Predicting the NBA Playoffs
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In a shortened schedule with only 62 games, crowdless stadiums, and endless COVID-19 protocols, this NBA season has been anything but normal. Nevertheless, 62 games have come and gone, and the playoffs began on May 18, starting with the play-in tournament between the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards and the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets, which determined who the first and second seed will play. On May 19, in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies took on the Spurs and the Lakers faced the Warriors. Will the defending champs have an early exit? Are the Suns legitimate contenders? Will the Nets superteam be a failed project? Will there be any historic upsets? We are set for a historical playoffs, and NBA fans have every reason to be excited.
In the east, the first matchup is the third seed Bucks vs. the sixth seed Heat, a rematch of last year’s second round, when the Heat bounced the Bucks in five games. The Heat has struggled all season with injuries and COVID-19 protocol, which may have been caused by a short off-season due to their finals appearance. The Heat failed to make any big acquisitions besides Victor Oladipo, but he’s out for the rest of the season with an injury to his right quad. The team has seemingly regressed but has had a resurgence with the return of Jimmy Butler in the second half of the season. The Bucks made important moves in the off-season, acquiring Jrue Holiday, who is an all NBA defender, and P.J. Tucker, a solid glue guy. Giannis Antetokounmpo is having another MVP caliber year, and the Bucks are scary with a core of Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Khris Middleton. Despite the Bucks’ revamped roster, the Heat is still a bad matchup for the Bucks, and Bam Adebayo will stop Antetokounmpo. The Heat will win in an all-out, seven-game war.
The fourth and fifth seed matchup is between the Hawks and the Knicks. This is the Knicks’ first time in the playoffs since 2012-2013. Led by Tom Thibodeau, the Knicks have emerged as a young, hungry, and defensive-minded fourth seed. They’re the top of the NBA defensively, and they are offensively led by MVP candidates Julius Randle and Derrick Rose. The Knicks have home court advantage and have been playing excellent basketball since All-Star break. They matchup well against the Hawks, who are led by Trae Young. The Hawks have some playoff experience but have defensive trouble and many nagging injuries on players like Kevin Huerter, Clint Capela, and Cam Reddish. Knicks in five.
Over in the west, the fourth seed Clippers face the fifth seed Mavericks. The Clippers faced the Mavericks last year in a competitive series, highlighted by a Luka Dončić game winner. The Clippers beat the Mavericks in six games. This year, the Clippers have a new coach in Tyronn Lue and new additions including Rajon Rondo, Serge Ibaka, Nic Batum, and DeMarcus Cousins. The Clippers have remained one of the west’s best teams and are coming into the playoffs looking for redemption after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets last year. The Mavericks have created one of the most efficient offenses in the league, surrounding star Dončić with Tim Hardaway and Kristaps Porziņģis. After getting off to a slow start, the Mavs have established themselves as a contender. However, the Clippers will take this series in six.
The Nuggets and the Trailblazers face each other as the third and sixth seed. The Nuggets have had a career year from Nikola Jokić, who is the front runner for MVP this year. Though his co-star, Jamal Murray, has been out, the team has not missed a beat and has shown incredible depth through players like Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon. The Trailblazers have had a rocky season, but they have the talent to compete with anybody. A team with Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and Norman Powell could cause trouble for any team in the playoffs. Backed with Carmelo Anthony off the bench and more firepower, the Blazers will best the Nuggets in seven games.
In the east, the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers will easily make it out of the first round. The Wizards lack the depth to compete with these teams, and the only way they can win a series is if Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal play the best basketball of their careers. The Celtics are demoralized, and the injury to Jaylen Brown really sets them back from competing with the elite teams. In the west, the Phoenix Suns will likely be facing the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Utah Jazz will probably face the Golden State Warriors. Though they are the seventh seed, the Lakers have two of the top five players in the world, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It’s simple. The Lakers will win the series in six games. The Warriors, on the other hand, are facing the first seed Jazz. It’ll be a close series but Stephen Curry is having a ridiculous year, averaging 32 points. Curry will carry the Warriors to a seven-game series win.