in 6.

Western Conference Round 1:

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

The greatness of this Lakers team does not need any introduction, and will be discussed later on in this prediction. However, the main reason they win this series for me is the disappointing play the Blazers have shown this year. After adding Carmelo Anthony to an already Western Conference Semifinal achieving squad, you would think that they would at least match that accomplishment this year. Maybe it’s the rest of the league getting way better, maybe it’s not. Regardless, they lose this series, and need to have a hard look in the mirror.

Lakers in 4.

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

Oh man this will be a fun series to watch. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George up against Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. In all honesty, the Clippers are the more mature and seasoned team, and I expect them to use this to their advantage on their way to winning the series. However, this is a good litmus test in essence for this Mavs team, who isn’t in “win now” mode unlike both LA teams. If they can put up a good fight, which I personally think they will, they have a lot to look forward to in the future. For right now though, the Clippers take this series.

Clippers in 6.

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

The Nuggets are a very lowkey sleeper team in these playoffs. You know the names, you know the record, but you really don’t see their lethal nature until you see them play in person. The team chemistry is crazy, especially for a team whose main star player is a big man. For this reason, they trounce the Thunder in almost every category, with the exception being Steven Adams, because no one messes with Steven Adams. Anyways, regardless of how meteoric this rise has been for the Thunder, especially in context of the Westbrook trade over the offseason, they simply can’t compete

Thunder in 5

(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets

This season is very much a disappointment for the Houston Rockets, who many believed going into the season were going to run the league along side the Lakers, Clippers, and Bucks. Acquiring Russell Westbrook seemed to be the one thing that could vault this team into a championship run, and it just hasn’t worked out. That being said, their talent and skill is in my opinion better than that of the Jazz, who really only can rely on Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert for consistent production. Don’t get me wrong, the rest of the team is a bunch of ballers in their own right, but the offensive firepower of Houston, as controversial as it is, is too much to handle.

Houston in 6.

Western Conference Semifinals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (5) Houston Rockets

This is where the Rockets defense and bench woes come back to hurt them. They can get away with relying solely on their offense to propel them to wins, however with a powerhouse team like the Lakers, that method simply will not suffice. The Lakers are too disciplined on both offense and defence to even think about letting Harden or Westbrook run rampant. Couple that with their own firepower in Lebron James, Anthony Davis, and a highly upgraded bench unit, and this series isn’t even that close.

Lakers in 5.

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (3) Denver Nuggets

Both of these teams are so well disciplined on both ends of the court, however I’m giving the edge to the Clippers solely based on their bench production, and it’s dominance over that of Denver. For those who aren’t super informed with everything about the NBA, the Denver bench is one shrouded in mystery, and often leaves people wondering who even is there. Compare that with the Clippers bench which has 2 out of the 3 current nominees for 6th man of the year, and you start to see where the differences in these two teams lie. For this reason, I have the Clippers winning this matchup.

Clippers in 6.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers

Ah yes, the matchup everybody and their mom has been frantically waiting for since the first tipoff in this NBA season. We’ve seen it before, we’re going to see it again, LeBron and AD, versus Kawhi and PG is going to be the rivalry of the season for every NBA fan. These teams are so evenly matched, and this is very much supported by the regular season games both teams played against each other. Simply based on the dominant season LBJ has been having, as well as the chemistry between those two as compared to Kawhi and PG, I’m leaning more towards the Lakers winning this series. That’s not to say the Clippers are the lesser team, in fact I would say their roster is a bit more well rounded than the Lakers, however the Lakers just have a bit more upside in terms of momentum and heart. It’s weird to say yes, but in all honesty, that’s all that’s between these two teams.

Lakers in 7.

NBA FINALS

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (3) Boston Celtics

It’s kind of odd to say, but at this exact point in the prospective season, I would say that the Lakers have taken on and overcome their biggest challenge of the season in the LA Clippers. There is a reason why so much emphasis is placed on these two teams, and why they are the focal point of the NBA world as of now. The Celtics on the other hand are woefully inexperienced when it comes to this sort of stage, and that combined with the humongous task of taking down “Washed King” and crew sort of spells the end of the road for their squad. Because of this, I can see the Lakers taking this series in a much less difficult manner than their previous, and winning the NBA championship.

Lakers in 6, NBA Champions.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice, as well as everything else going on. With so much going on, it is very hard to keep up with it all, but it is still important to educate yourself, so please feel free to use all of these resources to help you out:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

https://yemencrisis.carrd.co/

http://issuesintheworld.carrd.co/

NBA 2019-20 Awards Predictions

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, and Nikhil Pradeep

With this season happening and being completed in the most unusual of circumstances due to the continued outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States, the NBA Awards could be affected a little differently this year. The NBA has announced that these 8 seeding games in Orlando will have no effect on who wins what award, and that the voting will take place from today until July 28th, and award winners will be announced during the playoffs (late August, early September timeframe). It hurts award voters because they cannot focus in too much on what is going on in Orlando with their contenders, but instead go 4 months back to see the whole season before the Coronavirus outbreak. That being said, here are the candidates for each award, and our predictions for the winner of each award. 

Most Valuable Player

  • Candidates
    • Giannis Antetokuonmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
    • LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks

Defensive Player of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Giannis Antetokuonmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
    • Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz

Most Improved Player

  • Candidates
    • Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Devonte Graham, PG, Charlotte Hornets
    • Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat

Rookie of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Kendrick Nunn, PG, Miami Heat
    • Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Sixth Man of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Montrezl Harrell, C, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Dennis Schröder, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Coach of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
    • Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Executive of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Pat Riley, Miami Heat President of Basketball Operations
    • Lawrence Frank, Los Angeles Clippers President of Basketball Operations
    • David Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans Executive VP

Saransh’s Award Predictions

MVP Winner: LeBron James

The debate between Giannis and LeBron for MVP has been going for the entirety of the season, and with both playing like the two best players in the league, and being on the two best teams in the league, no real separation has been created as to who should be the Most Valuable Player. Again, however, like previous years, we have to look at which player is more ‘valuable’ to the team, and which player has helped their team improve and win more this season. Last season, we saw LeBron miss 27 games due to an injury, the most in his career, and this season, his team is the 1-seed in the Western Conference and looking to secure homecourt throughout the playoffs against their Western Conference opponents. Giannis, on the other hand, is playing in a weaker conference, and playing for the better team, both record-wise, and statistically, despite putting up similar numbers. The biggest argument I have heard is that Giannis carries more of the load than LeBron, but that simply is not the case. Aside from Anthony Davis, no starters average double figures this season, whereas Giannis has 3 other starters averaging double figures. Milwaukee has also only changed their starting lineup once, whereas Los Angeles has had 10 different starting lineup combinations. With uncertainty and less support from starters, LeBron still being 11th in scoring and 1st in assists is as impressive as it gets, especially at age 35. Giannis will have more chances in the future, but LeBron takes this one.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis joining Los Angeles last summer to team up with LeBron James did not scare people because of his offensive ability alongside LeBron, but because of what he brought to the defensive end. James, while his defensive stats have been down, has had a great impact on the defensive end as a Laker, as last season, the team was top-5 in defensive efficiency before his injury, so adding Davis on just makes them even tougher. Davis is already 3rd in the league in blocks (2.4), tied for 8th in steals (1.5), and the team is 3rd for the season in fewest points allowed (106.9). The stats are huge, but his impact that is shown beyond the stat sheet, by often guarding the best player on the other team (alongside LeBron) both on the perimeter and inside, is what separates him from Giannis and Gobert on that end of the floor.

Most Improved Player Winner: Bam Adebayo

Bam Adebayo, fan-favorite amongst all Miami Heat fans, especially myself, has proved to Miami that taking him 14th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft was a huge steal, and he has turned himself into the franchise cornerstone. Bam went from playing 23 minutes a game and splitting playing time with elite rim-protecting center Hassan Whiteside, to now being the starter, playing 34 minutes a game, and nearly doubling his production in points, steals, and blocks, and averaging a double-double on over 56% shooting from the field. Adebayo has become the great sidekick to Jimmy Butler, both by being a complementary scorer, as well as the rim-protecting defensive anchor. Despite how much Devonte Graham and Brandon Ingram improved, Adebayo changed the future of Miami, and helped them go from a team many thought would be rebuilding or a fringe playoff team, to now being a championship contender. Adebayo is a player Miami has built around this year, and will do so in the future. 

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

Memphis, a team that this offseason had: let its last piece of the legendary ‘Grit and Grind’ team go in Mike Conley, finished out of the playoffs for many years, but for once in the lottery were able to go low enough to get a good draft pick, and picked up a new head coach in Taylor Jenkins after spending over 2 months searching for one, finds themselves as the current 8-seed in the Western Conference, and putting all their faith and pressure on the shoulders of rookie sensation Ja Morant. Ja has been an efficient scorer like everyone expected him to be, but to be the floor general and defensive menace he is on the perimeter, was something unexpected. Ja has taken this team over in one season and completely redefined the culture, as now from the old ‘Grit and Grind’, veteran-built look, Memphis now is a fast-paced, pace-and-space team surrounded by a plethora of young talent, and then the right veterans at the right spots. Had guys like Kendrick Nunn, Zion Willamson, and maybe even Tyler Herro been more healthy, this discussion might be a lot harder, but even then, Ja would still be the well-deserving winner of this award, solely on his impact on the team alone.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

The Sixth Man of the Year award has largely been dominated by Lou Williams, who has won the award in three of the past five seasons, and his 3 wins are tied for most all-time. The only problem for LouWill is the fact that his teammate Montrezl Harrell played just as much Sixth Man as he did, and Dennis Schröder has outplayed both of them. Schröder has been as true a Sixth Man as you can get, be a reliable, big-time scorer off the bench, and start if necessary. While Schröder has only had to start once this season, his presence off the bench has been unmatch, being third on the team in scoring, second in assists, and third in minutes played, he has been a vital part to the success of Oklahoma City, which has been largely unexpected, considering the fact that they traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook and went into a complete rebuild mode with the multitude of draft capital they acquired for them. Trading Carmelo Anthony for D-Schro 2 summers ago has definitely paid off for OKC, as his impact and full potential is on full display for the first time in his career.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

Imagine this. Your first year into your job, in fact not even a month into your job, your franchise cornerstone in Demar DeRozan, is involved in a massive trade for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, both of whom are on expiring contracts and unhappy. You are sworn in to coach these guys to become championship contenders after years of heartbreak at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now that LeBron is in Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference is as wide-open as ever. He not only leads Toronto to the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference, but knocks off the 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then wins the NBA Finals over the dynasty Golden State Warriors. 

Now what if I told you that both Leonard and Green would end up leaving in free agency, and Toronto signed no replacements, would you still think that they can be Finals contenders and defend their crown? Most people would say no, but Nurse proved them wrong. Leonard and Green are both doing great playing in Los Angeles, but Nurse’s situation in Toronto is no different than last. Same seed as last year, same record, same team they are chasing at the top of the East. Nurse helped this team become a consistent contender that they failed to be before the Kawhi trade, and made Pascal Siakam an elite power forward and franchise cornerstone, and looks to take his team to yet another NBA Finals. As great as the team has been, they were never this good before Nurse, and it shows.

Executive of the Year Winner: Pat Riley

Much like Sixth Man of the Year, this is a no-brainer. Let’s go back to last April, when Pat Riley signed Kendrick Nunn to a 3-year, $3 million deal (non-guaranteed) right as the regular season ended from the Golden State Warriors G-League affiliate team. Come June, Miami held a lottery pick, but not the greatest one ever at pick 13. Instead, they managed to turn that into Tyler Herro (whom many compared to Devin Booker), he then, without making a dent on the cap space, traded Josh Richardson and a first-round pick for Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade during free agency, and in that same 4-team trade, traded the often-disgruntled Hassan Whiteside for Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless (who found his way onto the New York Knicks after being traded by Miami to the Clippers, then to the Knicks). Then, fast-forward to the trade deadline in February, he traded away James Johnson, Justise Winslow, and Dion Waiters, his 3 biggest contracts, for experienced vets Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, and then on top of that, signed Iggy to a 2-year extension which includes a team option, therefore not hurting the team’s cap space come 2021, when they try to make a push for Giannis. This team went from dealing with the retirement of Dwyane Wade in the form of a multi-year rebuild, to a championship contender with a fast-paced development for young players like Nunn, Herro, and Bam Adebayo. Those 3, along with Jimmy Butler and the rest of the players they traded for, will be part of the Heat Culture for a long time, and made them a contender for years to come.

Anish’s Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis has been in the runnings against LeBron for the Most Valuable Player. The reason I give Giannis the edge over LeBron is because the Bucks currently sit 53-12 with the best record in the league. Although the Lakers are second, LeBron gets the strong support of co-star Anthony Davis while it feels Giannis is more of a one man show in Milwaukee. Statistically the two are close, however Giannis obtains an advantage in the defensive side where LeBron continues to lack late in his career.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Anthony Davis

The reason I chose Anthony Davis is because of his presence in the paint for the Laker. Davis and McGee duo has been a problem for many teams against the Lakers as they make it very hard to score in the paint with their block totals. Anthony Davis currently averages 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals which are among the top defensive players in the league which is why he is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

Most Improved Player Winner: Brandon Ingram

This was a close decision between Brandon Ingram and Bam Adebayo. Ingram upped his PPG by 6 and Adebayo upped it by 8 PPG. The reason I chose Ingram over Adebayo is because Adebayo was given more minutes this year by 10 and performed better with more time he was given. Ingram on the other hand maintained the same minutes per game and still increased his PPG drastically. Although he was given another opportunity with the Pelicans and more chances his improvement in a new setting and team makes him my pick for Most Improved Player.

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

While all the hype is currently surrounding star Zion Williamson as he was also announced as one of the 2K21 cover athletes, my prediction for Rookie of the Year would have to be Ja Morant. Although Zion has been extraordinary in his few games played, those games aren’t a large enough sample size to win this award and the only other person who comes close in comparison is Ja Morant.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

Schroder has been the backup to Chris Paul with the thunder but still has managed to put up a great 19 PPG. He is competing for this award with two other Clippers players in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. The reason I have Schroder winning it is because Lou Williams already has won this award consecutively and it’s rare for the NBA to give it to him again. Also, these two Clippers are competing for the award with each other giving Schroder a slight advantage and with their stats so close I give Schroder the edge to win.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

This one is a no-brainer. Nick Nurse should definitely win this award because of how he kept the Raptors in such great shape. After coming off a championship win and losing their finals MVP to the Clippers, no one expected the Raptors to even make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference anymore. Not only are they in the playoffs but they sit second in the East (46-18) only behind Giannis’ Bucks. To take a new team that Nurse hasn’t worked with before that just lost its superstar and has no real ‘star player’ to rely on and still be competing in the Eastern Conference is why Nick Nurse is my pick for Coach of the Year.

Executive of the Year Winner: Lawrence Frank

Lawrence Frank is my pick for Executive of the year for orchestrating the biggest offseason steal of this year. Kawhi was constantly rumored to go to the Lakers or stay in Toronto during the offseason and it came to a huge shock when we found out he’d go to the Clippers. But not only did the Clippers add former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but they managed to add Paul George too in the package. Frank strategically knew that Leonard wanted to work with another superstar but didn’t want to necessarily be a shadow to LeBron, so bringing Paul George in to co-star Leonard was the perfect move. The offseason completely changed the future for the Clippers as now they’re neck and neck with the Lakers for who will come out Top in the Western Conference. This big move to acquire not one but 2 superstars during the offseason is why I chose Lawrence Frank as Executive of the Year.

Nikhil’s Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player Winner: Giannis Antetokoumpo

The fact of the matter is that Giannis Antetokoump has put up another season’s worth of historic numbers, and has vaulted his Bucks team into the best record in the league. Averaging nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists despite playing less than 31 minutes per game is not an easy task, and Antetokoumpo did it in dominant fashion. Even though Lebron James was league leader in assists before the break, and put up staggering numbers of his own at such a late stage in his career, (25.7 PTS, 10.6 AST, 7.9 REB), I don’t think it’s enough to compare to the accomplishments of Antetokounmpo, and thus I wouldn’t pick him for MVP.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Giannis Antetokoumpo

With this take, Antetokounmpo is slated to win the MVP and DPOY awards, a feat that only Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan have ever accomplished. The numbers simply don’t lie when it comes to Giannis’ defensive contribution. He leads the league in defensive win shares with 4.8,he leads the league in defensive plus-minus standings with 4.1, and finally, he also leads the league in defensive rating with 96.3. Combine this with an average of 13.7 rebounds per game, and the most defensive rebounds in the league, and you get a freak of nature worthy of both the MVP and DPOY awards.

Most Improved Player Winner: Brandon Ingram

This can easily be given to Bam Adebayo, who like Ingram snuck his way onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team roster, and make no mistake what he has done this year is very much worthy of praise. However, many people expected him to undertake this maturation and this increase in skill, albeit not as quickly. Brandon Ingram on the other hand was written off by so many people, including myself. He simply didn’t fit under LeBron’s Lakers, and that stunted his growth as a player, to the point where he had to pack his bags and wonder if the NBA was the right place for him. A wildly unexpected coming of age season followed up this culture shock for Ingram, and he, to put it frankly, balled out this season. Since the Pelicans did not have the monster that is Zion Williamson for a good stretch, Ingram picked up the slack and produced OUTSTANDING figures, including 24.3 PTS, 4.3 AST, and 6.3 REB. I’d call it a comeback story for Ingram, one definitely worth the MIP award.

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

This might be the easiest pick of the bunch: when you have a rookie who can take a rather mediocre team like the Grizzlies, and put them in playoff contention, you have to recognize the achievement. And when the next closest competition is Zion Williamson, who only played 19 games for the Pelicans, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. An honorable mention has to go out to Kendrick Nunn of the Miami Heat, who put up respectable figures for a player whom many have not never heard of before, however they pale in comparison and impact to a team than that of Ja Morant. Just give my man the award already.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

Dennis Schröder has been one of those cornerstone bench pieces for years in this league. When Jeff Teague finally left Atlanta way back when, Schröder finally had his change in a starting role, and largely underwhelmed, granted the team was pretty below average as well. In his new role behind Chris Paul with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s enjoyed some of the best basketball of his career, and gets to do it under the guidance of the point-god himself, Chris Paul. He is an instrumental piece of OKC’s playoff push, something that NO ONE thought would even happen since the departure of Russell Westbrook. Averaging 19 PTS, 4.1 AST, and 3.7 REB, he provides that spark off the bench for one of the league’s surprise stories. Thus, I think he provides a better case for 6th Man of the Year than Montrezel Harril, and Mr. 6th man himself, Lou Williams.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

Nick Nurse took a championship team that lost the greatest thing to ever happen to it’s franchise in Kawhi Leanord, as well as an instrumental piece in Danny Green, and brought it back to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, with almost no real big replacement. I think that’s enough validation in it’s own right. Just for argument’s case though, compared to Billy Donovan, who by all means has done a fabulous job with underdogs OKC, and Mike Budenholzer, who also has done very well with the league’s best team, Nurse simply outclasses them. Point proven.

Executive of the Year Winner: Pat Riley

Given the expectations for the Miami Heat and the actual outcome, Pat Riley deserves every ounce of praise he can get. When the news of Jimmy Butler leaving Philadelphia broke, I personally wondered why he would go to a non-contender, and one that didn’t even have much of a rebuild in mind. However, the likes of Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones Jr., and others have given this team so much life and so much firepower, they’re honestly one of the most fun teams in the league to watch, and by all means not where most thought they would be at this point in the season. Once again the NBA is treated to the genius of Pat Riley, and somehow he and Erik Spoelstra seem to work their magic once again.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice, as well as the Yemen Crisis, Coronavirus, and so much more. With so much going on, it is very hard to keep up with it all, but it is still important to educate yourself, so please feel free to use all of these resources to help you out:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

https://blacklivesmatter.com/partners/

https://yemencrisis.carrd.co/

http://issuesintheworld.carrd.co/

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-04-28/coronavirus-charity-how-to-choose-and-donate

The NBA Returns: What To Watch For – Part 1

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, and Anish Dhondi

The NBA is officially coming back on July 31st in DisneyWorld with no fans, and we, along with all of you guys reading this, cannot wait for the return. By the time the league would resume, players would have been on a 4-month layoff due to the season being suspended for the Coronavirus. A quick run-through of how the return will work, the NBA has only invited 22 teams to Orlando, with the bottom 2 Western Conference teams (Warriors and Timberwolves) and bottom 6 Eastern Conference teams (Bulls, Pistons, Cavaliers, Hornets, Hawks, and Knicks) being amongst the 8 that were not invited. The top 6 teams in the East have clinched their playoff spots already, and the top 7 have clinched in the West. Each team will play 8 games and they will be played amongst the 22 teams remaining. 

As far as restrictions, the NBA has created a ‘bubble campus’ within Orlando where all the teams, coaches, players, staff, etc. are required to stay, and only 3 family members can be with you, and they almost must be within the ‘bubble’. Along with that, there will be tests every day for COVID-19 for all players, coaches, and staff, and if you are tested positive, you are out for at least 7 days, meaning that in the playoffs, that could be 3-4 games. Also, teams will eat at restaurants together and can only play golf, and the DisneyWorld rides will not be open for families.  

Now that we have given an overview of the regulations, we bring you to the biggest storylines of the return of basketball:

Saransh’s Biggest Storylines

Kyrie and KD Sitting Out

Kevin Durant was injured last year in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets, and then returned for the NBA Finals, where he would end up getting injured yet again, and has not been back on the court since. Despite the recent reports that he is healthy, he will sit out and get ready for a big title push next season, where Kyrie Irving will also be back and healthy. Irving has been injured off-and-on this season, and even though he is healthy as well (probably healthier than Durant considering Durant is still doing his last bits of rehab), he is sitting out as well. This is a big storyline because, for one, they only have a 0.5 game lead on Orlando for the 7th-seed, and a 6-game lead for the 8th-seed. With no superstars, a thin bench, and only 8 games to play, Brooklyn could potentially have to play-in for the 8th-seed to make the playoffs, or even miss them altogether. Second, if they do make the playoffs, they will face either Milwaukee or Toronto (Boston or Miami is possible but unlikely), but whichever team it is, they will easily sweep Brooklyn. Next season is when we will really start talking about them.

The ‘Other’ Contenders: Miami, Houston, and Dallas

All the talk has really been about the LA teams, Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto matching up in the NBA Finals, and everyone seems to overlook the other true contenders. I’m talking about Miami, Houston, and Dallas, the teams that have been playing ‘in the shadows’, so to speak, yet still getting the job done every single night. Miami and Houston at one point in the season were as high as the 2-seed, and Dallas was the 4th-seed earlier. Now, with them being at 4th, 6th, and 7th, respectively, they face a different battle than expected, but with 8 games left and still a good shot at a higher seed, you never know. The biggest challenger to Milwaukee is Miami, and the biggest challengers to the LA teams are Houston and Dallas (Utah would be in the conversation if Bogdanovic was not injured. He is now out for the season). Miami with their size, balance, and 3-point shooting to match up with the best in the East, Houston with their unique small-ball lineup, and Dallas with Luka, Porzingis, and other upcoming young stars, these teams are going to surprise a lot of people this season and be around as contenders for years to come.

Nikhil’s Biggest Storylines

The Bubble Teams, And The Playoff Implications That Follow

It’s no secret the NBA wants to get as much viewership and as much buzz back into its games, and the best way to do that is to include as many teams as viably possible into its return. The method that the board has settled on is nothing short of complex and mildly confusing, but in many ways addresses all concerns of proper seeding, fair play, and equal opportunity for each ball club. The NBA firstly has invited 22 teams, which are all teams that were in the top 8 in each conference once the season was paused, as well as teams within 6-games of the 8th seed (New Orleans, Portland, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Phoenix in the West, and Washington in the East). These teams will play 8 regular season style, “seeding games” to determine their positions going into the make-shift playoffs. A possible play-in tournament between the No. 8 and No. 9 teams in a conference could be utilized if the ninth seed finishes the regular season within four games of the eighth. In that case, the No. 9 seed would need to beat the No. 8 seed twice to earn the playoff berth, while the No. 8 would need one win from the two potential games. From there, a typical NBA style playoff structure would follow, and a champion will be crowned. It is the battle for the 8th seed, particularly in the West, that catches my eye. As the table stands, Memphis holds the 8th seed, and Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento are all tied for 9th, with San Antonio and Phoenix not far behind. I expect Portland to walk away as the 8th seed once the whole thing plays out, simply based on their experience, and talent. In all honesty, they should be higher up in the table given that Lillard is a bonafide superstar in this league, and he’s with a surrounding cast including CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony. Yes, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson (both of which I will elaborate on in a bit) are very prominent figures in their own right, but the teams they command simply aren’t at the level the Blazers are. I do expect to come down to the wire, possibly with the play-in tournament having to be used as well.

The NBA’s Polarizing Rookies Are Instrumental in the Bounce Back of the League.

The NBA has lost millions due to the pandemic, and since the virus is a worldwide phenomenon, they are losing revenue from everywhere all at the same time. So, in order to bounce back accordingly, the league needs to make every money-making move possible with this return they have in mind. This is definitely part of the reason why more than the standard 16 teams were invited back to the season, by adding the additional six teams, 88 games are effectively injected back into the schedule, and the collective salary reduces loss by $300 million. What is even more of a motivating factor is the massive viewership garnered by Zion Williamson and Ja Morant (Mainly Williamson but i’m trying to be nice). The No. 1 pick in this years draft has carried an insane amount of buzz ever since his high school days, and is a huge money maker for the league. By including New Orleans back into the season, and possibly the playoffs in some capacity, the league effectively boosts their revenue potential, allowing the world to focus once again on Williamson, and the hype to return to the league. Couple this with the lesser but similar effect Morant has had with Memphis, and you have two very prominent incentives for people to start watching again, and get hooked back into the league. By appealing to what the people want to see, the league directly propels themselves back to the position they were in before the pandemic striked.

Anish’s Biggest Storylines

No Home Court Advantage for Players

With this new format being in place teams lack the comparative home court advantage that they would have normally received in the playoffs. Normally a 1st seed team would have the advantage in a series against the 8th seed team, as the first 2 games would be in the 1st seeds court and if it were to extend to a 7 game series the 1st seed would get the extra home game. Now the home court advantage has been eliminated in order to maintain the safety of players. Can you imagine watching an NBA game with no crowd noise? Silence in the background and strictly the sound of the basketball would be a dull game without fan reaction. Ideas have been thrown around as a possibility of the NBA incorporating crowd sound effects from its popular NBA based video game, NBA 2K. Although this sounds strange it may benefit in giving the audience a little more excitement during moments of the game where the crowd would normally get pumped up. Although home court advantage may not seem like a big deal to us, it’s a big deal to the players. Many players thrive in a home court setting with their own fans cheering them on giving them a boost in confidence on the court. An example of this is shown with superstar Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Lillard averaged 31.9 PPG when playing on his home court, however that number dropped to 25.9 PPG when playing on an opponent’s court. This is a significant difference for one player and shows the importance of home court advantage which won’t be a factor in the playoffs this year so it’ll be interesting to see how these players perform.

Players Getting Back in Shape

The NBA has been suspended for months and after a couple games it will be the playoffs which is the most important time of year for teams because it’s all of the years work towards winning a championship. Many players however may not be in the same shape as they were prior to the suspension which can be an issue. Without the proper routine and training to get these player’s bodies ready for the rigorous pace of the NBA again, many injuries can occur. It will be interesting to see the difference between all these player’s peak performance during the regular season and the effect quarantine has had on some of their bodies with a lack of going to a gym or being able to consistently work out. Even if players were to be exercising, nothing quite matches the pace of an actual NBA game, so with these players in offseason mode it would be a struggle to quickly get back into shape with no preseason or 82 game ‘warm up’ for the playoffs. Will this affect the favorites for winning the championship this year? And what if a star player was to get Coronavirus or returns back to the game too quickly for his body and gets injured that would have him out for basically the entire playoffs? There are many dangerous factors in opening up this season after a long absence and we’ll see how it turns out.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html