The NBA's 2020 playoff picture moved one step closer to crystallizing with Monday's six-game slate.
The Los Angeles Lakers locked up the West's No. 1 seed behind a monster effort from Anthony Davis (42 points and 12 rebounds). The Denver Nuggets bought themselves some critical breathing room with a victory keyed by rookie Michael Porter Jr. (career-high 37 points and 12 rebounds). The New Orleans Pelicans increased Zion Williamson's minutes and followed his lead (23 points and five assists) to a critical win.
The postseason field isn't settled, but it's never looked clearer. With every club down to six seeding games or less, it's the perfect time to update the playoff picture and examine three potential first-round matchups if these standings hold true.
1. x-Milwaukee Bucks (54-13)
2. x-Toronto Raptors (48-18)
3. x-Boston Celtics (44-22)
4. x-Miami Heat (42-25)
5. x-Indiana Pacers (41-26)
6. x-Philadelphia 76ers (40-27)
7. Orlando Magic (32-35)
8. Brooklyn Nets (31-35)
9. Washington Wizards (24-43)
1. x-Los Angeles Lakers (51-15)
2. x-Los Angeles Clippers (45-21)
3. x-Denver Nuggets (44-23)
4. x-Houston Rockets (42-24)
5. x-Utah Jazz (42-25)
6. x-Oklahoma City Thunder (41-25)
7. x-Dallas Mavericks (40-29)
8. Memphis Grizzlies (32-36)
9. Portland Trail Blazers (30-38)
10. San Antonio Spurs (29-37)
11 New Orleans Pelicans (29-38)
12. Sacramento Kings (28-38)
13. Phoenix Suns (28-39)
*x = clinched playoff berth
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Brooklyn Nets
No. 4 Miami Heat vs. No. 5 Indiana Pacers
No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Orlando Magic
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder
No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
Most Intriguing First-Round Matchups
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
There's a problematic opponent for every team in the Eastern Conference, and the 76ers seem like that pesky matchup for the Celtics. The clubs met four times during the regular season, and Philly rolled out the victory cigars after three of them.
The Sixers' size presents obvious challenges for a Celtics team that lost Al Horford over the offseason (to Philadelphia, coincidentally) and opted against replacing him with a household name. Joel Embiid bullied Boston in one of the wins (38 points, 13 boards on Dec. 12), and Ben Simmons keyed another (24 points, nine assists on Oct. 23).
"I'll say it: This is the team in the East that scares me the most," DJ Bean wrote for NBC Sports Boston. "They'd been either a mess or injured all season, yet the only thing they seemed to do consistently was beat the Celtics, thanks largely to the size discrepancy."
Boston did, however, take the last meeting with ease (a 116-95 triumph on Feb. 1) and may have found a way to flummox Embiid. The Celtics sent extra defenders his direction throughout the contest and held him to a dismal 1-of-11 performance.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas would be climbing up a weight class in this series and wouldn't have the greatest chance of surviving and advancing. But the Mavs are built to at least make the Clippers sweat.
While Luka Doncic is a handful for any defense—yes, even one featuring both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George—the real challenge is Kristaps Porzingis. L.A. has kept him in check so far (25 points on 30 shots in the two matchups), but it can't replicate his size-athleticism combination. Plus, it hasn't seen his supernova version that's blitzing the bubble (34.5 points on 50.0/38.5/81.8 shooting through two games).
"We don't want to try to go too far ahead," Porzingis told reporters in July. "But I think all of our mind-sets are that we're a dangerous team, and I think we can surprise people."
Shocking the hoops world is probably out of the question, since Dallas' deficiencies on the defensive perimeter would be glaring in a series against Leonard, George and Lou Williams. Still, the Mavs have the offensive firepower to potentially steal a couple wins.
Denver Nuggets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Given the markets and the (relative) lack of star power, this probably wouldn't be the most-watched matchup of the opening round. But for basketball junkies, this could be as good as it gets.
Despite having the bruising Steven Adams manning the middle, the Thunder have been thrown around by the Nuggets' All-Star center Nikola Jokic. In three previous meetings—two of them Denver wins—Jokic nearly averaged a triple-double (30.0 points, 11.0 rebounds, 9.0 assists) while shooting 66.0 percent from the field.
The Nuggets, meanwhile, have had trouble containing 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, which makes sense given Jamal Murray's inconsistency. Paul has not only averaged 22.3 points in the three matchups, but he has also pieced together an absurd 57.1/42.9/81.3 shooting slash in the process.
Watching how each side attempts to deal with the other's star is the primary draw, but it doesn't hurt that this series would also include some of the league's most intriguing up-and-comers. With Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol on one side, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Luguentz Dort on the other, there's no shortage of young talent.