With the seedings finalised for the Eastern conference, here are my predictions for the first round.
The NBA bubble is in full effect.
The saving grace of having a whole continent for your playland is having so much space you can host the return of the NBA season, all in your own bubble. Thank you, Walt Disney!
We kick off in over a week and we all cannot wait.
Before I break down how I think it will pan out, it is important to note:
Not all teams were invited to the bubble. If you theoretically did not have a chance of making the playoffs, you were not invited.
Teams not invited: Hornets, Bulls, Knicks, Pistons, Hawks, Cavaliers, Timberwolves and the Warriors
Each of the remaining sides will play eight further games. After the eight games, the playoff race will be as it stands. It’s important to note that due to TV rights and monetary obligations, the teams had to play a minimum of 70 games, hence the further games being played.
Games are played crowd-less, as is every other live sport. All games will be played in the facilities at the Disneyworld resort.
Caught up? Good. How do I think the season will pan out?
I think the East is a four-way race. Obviously, given we have to wait on placings that could possibly pit two of these teams against each other; I believe the East will go through Milwaukee, Toronto, Boston or Philadelphia.
Milwaukee will finish first in the East, without a shadow of a doubt for me. Giannis Antetokounmpo and company had their side on a tear prior to COVID, and I believe they were the in-form side of the competition.
Coach Mike Budenholzer and Antetokounmpo have formulated a great plan in utilising their uncanny types of talent on their roster, but they will need their ‘others’ to step up massively to compete for a championship (Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsloe, Brook and Robin Lopez, etc.).
Toronto just seems to be there, regardless of what people think of their side on paper. I would absolutely not be shocked at all if they took out the East. Nick Nurse has them drilled to a tee, and they play great team basketball.
They seem to grind out games against top competition as they did to the Lakers at the start of the season, in an awkward but very effective way. I look forward to watching Pascal Siakam and company grow into the playoffs and push to go back-to-back.
Boston has the players, they have the coaching staff, they just have it all. They seem to be more a ‘let down’ given their roster. If banner 18 is going to come to Boston, it needs to be directly through Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. They are the keys.
As good as Jaylen Brown can be, or Gordon Hayward once was, they need to be the perfect supporting cast for their two stars.
Philly are somewhat in the same boat for me – except they are less convincing. If the reports are true, and Ben Simmons is playing at the four, the Sixers have just catapulted to top two for me. They need to play Simmons exactly how LeBron James is utilised, with the ball or in the post.
He should not be controlling it outside the arc, not at all. Leave it to a real point guard. The loser in all this is obviously Al Horford, a signing that never made sense to me. If they can work the trio of Tobias Harris, Simmons and Joel Embiid to no fault, I can really see Philly picking up their form.
Outcome in the East?
I can see the Eastern Conference finals being in Milwaukee hosting the Raptors. They got them last season, but I think Antetokounmpo will be better for it this season. Milwaukee in six over Toronto to advance to the NBA finals.
Over to the wild, wild, west, I will cut it down and make it easy for everyone. The road to the finals from the West goes through LA and only LA.
It is a two-horse race…for now (pending the return of the Warriors next season).
Houston is a non-factor. Utah is a non-factor. Dallas and Denver may test either the Lakers or the Clippers, but let’s be real; it is finishing up in LA, come hell or high water.
On the Clippers side of things, they have never won a championship. The hunger to win one for their franchise runs deep . They have the reigning Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard, a Clipper tragic growing up, perennial All-Star Paul George and a great supporting cast behind them.
They have the better coach, the better GM and the better owner. Does this account to success on the court? Maybe. Maybe not – but this team will compete, and compete hard. Size-wise, they’re reasonably small compared to their city counterparts.
They play a small-ball form of basketball, in which their smalls can manage guarding bigger opposition players, and thus becoming a little quicker off the dribble as well. Their main big man, Montrezl Harrell, is only 201 cm, and although he comes off the bench, he finishes predominately all their games at center.
Throw in a supporting cast of Ivica Zubac, Marcus Morris and the newly acquired Joakim Noah, they will rely on their wings and strong guards to outlast their LA brothers.
To the Lakers, I believe this is their destiny, as they must win this season. This season is theirs to lose. James is ageing and finally has no Warriors to deal with in the finals, and has a strong sidekick in Anthony Davis. Come next season, the Warriors will be back in full swing with a top-three draft pick, and the Clippers will be a well-oiled machine by next season.
The Lakers must win this season or they will not win under their James tenure. Davis is a free agent next season and who is to say if they lose this season, he will want to return? He Davis) is the key, when he is firing, the Lakers are somewhat unstoppable.
With the rotation of JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, and a somewhat formidable guard rotation, the Lakers will look to their two stars to carry them home.
Outcome in the West?
I believe the Lakers’ will and determination to close out this one off will be enough to get them home. I have them winning the West in seven tight and hotly-contested games. It will be a series to watch, without a doubt.
I believe the Clippers and the Warriors will battle out next season and a few seasons on, whether that will play in the Clippers’ mindset, knowing they will be front runners for the next few years, I don’t know, but I think the Lakers will be desperate to win.
Who wins it all?
I have experience beating the better side. The Bucks will most likely have the best player on the floor (I know, anyone over James is asinine), the better coach and definitely the better roster. They have youth and quickness on their side, but they won’t have that championship experience (no offence Kyle Korver).
The championship experience of James, Danny Green, McGee and raw talent of Davis should see them home. Lakers in six.
End of season wards
Most valuable player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the year: Ja Morant
Defensive player of the year: Anthony Davis
Sixth man: Dennis Schroder
Most improved: Brandon Ingram
Coach of the year: Frank Vogel
Bring on the NBA (bubble) season!