By: Nathan Bloechl — firstname.lastname@example.org
KILJ — The NBA Playoffs were set to begin this past weekend and while we were robbed of that start due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can still play out that postseason in our mind.
We’ll start in the Eastern Conference.
Eastern Conference First Round:
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic — Milwaukee wins series 4-0
- The Bucks were historically good this season. Led by reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks steamroll the helpless Magic in four games advancing to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. You could probably set your clock to Milwaukee sweeping this matchup.
(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Indiana Pacers — Miami wins series 4-2
- Miami, led by Jimmy Butler and a cast of other very good characters, took a huge leap forward this year — probably faster than many anticipated — and large part of that is due to Butler and the exploits of veteran head coach Erik Spoelstra. Here they get a feisty — albeit undermanned — Pacers team in round one. And while Indiana grabs a couple of games, the Heat are largely unchallenged, moving on to the Eastern Conference Semifinals once again.
(3) Boston Celtics vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers — Boston wins series 4-3
- What a fun first round series this would be. Many believed the Sixers would take the leap into the East’s best teams — they didn’t. Prized free agent acquisition Al Horford didn’t mesh with Joel Embiid. They have monster spacing issues, which led to the eventual benching of Horford, but with all that in mind, they’re still incredibly talented and push the Celtics to the brink. In the end, I think Brad Stevens is a much better coach than Brett Brown, so that’s why I give the Celtics the edge, even if I think on paper these two are fairly equal.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets — Toronto wins series 4-1
- The defending NBA champions took almost no steps backwards despite losing Kawhi Leonard this offseason. Brooklyn is a fine team, a team that would give Toronto a game or two, but not one that can legitimately take down the Raps. That might’ve been different had the Nets made Kevin Durant available after coming back from a surgically repaired Achilles tendon, but they didn’t. With Kyrie Irving already on the shelf, the Nets are undermanned and the playoff experience of Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam and Serge Ibaka move Toronto the second round.
Eastern Conference Semifinals:
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (4) Miami Heat — Milwaukee wins series 4-2
- Miami gave Milwaukee lots of trouble in the regular season this year, beating the Bucks twice — but the playoffs are a different beast and Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer makes some adjustments to make sure his team moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year. Make no doubt, the Heat can absolutely win this series. But their outside shooting doesn’t travel to Milwaukee very well as the Bucks use their homecourt advantage to move on.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (3) Boston Celtics — Boston wins series 4-3
- Another beautiful series ends in drama as Boston closes out Toronto in the Air Canada Centre to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. Toronto is good, actually they’re really good, they’re just not great without Kawhi Leonard. Third-year pro Jayson Tatum cements his ascension to stardom by averaging close to 30 points per game this series vaulting the C’s back to the East Finals.
Eastern Conference Finals:
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (3) Boston Celtics — Milwaukee wins series 4-1
- Milwaukee and Boston split their regular season series this year, but I think Milwaukee — on paper — is much more talented. Boston has no one who can defend Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe. They’ll force Boston to take tough shoots as Tatum cools off. Kemba Walker is good, but he can’t do it alone. Milwaukee moves into the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974.
Let’s move to the Western Conference.
Western Conference First Round:
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies — Los Angeles wins 4-0
- The Grizzlies were a fun story this year. Led by electric rookie Ja Morant and first-year head coach Taylor Jenkins, Memphis made huge strides. They’re just not ready to compete with West’s best. LeBron makes it look easy sweeping Memphis in four games.
(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder — Utah wins series 4-2
- This would be a fun series pitting two organizations against each other who absolutely don’t get along. In the end, I think Utah’s length and defensive chops will be enough to propel them into the second round, but any team with Chris Paul on it has the ability to win when the lights are brightest. I just think Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert and Mike Conley are little tougher for the Thunder to counter.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Houston Rockets — Houston wins series 4-3
- Under head coach Mike D’Antoni the Rockets were known for playing small ball. Now, they’re playing micro ball. After trading star center Clint Capela to the Hawks, the Rockets committed to playing 6’6′ forward P.J. Tucker at the pivot. Their up-tempo run and gun style works against a poor defensive team like Denver, as Houston shoots just well enough from the three-point line to dispatch the Nuggets.
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks — Los Angeles wins 4-1
- Kawhi Leonard and Paul George were mothballed all season for this moment, as they collectively torch the Mavericks who struggle to defend the two All-Pro’s. Luka Doncic, who will finish runner-up in this year’s MVP voting, gets humbled by the two-way maestro Leonard. Both Los Angeles teams move on.
Western Conference Semifinals:
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Utah Jazz — Los Angeles wins series 4-1
- Anthony Davis vs. Rudy Gobert is worth the price of admission, however the Jazz have nowhere near the fire power needed to knock off the Showtime Lakers Version 2.0. LeBron James is playing like a man possessed as he ethers the Jazz. Los Angeles is moving back to the Conference Finals.
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Houston Rockets — Los Angeles wins series 4-0
- Micro ball doesn’t work against the defensive stalwarts of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as a much anticipated series ends as a landslide. Russell Westbrook doesn’t perform as Clipper guard Patrick Beverly clamps down on the former MVP. James Harden is then forced to do it all — he can’t. The Battle of Los Angles is set up in a firecracker of a Western Conference Finals.
Western Conference Finals:
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Los Angeles Clippers — Los Angeles Lakers win series 4-3
- What an outstanding series that lives up to the hype and then some. The Clippers and Lakers are easily the two best teams in the West and they show why here. This series plays out like two heavyweight prize fighters duking it out round after round. In this scenario, LeBron channels his inner greatness and puts up a monster 43 point, 14 assist, 12 rebound triple-double in a Game 7 win, lifting the Lakers back to the NBA Finals — his first with the purple and gold.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Lakers — Milwaukee wins series 4-2
- The two best teams in the NBA. The two best players in the NBA. It couldn’t get any better. Giannis Antetokounmpo ends all doubt about winning the big one as the Bucks, for the first time since 1971, bring the NBA title back to Milwaukee. Now a two-time MVP, NBA Champion, and Finals MVP, the Greek Freak is on a path to be considered one of the best to ever do it. LeBron’s all-time finals record drops to 3-7. The Lakers give Milwaukee one heck of a series as every game is close but the Bucks close it out on the road at Staples Center.