2020 NBA Playoffs preview: First Round

After a long wait, the NBA playoffs are finally here. Bubble basketball has been extremely enjoyable up to this point, and I expect it to only get better as we get into the playoffs. The first round, as always, has some duds, but there are also some really interesting matchups. Here is my breakdown of each first-round series.

  • (1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic
    • Matchup preview: There is not much to be said about this matchup. The Bucks were the best team in the league this year, despite a pedestrian 3-5 in the bubble. The Magic actually looked really good in the first few games of the restart, offensively exploding against Brooklyn and Sacramento. Unfortunately, after losing Jonathan Isaac and Aaron Gordon to injuries, this team fell off a cliff, losing five of their last six. This series will not be close.
    • Prediction: Bucks in 4
    • Betting Angles
      • Bucks 4-0 -175
        • These odds aren’t very juicy, but there is such a low chance of the Magic winning a game. This is a must-bet.
      • Giannis Antetokounmpo under in points
        • Giannis averaged 30.4 minutes per game this season, mostly because of how easily the team was winning games. Because this series won’t be competitive, expect him to play about 30 minutes a game and put up numbers that don’t jump off the page.
  • (2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets
    • Matchup preview: The Nets were a nice surprise in the bubble, fighting hard in every game and winning five of eight. Despite being impressive and playing with a lot of energy, they simply don’t have the pieces to beat this Raptors team. The Raptors had the hardest schedule in the bubble, yet they still went 7-1. Toronto has NBA Finals aspirations, but this feisty Nets team seems like they won’t go down without a fight.
    • Prediction: Raptors in 5
    • Betting Angles
      • Raptors 4-1 +190
        • A 4-0 sweep is the heavy favorite in this series, but I really think these ornery Nets can take one game, similar to what the Magic did to them in the first-round last year. Not to mention, Raptors have some demons in the early stages of series like this.
      • Nets spreads/ 1st half spreads
        • Again, if the Nets can keep it close, they should cover the double-digit spreads they will face in every game. They also got off to quick starts in some games in the bubble, so look for them to have a lead at halftime in a few of these games.
      • Caris Levert over in points
        • Levert has been the star of the Nets in the bubble, and he showed during last year’s playoffs that he can perform in big moments. He will probably have some pretty high-point lines in this series, but I still think he can have a couple 30-point efforts in this series.
  • (3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers
    • Matchup preview: This could have been the most interesting matchup of this round if Ben Simmons was healthy and the 76ers had a competent coach. Due to this, the well-coached Celtics should take care of business in this series. Because Joel Embiid can put up 30 and 20 on any night, especially against the smaller Celtics, Philly should be able to steal a couple games on his back alone. I don’t think they have a shot at winning the series, but I would be surprised if Embiid doesn’t put up a couple massive games and battle the rival Celtics.
    • Prediction: Celtics in 6
    • Betting Angles
      • Celtics 4-2 +330
        • I will probably sprinkle a little on Celtics 4-1 as well at +300, and I expect one of these to hit for sure. That is, of course, unless Embiid completely mails it in this series, but I think he has too much pride to do that in four straight games.
      • Jayson Tatum/Kemba Walker over in points
        • People have been saying Tatum has ascended to superstardom. If that is true, this is the perfect time to show it. He should carry a lot of the scoring load, and he should put up a few 30-point games against this disappointing Sixers defense.
        • Kemba has looked good in the bubble coming back from injury. Over the last two or three years, small guards have consistently killed the Sixers, so I expect Kemba to explode in a few of these games.
      • Joel Embiid over in points
        • Embiid will need to carry this team for the series to be competitive, and for that reason he should have some massive stats in this series. Not to mention he hates the Celtics, and absolutely owns Daniel Theis.
  • (4) Indiana Pacers vs. (5) Miami Heat
    • Matchup preview: This is the tightest matchup of the first-round in my opinion. The Pacers went 6-2 in the bubble, while the Heat went 3-5. The Heat have the better frontcourt led by Bam Adebayo, and they have better shooting anchored by Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro. The Pacers have Victor Oladipo and Malcolm Brogdon leading a good defensive backcourt, and everyone knows what T.J. Warren has accomplished so far in the bubble, producing multiple 40+-point games. Jimmy Butler is the leader of this young Heat team, and he believes the Heat have a shot at upsetting the Bucks in the second round. In my opinion, the Pacers are the most underrated team in the league, and they will beat the Heat in this series. People forget that only two short years ago, the Pacers were on the verge of beating the Finals-bound Cavaliers team in the first round. Oladipo was emerging as a star. Brogdon was the second-best player on the Bucks during last year’s playoffs, and I think this team has enough to beat this inexperienced team. They will undoubtedly miss Sabonis in this series, but I really think that the Pacers are going to surprise a lot of people and beat this formidable Miami team.
    • Prediction: Pacers in 7
    • Betting Angles
      • Pacers 4-3 +800
        • This is my big upset pick. The books like the Heat to win, and the favored outcome is Heat 4-1. If I’ve swayed you into believing this is at least a closer series than Heat in five, betting this series goes seven games is +220, regardless of who wins.
      • Bam Adebayo over in points/rebounds
        • Without Sabonis, the Pacers really struggle against opposing bigs. I’ve also read too much about Bam being “that guy” to believe he won’t step up in his first playoff series.
      • Victor Oladipo over in points
        • Oladipo’s point-lines have been mid-teens during the whole bubble. In 2018 against the Cavs, he averaged over 22 points per game. People have such short memories, but he was a problem in that series. He almost led the Pacers over the Cavs in that series, and the Cavs went on to make the Finals. He was the star of that team during that series, and though Oladipo hasn’t looked 100% this season coming back from injury, I think he channels that playoff mojo from two years ago and scores more this series than people expect.
  • (1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers
    • Matchup preview: Will bubble MVP Dame be able to continue his magical run against the Lakers in round one? If you watched the play-in game, it’s hard to believe he will. The Blazers looked exhausted after playing eight straight must-win games in two weeks, and they just don’t match up well against the Lakers. They can’t stop Anthony Davis, and no one can stop playoff LeBron. They’ve been a great story and they deserve massive respect for making the playoffs, but they don’t stand much of a chance in this series. They are a team that shoots a lot of threes, and I expect them to snag a game on the back of Lillard and some good shooting from deep.
    • Prediction: Lakers in 5
    • Betting Angles
      • Lakers 4-1 +240
        • This is the favored outcome in this series, though the books think a six-game series is more likely than a sweep. If you want to bet Lakers 4-1 and another outcome, I think the sweep is more likely than Lakers 4-2. The Blazers have been a great story, but they are exhausted and have shown no ability to stop anyone on defense, let alone LeBron and AD.
      • Anthony Davis over in points
        • If you aren’t sure about this one, look back at the Blazers-Pelicans series from 2018 where the Pelicans swept the Blazers on the back of Davis’s 33 points per game. Davis is the matchup the Lakers should lean on in this series, and I don’t expect any of the exhausted Blazers to come close to stopping him.
  • (2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
    • Matchup preview: This is a great matchup for the Clippers. They won the season series 3-0 by an average of 11 points. The Clippers are the favorites to come out of the West, and the Mavericks are a young team getting their first taste of the playoffs. This should spell blowout for the Clippers, but Luka Doncic is a special player. When a player is truly special, he shows it, even at a young age. Even though this matchup is great for the Clippers as they are the much better team, I believe Luka and Porzingis will be enough to make this a competitive series. Not to mention the Mavericks have the highest offensive rating in the history of the league, and teams with high offensive upside will often win games by virtue of great shooting nights, a la the Rockets of previous years.
    • Prediction: Clippers in 6
    • Betting Angles
      • Clippers 4-2 +310
        • Clippers 4-1 is +270, the favorite according to the books. I think one of these will be correct, but I’m betting on Luka being special enough to snag two games, though one game may be more likely.
      • Luka Doncic over in points/to record triple double
        • This will be Luka’s first playoff appearance, and if you believe he is a special player like I do, he will have some great stats in this series. He already has three triple-doubles in the bubble, and fell two rebounds short on two other occasions. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are obviously tough defenders to go against, but this will only lead to the books underestimating him.
      • Kristaps Porzingis over in points/rebounds
        • The Clippers aren’t very big, and 7’3 Porzingis should be a monster on the boards in this series. The Clippers also shoot a lot of mid-range shots, further helping a big man get boards. He’s played well in the bubble, and I think he’ll put up good stats in the series.
  • (3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz
    • Matchup preview: These two teams played in the bubble in what was one of the best games since the restart, so you would think this series will be close. But if you watched that game, the Nuggets were trying to figure out how to reintegrate Jamal Murray into the rotation, and it still took about five unbelievable plays, mostly by Donovan Mitchell, to send the game to overtime. The Nuggets are deeper, the Nuggets have the best player in the series, and the Nuggets have a year of playoff experience to build on. Mike Conley recently left the bubble, and he will miss at least the first two games due to quarantine protocols. The loss of Bojan Bogdanovic stagnated their already subpar offense, and the Jazz don’t really have the firepower to keep up in this series. Many people believe this is one of the closer matchups of the first round; I believe the Nuggets are the better team in almost every respect and will take care of business in a relatively short series.
    • Prediction: Nuggets in 5
    • Betting Angles
      • Nuggets 4-1 +300
        • This is technically the favorite outcome of the books, which is interesting that they also believe this will be a short series. Nuggets 4-2 is +340, which also may be deserving of some love.
      • Donovan Mitchell over in points
        • Mitchell will likely have high point-lines because everyone knows he is the focal point of the Jazz offense. Don’t let this scare you away. Mitchell just scored 35 in the double-overtime game in the bubble, and he will be relied on very heavily to get buckets for Utah. He should hit his over in most games in this series.
      • Nikola Jokic over in points/rebounds/assists
        • Ok, I don’t recommend taking his over in all three categories every game. However, during last year’s postseason, he averaged 25.1-13-8.4, all of which are above his current lines. Jokic takes pride in taking it to Gobert, and he has shown he can do it in the playoffs. Pick your spots carefully, but I expect Jokic to hit his over in all three categories frequently this series.
  • (4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Matchup preview: This is probably the most intriguing first-round matchup. Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook were traded for each other in the offseason, and we know there is some bad blood between Paul and James Harden. The narrative dimension of this matchup may be better than the basketball dimension. The Rockets are a proven postseason team, they’re hungry this year, and they have simply looked better than the Thunder. The Thunder have a deep roster of good players, but the Rockets have a superstar. Sure, Chris Paul had a great season, but the strength of OKC is their “three-headed monster” backcourt. Guess what the Rockets have a ton of? Great backcourt players. When your team’s strength is overmatched, it is hard to overcome. I expect the small-ball Rockets to matchup extremely well against this solid Thunder team, even while missing Westbrook for at least two games.
    • Prediction: Rockets in 5
    • Betting Angles:
      • Rockets 4-1 +500
        • Houston winning in six or seven games are the two most likely outcomes according to the books, so you’re getting good value if you think the Rockets control this series. If you’re a little more skeptical, you can still sprinkle a little on these two outcomes as well, as both are higher than +300.
      • James Harden over in points
        • Especially in the first couple games without Westbrook, I expect Harden to carry the offensive load. The Thunder will probably throw Luguentz Dort, their best defender, at him, but Harden is too masterful to be slowed down by this excitable rookie. I think he will average close to 40 in this series.
      • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander over in points
        • During last year’s playoffs, Shai bumped his scoring average up over six points from the regular season. This season, he’s an even bigger focal point of the offense. SGA is the longest, craftiest of the Thunder guards, and scoring in the paint is how you score on the Rockets. I think he will have a good series and score a lot of points for his team.
      • Chris Paul under in points
        • Chris Paul thrives on getting bigs switched onto him, then taking them apart in the mid-range. The Rockets don’t have any big men or really any matchups that Chris Paul will be able to successfully exploit. This may lead to him hitting his over in assists many games, but I think the books are going to inflate his point-lines due to the fact that he is the best player on the Thunder, and many people see this being a very close series. I don’t see it that way, and I think it is likely his goes under his point total in a majority of the games.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: