2021 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview

By Saransh Sharma & Anish Dhondi

The Milwaukee Bucks got their revenge over the Miami Heat in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs in an emphatic fashion, sweeping the defending Eastern Conference Champions. Brooklyn and Philadelphia, the Eastern Conference favorites, both defeated the Celtics and Wizards, respectively, in 5 games. Brooklyn takes on Milwaukee in what many seem to be the Bucks’ chance to prove they are a legit contender, and Philadelphia will see themselves against the upstart Atlanta Hawks, who ousted the Knicks in 5 games. Here is our preview and our predictions for who we expect to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals:

Saransh’s Predictions

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

This entire series’ outcome depends on the health of Joel Embiid, who is currently day-to-day with a small meniscus tear, keyword being small. While Embiid will not need surgery, the 76ers have a rigorous treatment regimen in place for Embiid, making his return date unknown. This is something Atlanta can take advantage of, because Clint Capela and John Collins, the catalysts of this defense, can avoid foul trouble defensively. They can also do their thing offensively without having to worry about Joel Embiid causing problems in the paint. Trae Young will dominate and silence many Sixers fans the same way he did with Knicks fans, though he will be defended by Ben Simmons, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. That said, the perimeter shooting from him, Bogdan Bogdanovic, DeAndre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter will have this Hawks’ offense soaring. The question is, without Embiid, without the pick-and-roll game being as effective, can the 76ers get enough paint production from Ben Simmons & Dwight Howard? Can Seth Curry, Danny Green, and the Philly shooters stay hot without Embiid? If Embiid does not come back before Game 3, Atlanta wins in 6. If he does, Philadelphia in 6. With the assumption that Embiid will not return in time, I am picking Atlanta.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Brooklyn and Milwaukee meet in a matchup that many believe will determine who will be crowned the Eastern Conference Champions. Milwaukee did a great job defending Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and clogging the paint while dominating on the outside on offense against Miami but have to flip that gameplan to beat this incredibly talented Nets team. Miami honed in on stopping Giannis offensively, and it worked, lowering his FG% to lower than usual (45% shooting), but Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Bryn Forbes stepped up and were big-time, and Giannis as a playmaker was a huge reason why.

The way the Nets defense is structured, to expect Giannis to be stopped and slowed down like Miami did from a scoring perspective is low. The question will be, can Middleton, Holiday, & Co. step up offensively again. Giannis will need to carry the load as a playmaker again, but more so as a scorer. I do not believe that Milwaukee is the team with the best chance to beat Brooklyn, and while I hope I am proven wrong, I expect Brooklyn to win in 6.

Anish’s Predictions

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

This series seems easy enough to predict, with Philadelphia on top assuming both teams are at full strength. However, for Joel Embiid’s Sixers, that might not be the case. Embiid exited the Wizards series in Game 4 and the Sixers lost their one game of the series. Embiid is a crucial factor to this team and it completely changes the prediction based on his availability. Even without Embiid, this Sixers squad is very talented with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry carrying the scoring load. Knowing how eager superstars are to return in the Playoffs, I do not see Embiid missing more than 2 Games. If Embiid misses 2 games, I believe the Sixers split the first 2 games at home without Embiid, and then defeat the Hawks in 6 once Embiid returns. 

The Hawks’ best player and scorer, Trae Young, will be guarded by Ben Simmons, a DPOY candidate who will limit his production. Limiting Trae Young will be the deciding factor, being he is the only Hawks All-Star. The Sixers have more depth and have guys like Tobias Harris and Seth Curry who can get hot and pick up the slack with Embiid being out. They finished off the Wizards without Embiid, so I believe the Sixers will still win this series if Embiid misses just 2 games. If he misses more, the Hawks might take it. Overall my prediction is Sixers in 6, but anything can happen.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Now this series will give us the most excitement from the Eastern Conference. The Bucks’ defense is one of the best in these Playoffs, and Jrue Holiday is a big reason why. Jrue Holiday can lock down either Harden or Kyrie, but then the other is able to score, then they also have Kevin Durant which will be the task for Giannis, who is also a great defender. The Nets, on the other hand, are stacked with veteran superstars who can take turns scoring. This series will be intense and should go to Game 7. As unstoppable as the Nets are on offense, no defender can stop Giannis’ offense. Giannis overcame Bam Adebayo in the recent series against the Heat, so I do not see the Nets doing a better job of containing him. This matchup will be offense vs. offense as both of these teams are able to score in a variety of ways, including from the 3-point line. The Nets’ stellar shooting starts with the Big 3 and continues with 3-point contest winner Joe Harris. However, the Bucks can also get hot from 3 as the Bucks currently hold the record for most 3-pointers in a single game at 29 earlier this season. We know Jrue Holiday and Middleton can get hot from three, but Bryn Forbes has taken a significant step-up in proving he can be a threat off the bench. This will be a long, high-scoring series, but in the end, the Brooklyn Nets have way too much superstar power and will be able to close their games more effectively. Nets in 7.

2021 NBA Playoff Predictions: Opening Round

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

In the first full NBA season played in the Coronavirus pandemic, the NBA yet again outdid themselves with how they handled it and how they kept everyone safe. Adam Silver continues to show that he is an innovator off-the-court, as well as on, adding in a Play-In Tournament for the Playoffs, which proved to bring some of the most entertaining basketball we have seen in years. With the Play-In Tournament now at a close and the Playoffs fully set, here are our predictions for the Opening Round of the NBA Playoffs:

Saransh’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-0

What an epic Play-In Game we saw between the Grizzlies and Warriors, and what an incredible win it was for this young Grizzlies team. The issue is that this team is far too young and inexperienced (youngest team by average player age in the last 10 postseasons) to handle the Jazz, who have tons of experience and are as elite as they come defensively. 

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Mavericks win series 4-3

The Mavericks and Clippers series is the one series that should go to 7 games in the Opening Round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Both teams are very stout defensively and can put up points at rapid-fire paces, but what separates the two teams is the big man play, and Kristaps Porzingis, while he has had durability issues this season, has quietly averaged 20.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG. This production will be difficult for the Clippers to match, and coupled with Luka being unfazed by any sort of defensive pressure and the role players of the Mavericks always finding a way to contribute, they take it in 7.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers win series 4-2

If Denver had Jamal Murray, this would be much more of a ‘toss-up’ series but the inconsistencies of Nikola Jokic’s supporting cast this season, will ultimately be what sends Denver home, as matching Dame, CJ, and Melo will be too much for Denver. Jokic will show why he is the MVP (or at least why he is an MVP finalist), but the Blazers will show to be the better team this time around.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-1

The Suns have had a magical season, and this young team has been great, led by the ageless wonder, Chris Paul, but the Lakers, who have not been healthy most of this season, are beginning to get back to full strength, and that will be too much for this young Suns squad to handle. No one can guard LeBron James or Anthony Davis, and the inexperience of everyone on Phoenix outside of Chris Paul will be too much to overcome.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-2

Embiid and Simmons vs. Westbrook and Beal, could we ask for a more appealing matchup? In what should be a very entertaining star player battle, we see a big gap in the talent and depth of both teams, and with no one to guard Joel Embiid, the Wizards will not have a chance at the upset. They can experiment with giving Daniel Gafford more minutes, but even his freakish ability to block shots will not be enough to stop Embiid. The stars of Washington should get a game or two and slow down Ben Simmons, but slowing Embiid down and match the role players’ contributions will be the downfall for Washington.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Hawks win series 4-3

What a season for the Knicks it has been. A team built for a complete rebuild has suddenly turned into the best defensive team in the NBA and one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA thanks for Coach of the Year finalist Tom Thibodeau. Players like RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Derrick Rose have also come into their own and found their strides once again and have helped this Knicks team get to where they are today. The Hawks also had a magical season led by Head Coach Nate McMillan, who was hired midseason and has turned a team that had an awful season start into a strong playoff team, finishing the season with a 27-11 record. The concern with McMillan is his Playoff record as a coach, as he is 17-36 in his career, and 3-16 with the Pacers, his last head coaching job. But the youth of this team, the innate ability to score at ease, and the defensive anchor by Clint Capela has helped McMillan create a gameplan that works night after night to help this team succeed. This series will be more of a defensive battle than most expect, as I expect Capela to lockdown Julius Randle, and I expect the supporting cast around Trae Young to produce while he is slowed down by the elite Knicks defense. All in all, the Knicks do not have enough offense to keep up with Atlanta, but this series is as much of a toss-up as you can have.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Heat win series 4-3

Well, well, well, here we go again, yet another year where Miami underperforms and everyone sleeps on them. Jrue Holiday has been an incredible upgrade from Eric Bledsoe for Milwaukee, Khris Middleton has improved his game a ton, and Giannis had another MVP-caliber season, yet everyone seems to forget how great Miami is at stopping him. Giannis averaged just 16.7 PPG and 9.3 RPG against them this season and forced players like Middleton and Holiday to step up and take the scoring helm in the regular season, but the Playoffs are a different animal, and if Milwaukee wants any chance to win this series and avoid last year’s embarrassment, they need Giannis to be the MVP-caliber player he has played like for so many seasons. Not to mention, Milwaukee still has no answer for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Miami has also seen their 3-point shooting catch fire late season, and that was what ultimately drove the Bucks to their downfall in last year’s series. Miami gets the upset again.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

Boston, congratulations on making it to the Playoffs via the Play-In Tournament, but Jayson Tatum is not dropping 50 points every night, no matter how inconsistent the Nets’ defense may be. Not to mention, a healthy Nets’ Big 3 and Blake Griffin is a lot to ask a team to defend.

Nikhil’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-0

The Utah Jazz have proven themselves as a quality basketball organization with high hopes for the present and future this season, and by that reasoning, they are fit to take on any team when fully healthy. This team has one of the deepest rosters in the league, and the likes of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Jordan Clarkson off the bench will prove tough to handle. On the flip side, the Grizzlies are too thin and inexperienced to contend with the red-hot Jazz. Unless they can put together multiple performances akin to that shown against the Golden State Warriors, I do not see them posing any challenge to the much more complete team in the Utah Jazz.

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers win series 4-3

The Clippers and Mavericks matchup is intriguing because both teams have so much offensive firepower, that every game played in this series has the potential to be a shootout. The Clippers are the more established and deeper team, which is why I give them the nod. The likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be tested heavily by Luka Doncic and company. An important note: Rajon Rondo has been the key to the Clippers’ recent success, and if he steps up and provides that veteran savvy and knowledge, it will be hard for the relatively younger Mavs roster to keep up. Again, however, Doncic manages to find the most spectacular ways to keep himself and his team in contention, so expect this series to be a close-fought battle.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Nuggets win series 4-2

The Nuggets and Trail Blazers present a similar matchup as the Clippers-Mavs one. However, I would say there is a bit more of a defensive element for both teams. The Nuggets are down on offensive power with the injury to Jamal Murray, but MVP candidate Nikola Jokic has rallied the team, and they seem to be carrying lots of momentum into the playoffs. The Blazers have had a rocky last couple of games but managed to get enough victories to avoid the Play-In tournament. Even without Jamal Murray, the Nuggets seem to have so much offensive proficiency solely from Jokic’s MVP caliber play, and I do not see the Blazers being able to match that, even with Damian Lillard in the team.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-2

Finally, the strangest matchup in this slate, the Suns and Lakers. Phoenix has been the surprise team this year by a large margin, and it can all be attributed to the leadership of Chris Paul. The team itself is surprisingly young outside of the point god, however they manage to play like a veteran squad that has been deep in the playoffs before. That being said, they are playing LeBron James, and if history has taught us well, it is that you almost never bet against LeBron James. The only reason why the Lakers will not sweep the Suns here is because of their recent game against the Warriors, where they showed that they are vulnerable to a game-breaking player. Devin Booker of the Suns is not at that level yet, but I do seeing him posing a problem enough to where they might steal two games from the Lakers.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-2

The Washington Wizards have defied all odds from the beginning of their season to make it to the 8-seed in the playoffs, and the consensus around the league is that they are one of the most dangerous teams in this league. That being said, I find it hard for them to contend with the 76ers, who have been the epitome of excellence for most of this season. Doc Rivers in his first year with the team has taken them to the top of the Eastern Conference, and MVP caliber performances from Joel Embiid, defensive clinics from Ben Simmons, and a stellar supporting cast in the rest of the roster quite simply are too much for the Wizards to handle. Unless Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal drop insane performances for every game in the series (which is somewhat possible), I see them only taking two games of this series and losing to the 76ers.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Knicks win series 4-3

The New York Knicks are back and better than ever, and the play of Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and the old but gold coaching from Tom Thibodeau has paid off tremendously. On the other side of this matchup, the Atlanta Hawks have also come back from adversity, growing through a coaching change in the middle of the season and finding their form finely as well. Both teams are riding a lot of momentum into this series, and in my opinion, the winner will be decided by who plays better defense. Both teams are offensively proven, but the Knicks, under defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, seem to be better conditioned to come up with key stops down the stretch. It will be close, but the better all-around defensive structure of the New York Knicks team will be the deciding factor and send them through to the next round of the playoffs.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Bucks win series 4-2

The Miami Heat have more or less stayed the same from their Cinderella story run to the championship last year, and that sort of plays to their disadvantage. Jimmy Butler and co. are by no means a pushover, but if you look at the rest of the conference, nearly every team in contention has gotten better and more suited to take the crown this year. The Bucks are the prime example of this, having added Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker to the already explosive talent that is Giannis Antetokounmpo. As defensively sound Bam Adebayo is, there simply is not enough within the Miami roster to hold the offense of the Bucks down for a 7-game series. Given their expanded roster, the floor becomes stretched, and they become that much tougher to defend. I have the Bucks progressing to the next round in 6 games.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

Finally, the team that everyone has as their favorite, the Brooklyn Nets. Oddly enough, we have not seen this team run at full capacity very much this season, with KD, Kyrie, and Harden all missing time for large chunks of the season for a variety of different reasons. However, they all should be back for the playoffs and will be back during the series’ that matter most. If we are being honest, this one does not entail that. The Celtics have been on the downward trend since losing Jaylen Brown to a wrist injury, and while they handily beat the Wizards to claim the 7-seed, a team of this caliber should not be down in the Play-In tournament in the first place. Jayson Tatum simply cannot drop 50 points in every game in this series as he did against the Wizards, and when you have 3 of the biggest stars on the opposite side of the ball along with an established sub-star in Blake Griffin, it is almost certain that the Celtics make a quick exit.

Anish’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-1

Now no one expected this Grizzlies team to even be in the playoffs. Everyone was talking about a Warriors Jazz series and a potential upset there. Not to be rude or discredit any of these team’s success, but this is the most irrelevant series in the playoffs. It probably has to do with both team’s lack of star power and being small market teams. The Jazz took first seed this year yet not a single person has them winning the championship. The Jazz will take this series and I say Jazz in 5 because I believe the Grizzlies can steal a game if Ja Morant goes off again or if Donovan Mitchell is not 100% healthy.

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers win series 4-2

The Mavericks vs Clippers seems to be a repeat matchup of last year’s first round. That in which the Clippers won in 6 games. In my opinion, I see a repeat of that this year. I do not feel like the Mavericks have improved significantly in any way and Porzingis just is not using his talents like he should get them to the next level. Kawhi will take over this series, but it will come down to how Pual George plays to determine how many games it takes for the Clippers to win, so I say Clippers in 6.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers win series 4-2

Denver vs. Portland is a matchup that also occurred in 2019 in which Portland made their biggest playoff run in recent history to the WCF. The matchup was very close, in which the Blazers won in 7 games. That said, the Blazers feel like the favorites to win this series. Not only are the Nuggets missing their starting point guard in Jamal Murray, but the Blazers now have Jusuf Nurkic, who is known to be a much better defender than Enes Kanter. In 2019 the Blazers were able to defeat the Nuggets without Kanter so Nurkic will make it easier. Along with the Nuggets improving with Aaron Gordon and the emergence of Campazzo and MPJ, the Blazers also have new pieces in Robert Covington, Norman Powell, and Derrick Jones Jr., all of whom will be able to match with Denver. Portland’s backcourt is the strong suit of their team, and Denver missing Jamal Murray takes a huge hit which gives me the Blazers in 6.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-3

I feel bad for the Suns here. When looking at this, you would assume the Suns are favorites because of their high seed, but having LeBron James on the opposing roster changes the whole game. LeBron has proven to never count his team out, as he has made the NBA Finals countless times with different rosters, and with Anthony Davis alongside him, and being the defending champions, they will not go down easy. The veteran leadership of CP3 will push this series out to be very close but in the end, the Suns do not have anyone who can guard LeBron or Anthony Davis and will fall to the Lakers in 7.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-1

The Sixers have the clear edge here, as Washington was barely able to make the playoffs. They had to go on an incredible 17-6 run to end the season after starting 17-32. The Wizards have no one who can contain Joel Embiid as they rotate through 2-3 centers depending on matchups. The Sixers will dominate the game with not only their offense but their good defense too, which the Wizards lack. I give the Wizards one game because I can easily see Beal and Westbrook going off with crazy stats, the scoring running up to near 130s, and the Wizards winning a close game. But that type of play is not sustainable. Give me the Sixers in 5 games.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Knicks win series 4-3

The Knicks vs Hawks is not what you would expect to see in the NBA Playoffs, especially given these team’s recent history. The Hawks started the season not so great, and then Nate McMillan took over and coached them to a 27-11 record. On the other hand, Tom Thibodeau coached the Knicks to make the playoffs and have one of the best defenses in the league. Both these teams have their stars in Julius Randle and Trae Young so it will be an entertaining series. There is no clear favorite in this series and it will be close, but with the Knicks’ defense, I give them the slight edge and say Knicks in 7.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Bucks win series 4-3

The Bucks vs. Heat series will be interesting because the Heat is one of the few teams able to contain Giannis, especially in the playoffs. Last season when the Heat made its incredible trip to the NBA Finals, they defeated Giannis and the Bucks in 5 games. One key difference is the Bucks now have Jrue Holiday, an elite defender and scorer. Paired with Middleton and Giannis this team looks even scarier than last season. The Heat on the other hand have been battling injuries and did not make any big leaps this season. They acquired Victor Oladipo, only for him to be out for the season and not play in the playoffs. Although the Heat are good at containing Giannis, the Bucks firepower besides him still outmatch the Heat, and it will be too much for Jimmy Butler and the Heat this season. I got Bucks in 7. 

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

The Nets vs Celtics series is not going to be close. The Celtics have been dealing with bad injuries all year and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been carrying them to barely make the playoffs. Now, with Jaylen Brown out for the playoffs, it is all up to Tatum to carry this team. Kemba Walker is too inconsistent to rely on and when it comes to offensive firepower, Jayson Tatum is no match for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. For the Celtics to beat the Wizards in their Play-In Game, it took Jayson Tatum having to drop 50 points, that type of offense from Tatum is not consistent, and with the Big 3 of Brooklyn, this series feels over before it even started. If Jaylen Brown was healthy, I would give the Celtics a game or two, but he is not, leading me to pick the Nets in a sweep.

Is The James Harden Trade That Scary For The NBA?

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, & Anish Dhondi

Guest Writer: Santosh Krishnan

By the time everyone reads this, it will have been about a week from the time that James Harden was traded to the Nets, giving everyone adequate time to come up with their opinions on the trade, but we are taking the approach that this is just after the trade, and the Nets have yet to play any games together with their new Big 3.

The Nets acquired James Harden, of course, but many other teams around the NBA became involved. The Cavaliers got Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen, building up their young starting-5. The Pacers received Caris LeVert, Houston got Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodion Kurucs, four first-round picks, and four pick swaps. Wow, that is a lot of pieces traded. Here is our full analysis of the trade, and why you should not freak out as much as you may want to.

Saransh’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: They got what they wanted. To acquire James Harden without giving up Kyrie Irving, but that might be the issue. Kyrie is currently away from the team to attend birthday parties while not wearing a mask, and attend meetings to discuss social justice initiatives. While I am in no way opposed to him working to make changes in this country regarding the racial injustices, to skip games and not communicate with your team to do so is not a good look at all. Do you see LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes skipping games to do so? No, they are doing both, and Kyrie’s lack of communication and possibly even lack of care for basketball is concerning. Like Stephen A. Smith said on First Take on Wednesday, retirement is something we should not be surprised to see when it comes to Kyrie Irving.

Second, Harden is a pure 1v1, iso-ball player, with an enormous ego. Undoubtedly he will be able to score in bunches, but will players like Kyrie and KD be able to as well with him involved in the offense? Sure, Harden averages a lot of assists, but a lot of those assists come off of lob and alley-oop passes off the pick-and-roll. For Head Coach Steve Nash, the question will be to see if Durant, coming off of an Achilles injury, is willing to take on that task of being a more inside/paint-oriented player and attacking the basket. Due to having had the injury, I would expect Durant to miss some guys to rest the Achilles. If Harden can figure out how to give up the ball more, then Durant can thrive, as he has so far this season when Kyrie has done the same.

Third, what more does Kevin Durant need to beat LeBron? You already had Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, and now you have Kyrie and Harden at your disposal? I do not think we can judge KD and give him a ‘legacy’ of any sort besides saying that he needed superstars around him.

Lastly, I believe this team should make the Finals, but they will not beat the Lakers. There will be chemistry issues between the three of them and the rest of the team, the Nets now lack depth due to having traded players like Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Taurean Prince, so seeing players like Joe Harris and DeAndre Jordan play big minutes all season long will be interesting. Also, not having Spencer Dinwiddie due to his ACL injury which has him out for the season, puts even more responsibility on Harris, and Landry Shamet, who acquired this past offseason to be a key backcourt depth piece. With Kyrie AWOL, Harden’s love for strip clubs, and Durant having not played without multiple superstars for years, this team will have plenty of bumps along the road, and teams like Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, will give them a good fight, but they will still prevail and win the East. But beating LeBron James, Anthony Davis, the rest of that defending champion roster, and that depth and coaching? Come that time of year, the bumps in the road will be too much to drive over, and the team will be deemed a failure, much like the Warriors when they got DeMarcus Cousins, and much like the Rockets when they had Westbrook and Chris Paul alongside James Harden. Also, given that they gave up 8 years’ worth of draft capital and LeVert for Harden in what will be a 1-3 year experiment at the max is crazy. Then again, we have seen this with Brooklyn before.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Not much to say here. They got great young players who can be valuable trade pieces once this team gets ready to compete in the playoffs and also can give Collin Sexton more to build around and lead the team with. Cleveland has way too many big men now that they acquired Allen, so trading Andre Drummond and Kevin Love will be their top priorities, and if they play the cards right with the trades, they could sneak into the playoffs this season. Unlikely, but not impossible. This trade is a win and can be even better based on their future decisions around this trade.

Indiana’s Perspective: The Pacers are in the middle of being a contender and going into a full rebuild with this move. This allows the offense to be fully run with Malcolm Brogdon off-ball, LeVert can shine as a scoring star, and Domantas Sabonis can show how good he is, but in the end, same old Indiana. It is a winning trade to get younger, but it may not make them better.

Houston’s Perspective: Getting Victor Oladipo was probably not what the Rockets thought would happen in this Harden trade, but they will gladly take it if they can keep him this offseason, as he is a free agent after this season. As for this season, Oladipo alongside John Wall in the backcourt gives them an exciting backcourt with elite defensive skills, and his facilitating ability can make DeMarcus Cousins at least his Pelicans self if not his elite Kings self. The Rockets also have all of those picks for the future and can rebuild smoothly, without having to deal with any players that become distractions. 

Santosh’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: This trade is scary because if all goes according to plan, the Nets might rewrite the scoring record book every night. Of course, it has to go according to plan. As of right now, James Harden is merely a Kyrie-goes-rogue safety net, but once Kyrie gets back and is fully focused, the Nets are capable of putting up 75+ points a game with just KD, Kyrie, and Harden. The big if is, as usual, Kyrie. ‘Kyrie, the Intellect,’ has decided to take a sabbatical from the NBA that includes Zoom calls during games and birthday parties, while Harden has his desires in strip clubs, leaving KD to be a leader, which he has not been most of his career. On top of that, all the scoring depth provided by players like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen are gone, along with any future depth in the years to come with the absence of three first-round picks. Brooklyn is in win-now mode, but how are they going to win? In the regular season, it is easy to put up historic numbers, but playoff basketball slows down a lot due to the increase and defense, and the Nets have defensive liabilities everywhere at the moment. Kyrie cannot guard a tree, Harden only guards when he feels like it, and the Nets no longer have a strong interior presence with the absence of Jarrett Allen, who was traded to Cleveland as part of the 4-team Harden deal. Sure, DeAndre Jordan is on the team, but when ESPN displayed the potential starting lineup, they put in Jeff Green instead of DeAndre Jordan, showing how much of a threat he is to anyone in the paint nowadays. That leaves KD to play the 3, 4, and 5 positions on the court, which is not what you want a star player coming off an Achilles injury to be doing. Brooklyn has to acquire a big man ASAP, whether it is someone cheap off the free-agent market or lure someone out of retirement, but they need someone because DeAndre Jordan is not the answer to this problem.

Now let us acknowledge that Brooklyn has acquired 3 of the top 10 players in the league. Why would you be willing to have such a high payroll for a big three when the rage is all about dynamic duos? It turns out that the only way to beat LeBron now is to acquire a minimum of 3 Hall of Fame players on the same roster, as stated by Nick Wright on FOX Sport’s ‘First Things First’. Kevin Durant decided that Kyrie and a strong bench was not enough to handle a 36-year-old LeBron James? And people think he is better than LeBron? That’s all I will say about that, but what does this mean for the expectations for this team? It is as championship-or-bust as it can get.  

The last time a team traded this much for one player was when the Los Angeles Lakers for AD, and when the Clippers traded for ‘Pandemic P’. The only team to successfully utilize this star player was the Lakers, who won the title last year, and to no one’s surprise are the favorites this year.  

I believe that the Nets will be plagued with chemistry issues due to a power struggle over the ball and a lack of depth. Brooklyn has the individual pieces to win, but do these pieces fit together? I do not think so, and like the KG and Pierce trade the Nets made years ago, I fear the Nets just made another one today. Last LeBron note; this was trending on Twitter, but did anyone notice that LeBron made a Stephen Curry no-look three, and the next day a super-team was assembled? Ooooh, the Nets are in trouble.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Cleveland got some nice pieces, but really how many big men does one team need? You got Drummond at point guard turning layups into turnovers, Kevin Love wasting a great career playing power forward, Larry Nance Jr dunking all the time at the 3, and Javale playing center as a center does. So I guess you bring in Jarrett Allen to play the 2, turning him into a splash brother? I have no clue what the Cavs think they are doing, and this accumulation of big men gets them nowhere.

Indiana’s Perspective: Giving up Oladipo for LeVert does not improve the team, but it keeps that a contender level while getting rid of the cloud of issues regarding his desire to be there in the first place. LeVert is a solid 1/2 hybrid player who can distribute and score at a great clip. Pair him with Brogdon and Sabonis, and the Pacers remain the contenders they are. However, I do not believe they will advance farther than the second round and will be a 5-6 seed in the East. Giving up Oladipo also removes the Pacers’ obligations to pay Oladipo big money, as they can instead focus on building a contender team with cheaper pieces.

Houston’s Perspective: In all fairness, the Rockets won this trade. They netted four first-round picks, four pick swaps, Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, bench depth, and a solid future. They don’t have to deal with distractions caused by James Harden or his ridiculous commands and can start a rebuild without developing a losing culture. With guys who will work hard like John Wall and Boogie Cousins, along with a less ball-dominant 2 in Victor Oladipo, the Rockets and Stephen Silas have a lot of pieces to work with to build something special. As John Wall and Boogie Cousins round into form and Silas integrating Oladipo into a game plan that allows Wall to be Wall and not have to defer to Harden all the time, the Rockets can play free-flowing basketball the way Silas wants to and continue to keep a winning culture while harvesting picks for the years to come.

Nikhil’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: The move is quite obviously a win-now type of play from the Nets’ head office, but all indications just seem to be heading towards failure. Yes, this team will win games; a large sum of them as well. But the age-old question that seems to be the demise of most superteams not named the Warriors is called back into question: who takes the last shot? I have sat here and thought about this for a while now, and I still cannot come up with a genuine answer. The crux of the problem lies in the personality of each player, and the fact that they are all HUGE ball-dominant guards (Yes, Kevin Durant is not technically a guard, but his game most closely resembles that of one). James Harden is known to be a huge ball-hog and one that usually dribbles for more than 5 seconds before making some kind of slow-motion and hitting a step-back jumper. Kevin Durant is known to be a crossover killer and one whose size is so hard to guard in any situation. Kyrie Irving is known to be an insane dribble move user, who has the best passing attributes of the three but will not shy away from a shot of his own. Combine this with the fact that off the court, these three players are the three most egotistical in the NBA, and you have to think that somewhere, something will go wrong. 

Irving himself took an extended leave of absence that the Nets organization has no reason for, and Harden’s entire saga of blatant disregard for an organization will not bode well for a championship-caliber team. Each of these three guys will be the one without the ball in their hands during a potential game-winning sequence of play at some point in the season, and when it happens, we will truly see how this team will work, will thrive, or will ultimately fail. Steve Nash has a hell of a job to do, and in all honesty, I do not think he can do it.

Houston’s Perspective: The Houston Rockets, without Daryl Morey, managed to come away as the big winner of this trade in my opinion, as they manage to set themselves up for the future brilliantly, while still keeping a passable playoff-caliber roster right now. Just listen to the haul they got for Harden: Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, four unprotected first-round picks (Brooklyn 2022, 2024 and 2026, Milwaukee 2022), and four unprotected first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027). The sheer amount of picks is almost comparable to what OKC has been doing with their picks and ultimately sets them up for a good number of future players, a good proportion of which are bound to be gems. The biggest piece of the puzzle right now, however, is Victor Oladipo, who is more than a passable guard that has nearly all the skill needed to pilot the ship next to John Wall. That backcourt in all honesty is reminiscent of the notorious Wall-Beal backcourt that thrived so many years in Washington, the difference being that the rest of Houston’s roster can provide some help. Eric Gordon, Demarcus Cousins, Christian Wood, and PJ Tucker have experience being the follow-up option to a ball-dominant player in James Harden, so they would only thrive in a much more pass inclined system under Wall and Oladipo. Houston has a lot to look forward to, now and the future, even though on the surface it may look like a downgrade.

Cleveland’s Perspective: I cannot lie to you guys, I know almost nothing about the current Cavs roster, or how well they play. All I know is that they’re 7-7, and have WAY too many big men, especially given the league-wide tendency to go small nowadays. So, acquiring Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince just does not seem like a roster friendly move to make. However, Andre Drummond has an expiring contract, which could indicate that he could be on the move shortly, or even more moves for Allen and Prince. All in all, however, whoever it is they keep will not make a huge difference record or skill-wise. They will, however, make a difference in the locker room. Having two guys who are widely regarded as very decent players and can contribute immediately will do wonders for this young squad.

Indiana’s Perspective: There was news a long while ago that Oladipo wanted out of Indiana, and that finally came true in exchange for a younger Caris LeVert, and a 2023 second-round pick. LeVert has lived up to his major upside and showed so last year when he began to pick up steam and started dropping big-time performances. But under the dictatorship of KD and Kyrie, his usefulness was bound to take a hit, and riding the bench is never what someone of his skill level and upside should do. So, this move makes sense for both parties, and in turn, gives Indiana a viable asset for the future. Will we see a major difference? No, the Pacers are still going to be a middle of the table playoff team, but a team that could be a dark horse in the East if things go their way.

Anish’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: This was the biggest acquisition by the Nets who received former MVP, James Harden. The Nets appear to be a super team with one of the best scoring trios of all time in Kyrie, Harden, and Durant. However, this team still has its problems. Aside from wondering how chemistry and egos will stay intact with these superstars, even on the court, there can be issues for this stacked team. They traded a lot of their bench depth to acquire James Harden, previously the Nets had one of the best benches in the league with Dinwiddie (out for the season), LeVert (stellar play with Irving out), and Jarrett Allen (phenomenal rebounder and rim protector). After the trade, the Nets have no bench depth which plays a big role in coaching now. An advantage they do have is having three offensive superstars. In this case, there should always be at least one of these three superstars on the court to run the offense and the Nets should manage well. However, their lack of defense could also be a problem after losing Jarrett Allen, there are no great defenders on the Nets team (maybe aside from Kevin Durant too). In all, if the Nets do not win a championship with this trio, they completely threw away their future as they do not get another draft pick till 2028. The Nets going all reminds me of the similar situation with them giving up picks to the Celtics for washed stars, hopefully, this situation turns out different. 

Houston’s Perspective: I think Houston got a decent amount for James Harden. They did not get a future star or anything like Ben Simmons, but they got draft picks and a good player in Victor Oladipo. Oladipo was on a tear before he got injured and he has been trying to work his way back. However, in Indiana, he did not get as many opportunities as Sabonis and Brogdon began to take off. In Houston, this is perfect for Oladipo as he is in the backcourt with John Wall who came back from a bad injury and they can work together to succeed.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Cleveland seems to be the forgotten team in this chaotic trade. However, I think Cleveland won this trade. Cleveland did not have to give up any valuable players or too many draft picks and they acquired a young big in Jarrett Allen. You may be thinking, why would the Cavs need another big man they already have Drummond? Initially, I thought the same, but I believe they can easily trade Drummond for a final piece to build around the young core of Sexton, Garland, and Allen. This team could be scary in a couple of years if they play their cards right!

Indiana’s Perspective: I would not say Indiana won or lost this trade because right now, we cannot tell. LeVert and Oladipo seem to be on the same skill level with LeVert producing more with less opportunity. However, LeVert is out indefinitely with finding a mass in his kidney during the physical. The true winner of this trade is Caris LeVert because without this physical, who knew when he would find that he had a small mass in his kidney. I hope for a speedy recovery. If LeVert comes back to his usual self, Indiana won this trade mainly because Oladipo was about to become a free agent so they at least got a player equal to him in LeVert.

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/

The NBA Returns Part 2: Who Gets the 8-Seeds?

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep and Anish Dhondi

The NBA had just last week announced their full plan for their season’s return with a ‘bubble’ format in Orlando, with just 22 of the 30 teams being invited to come back, and many different rules and regulations to keep players and their families safe and healthy have been put in place, and we detailed our biggest storylines for the remainder of the season. We now jump into Part 2 of ‘The NBA Returns’ series to bring you our predictions for the 8-seed in each conference, and how we think each team will fare in their remaining 8 games of their season. Using NBC Sports’ predictions for who each team will face, here are our predictions for which teams will make the playoffs, and which teams will be sent home quickly from Orlando:

Anish’s Predictions for: Memphis, Portland, New Orleans

Memphis Grizzlies: #8 Seed, Western Conference (32-33)

Projected Opponents: Trail Blazers, Jazz, Spurs, Thunder, Bucks, Pelicans, Pelicans, Celtics

Memphis currently holds the 8th seed and will be fighting to keep their spot in the playoffs. Not many people expected this grizzlies team to perform this well with the departure of Mike Conley. Their roster is young and doesn’t have much playoff experience. Their schedule appears relatively easy in comparison to the other teams fighting for a playoff spot so they should have a good chance in maintaining their position. Led by the athletic duo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. this Grizzlies team can be a force in the future but I don’t believe they have the experience to perform under the pressure of the playoffs and could see them falling down a couple places.

Portland Trail Blazers: #9 Seed, Western Conference (29-37), 2.5GB of Memphis

Projected Opponents: Grizzlies, Rockets, Mavericks, 76ers, Celtics, Nets, Lakers, (Heat or Magic)

As many of the teams benefited from this playoff format, the Blazers were not among them. Their current schedule to have a shot of the playoffs is harder than the schedule they had remaining for the regular season. This means because of the pandemic they’re forced to unnecessarily play harder teams in the fight for a playoff spot. These 8 games are basically like the playoffs if the Blazers want a shot and star Damian Lillard needs to be at the top of his game to lead them to victories. When the team needs him the most, Damian Lillard has been known to be one of the clutchest NBA players in the league, this playoff format with the pressure of make-or-miss for the playoffs puts all eyes on Lillard to carry this team. However, as much as Lillard can go off, he must have the help of his supporting cast and co-star CJ McCollum to provide consistent help. Jusuf Nurkic is also expecting a return after going down last season with a brutal injury. I can see this Blazers team making a push to play into the playoffs even with a tough schedule.

New Orleans Pelicans: #10 Seed, Western Conference (28-36), 3.5GB of Memphis

Projected Opponents: Kings, Jazz, Clippers, Spurs, Grizzlies, Kings, Grizzlies, Magic

The pelicans were a dark horse team that none really expected to perform this well. With the emergence of Ingram’s recent performance, Jrue Holiday’s consistency, and the most popular rookie in years, Zion Williamson, the Pelicans can squeeze their way into a potential spot. When it comes to viewership, Zion is near the top and generates mass amounts of revenue for his popularity. His electrifying play for a rookie is something we haven’t seen in years and hopefully it gives the Pelicans enough momentum. However, I see the Pelicans and the Grizzlies as a toss up for the playoff chances. Both teams lack the experience of the pressured setting because they’re filled with young talent. If these teams had the same record I would give the Pelicans a slight advantage with the leadership of Jrue Holiday and his performance in past playoff appearances, however because they are 3.5 games behind the Grizzlies it may be difficult to secure a chance for the playoffs.

Saransh’s Predictions for: Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix

Sacramento Kings: #11 Seed, Western Conference (28-36), 3.5GB of Memphis

Remaining Teams to Play: Pelicans (x2), Nets, Mavericks, Rockets, Magic, Pacers, Spurs

For every team currently not in the playoffs in the Western Conference, so below Memphis, they have a bit of a mountain to climb, with Sacramento being tied in record with New Orleans. Sacramento’s schedule, however, gives them a favorable shot to at least get up to the 9-seed and force a play-in with Memphis, as they do not really play any elite teams aside from Houston. Getting New Orleans twice is key in helping them move up the standings, as winning both is their best way to get a leg-up on them in the standings, and with all the games at neutral sites, anything can happen. 

The ease of opponents, along with the experience of Sacramento, will propel them to the 9-seed and force them into a play-in with Portland, a very even match, although the advantage goes slightly to Portland, due to having Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum’s scoring to aid them, something that will be hard for De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield to match. Getting Jusuf Nurkic back at Center/Power Forward is huge for the Blazers as well, as his lateral quickness and shot-blocking will be used effectively to slow down Marvin Bagley in the pick-and-roll, making this exclusively a backcourt-driven series. As much as I would love to see Sacramento back in the playoffs and into their glory days again, the uphill battle might be too much, as their time will run out in the playoff play-in.

San Antonio Spurs, #12 Seed, Western Conference (27-36), 4GB of Memphis

Remaining Teams to Play: Nuggets, Grizzlies, Pelicans, Jazz (x2), Nuggets, Kings, 76ers

With LaMarcus Aldridge deciding to undergo his right shoulder surgery now and skip Orlando, rather than go play and then opt for surgery, San Antonio’s record (tied) of 22-straight seasons of making the playoffs is now in jeopardy for the first time in this 22-season stretch. It almost seems unreal to think we could see a playoffs without San Antonio for as long as Gregg Popovich is coaching, the same way it was to see LeBron not be in the NBA Finals after 8 consecutive appearances (his injury did hold him back for almost half the season, but the Lakers simply did not have the talent anyways to surround LeBron with). Simply put, San Antonio simply does not have the talent that they would normally have due to injuries, to be able to compete for the 8-seed.

So, for the first time in forever (literally, and also a ‘Frozen’ reference), there actually will be an offseason where San Antonio will have a lottery pick in the NBA Draft (currently projected to have the #11 pick in the draft), and could have a ton of cap space with DeMar Derozan’s impending free agency upcoming, and him not returning, as his massive contract and age would not fit the team’s direction. I think San Antonio will look to go for Saddiq Bey in the draft at Small Forward, therefore solidifying Derrick White and Dejounte Murray as their backcourt of the future. This trip to Orlando is all about finding out who will be in San Antonio for the long-run, and who will be playing elsewhere.

Phoenix Suns, #13 Seed, Western Conference (26-39), 6GB of Memphis

Remaining Teams to Play: Mavericks (x2), Clippers, Pacers, 76ers, Heat, Wizards, Thunder

The team with the longest playoff drought currently is Phoenix, as they have not made the playoffs since their Western Conference Finals appearance in 2010, back when they had Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudamire, Grant Hill and Jason Richardson as the centerpieces of their star-studded squad, but were dethroned by Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum of the Lakers in 6 games. Since then, they constantly end up picking in the lottery, and they have landed stars like Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton, and busts like Dragan Bender and Cameron Johnson. So all in all, Phoenix has just been an outlandish, inconsistent team on paper, but consistent in terms of losing games and missing the playoffs. However, with the acquisitions of Kelly Oubre Jr., Dario Saric, and Ricky Rubio, the team added much needed veteran players to a bizarrely young team. 

Things went very well this season to start, in fact, at one point Phoenix was one of the best teams in the league, but then DeAndre Ayton tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, missed 25 games, and since then have settled for mediocrity, but still currently consistent with the whole ‘miss-the-playoffs’ bill. Either way, this team is now healthy and will be well-rested, and can show their potential. I fully expect this team to play their fast-paced, inside-out, pace and space game on offense, but still have their usual struggles on defense, preventing them from winning games, such as games against teams like OKC, Philly, and Indiana. This team will come close, but teams like Sacramento and Portland will make it tough for Phoenix to climb their way into the playoffs, as record-wise, they were lucky to have an invitation to Orlando. Talent-wise, this team has a great core that with the proper development and scheming from their coaching staff over their trip to Orlando and this up coming offseason, can change Phoenix from a young and hopeful, to a gritty, tough-minded team that no one wants to play in the playoffs.

Nikhil’s Predictions: Orlando, Brooklyn, Washington

Brooklyn Nets, #7 Seed, Eastern Conference:

Remaining Schedule: Clippers (x2), Kings, Wizards, Celtics, Magic (x2), Trail Blazers

The Brooklyn Nets have largely underwhelmed this season, and the mid-season injuries to Kyrie Irving and others clearly have not helped their case of being future contenders in the Eastern Conference. That being said, they have been blessed with a current Eastern Conference which is weak in every aspect of the word, and have found themselves in a fairly beneficial position in 7th place. Even with the injury to their starting point guard, and the controversy he has been stirring in recent weeks in regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Nets are adequately equipped to make the playoffs. Mainstays like Deandre Jordan, Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and a very capable supporting cast can easily propel this team forward, and given that their schedule is easier compared to the Wizards’, they have very high chances to make the playoffs. In comparison to Orlando, the teams are very similar in roster depth and star power given that Irving and Durant are both out for the Nets, so expect these two teams to be very similar in record once the ‘regular season’ games are over. I’m predicting the Nets to finish 8th in the conference solely based on Orlando’s comparatively easier schedule. This will end up in an unfavorable draw with the Bucks come playoff time. 

Orlando Magic, #8 Seed, Eastern Conference, 0.5GB of Brooklyn: 

Remaining Schedule: Pacers, Kings, Nets (x2), Pelicans, 76ers, Raptors, Lakers or Trail Blazers (not yet decided)

The Magic have found themselves in nearly an identical situation as the Nets, minus the starpower and controversy. Orlando has over the years become a rather mundane destination for players, and honestly is one of the more forgettable teams in the league. But make no mistake, this team is a viable playoff squad, and outclasses a good amount of teams within the Eastern Conference. Players like Evan Fournier, DJ Augustin, and Jonathan Isaac provide the foundation for a quality squad, and to top it off, Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic give the team that firepower to put them over the edge. Again, given their rather easy schedule, compared to the Nets and Wizards, they are a very strong contender to make the playoff picture, and in my opinion, will get the 7th seed over the Nets. The fact of the matter is that Orlando avoids playing stronger teams like Boston and the Clippers, and instead plays the likes of Indiana and New Orleans. Because of this, I believe they will finish in 7th after the regular season games finish, and draw a matchup with either Toronto or Boston, depending on how things shake up.

Washington Wizards, #9 Seed, Eastern Conference, 5.5GB of Orlando:

Remaining Schedule: Celtics (x2), Thunder, 76ers, Nets, Bucks, Suns, Bucks

Let’s be very clear right of the bat, the Wizards need MULTIPLE miracles to make the playoffs. Make no mistake, Bradley Beal and company have a very nice team put together: the likes of Davis Bertans, Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown Jr combining forces causes this team to be very dangerous when slept on. Combine this with the uber-underrated Beal and his offensive ability, and you have a very deadly squad. The issue that has plagued this team for many of the past years however, is their  inability to get stops on the defensive end. Year after year, contest after contest, the Wizards manage to put up points very nicely, but throw away opportunities so often with lackluster focus and inability to make crucial stops. This does not seem likely to change when going into the modified NBA season this year, and given that their schedule is filled with matchups against offensive-minded power teams like Milwaukee and Boston (both of which they play TWICE), the playoffs seem bleak. Expect them to finish 9th outside of the postseason picture, and far enough record wise to wear a 8th and 9th seed with the predicted Brooklyn Nets would not be necessary.

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

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

The New Winning NBA Formula: Dynamic Duos for the Win

The 2019 NBA Free Agency was by far the best free agency in NBA history. While it might not have had guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade the way the 2010 Free Agency was, it changed the entire complexion of the NBA and created an NBA which is more evenly-balanced than ever. The number of teams that are now contenders is immensely high, as over half of the NBA is in a position to compete for an NBA Championship next season. Here are my thoughts on some of the best new NBA dynamic duos, how they will actually work, and other predictions for the dynamic duos:

D-Lo Will Get Traded, Steph and Klay Will Attempt to Revive the Warriors

I am not in any way saying that D’Angelo Russell is not an elite player or scorer in the NBA, in fact, he is one of the best, but as great of an offensive team as the Warriors have been for the past few years now, they have always relied on defense, especially against the main perimeter players of teams. Whether it has been Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala or Klay and Kevin Durant, they have always had 2 of their 3 perimeter players be elite defenders to make up for the defensive liability that is Stephen Curry. With Russell and Curry, however, in that backcourt, and no small forward who can be a solid perimeter defender, the Warriors defense simply will not work the same. Draymond Green is a great defender, but you cannot expect him to guard other great perimeter scorer’s night in and night out. Russell will be the one who will have to take the fall for Golden State’s defensive struggles, especially with Thompson out until about March. Not only that, but Russell will not be the leader of the team as he was with the Lakers and Nets, so him being able to defer to Curry and Thompson will not be something he is used to.

Kyrie and KD Will Be the Best in the East, But Maybe Not in the NBA

Kevin Durant suffered an Achilles injury during Game 6 of the NBA Finals which ended his career with the Golden State Warriors and ended his 2019-20 season, in which he will now be a member of the Brooklyn Nets, joining Kyrie Irving. Durant should be back to near his best, if not best form, even coming back from this devastating injury. That being said, it may not be enough to beat teams like the Lakers and Clippers, or even the Bucks, teams with more experience and depth. The Nets, outside of Durant and Kyrie, are very young and have little playoff experience, which may make it difficult for them to win an NBA Championship for a few years but contending shouldn’t be an issue.

LeBron and AD Will Be the Better Duo than PG and Kawhi

Before Paul George had been traded from Oklahoma City to the Clippers for 2 players and an absurd amount of draft picks (5, 4 of which are unprotected), Kawhi Leonard was set on joining the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, where he would’ve joined LeBron and newly-acquired superstar Anthony Davis, making the next superstar-driven dynasty. However, Kawhi convinced PG to request a trade to the Clippers, and Kawhi joined after the trade. That being said, I think that not only will Davis and LeBron be a better duo, but the Lakers will be the better team. For starters, I think LeBron would be able to defer to Anthony Davis very well and even let Davis be the primary scorer, as there would be less defensive pressure on both of them. While the same would be true for Kawhi and PG, Paul George has struggled in the playoffs for years since leaving Indiana. ‘Playoff P’, as he calls his playoff self, isn’t a very threatening player, and doesn’t compare to ‘Playoff LeBron’. As far as the Lakers being the better LA team, they are simply the deeper and more experienced team, and it poses them as the NBA Finals favorite for years to come. Let the ‘Staples Center Locker Room’ rivalry begin and be the best NBA rivalry for years to come.

 

How the 2019 NBA Free Agency Will Change the NBA For Years to Come

The 2019 NBA Free Agency will begin tonight at 6pm EST, and already there is plenty of shakeup in the league. Kyrie Irving has left the Boston Celtics to go to Brooklyn on a 4-year, $141M max contract, and Kemba Walker has immediately replaced him in Boston, also signing a max contract. Meanwhile, Jimmy Butler will be going to Miami in a sign-and-trade, and Kevin Durant joins Kyrie by going to Brooklyn. Despite that, there are plenty more free agents whose status is up in the air, and here is what I believe will happen to them, and the rest of the NBA:

D’Angelo Russell Prediction: Minnesota Timberwolves

This one is a bit more complicated because the Timberwolves have to trade away Andrew Wiggins to free up the cap, but it makes a lot of sense. Karl Anthony-Towns has talked for months now about the possibility of getting a big name free-agent to Minnesota, and he has often thrown out D’Angelo Russell as the guy he wants. The problem with this is that you have to trade Wiggins, but in order to get back players that have the same worth as Wiggins AND still sign D-Lo, you probably need to find a third team interested. It may take a bit longer than expected and could force Russell to look towards teams like the LA Lakers and Phoenix Suns, who already have the cap and don’t need to make big roster moves. As of right now though, Minnesota seems very confident that Wiggins is drawing interest from teams, and that they can get a deal done soon. Also, although the Warriors want to try to force Brooklyn into a sign-and-trade KD for D-Lo trade, that is not happening. Sorry Warriors, but the dynasty is over.

Kawhi Leonard Prediction: LA

As you can see here, I did not specify which Los Angeles team, but I am confident that it is between one of the two LA teams. The only problem that the Clippers have in this case is the fact that KD and Jimmy Butler are likely to snub the Clippers for other teams, and Kawhi wanted to go to the Clippers along with another superstar. That being said, if guys like Tobias Harris or Khris Middleton show up and want to play for the Clippers, than odds are Kawhi would too. On the other hand, it would only seem fitting that Kawhi went to play with LeBron and the Lakers after all the drama from last offseason, where he said he would only play for the Lakers, and that he would consider sitting the season with any other team. Obviously that was not the case and Kawhi went on to win the championship with Toronto, but if you made all that drama to go to be a Lakers, why not just be a Laker?

Klay Thompson Prediction: Stay with Warriors

This is a no-brainer. There is seriously no reason for Klay to leave, and for the Warriors not to offer Klay the 5-year, $190M max contract. Klay is one of the best shooters of all-time, one of the best 3-and-D players ever, and simply a Warrior-for-life. Thompson has been there in the clutch for Golden State so much, especially for Stephen Curry, who is 0-8 on game-winning shots in the playoffs, but Klay continues to catch fire in the clutch. This should have been the first major free agency deal that was made.

Danny Green Prediction: LA Lakers on a Pay Cut

Danny Green is by no means a superstar player in any stretch of the imagination, but he may be one of the greatest role players of all-time. He’s been to 3 NBA Finals, won 2 of the 3, and has been the best shooter on both of those teams (San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors). He is also a guy that wants to win and will do whatever it takes. If that means taking a pay cut and potentially joining Kawhi Leonard, Green will do it and take the mid-level exception contract (a $4.8 million contract per year, which means that he is the one legal, non-minimum veteran contract that the Lakers can use before they go over the salary cap). Even if Kawhi doesn’t go to LA, LeBron will convince him to come join the new superteam.

How Does the NBA Change Now?

The NBA will take a swing in which the East and West will be much more balanced and much more competitive, with it being as wide-open as it has ever been in recent memory. Teams like Miami and Boston have remade themselves into contenders, Milwaukee stays as-is, Toronto could fall massively, Brooklyn is the best team in New York for good, and Philadelphia still stays relevant. As for the Western Conference, Golden State has clearly fallen with the loss of KD and the injury to Klay Thompson, but with LeBron already beginning to create himself the team he wants, it will all depend on Kawhi as to whether or not he takes over the Western Conference for years to come. Not saying that teams like Denver, Portland, and OKC cannot contend, but LeBron always finds a way to get by those teams in the playoffs, like he did in the Eastern Conference. The NBA season will be as wide-open as ever.

What About the Rookies?

Guys like Zion and RJ probably won’t even be talked about anymore with all these familiar faces in new places, as the league is in its prime in terms of the number of contending teams, and guys like Zion and RJ are not in that position. The only rookie-led team that will make a splash is Atlanta, and even that may take a few years to do.