The 2019-20 NBA season is suspended with no re-start in the horizon. But, if it starts with the Playoffs, here are our Easter Conference predictions.
No one can truly predict when the NBA season will resume or even if it will be canceled. For the purpose of this article let’s just say that tomorrow Adam Silver made a major announcement stating that the NBA season will resume in Las Vegas and start directly with the playoffs. Who would win it all? Will home court even be an advantage? Keep in mind that players such as Kevin Durant, Jonathan Isaac, and Kyrie Irving would still be out and all the players with minor injuries would more than likely be healed by now.
Season Series: Bucks won 3-0
Analysis: The Bucks were one of the the most dominant teams in NBA history before the NBA suspended play. They were beating their opponents by an average of 11.3 points per game which is 1st in the NBA by almost 4 points per game. In fact, their average margin of victory would have been the 4th best all time. The Magic on the other hand were a really good defensive team (10th in defensive rating), but never truly had that one player who could take over games. Nikola Vucevic was their leading scorer with 19.5 PPG and Evan Fournier was a close second with 18.8 PPG. However, they were 27th in the NBA in points per game and 24th in offensive rating. This should be a rather quick series for the Bucks. They beat the Magic by an average of 12 points during the regular season. No one on the Magic can stop the reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks’ defense will make the Magic’s terrible offense look even worse.
Prediction: Bucks in 4
Season Series: Heat won 2-0
Analysis: The Heat have been a pleasant surprise this year led by Jimmy Butler and first time All-Star Bam Adebayo. Miami is a very deep team with 7 players averaging double digits in scoring and great defenders coming off the bench in Jae Crowder and Andre Iguodala. If breakout rookie Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Herro struggle, they can be replaced by Goran Dragic and Jae Crowder and not miss a beat. The Heat have the third best home record in the Eastern conference, but are just 14-19 on the road. They have key wins over the Bucks, Raptors, and 76ers. For the last few years, the Pacers have been the definition of a good, but not great team. Their star, Victor Oladipo, missed more than half of the season with a ruptured quad tendon. He returned on January 29th and since his return he has not been the same player, putting up 13.8 PPG and shooting 39.1% from the field. This is expected from a player who has missed about a year of action. Outside of Oladipo, they have first time all star Domantas Sabonis, borderline All-Star Malcolm Brogdon, and their best offensive player in T.J. Warren. Myles Turner failed to make the leap that so many have expected and their bench would have looked a lot better if Jeremy Lamb did not tear his ACL back in February. They are only 11-15 against teams above .500 compared to the Heat’s 14-10 record. Victor Oladipo could get hot one game and lead the Pacers to a win, but Miami’s defense, veteran leadership, and depth should get the Heat to the second round for the first time since 2016.
Prediction: Heat in 5
Season Series: Raptors won 3-1
Analysis: When Kawhi Leonard left the Raptors in free agency, many experts expected the Raptors to miss the playoffs and even trade some key assets such as Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka so they could rebuild. The Raptors decided to do the exact opposite and before the league suspended play, they were one of the hottest teams in the NBA and second in the Eastern conference at 46-18 even though they were plagued with injuries. Pascal Siakam took a star leap and was voted to be an All-Star starter for the first time in his career. Fellow teammate Kyle Lowry got an All-Star nod for the 6th straight season and Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet both set career highs in scoring and scored a combined 34 PPG. Undrafted free agents Chris Boucher and Terence Davis have been pleasant surprises and even carved out roles in the rotation. The Nets are a completely different story. If Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were healthy, the Nets would probably have the advantage, but they are not and this Nets team is not that good without them. They are lead by Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris Levert who put up a combined 38.3 PPG, but after them there are some decent players (Joe Harris and Jarret Allen) and a bunch of role players. Brooklyn is 9-19 against teams above .500 and their head coach decided to leave more than halfway through the season. If home court was an advantage, Brooklyn could have stolen one game from the Raptors, but the Raptors are just better than the Nets on almost every aspect on the court. This should be a relatively short and easy series for the Raptors.
Prediction: Raptors in 4
Season Series: 76ers won 3-1
Analysis: Entering the 2019-20 season, some believed the 76ers could win the East and even the NBA Finals. If the regular season was any indication, the 76ers could fall very short of that goal. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were All-Stars for the second straight season even though there has been some concerns about their on court fit. Al Horford, who the team signed to a 4 year $109 million dollar deal, has not been as good as they thought; even getting sent to the bench for a couple of games. Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, Shake Milton, and Furkan Korkmaz were all having a pretty solid season. Alec Burks was a nice addition at the trade deadline, but after him the bench is bad and lacks shooters. While the 76ers were 10-24 on the road, which is worse than the Knicks, Timberwolves, Hornets, and Suns, they were 29-2 at home which is the best in the NBA. The Celtics were 20-12 on the road and 23-9 at home. Kemba Walker has been a great replacement for Kyrie Irving both on and off the court. Jayson Tatum took a star turn and even won player of the month in February. Jaylen Brown is putting up 20+ PPG, Gordon Hayward is shooting the ball better than he ever has, and Marcus Smart has been a great sixth man/ spot starter for them all year. The Daniel Theis/ Enes Kanter/ Robert Williams front court was a risk that paid off. The bench is not a strong spot, but most of their bench is usually a hit or miss every night. Ben Simmons had a semi serious back problem before the league suspended play and Embiid always has injury concerns, so if one of them goes down, it will be a pretty quick series. But if everyone is healthy, there will probably be a lot of close games and this series could turn into a classic. In the end, it is a flip of a coin, but since the 76ers were atrocious on the road and won’t have their home crowd, the Celtics get the slight edge.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
Prediction: Bucks in 6
Prediction: Celtics in 6
Eastern Conference Finals
Prediction: Bucks in 5
Western Conference predictions coming next week.