It has been a week since the NBA suspended its season due to the coronavirus outbreak (sports betting has also been affected,) and until now, there is no definite timetable when the league will resume action. Over the weekend, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control declared that mass gathering of 50 persons or more will be prohibited in the United States for the next eight weeks. On Tuesday, the league’s governors had a meeting and it was reportedly discussed that the league is looking at resuming play before July 1. That said, there are several rumors on the NBA’s options once it returns to action. One of that is to go directly to the playoffs.
That option is interesting because as of the date of suspension, only four teams have clinched a playoff berth. These are the Milwaukee Bucks who have the best record in the league, the Los Angeles Lakers who are the Western Conference leaders, the 2nd seeded Toronto Raptors of the East, and the 3rd ranked team in the East in the Boston Celtics. That means that the 12 remaining playoff spots in the regular playoff format are still up for grabs. Only the Golden State Warriors, the team with the league’s worst record, have been officially eliminated so far. But given the extraordinary circumstances why the season was suspended and given that the NBA has a year-round schedule that could be affected if they continue with the remaining regular-season games of the 2019-20 season, going directly to the postseason is a very plausible scenario.
Let’s take a look at the playoff picture is the NBA moves right to the postseason when it resumes play:
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs (8) Orlando Magic
The Bucks face the Magic in Round 1. Milwaukee swept their season series 4-0, winning by at least nine points in every game. As of 3/18/20, the Greek Freak is a -400 favorite at BetOnline to win a second straight MVP award. Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez provide Giannis with the needed support. Milwaukee went 1-4 before the season was suspended but Antetokounmpo should be back to 100% when the season resumes. The Magic will win one game at most but for me, this will be a sweep in favor of the Bucks.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs (7) Brooklyn Nets
The Raptors have been one of the biggest surprises this season. The defending champs weren’t supposed to be here after Kawhi left for L.A. However, Toronto is having a terrific season behind Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol. The championship experience has made this team better. Brooklyn parted ways with head coach Kenny Atkinson just before the break and are without Kyrie Irving due to injury. The Nets have a tough unit led by Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert but the Raptors will be tough to beat here.
(3) Boston Celtics vs (6) Philadelphia 76ers
These two rivals seem to end up facing each other in the playoffs. The Celtics are having a bounce-back season after disappointing last year. Kemba Walker was in a slump just before the break but should be ready when the action returns. Jayson Tatum is having a fantastic season, Jaylen Brown is playing very well while Gordon Hayward is slowly getting back to form. The Sixers have struggled with the injuries to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. A long break should get the two back in shape and form. Philly has been one of the best teams on their home floor but they have been terrible on the road. I think this will go to a Game 6 or 7 but Boston will win it because of home-court advantage.
(4) Miami Heat vs (5) Indiana Pacers
The Heat are a surprise at #4. Sure, they added Jimmy Butler but who expected their rookies to shine like they are doing so this season. Kendrick Nunn’s explosive offense has been impressive while Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson have shot the lights out from downtown. Bam Adebayo just earned his first All-Star nod and this team has more depth with Goran Dragic, Andre Iguodala, and Derrick Jones Jr. The Pacers survived with Victor Oladipo sidelined for most of the year. Oladipo is healthy again and is slowly getting his game back. Domantas Sabonis also became a first-time All-Star while Malcolm Brogdon is having a fine season. I think this one’s going to be a long series too but I expect Miami’s veterans to deliver the big baskets in the big games.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies
The Lakers are having their best season in nearly a decade. LeBron James promised to end their playoff drought and he put them through with a big game against the Bucks in L.A.’s third to the last game before the stoppage of action. Anthony Davis has jelled well with LeBron and he is having a fantastic season on both ends of the floor. Kyle Kuzma is having an up and down year but the Lakers have gotten big games from KCP, Avery Bradley, and Rajon Rondo. The Grizzlies were supposed to be in rebuild mode. But rookie Ja Morant has been a beast for Memphis. Morant is currently a -400 favorite to win Rookie of the Year honors over #1 overall pick Zion Williamson who is leading the New Orleans Pelicans to a late-season surge. L.A. simply has too much height and muscle here. I think Memphis wins a game or two, possible Game 3 and/or Grade 5 but the Lakers are just too talented here. I’m picking the Lakers to win.
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
The Clippers were the early season favorites to win the NBA title but have fallen to third place behind Milwaukee and the Lakers in the odds board. Their core of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Lou Williams, and Montrezl Harrell. The Clippers have been a dominant team at Staples Center but they have not been as good away from home. Dallas has a 1-2 punch in Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. They don’t have much depth in the team and that is going to be a problem against a loaded team like the Clippers who added Marcus Morris, Reggie Jackson, and Joakim Noah just before the season was suspended. L.A. was a disappointment during the regular season but the playoffs should be a different story. I like the Clippers here.
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Houston Rockets
Denver survived a series of injuries to key starters but they fell from #2 to #3 in the divisional standings. The Nuggets are healthy again and Nikola Jokic should have his time against a Houston team that has played without a center after the trade deadline. With P.J. Tucker as their top “big man”, Houston is undersized but with Mike D’Antoni calling the shots, expect the Rockets to put up a good fight here behind Harden and Westbrook.
Denver should have their way against the small ball Rockets. I like the Nuggets to pound the inside behind Jokic and Millsap. The Joker should average a near-triple double in this series and Denver should win after a hard-fought six-game series.
(4) Utah Jazz vs (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
Utah was one of my dark horse picks to win this division but after starting this whole coronavirus scare in the NBA, I’m not sure how they will be when the season resumes. Rudy Gobert infected Donovan Mitchell and these two could have chemistry problems moving forward although we’ve heard the news that Spider feels no ill will towards the Stifle Tower. Bojan Bogdanovic will be the difference maker here. If he hits his shots, the Jazz will be tough to beat. The Thunder has been another surprise this season. After trading Westbrook and Paul George, they have gotten younger and talented than last year. Chris Paul leads a team that has Danilo Gallinari, Shai-Gilgeous Alexander, and Dennis Schroder. This one should be a good match-up but I like the Thunder to pull off the upset behind Chris Paul. This could go to a Game 7 or Game 6 at least. I’ll bet on the Thunder here.