NBA Playoffs 2020: 1st-Round Predictions and Odds for All 17 TeamsAugust 15, 2020
After a little more than two weeks of bubble games, the NBA playoffs will start Monday with its traditional seven-game series format. While we know all four of the Eastern Conference matchups, the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies have an opportunity to claim the eighth seed in the Western Conference.
If the eighth-seeded Blazers win one game, they would advance to the first round for a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers. The ninth-seeded Grizzlies need two victories to clinch the final playoff spot.
Based on what's already set in stone, matchups will feature stars going against their former teams and individual battles certain to entertain viewers.
As the players shift gears into postseason mode, let's go over the first-round matchups with predictions for each series, including the play-in tournament between the Blazers and Grizzlies.
First, take a look at the championship odds for all 17 teams in the hunt for the 2019-20 NBA title, courtesy of Caesars Casino and Sportsbook.
NBA Title Odds
Los Angeles Lakers: +200 (Bet $100 to win $200)
Milwaukee Bucks: +300
Los Angeles Clippers: +300
Boston Celtics: +1100
Toronto Raptors: +1100
Houston Rockets: +1200
Denver Nuggets: +2000
Portland Trail Blazers: +3000
Miami Heat: +3500
Oklahoma City Thunder: +3500
Dallas Mavericks: +4000
Philadelphia 76ers: +5000
Utah Jazz: +7500
Indiana Pacers: +15000
Orlando Magic: +50000
Brooklyn Nets: +100000
Memphis Grizzlies: +100000
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic
Giannis Antetokounmpo served a one-game suspension and missed Thursday's contest against the Grizzlies, which means he'll suit up for Game 1.
The Milwaukee Bucks had their struggles in the bubble, going 3-5, though they clinched the No. 1 seed with a 130-116 win over the Miami Heat a week ago. This club didn't have anything to play for other than momentum heading into the postseason. Now, with the intensity turned up, we'll see the team that performed at peak levels earlier in the year.
The Orlando Magic need a healthy roster to pull off this improbable upset. Aaron Gordon (hamstring), Evan Fournier (non-COVID illness) and Michael Carter-Williams (foot) have all missed the past few games. Terrence Ross had to quarantine upon his return to the bubble, per Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Even if all four players suit up for this series, Orlando won't match up evenly against the Bucks. Antetokounmpo will come back from suspension rejuvenated and ready to roll over the Magic as his team did during the regular season (4-0).
The Bucks have the league's best defensive rating (102.9). They'll shut down a squad that doesn't have a player who averages at least 20 points per game. This series ends in a one-sided sweep.
Prediction: Bucks in 4
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn deserves some credit for the team's performances without its top two scorers. Under his leadership, this club boasts a 7-3 record and almost sent the Blazers home for the offseason.
Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Kevin Durant (Achilles) didn't travel with the Nets to the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. At the end of June, Spencer Dinwiddie tested positive for COVID-19, and team doctors opted to keep him out of action, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.
The Nets have done their best with Caris LeVert as the lead scorer in the bubble, averaging 25 points per game. In a 119-116 win over the Bucks, fourth-year veteran Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot erupted for 26 points.
Brooklyn's bubble journey will end in a four-game sweep. The Toronto Raptors have the second-best defensive rating (104.9). The defending champions have multiple layers of depth and healthy star players in Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry.
The Nets will show up to the battle, but the Raptors win the series without taking a loss.
Prediction: Raptors in 4
No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
The Philadelphia 76ers won't have Ben Simmons, who underwent surgery to remove a loose body in his knee, per Kyle Neubeck of Philly Voice.
Nevertheless, the Boston Celtics must contend with Sixers' lead scorer Joel Embiid, who had a bit of scare because of a hand injury Wednesday. The x-rays came back negative. He scored 14 points in 23 minutes against the Houston Rockets Friday.
Philadelphia won the season series against Boston (3-1) with Simmons averaging 18.3 points in those contests. Forward Al Horford has moved back into the starting lineup in four of the last five outings. As a talented passer who can score in the frontcourt, he could mimic some of Simmons' skill set, though the 34-year-old has a lot of wear and tear in his 13th year.
The Celtics have two emerging players under 24 years old, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, alongside four-time All-Star Kemba Walker. Gordon Hayward scores with efficiency, converting on 50 percent of his shot attempts this season.
Without Simmons' length and on-ball defense, Tatum, Brown and Hayward will feast on the wings. Matisse Thybulle can provide some defensive energy. On the flip side, he's a rookie who's not accustomed to the flow of the postseason and only played 19.8 minutes per outing this year.
Embiid will put the Sixers on his back for a couple of games, but he won't outduel Tatum, Brown, Hayward and Walker. Aside from Tobias Harris, Philadelphia doesn't have the consistent scorers to keep up with Boston. Shooting 43 percent from the floor, Josh Richardson hasn't proved he's an efficient component of the offense.
Philadelphia pushes Boston to six games, but the Celtics win a hard-fought series.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
No. 4 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 Miami Heat
In four out of six seeding games, Indiana Pacers forward T.J. Warren scored at least 32 points. He comes into series battling plantar fasciitis, per J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star.
The Heat and Pacers squared off for two of their last three regular-season games. Warren suited up for the first outing and converted on just 5-of-14 shot attempts in a 114-92 loss.
Victor Oladipo is shooting just 40 percent from the field. Coming off of surgery on his quadriceps, the two-time All-Star doesn't have the lift in his step yet. He's also shot a career-low 39 percent from the floor through the regular season.
During the 2018-19 campaign, Malcolm Brogdon converted on nearly 51 percent of his field-goal attempts. He's shooting 44 percent from the floor this season.
Domantas Sabonis left the bubble, and he's receiving treatment for plantar fasciitis.
Meanwhile, the Heat have a number of players who can contribute to their offensive flurries. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson have led the way since the NBA restart, averaging 17.3 and 17 points per outing, respectively, going into the season finale. They also knocked down a combined 5.9 three-pointers per game.
With those two on the perimeter, Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler have attacked the paint. The latter averaged 7.5 free throws made (tied for seventh) since the regular-season resumed on July 30.
Myles Turner's modest average of 12.1 points per game isn't enough to beat the Heat with Warren potentially hampered by a foot injury, Brogdon less efficient than last year and no Sabonis for an indefinite period.
Prediction: Heat in 6
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers clinched the eighth seed with a win over the Brooklyn Nets Thursday. They'll face the Memphis Grizzlies in a play-in tournament for the final postseason slot in the West.
On Thursday, the Grizzlies beat the Bucks, who didn't have Antetokounmpo because of a suspension for head-butting Washington Wizards forward Moritz Wagner. Yet, Memphis won't have the firepower to win consecutive games against Damian Lillard, who's averaging 51.3 points over his last three outings. Jaren Jackson Jr. tore his meniscus, which deals a major blow to the Grizzlies offense.
Looking ahead, Lillard's scoring rampage can challenge the Los Angeles Lakers in stretches. Gary Trent Jr. has made a significant impact, converting on 42 percent of his shots from three-point territory. At 35 years old, Carmelo Anthony has shown he can still contribute, averaging 15.4 points and 6.3 rebounds for the season.
On the flip side, the Blazers won't have CJ McCollum at full strength. He's played with a fracture in his back since August 6. Over the last three games, the seventh-year guard is shooting just 35 percent from the field.
Despite Trent's contributions and Anthony's career rebirth in Portland, Lillard cannot beat the Lakers with McCollum's injury and the effect it has on his game. Secondly, the Blazers are tied for 27th in defensive rating (114.8). They won't have an answer for LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Prediction: Lakers in 4
No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
This series should bring a lot of sizzle. The Los Angeles Clippers have established stars in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Dallas Mavericks offense features 2018-19 Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis—often called the Unicorn because of his combination of skills as a scorer and defender at 7'3".
Despite the Mavericks' intriguing young talent, they went 3-5 in the seeding games, dropping one to the Clippers 126-111. Los Angeles completed a 3-0 season series sweep.
The Clippers could go into this matchup at full strength. Montrezl Harrell is expected to clear quarantine protocol for Monday's game, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ohm Youngmisuk. According to Jovan Buha of The Athletic, head coach Doc Rivers remains "hopeful" that guards Patrick Beverley and Landry Shamet will play in Game 1.
We're going to see two squads that rank top five in scoring go head-to-head in a handful of contests. The series result won't reflect the tight battles in the individual games, but Clippers vs. Mavericks will entertain viewers.
Prediction: Clippers in 5
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Utah Jazz
This matchup has some uncertainty that's worth mention.
Forward Will Barton (knee) and guard Gary Harris (hip) haven't suited up for the Denver Nuggets in the bubble. Even if they're available for the first round, head coach Mike Malone would ease them back into the rotation, per Mike Singer of the Denver Post.
"If and when they are cleared to play, we’ll slowly work them back in, but obviously we are very deep into this Orlando bubble. Three scrimmages, tonight will be our seventh seeding game and the playoffs start come Monday. When they get cleared to play, we’ll try to get them back in there and try to re-integrate them back into the rotation."
Nuggets rookie Michael Porter Jr. is the X-factor. Through the eight seeding games, he averaged a team-leading 22 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.7 triples. The 22-year-old will have to sustain his high level of production if Barton and Harris don't return to action.
Utah's defense can potentially slow down the Nuggets if Malone doesn't find someone to stretch the floor. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert will challenge Denver in the paint.
The Jazz went 3-5 in the seeding games, and their backcourt has been offensively inefficient. Guards Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell have shot 43.2 and 39.3 percent from the field, respectively, in the bubble. The former converted on 41 percent of his attempts for the season.
Utah's defense will keep the scores close, but that's not enough to help the Jazz win the series. Porter grows up before our eyes as a difference-maker whether Harris and Barton play or not.
Prediction: Nuggets in 7
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder
We may not see Russell Westbrook during this series.
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, the Rockets expect Westbrook to miss some time with a strained quadriceps muscle.
"Though the Rockets could only put a timetable on when they will next evaluate Russell Westbrook’s strained quadriceps muscle, the expectation is that he will be out for the first few games of next week’s playoff series and possibly longer, a person with knowledge of the team’s thinking said on Thursday," Feigen wrote.
Without Westbrook, Robert Covington and Eric Gordon, who just returned to action from a sprained ankle Wednesday, would have to pick up the slack on the offensive end. Even so, this series boils down to James Harden and Chris Paul. Which star player leads their team to a victory?
Harden can certainly handle the increased volume without Westbrook. He scored 45 points against the Pacers Wednesday as a one-man showcase but fell short in a loss. Gordon should have his legs under him for this series.
Houston needs every bit of help against a surprising Thunder squad that has some depth with rookie Darius Bazley contributing off the bench. After leaving the bubble, Dennis Schroder could clear quarantine to play and provide a boost in the second unit as well.
Harden will put on a show. Assuming the league's leading scorer (34.3 ppg) continues to bring his 'A' game, Houston escapes in a seven-game series with a slight chance that Westbrook plays in a couple of contests.
Prediction: Rockets in 7
Advanced stats courtesy of NBA.com and basketball-reference.com.