With the regular season done and dusted, the real battle for the NBA title this season commences as the first round of the playoffs gets underway a few days from now. Only one playoff seed is still up for grabs in both the Eastern and Western Conferences.
Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies will face each other in two games this weekend to determine who takes the final seed in the Western Conference and take on the mighty Los Angeles Lakers.
We preview some of the games set to take place in the playoff first round.
Denver Nuggets VS. Utah Jazz
It is a battle between the third and sixth-best teams in the Western Conference as Denver Nuggets take on Utah in the first game of a 7-game series.
Denver Nuggets booked their place in the playoffs before the suspension of league some months ago following after impressive performances for most parts of the season. However, it has been in an indifferent Nuggets team since the restart of the league. Since the restart, Denver Nuggets have won only and lost 5 of their last eight games. A 117-109 loss to Toronto Raptors in their final game of the regular season stretched their losing streak to three consecutive games. They will have to improve to gather momentum in the series with a win.
Just like their opponent, Utah Jazz also made the playoffs early in the season. They have also struggled since the restart, recording only two wins from their last eight games in the regular season. Despite their recent struggles, the teams signed off their regular season with a morale-boosting 118-112 victory over San Antonio Spurs and will come into this game with momentum on their side.
Prediction: Denver Nuggets VS. Utah Jazz- 114-112 OT
Toronto Raptors VS. Brooklyn Nets
Reigning Champions Toronto Raptors will take on Brooklyn Nets in the East first round of the playoffs.
The Raptors have been excellent once again this season and were one of the most in-form teams after the restart. The Raptors won 7 of their last eight regular-season games with their only defeat coming against Boston Celtics (122-100). They also won their previous four games. The Raptors also have a good record against Nets this season, winning three and losing only one of their last four games. As such, Toronto Raptors are favorites to win this game and the entire 7-game series against the Nets.
Despite experiencing a lot of problems throughout the season, Brooklyn Nets managed to grab a playoff spot after the restart. They have also been impressive since the restart, picking five wins from their last eight games without most of their top players who couldn’t make it to Orlando due to injury or personal issues.
However, they will need to keep focus and keep a dominant Raptors team at bay in this game to stand a chance of even winning the entire series.
Prediction: Toronto Raptors VS. Brooklyn Nets- 124-96
Boston Celtics VS. Philadelphia 76ers
Boston Celtics have been decent after the restart, winning five and losing 3 of their last eight games in the regular season. However, they will be wary of the threats Philadelphia 76ers possesses. The Celtics have lost three of the four games against them this season. Without most of their key players expected to return to the team after missing their last game against the Wizards, the Celtics could run away with a comfortable win.
Philadelphia 76ers finished the regular season as the 6th best team in the Eastern Conference. Their form since the restart in Orlando hasn’t been encouraging as they won 4 and lost 4 of their last eight games. However, the emphatic 134-96 win over Houston Rockets in their previous match ended a 3-game losing streak and gave them a much-needed confidence booster ahead of this thrilling encounter.
Prediction: Boston Celtics VS. Philadelphia 76ers- 112-110
Los Angeles Clippers VS. Dallas Mavericks
It is Kawhi Leonard versus Luka Doncic as second seed Los Angeles Clippers take on seventh seed Dallas Mavericks in the West.
The Clippers finished the regular season on a positive note with five wins and three defeats from their last eight games. They also come into this game on the back of a 107-103 OT win over Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers were also excellent against the Mavericks in the regular season, winning all encounters between them, including a recent 126-111 win. With Kawhi and George all in good form, the Clippers could brush aside their opponents easily and advance to the next round.
Dallas Mavericks have been weak since the restart despite having a promising campaign before the suspension of the league. In the last eight games, they only managed to pick up three wins. The only positive about their current form was their recent 136-132 OT win over the Bucks. Key player Doncic and his teammates will have to improve to stand a chance of toppling a strong and hungry Clippers team.
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers VS. Dallas Mavericks- 130-122
Milwaukee Bucks VS. Orlando Magic
The Bucks will have star man Giannis back in the team after missing the recent 119-106 loss to Memphis Grizzlies due to suspension. Despite being the best in the East, the Bucks have been terrible since the restart, losing five and winning just 3 of their last eight games. However, they will be confident heading into this game after beating the Magic in all four games between them in the regular season.
Orlando Magic have also been terrible since the restart, winning just three and losing five of their last eight regular-season games. Their inconsistencies could derail their chances against the Bucks unless they show signs of improvement in the first game.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks VS. Orlando Magic- 120-98