NBA Playoffs 2020: Breaking Down Potential First-Round MatchupsAugust 8, 2020
When the NBA announced its return-to-play format, many were intrigued by the possibility of LeBron James and Zion Williamson facing off in the first round of the postseason.
As New Orleans has faded throughout the seeding games, a more intriguing matchup for the top-seeded Lakers has emerged in the form of the Portland Trail Blazers.
Terry Stotts' team has benefited from a healthy frontcourt and Damian Lillard playing at a high level to move into a favorable position to land the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.
Portland still has work to do to secure a playoff berth, and it will likely have to win a play-in series, but it is trending in the right direction to challenge James, Anthony Davis and Co.
Over in the Eastern Conference, the form of Miami and Indiana inside the Orlando bubble combined with Philadelphia suffering a setback through Ben Simmons' injury has set up the potential for the Heat and Pacers to square off in the opening round.
Best Potential 1st-Round Matchups
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland
Portland has the high-level guard play that could wreak havoc on the Lakers backcourt throughout a seven-game series.
Damian Lillard has knocked down 21 shots from three-point range in four seeding games, including 11 in a 45-point performance against Denver Thursday.
Lillard has had success in three meetings with the Lakers this season. He totaled 108 points and hit 13 triples in those contests.
In their three bubble defeats, the Lakers have had trouble containing the scorers from Toronto, Oklahoma City and Houston.
Those three teams knocked down 40 shots from beyond the arc, with the Rockets and Raptors accounting for 35.
If Lillard and C.J. McCollum can exploit the backcourt matchup with the Lakers, it could make life harder on James and Davis to carry the bulk of the production.
Davis has to be hoping the Blazers are not his first-round opponents since they are best equipped of the six teams fighting for the eighth seed to deal with his paint presence.
Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins returned from injury after the extended break, and Hassan Whiteside can spell both off the bench. Portland could also use Carmelo Anthony in defensive spots to contain James and Davis.
Los Angeles is still capable of getting past Portland because it has two of the game's best players on its side, but Portland would cause it the most trouble, and in turn, give us one of the most entertaining opening-round bouts.
No. 4 Miami vs. No. 5 Indiana
Miami and Indiana are looking set for a matchup that could be the most exciting first-round clash by far in the East.
Milwaukee and Toronto will be set up with fairly easy series against Brooklyn and Orlando, while Boston would face less of a threat from Philadelphia if Ben Simmons does not recover in time from his knee injury.
That leaves the Heat and Pacers, who have been two of the more entertaining sides to watch in the bubble, to rescue what could be a rather boring East first round.
T.J. Warren has provided Indiana with some needed scoring depth behind Malcolm Brogdon and Victor Oladipo with Domantas Sabonis out.
Warren exploded for 119 points in his first three games in Orlando before he was slowed down a bit by Phoenix Thursday.
Miami has also worked on its scoring depth beneath Jimmy Butler. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro both eclipsed 20 points in Butler's absence Thursday.
The intriguing wrinkle to this potential matchup is the Pacers and Heat play twice in their final three seeding games.
In a normal season, those games would matter more because home-court advantage would be on the line, but they could still be extra competitive as both sides try to stay away from a meeting with third-seeded Boston.
If they succeed with that task, we could see as many as nine games between the Heat and Pacers over the next few weeks.
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Statistics obtained from Basketball Reference