The NBA has finally announced its plan for restarting the 2019-20 season. Starting July 31, the league will bring only the teams currently in playoff positioning or within six games of a playoff spot to Orlando, Florida to resume the season.
After eight regular season games, there will be a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each conference, and then the playoffs.
The playoff seeding could definitely change in the final eight regular season games, but I’ve identified eight potential series based on current seeding that will be most exciting to watch if they happen.
Let’s get on to the list, starting with the eighth best and moving down to the most exciting. I’ve also identified my prediction for which team will win each hypothetical matchup.
8. Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans (Western Conference First Round)
This one isn’t super likely to happen, but it’s definitely not out of the question. The Pelicans would need to perform well in their final eight regular season games and then win the play-in series, likely against the Memphis Grizzlies, by winning two games in a row. All that effort would result in a first-round series against the star-studded Lakers.
Who wouldn’t love to see the Western Conference’s star-studded No. 1 seed face off against rookie sensation Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans? New Orleans might be the most fun team in the NBA to watch right now. The Pels play a fast-paced game with lots of great passing and tons of highlight-reel dunks.
Ultimately, the Lakers are much more experienced and have better shooters and defensive players, but this matchup would still be a blast to watch.
- Hypothetical prediction: Lakers win in 5 games.
7. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks (Western Conference First Round)
Which NBA player has provided the most offensive value to his team this season? According to the advanced statistic Player Impact Plus-Minus, it’s the Mavericks’ super sophomore Luka Doncic. Doncic is averaging 28.7 points and 8.7 assists per game with a 58.4 true-shooting percentage for the team with the most efficient offense in the NBA.
In this series, the Mavs’ young point forward would have the tall task of taking on two All-Defensive Team wing stoppers: Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Is Doncic crafty enough to maintain his superstar play with those two players taking turns guarding him?
I think the Clippers would end up winning this series somewhat easily, but the games would be close. Of Dallas’ 27 losses this season, a whopping 16 of them came by five points or fewer. The Clippers’ one major weakness is that they don’t have a reliable two-way center, and the Mavericks have a 7’3” unicorn at that position in Kristaps Porzingis, so that could also complicate matters for Los Angeles.
- Hypothetical prediction: Clippers win in 5 games.
6. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets (Western Conference Semifinals)
I’ve said previously in this space that the Rockets are my dark horse championship pick, and I stand by that. Their record of 40-24 is only tied for ninth-best in the NBA, but they have two dynamic superstars (James Harden and Russell Westbrook) and several defensive-minded role players who know their limitations. Harden and Westbrook aren’t the most natural offensive fit, but I think time off will allow them to consider how they can best play to their strengths.
Houston plays an unconventional small-ball style but the Clippers don’t have an elite big man who can fully take advantage of the Rockets’ lack of size inside. As such, I think the Rockets will be able to play their preferred shorter rotation without worrying too much about wear and tear, due to the long layoff from coronavirus.
I still think the Clippers are clearly the better team and will win this series, but the Rockets are a difficult matchup for them if their three-point shots are falling.
- Hypothetical prediction: Clippers win in 6 games.
5. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors (Eastern Conference Finals)
There has been some turnover with the Bucks’ and Raptors’ rosters since the two squads met in the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. Milwaukee lost Malcolm Brogdon and Toronto lost Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, but both squads have hardly missed a beat.
This time around, I think the Bucks will get the better of the Raptors. Leonard and Green were both key to the defensive effort in limiting the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Leonard’s scoring was so important when the Raptors’ offensive flow slowed down.
Toronto is the deeper team between these two squads, but winning in the later rounds of the playoffs has a lot to do with putting together two or three elite five-man lineups. I think the Bucks have more potential to do that, especially since Giannis is a considerably more impactful superstar than any player on the Raptors.
- Hypothetical prediction: Bucks win in 6 games.
4. Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers (Eastern Conference First Round)
This is a rivalry with plenty of history behind it. The Celtics and 76ers have faced each other 34 times in the NBA playoffs, more than any other pair of franchises in the NBA. Individual matchups such as Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s and Larry Bird vs. Julius Erving in the 1980s have provided tremendous entertainment value to fans.
The teams have played each other just once in the playoffs since 2012. It was the 2018 Eastern Conference Semifinals, where the Celtics upset the 76ers with a five-game series win. It seems that the players on both teams always play with great energy and competitiveness when they meet up.
The Celtics have overachieved this season, while the 76ers have underachieved. Most projections had the Sixers finishing well ahead of the Celtics in this year’s stand, but they are actually 4.5 games behind Boston right now.
In a playoff series, I believe these teams are very evenly matched despite playing different styles. The 76ers will try to win by dominating the boards and scoring, while the Celtics will aim to be disruptive defending the perimeter and score more using their quickness and skill on the perimeter. I trust the consistency and chemistry of the Celtics just a bit more.
- Hypothetical prediction: Celtics win in 7 games.
3. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Clippers (NBA Finals)
The main intrigue for me in this hypothetical series is just really good basketball. I see these two teams as the best squads in their respective conferences. Their best players are both super talented wing duos — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton for the Bucks and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers.
Last season, Kawhi and the Toronto Raptors defeated Giannis and the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals with an excellent defensive strategy (and exceptional defensive players) that blocked him off from getting to the basket. This season, I think both superstars’ teams are even better and more prepared than they were last season, which should make this a fun matchup.
With the games being played at a neutral site, the lack of home-court advantage will hurt the Bucks’ chances. Also, I think the Clippers having several offensive contributors with differing playing styles will ultimately be the Bucks’ undoing.
- Hypothetical prediction: Clippers in 6 games.
2. Milwaukee Bucks vs. Los Angeles Lakers (NBA Finals)
Is the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo the next LeBron James? The two superstars entered the NBA 10 years apart as 18-year-old physical marvels before honing their skills to win their first MVP awards at 24 years old. It looks like Giannis will repeat as MVP in 2020, just as LeBron did in 2010.
Of course, another parallel between their early careers is playoff disappointment. James ended up finally breaking through for three NBA championships in 2012, 2013 and 2016 while Antetokounmpo has yet to advance past the Eastern Conference Finals.
In this hypothetical series, I expect all eyes to focus on the superstar battle between LeBron and Giannis. However, I do think the Lakers’ Anthony Davis will be the deciding factor on LeBron’s side. He is an amazing option to have as your second-best player, and I think the Bucks will have trouble stopping him.
- Hypothetical prediction: Lakers in 7 games.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. Los Angeles Clippers (Western Conference Finals)
The Lakers and Clippers franchises have both been around for a long time. They first played each other in 1970, when the Clippers were still called the Buffalo Braves. They have played 223 regular season games against each other but have never faced each other in the postseason despite playing home games in the same arena. The Lakers have won 16 championships in their history and the Clippers have won zero titles.
Wouldn’t this year be a perfect setting for the first Lakers-Clippers series? They are clearly the best two teams in the Western Conference. They also have the two best superstar duos in the NBA: LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George for the Clippers.
A high-stakes series with James and Leonard, arguably the NBA’s two best players, going at it should be awesome. The fact that the Clippers have always been the Lakers’ “little brother” franchise adds some extra drama.
While the Lakers have a definite size advantage, I think the Clippers have much better depth on offense to support Leonard and George if one or both of them goes cold.
- Hypothetical prediction: Clippers in 7 games.