The Phoenix Suns acquired Chris Paul from the Oklahoma City Thunder to create a lethal backcourt for their team. Devin Booker elevated his game even more last year when he was given Ricky Rubio-an elite playmaker- and still showed that he can keep his assists totals up around 6.5 a game. This is not a far drop off at all in the season prior without Rubio when he averaged 6.8. The Suns got extremely hot in the bubble (going 8-0) and adding Chris Paul is only going to elevate them more. He was the league leader in clutch points last year and add that with Devin Booker’s closing ability showcased in the bubble, they are going to win a lot of close games. Chris Paul is also a very good defender at the point guard position which will certainly help. Although he is getting up there in age and making a lot of money, the Suns are not going to sign a big name free agent or anything so this is a good deal especially with Devin Booker rumors. Similar to what I think Milwaukee should have done with the Giannis rumors. Plus Chris Paul’s leadership, basketball IQ and the way he carries himself, is a big reason for his large impact on winning basketball that often goes unnoticed. That cannot be taught.
The Thunder get back a haul though as well from the Suns. They received Ricky Rubio who is a very good trade asset as well as Kelly Oubre Jr. He can be young enough to possibly stay though. Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque could be very good pieces for the Thunder’s future. They now have an unbelievable amount of draft capital by adding another first rounder in 2022. They are set for the future and still have more to give. Overall the deal was good on both sides. The question for the Suns is was it worth it to give up this much if this does not get you a championship? Does this make Devin Booker stay? Only time will tell.
In the west, we have what was expected. Although we did not get the matchup of the LA teams that we wanted, we still ended up with an LA team in the conference finals as expected. The Lakers came out of the west and unexpected by many, the Heat come out of the east. Many did not expect the Heat to come out of the east but I can’t say I am very surprised. The Heat are a well coached defensive team who have shooters that are hot at the right time on offense. The Heat need to remain hot. They need to continue to play how they have been playing. They play aggressive and “up into you” and if the Heat can control the foul trouble game it will be to their strong advantage. Bam needs to stay out of foul trouble because he is going to be a strong catalyst in guarding AD and Lebron. If Miami can get the foul calls and continue to hit their outside shots they can make it into a very good series. Herro and Robinson need to stay hot and Dragic is also still cooking. Jimmy Butler will keep doing his thing and Jae Crowder and Iggy needs to hit their shots. They do have a fighting chance because how good they are at shooting and defense, but they need to avoid fouling so they can play loose to the best of their ability. The Lakers have the same key as usual. Role players knock down shots. AD and Lebron need to be aggressive in getting themselves to the rim and draw fouls early. The more they settle for outside shots the worst position they put themselves in. When Lebron and AD are their best when they got it going in the paint and that makes it easier for their shooters and opens the game more for them. In my opinion, this would be a disappointment for the Lakers if they lose. They are heavily favored and are clearly the better team. But I would not count out the heat at all. They are resilient and always have fight in them. Spolestra is a great coach and it can be a lot of fun to watch them succeed. Jimmy is a great leader and always keeps their minds on straight in order to give them a chance. I look forward to watching the series and I hope the Heat can make it very interesting like I know they can.
Both of these teams took very different roads to get to where they are at. The Nuggets were down 3-1 twice and came back to win. The first team to ever do that twice in a single playoffs and they have only played in 2 rounds. For the Lakers, they lost game 1 in both series, but after flipping the switch the Lakers cruised to win the next 4 in both. The Lakers are the clear favorite as the 1 seed with Lebron James and Anthony Davis. They need their role players to step up and knock down shots. Danny Green, KCP and all other spot up shooters mush show up this series. I am also interested to see whether they have AD guarding Jokic or they have Javale. They can throw a lot of different looks at him which the Clippers and Jazz both did not have the rosters to do. They have multiple big men who can match up with him. Other than matching up on him you need to close out on their perimeter shooters and you need to watch the cuts when Jokic has the ball in the post. He is a lethal passer and can fit it into any window to hit his player. If the Lakers can minimize the Nuggets offense, theirs could be just enough to get them the wins they need. On the other side of the ball, the Nuggets really stepped up defensively when it mattered most this playoffs. I have talked about this as the key all along for the Nuggets. Can Jokic match up and keep up with AD and all the other big centers on their team. Not to mention that they have Lebron who is an oversized point guard. The height of the Lakers is very hard to match, especially for the poor defensive Nuggets team. However, I give Mike Malone a lot of credit. His defensive adjustments for the second half of games have been spot on. They have made multiple large deficit comebacks all playoffs and it is mostly because of their defense. The Nuggets team +/- in the 2nd half was -23 through the first 4 games in the Clippers series in which they went down 3-1. The Clippers were getting their buckets, playing their defense and doing their thing. But Mike Malone must have found something because the 3 games in a row that the Nuggets had won, their team plus minus was +63 in the second half of the final 3 games of the series. That means that the Nuggets outscored the clippers by an average of 21 points in the second half of the each of the final 3 games of the series. That is almost unheard of. The Clippers completely fell apart and struggled to even score 15 points in the final quarter of the series. If the Nuggets can keep up this 2nd have defense and intensity, they have a pretty solid chance. It ain’t easy to go through Lebron and Lebron will make sure of the fact that he does not blow a 3-1 lead. I think if the Nuggets want a chance they gotta get off to a hot start and keep it going in game 2. If you win game 1 you gotta come out and win game 2. I think this is important because the last 2 series losing game 1 was a “wake up call” for Lebron and the Lakers. They were steam rolling after that. If the Nuggets could go up 2-0 (I would still not count the Lakers out not even a little bit) than it makes it a lot easier on them only having to win 2 out of the next 4. With Jamal Murray’s ability to take over games down the stretch and steal a game for you, and the Lakers somewhat lack of that, will make for a fun series.
This is the matchup that I thought would be the most competitive and fun to watch and I am beyond glad that we got it. I think these teams are very similar and matchup very evenly. Both these teams have such a great mix of veteran and young players that all contribute and play together well as a team and I think that is shining more than anything in this weird 2020 in the bubble. The Heat had little to no problem taking down the top record of the league in the Bucks in just 5 games. Their versatility on defense is elite. Jimmy is an elite defender all around and Bam Adebayo is as well. Having a small ball center that can switch onto point guards is quickly becoming an essential in today’s modern NBA. Both teams actually have this. Bam being the obvious one for the Heat as he made all defensive second team. But for the Celtics they actually have 2 guys like that. That is Daniel Theis and Robert Williams. Their offensive/tall center is Enes Kenter. Brad Stevens gets extremely creative with his subs when it comes to his centers including sometimes switching them before 2 minutes in the first quarter has even passed. Both these coaches unique styles and ability to adapt on the fly is another reason this series will be great. They both are elite defensive coaches and the offense is always there as well. They always seem to find ways to get their players in spots on offense where they can succeed and do what they are best at which I think sometimes is the biggest problem for coaches. It is easier said than done though of course. Sometimes, coaches try to mold their players to fit their system when really the job of a coach is the other way around, mold your system to your players. Call offensive sets that put your guys in position where they feel comfortable (for example have a right handed player catch a screen handoff running to his right not his left) which I think is often overlooked skill of a coach. Not only do both these teams have elite defenses, elite coaching and elite offense, they also have elite shot making ability in the 4th quarter down the stretch. This is also made a lot easier if your coach puts you in a good position to succeed in the half court offense like I mentioned earlier. I talked about how the Heat had this “shot making” ability and the Bucks did not and that is why I thought they would beat the Bucks in my preview article for that series. (If you want to look at my take it was spot on at https://vicspx.com/2020/08/31/miami-heat-vs-milwaukee-bucks-ec-semis-preview/ ) The teams main closers down the stretch are Jayson Tatum for the Celtics and Jimmy Butler for the Heat. They have knocked down big shots for the entire playoffs, the entire season and their entires careers. What makes these teams so fun though is that they aren’t the only guys on their team that do that. All last series Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro knocked down timely shot after timely shot. Dragic was the Heat’s leading scorer or tied for it in 2 out of 5 games last series. He is a huge spark to their scoring and is a great team player. For the Celtics, other than Tatum, Kemba is also an elite shot maker down the stretch which we have seen since back to his collegiate days at Uconn. Jaylen Brown knocked down timely shots last series and so did Marcus Smart. Smart’s elite defense will be there all series but if he can shoot well from 3 like he did against the Bucks, that is a very good sign for the Celtics. He shot 39% from 3 against the Raptors compared to his 13% in the Sixers series in the first round. Hopefully for the Celtics he is catching fire just in time for a run. These teams are extremely similar in terms of their “new school” small ball centers, elite defensive players like Jimmy and Bam vs Jaylen Brown and Smart, mixed with elite coaches and great 4th quarter shot making. This series is set up to be the great one and I think it will come down to which team has the “clutch gene” at the end of the game more often than the other. Who can “steal the game” at the end? This could very well go 7 and even if not, all the games will probably be close anyway. I think this is going to be one of the best series so far this playoffs. Feel free to comment/debate in the comments I am all for it.
The Rockets played an extremely close series in the first round in which they only got out by winning by 2 points. Nevertheless they are here and have to get hotter than they have ever been before. James Harden and Westbrook need to be the superstars we know. Westbrook is not 100% and I think it is showing. He will get more into “basketball shape” in this series and I think he will be a lot better than the 3 games he played last series. Harden needs to be more efficient in my opinion. He is getting his points and assists but can definitely shoot better or try and get to the line more. Their role players are gonna have to step up big as well. Jeff Green and Robert Covington are playing great in the bubble and they need Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker, Daniel House and Austin Rivers to all get hot this series. If Austin or Eric Gordon go off they both can go for 30+ so that could be scary. The most surprising thing has been their defense. They played very good defense vs the Thunder especially at the end of games. This MUST carry over into this series because the Lakers are a lot bigger than the small ball Houston team. They need to rebound and limit second chance shots as much as possible. Tyson Chandler might have to play some minutes for them actually. For the Lakers it is the same keys as always. Lebron and AD will do them, role players knock down shots. Not just that, knock down shots in close game which is something both AD and Lebron will have to do in some games down the stretch this series and for the rest of their run. Luckily for them, they did not play many “down to the wire” games with the Blazers due to Dame’s injury but he is a serious threat to steal a game at the end which I think is the Lakers biggest vulnerability right now. Overall I think it’s going to be an exciting series to watch with 2 of the most entertaining teams in the league. The last time we had 2 players on each that were averaging over 25 points per game (Russ and Harden vs AD and Lebron) matchup up in a series was the 2017 NBA Finals (Kyrie and Lebron vs Curry and KD). Both teams especially the Rockets are hard to predict so I am just hoping for a competitive series. It would be a lot of fun to see James Harden and Russ get hot and duel with the Lakers.
Both of these teams faced tough matchups in round 1. The Nuggets took down the Jazz in a wild 7 game series and Kawhi and the Clips went into a duel with Luka and the Mavs in an eventful 6 game campaign. I think the fact that both these teams have a long tough series under their belts is really going to help them in their respective runs to come. It gives them momentum and confidence as they move on. Kawhi has been playing extremely well in the playoffs and Paul George has shown glimpses of his usual self. He needs to step up even more in this series. Offensively and defensively. The Nuggets main problem has been their defense which I have been preaching. The Clippers offense will come every night but their defense is not a guarantee. They have extremely talented defensive players and are great, but sometimes they have uncharacteristic nights where they are not in sink defensively as a team. The Nuggets need to take advantage of those nights if they want a chance at all. On top of that, they have to play great defense to stop the Clippers automatic offense. It is very hard to see the Nuggets win this series but if Jamal Murray and Jokic can keep coming up big in close games they are not ruled out by any means. Michael porter Jr. needs to have a great series and so does Gary Harris who just returned from injury. Him and Torey Craig will be key guys in trying to stop the Clippers offense. The odds are for sure stacked against the Nuggets, but if they keep playing great basketball in the 4th quarter then they can be a scary team. But the Clippers have the experience and more talented roster on their side.
This may be a way more interesting series than some think. The Heat were 2-1 against the Bucks in the regular season. Yes the Bucks have the best record in the league. Yes they have the DPOY and probably future back to back MVP. But the Heat have a bad bad man on their team named Jimmy Butler. The heat have proved this season that they are a legit contender. Jimmy has been taking over games down the stretch with his elite shot making ability and defense. Something a poised vet like him does very well is also “make the right play.” Which is a lot harder than it sounds. He lets the game come to him and does everything he can to win. He needs his guys to show up too. Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, Goran Dragic all showed up last series. Bam Adebayo is gonna also have to be that defensive animal we all know and don’t forget about playoff Iggy. They will be key bodies to throw at Giannis to contain him. There is not much to say about the Bucks that has not already been said. We know why the Bucks should win but the Heat have a very comelling arugument. The key for the Bucks has been the same all year. Role players knock down shots, especially Middleton, and get big halfcourt buckets late in games: Middleton and Giannis (something the Heat specialize in). I think this is going to be a very gritty series of 2 great NBA teams and coaches and I am excited to watch. Do not be surprised if the Heat make it very competitive or even win (not a prediction).
This series is set up to be a great one. The defending champs are taking on the young and up in coming wing duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Both these teams are great defensively, and match up pretty evenly in terms of size. Both teams have elite NBA coaches in Nick Nurse and Brad Stevens. They both are extremely unique in their subs and defensive play calls it often confuses teams. The bubble has been good for the both of these teams obviosuly as well. They are 2 legit contedners and a scary 2nd round matchup for both sides. The stars will get theirs but the role players need to be there as well. Marcus Smart plays elite defense for the Celtics but is not shooting very well but even with that he still plays extremely valueable defensive minutes. When the Raptors get hot from 3 it is hard to beat them with their tough defense. If the Celtics could defend the 3 well enough, they can for sure keep up with them offensively. With Tatum evolving into a top scorer in the league, surrounded by instant offense from Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker, they will be just fine. I hope this series goes 7 games because this is going to be a coaches duel. The Raps need to keep their swagger and momentum going and the Celtics need to play elite defense like we know they can.
This has been a weird year to say the least. It’s August and at this time I’d usually be gearing up for the MLB playoffs, but I can’t complain about having that and the NBA. Us sports fans are aloud to be a little spoiled after the 4-5 month drought we had when the most entertaining things on TV were Korean baseball and Corn Hole. Luckily the NBA is back and we are ready to head into the long awaited playoffs. This article I will preview every matchup as well as share my opinion on them and on the bubble in general. I may make rough predictions but I never like to make predictions. I like to discuss and then enjoy we’ll history is happening. If I predict, too often I find myself rooting for one team we’ll a basketball fan of a non playoff team like myself really just wants to see a great game. Also, with no fans this year and unfamiliar scenery, anything can happen. The Suns went 8-0.
Truthfully, only time will tell who is going to win and I like to enjoy it we’ll it’s happening.
I am absolutely loving the bubble so far. The players are pure entertainment. Seeing them interact around the campus and everything is extremely fun. Especially watching some of the guys post their vlogs on YouTube. I think it’s also been really cool to see players step up in bigger roles because of the absences of some players. TJ Warren and Gary Trent are just a few examples. Overall the NBA restart went better than almost everyone expected and I’m extremely excited for the playoffs.
Bucks vs Magic
Last year the Magic surprised us and took game 1 against the eventual champs Toronto Raptors. DJ Augustin hit the most cold blooded shot of his life. Guarding Giannis is a difficult enough task as it is. With Johnathan Issac recently tearing his ACL, the Magic will be missing their best defensive player and their best one on one matchup against Giannis on the defensive side of the ball. His frame is similar. He’s long lengthy and has a nose for the ball. I hope he gets well soon and comes back strong in the future. Even with John Issac healthy, the Magic are still severe underdogs to the team with the best record in the league, as well as the front runner to win MVP and maybe even DPOY too.
Miami Heat vs Indiana Pacers
Oh boy am I excited for this one. This series can end up being a long and gritty one. The beef between TJ Warren and Jimmy Butler is starting to heat up just in time. They have had multiple altercations on the court over this season and in the past. Now that TJ Warren is playing at an elite all star level, it’s going to be a lot of fun watching him go back and fourth with Jimmy Buckets. They still have plenty of other young guys like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro and Kendrick Nunn that are all going to have to step up. I’m interested to see how this young team plays in the playoffs together for the first time. With a good leader like Jimmy Butler, who is focused on one goal and that’s to win, I’d be satisfied with where the Heat are if I was a fan. They are set up perfectly to sign a big name pretty soon to fit in with the great core they already have. Don’t forget about playoff Iggy too, we all know he turns up. For the Pacers, Victor Oladipo has been working back from the injury he suffered last year and has showed glimpses of his all star self, but hasn’t quite bursted out of the bubble wrap yet (no pun intended). In the bubble when he has played hes looked alright just has not been very effiecent. Overall this is defientley going to be one of the best of the first round matchups I think with a lot of drama.
76ers vs Celtics
Unfortuantely for the 76ers thery will be missing their all star point guard/power forward Ben Simmon who suffered a season ending injury during his time in the bubble. This will be a major negative with him as the floor general on offense, and an elite defender on the other side of the ball. The Sixers are built for defense though with Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle, Al Horford and Joel Embid. When Simmons missed time most recently this last season, the team did not take a huge fall however. They were able to succeed still because the game opened up more for them with Simmons off the court. But besides shooting, hes a guy that does everything well and you definitely wish you could have him out there to guard 1-5 on a nightly basis like he does. Joel Embid needs to dominate because he is the mismatch against Danie Theis. The Celtics can make a big statement here if they “take care of business like they should.” The reason I say this is because they are the 3 seed and the Sixers are the 6. They are already the favorite in the series without Simmons out. If the Celtics take this in 6 or less games it could be a very good confidence booster for them because they are a team that can definitely make a run with the emerging star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The positionless lineup the Celtics run might be able to expose the absence of Ben Simmons. With the sixers missing a key defensive player, it may be harder to guard the more versital Celtics lineup.
Raptors vs Nets
Unfortunately, a common theme of the bubble, the Nets are not at full stentgh. But no team compares to them at all. Obviously they are missing KD which is a lot to begin with but we knew that and expected that coming in. Kyrie had season ending shoulder surgery and same with rookie Nicholas Claxton. Deandre Jordan, Michael Beasely and Taurean Prince all had Covid-19 before the restart and decided not to participate. Spencer Dinwidee and Wilson Chandler also decided not to play in the restart. Even Jamal Crawford who they signed as a roster filler in the bubble got hurt his first game back. This year ultimately is not the year for the Nets and hopefully next year they are healthy and can contend. The Raptors on the other hand are a team that nobody wants to face this year. They are coming in with a chip on their shoulder and a winning attitude. They act like they been there before, and are one of the most well coached teams in the league. In my opinion, without a doubt the coach of the year should be Nick Nurse and executive of the year should be Masai Uriji. The winning culture that them two have built there is the model all teams around the league should use. They might not be the most talented team, but their length and grit on defense gives them and edge that very few teams have. They had the number 2 defense in the league this year and it is all because of Nick Nurse’s unique way of getting the best out of all his players. He mixes in different traps in the halfcourt and backcourt and also will often switch to zone for a few possessions. They make professional NBA players look confused sometimes with their different defensives looks. All this mixed with their great depth is scary because many teams do not have that in the bubble.
Lakers vs Blazers
The Lakers have been atop the West all year and are ready to make a run. They are a top 5 offense and defense in the league. Oh and also they have these 2 guys on their team named Lebron James and Anthony Davis. These two have been the dynamic duo all year. Lebron led the league in assists for the first time and he is geared up for another deep playoff run. Anthony Davis has never been in a deep playoff run, but we know the type of player he is and the impact he adds on both sides of the court. For this Blazers team it will definitely be tough. Lillard has been going off in the bubble and I am interested to see what Frank Vogel plans to do to stop him from putting up 60. It was interesting to see to see multiple teams try and trap Lillard at the top of the key but that leaves a 3 on 2 for Nurkic who just needs to make the right play. However, the Lakers interior defense is their strong suit so this might be the best way of stopping him. They have so many shot blockers on their team backed up by the fact that they led the league in blocks this year. With AD at the 4 and whoever running the 5, especially with Lebron at point guard, their lineup will always be big. But the difference between this team and most is that they can also go small and play AD at the 5 and Lebron at the 4 which they haven’t showed much of this season because they do not have to. Watching the play in game, it was interesting to see Terry Stotts run a lineup with both Nurkic and Whiteside in it to combat the Lakers big lineup. I am very interested to see how these teams play against each other as they have very different play styles. If the Blazers want any chance, they need to step up their defense. This could also be one of the last times we see Melo and Bron on the court together dating nack to high school on this big of a stage so enjoy it.
Rockets vs Thunder
This is a matchup only the Thunder could have dreamed about since last offseason. When Russell Westbrook was traded, many thought the Thunder were done contending, but CP3 and my man Shai Gilgeous-Alexander thought otherwise. CP3 is one of the most underated players in the league and he may not put up the most mind blowing stats, but he contributes to winning basketball always. There is no question the Rockets have more talent. They have 2 former MVPs on their team and both of them will probably finish in the top 10 of voting this year as well. But for the Rockets it’s all about making timely shots. We all know James Harden and Russel Westbrook will get there numbers and put up stats. But they got to get hot right now and make timely shots if they want to make a deep playoff run. The Thunder having Roberson back from injury after over 2 years of not playing is huge. He was an elirte permiter defender and hopefully for the Thunder he can help guard James Harden. This series is really hard to predict and I am just going to enjoy every second of it.
Jazz vs Nuggets
The Nuggets have been great all year behind Jokic and company and they are looking to make a deep run finally this year. The Nuggets main focus should be their defense. The Jazz are a very good defensive team and also a good offense team. If they can slow down the Jazz just enough for their offense to prevail, that would be their best shot at the series. The chances of you winning a shootout against the Jazz are very low because of how good they are defensively. Led by 2x defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert and 1st time all-star for him and Donovan Mitchell, this team has a lot of talent and they would not be someone I would want to matchup against in the first round. They play gritty and are well coached. The Nuggets are also very well coached. Mike Malone is going to have to mix up his matchups and try to slow down the Jazz’s offense for the best shot to win the series. For the Jazz, their role players gotta step up like they have all year. Ingles and especially Mike Conley (congrats on the new born son I know you may miss the first 3-4 games) all need to come up in big moments. Jordan Clarkson is also a great spark plug off the bench for them. The Nuggets need their guys like Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol to really step up. This is going to be a good series and I am exited to see what happens.
Clippers vs Mavs
The Mavericks drew the worst draw here. After finishing the season with one of the best offenses in NBA history they get matched up against the juggernut of the Clippers. Luka had an unreal season, one of the best sophmore campaigns we have ever seen. Him and Kristaps as a future duo is going to be lethal. The Mavs have great role players as well like Maxi Kleber, Tim Hardaway Jr, and Seth Curry who are all great shooters for Luka to kick out to. It will not be easy for Luka in this series because he will probably be guarded by a surpluss of elite defenders that the Clippers have. For the Clippers, you just cannot lose focus. Yes they are the 7 seed but this is one of the more talented 7 seeds we have ever seen. Luka brings it every night. They will probably throw guys like Kawhi, Paul George and Pat Beverley on him to mix up the looks. I think this is going to be one of the more fun series to watch.
This NBA playoffs is the most unpredictable one yet and it is more competitive now than ever before.
Now that we are past the all star break, it’s about time to get serious. We are 60 games in for each team, and we now know the identity of every team. In this article I’m gonna be talking about what I think is the most crucial factor for each team. This is going to be a larger list of contenders than I actually think but for sake of the article I am extending my list.
Milwaukee Bucks: Supporting cast
The Bucks have the best record in the NBA and by far deserve it. They are 51-8 and are on pace for record breaking seasons offensively and defensively. Giannis is the front runner to win back to back MVPs and the lose of Malcom Brogdon has not effected them at all. Giannis has improved his game drastically. He is shooting 32% from 3 this year compared to his 26% last year. However, he can’t do everything. He’s going to have to rely on his team to knock down shots in big spots. Khris Middleton is a big part to what this team does. He is having a great season and was rewarded in making his second all star team. He’s averaging 21 points a game and shoots 44% from 3. He is the guy they go to when they need a bucket late in games. If he can establish himself as a closer, then this team will be even harder to beat. Eric Bledsoe needs to be that true point guard the team needs. Giannis is the focal point in the offense most of the time, but every team needs that true point guard to run the half court offense late in games. Last year he had a horrific performance from 3 in the playoffs shooting 17% from 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals. He is a decent 3 point shooter, shooting 35% this year. He just needs to be that guy in the playoffs. George Hill is going to have to continue to play well too. He has been a huge spark off their bench and is leading the NBA in 3 point percentage at 50% attempting almost 3 a game. Those are the main 3 that need to play well but for this team everyone just needs to shoot well. Giannis will drive and kick and he needs his guys to knock down shots like they have this regular season. Donte DiVincenzo, Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton, Ersan İlyasova, Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, and Marvin Williams-who was a great buyout signing-need to play big minutes for this team. I know I just listed like the whole team but these are their established 3 point shooters who they have put around Giannis perfectly. Ultimately Giannis is gonna do him, you just need the guys around him to play well.
Los Angeles Lakers: supporting cast
With the Lakers it’s the same story as the Bucks. They have surrounded Lebron perfectly with shooters. Lebron is playing on the best team he has ever been on and Lebron will be Lebron in the playoffs. Enough said about him. Anthony Davis is looking like the DPOY front runner. He is the true anchor for this team and does a great job protecting the rim. What’s so great about this team though is how bought in they are to what they do. Everyone on the team plays defense and hustles. They look like they have so much fun when they play, and every role player understand their role and defers to Lebron and AD. This team has tons of Finals experience. Danny Green has to be playoff Danny Green. Last year in the playoffs he was a little inconsistent but still alright. Quinn Cook is going to have to knock down big shots. Rondo is a great playoff player as well. JaVale can provide valuable minutes same with Dwight Howard. All of those players have been to the Finals. Other than them, players like Troy Daniels, KCP, Markieff Morris and Kyle Kuzma need to play well.
Toronto Raptors: keep doing you
A “Finals Hangover” is definitely not the identity of this team. They play with a different type of swagger than I’ve ever seen. They play like winners and like they have been their before which they have. Siakim has taking a huge leap this year being named an all star starter. He should be up for most improved again. His scoring has jumped 6.5 points and is filling the void of Kawhi better than anybody’s expectations. Kyle Lowry is still the gritty vet we all love and plays with that Nova dog mentality. Fred VanVleet is going to need to have his big moments like he did last year in the playoffs. OG Anunoby is going to have to step up as well as all of their other role players like Gasol, Ibaka, Boucher, Ronde Hollis-Jefferson and Norman Powell. There isn’t much to say about this team they just need to keep playing with the same swagger and confidence they have played with in the regular season and carry their momentum into the playoffs.
Boston Celtics: young talent step up
The Celtics have been one of my favorite team to watch this year. They have played in so many close games and Jayson Tatum and crew always find a way to make it interesting in the end. Kemba has been the perfect addition for this team and his attitude as well as his play style mesh well with the rest of the squad. The leap that Tatum has made this year has been exponential and a key to this teams success. We saw hints in his rookie year in the playoffs of how great of a prospect he could be when he took Lebron to 7 games in the eastern conference finals with no Kyrie or Gordon Hayward. His scoring averages have gone up by almost 8 points and he is shooting more efficient in every area. At the young age of 21 (March 2nd: turning 22 tomorrow) he has demonstrated all the tools to be a future superstar in the league. Jaylen Brown has also taken a massive leap this year and seems a lot more bought in to what the Celtics are trying to do this year rather than last year. His point averages are up by 7 and he is also shooting more efficient in every category. But the Celtics aren’t as much worried about the success of these guys as they are some of the others. Rookies Grant Williams, Carson Edwards and Romeo Langford are all going to have to step up and play big playoff minutes. After losing Kyrie and Al Horford in free agency, this team is relying a lot on the young talent they used their draft capital on this year for their success. I look forward to seeing this team in the playoffs because as a team everyone is bought in offensively and defensively because all they wanna do is win. Pair that with a coach of the year candidate in Brad Stevens and you could be playing until June.
Denver Nuggets: defense
Denver’s defense this year is so far 18th in the league in points per game. Yes this isn’t bad, but I think it is the peak for this team. This team has few players that make an impact defensively that get lots of minutes. When it comes to the playoffs, hiding players who aren’t great on defense becomes a lot more difficult. Mike Malone has done a great job this year and should be up for coach of the year. Hiding Jokic and Jamal Murray on defense in the playoffs will be an extremely difficult task for him though. The players that really make an impact on the defensive end for this team are not their main scorers. They are Paul Millsap, Gary Harris and Mason Plumlee. Torrey Craig and Jerami Grant occasionally will provide some energy as well. My point in saying this is that none of these players are one of the main sources of their offense. Most are bench players and others are role players on offense. The lack of 2-way players on this team may hurt them in the long run because it can get very hard to sub in the heat of the moment in a playoff game. Also, teams will attack your weakness in a 7 game series once they start to figure you out. As much as the game is fun to watch on offense, there is still 2 sides of the ball and you need guys that are going to be difference makers on both sides.
Los Angeles Clippers: stay healthy
When healthy, in terms of talent the Clippers have put together the most talented roster in the league. However, this year they have played only 5 games with their entire team available. Essential pieces to this team have missed time due to injuries such as Paul George, Patrick Beverly and Landry Shamet. Also as we all know Kawhi gets his load management games which doesn’t help. If the playoffs started today they would be a 3 seed and that is solely because of their talent. Multiple players and their coach Doc Rivers have come out and said that they don’t believe that they are playing their best basketball yet they are sitting tied for second in the grueling Western Conference with a 41-19 record. The additions of Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson will only help their chances as well. Marcus Morris gives them not only 3 point shooting but effort and grittiness on defense which only adds to the teams identity. Reggie Jackson also can come in and slow the game down in the half court for the bench when need be. I think this team is in a great spot to win but they need to get healthy towards the end of the season to start gaining some team chemistry before the playoffs. As soon as they can get everyone on the floor they can start to really lock in defensively with all of their talent in not just their stars, but in the rest of the team as well.
Houston Rockets: Get hot
The Rockets are a team that lives and dies by the 3. They lead the league in 3 point attempts by far and their entire offense revolves around it. James Harden is one of the scariest players in the league when he gets hot and after seeing the scoring run he went on last year, it is possible it happens again. Last year he went on the second longest run to only Wilt Chamberlin of consecutive 30+ point games. Although the streak ended at 32 he finished 2019 averaging 36 a game. If he gets hot at the right time this year don’t be surprised if this team makes a run, although getting past a great defensive team like the Clippers in the west might not be so easy. Now that they have proved that they can make the small ball lineup work in the regular season, they need to carry it into the playoffs. In a 7 game series, teams start to scheme more and can find the best way to attack an opposing team. It will be interesting to see if D’antoni’s system works in the playoffs like it has so far in the regular season.
Utah Jazz: Mike Conley
Utah has been atop the West almost all year but recently have dropped to the 5 seed. This teams defense as well as offense is good enough to make them contenders but I don’t know if they have it all figured out quite yet. Mike Conley is struggling this year. His points per game has dropped by almost 7 points and he has yet to find his role on this Jazz team. They recently had to move him to the bench for Royce O’Neal to start. It is unfortunate that Conley is having this type of season because he has always been known as a very solid point guard who plays good defense and can score the ball for you. He has not turned out to be that player this year for the Jazz. The Jazz need to find a way to help Conley find his role with the team behind their young stud Donovan Mitchell who has been exceptional this year and their defensive anchor Rudy Gobert.
Philadelphia 76ers: spacing (duh)
If you are a fan of the blog you know I love to talk sixers. I couldn’t really tell you why I like talking about them so much. Maybe it’s because of how intriguing of a team they are. They have 2 different center pieces on their team which is almost unheard of. You can build a playoff caliber team around Ben Simmons and Joel Embid but maybe you can build a championship caliber team if you pick one of them. Right now both of them are injured and it is not looking good for them which is why I barely put them on this list. However, with their abundance of talent on their team they were too hard not to include. The additions of Alex Burks and Glenn Robinson haven’t been great for them so far. In 8 games Glenn Robinson has failed to make a 3 after shooting 40% from behind the arc for golden state for the first half of the season. Although Alec Burks hasn’t been bad, his numbers have also taken a bit of a dip but one would expect that when you go from the Warriors to a team full of talent. Unfortunately his 3 point percentage is down though to 31% with the sixers compared to his 38% with the Warriors. I’ve talked a lot about Embid and Simmons in prior articles but mainly they either need to figure out a way to play with each other or fire Brett Brown and find a coach who can make a system that fits Embid and Simmons in an offense together because their talents and potential are undeniable.
Like I said, this is a very broad list of contenders. There are certainly tiers of contenders but I think that this is a fair broad list. If there is a team that you think I left out or a team that shouldn’t been on here let me know and I’d love to discuss. I’m always looking for feedback and someone to talk basketball with so feel free to leave your comments. I look forward to the playoffs this year and I think it will be very entertaining.