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NBA Playoffs 2020: TV Schedule and Predictions for Monday's Round 1 Games

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistAugust 17, 2020

Philadelphia 76ers' Al Horford (42) drives past Boston Celtics' Grant Williams (12) during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Things are about to get serious in the NBA bubble as the league moves from the seeding games to starting the pursuit of the championship in earnest with Monday's slate of Round 1 playoff games. 

Winning Game 1 can be crucial in setting the tone in a series, but it's especially vital in the bubble, where teams have only had eight games to develop some chemistry and figure out what their new rotations will look like. 

Monday's slate features four games. In the Eastern Conference, the defending champion Toronto Raptors are in action, while Kawhi Leonard begins his first postseason run with the Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference.

           

Monday NBA Playoffs Schedule (All Times ET)

Game 1: Utah Jazz vs. Denver Nuggets, 1:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 1: Brooklyn Nets vs. Toronto Raptors, 4:00 p.m., ESPN

Game 1: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 1: Dallas Mavericks vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 9:00 p.m., ESPN

         

Monday Predictions, Preview

Monday's schedule kicks off with the Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz, although neither team has looked their best in the bubble. Both went 3-5 in their eight seeding games but were virtually guaranteed to be playing in the postseason anyway. 

The Jazz will be without point guard Mike Conley, who has left the bubble to return home for the birth of his second child. That means an even bigger onus will be placed on Donovan Mitchell, who has already shouldered a heavier burden with Bojan Bogdanovic and his 20.2 points per game out for the year. 

"If Mike Conley is not available for Game 1, whatever it is, I am sure other guys will step up," Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. "We were able to go into Utah this year and win with seven guys. I don't buy into that too much. If Mike Conley is not available, that means more Donovan Mitchell, who is an all-NBA-caliber player."

Still, the matchup to watch will be Nikola Jokic going head-to-head with Rudy Gobert, who remains one of the best defensive players in the league. The Nuggets offense revolves around their big man and he had a strong performance against Gobert when they beat the Jazz 134-132 in overtime on Aug. 8. 

With the Jazz shorthanded and lacking offensive firepower outside of Mitchell, the Nuggets are in a good position to take Game 1. 

In the Eastern Conference opener, the Toronto Raptors kick off their title defense with a 2004 Detroit Pistons vibe. After the departure of Leonard to Los Angeles, the closest thing the Raptors have to a superstar is Pascal Siakam. 

Something else they have, though, is a long and athletic lineup that can lock anyone down. The Raptors have the second-best defensive rating in the league and can roll out multiple defenders with the versatility to play a plethora of matchups. 

They are incredibly balanced on offense as well. Five players averaged 15 or more points per game this season, and they shot 37 percent from three-point range as a team this season. 

Toronto has been granted a fortunate first-round pairing considering the makeshift roster the Brooklyn Nets have brought to Florida. While the roster anchored by Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen and Joe Harris has been plucky enough to go 5-3 since the NBA resumed, they are a team that will likely find itself outmanned now that the games matter more. 

Given the Raptors' 7-1 record in Orlando, that could become apparent sooner rather than later and a dominant Game 1 shouldn't be a surprise. 

The most intriguing game of the day is the series opener between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics.

The Sixers remain one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA. Joel Embiid has the ability to be the most dominant player in the league on any given night, and the Celtics will be forced to use the likes of Daniel Theis and Robert Williams to guard him. 

However, Ben Simmons' injury throws a wrench in Philly's defensive prospects as he was their best option to guard Jayson Tatum. The return of a healthy Kemba Walker means the Sixers may have to turn to rookie Mathysse Thybulle in the starting lineup. Head coach Brett Brown said the team is considering moving him into the starting five, per Noah Levick of NBC Sports. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows the Sixers are still a dangerous team without Simmons because it opens up the offense. 

"In the games that Simmons hasn't played, they're the No. 1 offense in the league," he said, per Field Level Media (h/t ESPN.com). "The spacing, the shooting around [Joel] Embiid posting, the ability to play big with both Embiid and Al (Horford)... A bunch of shooters around them makes them very tough."

Of all the lower-seeded teams in action on Monday, Philly has the best chance to spring an upset. If it gets a big game from Embiid and the supporting cast can get hot from beyond the arc, we will see the first surprise of the playoffs. 

Ahead of Monday's final game, there's good and bad news for the Dallas Mavericks. The good news is their young duo of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are headed to the playoffs for the first time; the bad news is that it's in a first-round matchup with the Clippers. 

The Clippers aren't perfect. They've struggled with injuries and players showing up late to the bubble and others leaving. But there are two things that give them a greater edge over their opponents: They play great defense, and they have Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. 

If the Mavericks can prevent the sweep, it will be an accomplishment as the Clippers look destined to at least end up in the Western Conference Finals against their cross-town rivals, the Lakers. 

L.A. will be looking to set the tone and should win the first game of the series. 

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