With the final regular season standings all but confirmed it’s time to take a look ahead to the NBA playoffs. Of course, we are still awaiting seedings to be finalised including the 8th and final place in the Western Conference which will be decided by a play-in tournament this weekend between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies have been less than impressive in the bubble. Taylor Jenkins’ team have went 2-6 since the end of July and just about held on to the 9th seed ahead of the Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs. To qualify for the final 16 they will have to beat Portland twice in a row this weekend. The Blazers have been another one of the most impressive teams in the bubble finishing 6-2 over the 8 game stretch. Damian Lillard has recovered from a late collapse against the Clippers with three 40+ point performances.
So, without further ado, lets take a look at some of the key 1st Round matchups.
Toronto Raptors vs Brooklyn Nets
The depleted Brooklyn Nets have impressed in the bubble with their inexperienced squad. They have picked up five wins against the likes of the Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers. Jeremiah Martin, Timothé Luwawe-Cabarrot and Dzanan Musa have all hit career-high points totals in Orlando.
However, their bubble journey will most likely end in the next week or so against the surging Toronto Raptors.
Jacque Vaughn could not have asked for a tougher assignment in his first playoffs as head coach. The Raptors odds of repeating last year’s successes has shortened considerably over the last two weeks. They have moved from +750 outsiders to +350 to win the Eastern Conference with CanPlay. Likewise, their Larry O’Brien odds have shortened to just +1200. We tipped them at +2000 on these pages at the end of July.
The Raptors are legitimate contenders once again thanks to the consistent performances of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Pascal Siakam and the continuous improvement of fringe players like Chris Boucher and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Expect Toronto to send Brooklyn home after four close games – you can back them with CanPlay.
Los Angeles Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks
One of the standout games in the Western Conference playoffs sees the 7th seed Dallas Mavericks take on Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers.
Pre-season favorites Clippers have slipped down the betting order lately and are now available to back at +315 with CanPlay. They have struggled for long periods this season and have rarely had the opportunity to play their best five on the court at the same time.
With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and now Montrezl Harrell arriving to the bubble, they still have one of the strongest squads in the league and that makes them a serious threat. They will face a tough opponent in this first round in the shape of the Dallas Mavericks.
The Mavericks lowly position in the Western Conference belies their true form this season. They have 43 wins, only five fewer than the Clippers. Luka Doncic has been their standout performer in only his second season in the league. The Slovenian has posted MVP-like numbers this season while leading the team to the playoffs.
It’s probably fair to say that no team is better prepared for an offensive talent like Doncic like the Clippers. Doc Rivers boasts two of the best defensive players in the league in the form of last year’s Finals MVP Leonard and 6X NBA All-Star Paul George.
In contrast, the Mavericks have struggled defensively throughout the season. They rank in the bottom five of all the major defensive statistics and it’s clear that Kristaps Porzingis and Boban Marjanovic may not be able to cope against more mobile big men.
The Clippers are favourites in this one for a reason although Doncic and Porzingis may put up big numbers over a six or seven game series. You can back the Clippers with CanPlay.
Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder
This is a really interesting first round tie. The star players from both teams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, will all be facing their previous franchises with Paul and Westbrook switching sides during the 2019 off-season.
The Thunder have come out on top in two of their three regular season games this year and this has all the hallmarks of a seven game series. For Mike D’Antoni and the Rockets, it’s do-or-die time. Anything less than a Conference Final appearance will most likely signal the end of the road for D’Antoni at the Rockets.
For OKC, this is just the beginning of their journey. Paul has been a massive influence on this young team and they have surprised everyone with a top four finish in the Western Conference. Young Canadians Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort have both flourished under the guidance of Paul and they look to have a bright future ahead of them.
Like the Clippers, Oklahoma have been boosted by the return of Dennis Schroder to the bubble. The 6th Man of the Year candidate could be the deciding factor in this exciting series.
This is a tough one to call but the Thunder might just shade it. You can back them to win with CanPlay.
NBA Playoffs Round 1
Games begin on the 17th August 2020.
- Los Angeles Lakers vs 8. Portland Trail Blazers/Memphis Grizzlies
- Los Angeles Clippers vs 7. Dallas Mavericks
- Denver Nuggets vs 6. Utah Jazz
- Houston Rockets vs 5. Oklahoma City Thunder
- Milwaukee Bucks vs 8. Orlando Magic
- Toronto Raptors vs 7. Brooklyn Nets
- Boston Celtics vs 6. Philadelphia 76ers
- Indiana Pacers vs 5. Miami Heat