NBA Playoff Bracket 2020: Final Standings, Postseason Picture and Predictions

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistAugust 15, 2020

Los Angeles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard, right, applies pressure on Dallas Mavericks' Luka Doncic (77) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

We're somewhat set for the NBA playoffs. One matchup remains underdetermined. The Los Angeles Lakers await the winner of a play-in tournament between the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies.

In the Western Conference, Portland and Memphis finished within four games of each other for the Nos. 8 and 9 seeds, respectively, prompting a play-in series. If the Blazers win, they would claim the final playoff slot. As the lower seed, the Grizzlies need consecutive victories to move into the eighth spot.

We can preview the rest of the playoff field. The first round features some captivating matchups with a couple of lower seeds equipped to pull off upsets.

As usual, storylines that involve star players will dominate the headlines. Can LeBron James propel the Los Angeles Lakers back to the title game? Will we see the rise of a new champion?

Before a look at opening-round predictions, let's review the final standings.


Final 2019-20 NBA Standings

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks (56-17)

2. Toronto Raptors (53-19)

3. Boston Celtics (48-24)

4. Indiana Pacers (45-28)

5. Miami Heat (44-29)

6. Philadelphia 76ers (43-30)

7. Brooklyn Nets (35-37)

8. Orlando Magic (33-40)

9. Washington Wizards (25-47)


Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Lakers (52-19)

2. Los Angeles Clippers (49-23)

3. Denver Nuggets (46-27)

4. Houston Rockets (44-28)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (44-28)

6. Utah Jazz (44-28)

7. Dallas Mavericks (43-32)

8. Portland Trail Blazers (35-39)

9. Memphis Grizzlies (34-39)

10. Phoenix Suns (34-39)

11. San Antonio Spurs (32-39)

12. Sacramento Kings (31-41) 

13. New Orleans Pelicans (30-42)


1st-Round Playoff Predictions

East Matchups 

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic: Bucks in four games.

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets: Raptors in four games.

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers: Celtics in six games.

No. 4 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 Miami Heat: Heat in six games.


West Matchups

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers: Lakers in four games.

No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers in five games.

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Utah Jazz: Nuggets in seven games.

No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder: Rockets in seven games.


Most Intriguing Series: No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers

Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Whether the Philadelphia 76ers advance or bow out of the first round, general manager Elton Brand may have to answer some tough questions.

If Philadelphia loses to the Boston Celtics, Brett Brown's job security may come into question. In February, amid a four-game losing streak, reporters asked the Sixers' head coach about his future with the club (h/t CBS Philly):

"I'm worried about going to Milwaukee, and feeling proud to coach the team, that we competed in a way that they usually do compete. We're the fourth-best defensive team in the NBA and that's where I'm at. I'm not young anymore and I'm perfectly content … My job is to coach this team and get them playing at a level that they're capable of and remind them of that always and remind them of that when they're not."

Philadelphia goes into the playoffs without Ben Simmons, who recently underwent knee surgery. That's a major loss on both ends of the court. He averaged 16.4 points and eight assists with the second-best defensive rating (106) among Sixers players who logged at least 300 minutes.

Even with Simmons healthy, the Sixers underachieved during the regular season. Brown's win percentage dropped, and the offense ranked 21st in scoring, averaging the third-fewest points (110.4) among playoff teams.

With two young stars, Simmons and Joel Embiid, along with Tobias Harris and Josh Richardson on the wings, Philadelphia should have more production on the offensive end. The front office could look for a new head coach to optimize the team's talent.

Then again, if the Sixers win the series, skeptics may ask whether they're better off with Embiid and a plethora of shooters around him. In February, Chris Broussard appeared on FS1's The Herd with Colin Cowherd and indicated Simmons and Embiid had some tension:


.@Chris_Broussard reports the Sixers locker room issue seems to be jealousy between Simmons and Embiid. 😳 https://t.co/soClZtDqgO

If Philadelphia's offense flips a switch without Simmons, concerns about his fit with Embiid could become a hot-topic discussion in the offseason.

Philadelphia won the season series with Boston (3-1). Embiid missed one of those games with a finger injury.


Upset Alert: No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Utah Jazz

David Zalubowski/Associated Press

This matchup has the outlook of a seven-game series. Although the Denver Nuggets haven't struggled to score points without Gary Harris (hip) and Will Barton (knee), head coach Mike Malone may miss the experience of those veterans in the starting lineup.

Malone inserted Torrey Craig into the first unit and unleashed rookie forward Michael Porter Jr., who averaged 22 points and 8.6 rebounds in the bubble. However, he would have to sustain that production against a defensively-sound Utah Jazz squad that ranked ninth in points allowed (108.8) this season.

Neither Harris nor Barton has a concrete timetable to return. They are not stars on a deep Nuggets team, but Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will find it difficult to put away the Jazz early, especially if Mike Conley establishes his rhythm in this series. He shot 41 percent from the field during the regular season.

Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell need help from their supporting cast. Utah won't have Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist surgery), which hurts the offense's perimeter shooting. Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson could help out in that aspect. Like their previous meeting, which went into double overtime, the Jazz and Nuggets will probably battle down to the final seconds in every contest.

Denver has enough depth to outlast Utah, though a Jazz upset shouldn't surprise anyone.


NBA Finals Prediction: No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Is it Giannis Antetokounmpo's time to break through for an NBA title? If it is, he may have to knock off Kawhi Leonard to hoist the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

His Milwaukee Bucks clinched the No. 1 seed early and have lost three of their past four games. Now, with something to play for, the sleeping giant in the East will wake up for a run to the NBA Finals.

In the West, the Lakers' inconsistent supporting cast around LeBron James and Anthony Davis won't hold up against the Los Angeles Clippers' deep rotation.

The Clippers could have a full house for the playoffs. The midseason additions of forward Marcus Morris Sr. and Reggie Jackson add strength to a second unit that features three-time Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams. After going through quarantine protocol, Montrezl Harrell will likely suit up as well.

Leonard and Paul George will lead the way for Los Angeles—two star players are better than one. Despite Milwaukee's league-best 102.9 defensive rating, the Clippers have a group that's too deep for the Bucks to handle in a seven-game series.

Los Angeles ranked fifth in defensive rating (107.9). Perhaps Leonard and company clamp down on Antetokounmpo's supporting cast. If the Bucks second- and third-best players struggle, the Clippers can live with the 2018-19 league MVP putting together strong performances without much help.

The Clippers win the series (in six games) and their first NBA title.