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With the 2020-21 season well underway, it’s time to make some updated NBA playoff predictions.
Check out our NBA playoff predictions.
1) Milwaukee Bucks;
2) Brooklyn Nets;
3) Philadelphia 76ers;
4) Boston Celtics;
5) Indiana Pacers;
6) Toronto Raptors;
7) Miami Heat;
8) Charlotte Hornets
The trade for Jrue Holiday was a big move for Milwaukee, both for its NBA title hopes and to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo with the Bucks also after this season. The Bucks accomplished the latter objective when Giannis signed on for a contract extension. If this year doesn’t result in at least an NBA Finals, Milwaukee is no longer in danger of losing its back-to-back league MVP.
But that pales in comparison to the move the Brooklyn Nets made in trading for James Harden!
Even with Kyrie Irving potentially creating long-term chemistry problems, Harden looks fantastic in his limited action with Irving, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Nets. Much more of a distributor than a selfish, isolation-based playmaker, The Beard is playing at an elite level and looks much better conditioned than he did at the start of the season with Rockets, embracing his role as a phenomenal scorer, which has led to more efficient scoring.
The question is: Will all the chaos Irving creates end up unraveling Brooklyn before the squad self-actualizes under first-year coach Steve Nash? So far, there’s plenty of reason to believe the Nets can hold steady at second in the East by season’s end — or even win it outright. They’re in real contention with Philadelphia and Milwaukee to earn the No. 1 seed, and are on the edge of making NBA history with their Big Three.
Antetokounmpo is really going to need at least one championship title to cement his legacy, and accomplishing that feat in Milwaukee will hold more value than doing so elsewhere, similar to how LeBron James won with Cleveland. However, he’ll now have to go through a potential Super Team from Brooklyn before even reaching the NBA Finals.
Miami actually made it to the Finals and won two games against the Lakers despite a couple key injuries in Orlando bubble. With much of the team returning to run it back, why doubt the Heat’s ability to build off their playoff run? Well, the short turnaround between NBA seasons actually caused coach Erik Spoelstra’s resilient squad to stumble out of the gates, yet Miami can’t be discounted too soon, especially once the COVID-19 protocols that have hampered its early schedule subside.
One dark horse to keep an eye on are the Indiana Pacers. They lost All-Star guard Victor Oladipo in the Harden blockbuster deal, but won’t have Caris LeVert for a while and are already without T.J. Warren. If Indiana makes it through all and still is in the postseason, don’t be surprised if the team is a legitimate factor in the East.
Most of the other East squads from the 2020 NBA playoffs return, with the one new addition being the Hornets. We initially had Bradley Beal and the Russell Westbrook guiding Washington to the eighth seed. They’ve started slow and need some luck to get into the play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth seed.
Atlanta and Trae Young was next choice to take the eighth seed, but as well as Charlotte is playing, it’s hard to deny the Hornets look like the most capable of separating themselves from the pack of postseason hopefuls.
Rookie LaMelo Ball has exceeded expectations and the free-agent signing of Gordon Hayward is paying massive dividends for Charlotte. This squad is potentially one more piece away from becoming much more of a factor in the East than would’ve been imaginable prior to this season. Whether they land an upgrade at the trade deadline or before next season will depend on how their home stretch sums out.
As for others, look out for the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks as possible candidates who could shake up the East playoff picture, along with the New York Knicks. Chicago, Atlanta and New York are all being coached up hard by Billy Donovan, Lloyd Pierce and Tom Thibodeau respectively. All three teams are playing superior defense.
1) Utah Jazz;
2) Los Angeles Clippers;
3) Los Angeles Lakers;
4) Phoenix Suns;
5) Denver Nuggets;
6) Portland Trail Blazers
7) Golden State Warriors;
8) Dallas Mavericks
Due to the depth in the West, there’s a lot more room for reshuffling in the standings than there seems to be in the East. Although the congested schedule and sstrange start by many teams has opened things up, upon our fourth large-scale update, some of our initial West picks have changed.
Among the notable narratives to arise from this set of predictions for the West’s top eight seeds, the obvious starting point is the Lakers failing to defend their conference title, at least in the regular season. They looked on course to once again ascend to Western royalty thanks to the tandem of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Unfortunately, Davis has been injured for a while now, and the Lakers are slowing down because of it.
What stands out as a disappointing subplot to this 2020-21 NBA season, unfortunately, is how two of the game’s brightest young stars have failed to help their franchises take leaps forward. That’s right: Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who we initially projected to be the West’s No. 3 seed, have had to win six of seven games as of this writing just to get back to .500 at 15-15. Meanwhile, Zion Williamson, reigning most Improved Player Brandon Ingram and a promising young core of players in New Orleans are maddeningly inconsistent under new coach Stan Van Gundy.
Doncic and the Mavs have dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak, but the Pelicans are just downright falling short of expectations. Can either team recover in time to sneak into the playoffs? One has to like Dallas’ chances, because at least its adverse circumstances lead to some rationale for their lackluster play. The Mavs have leaned on Doncic of late, and he’s responded by improving his 3-point shot and elevating the play of his teammates amid a recent hot streak.
Other developments worth mentioning: the Utah Jazz soaring towards first in the West. They’re leading the conference as of this writing, and are playing exceptional team basketball. Utah isn’t going to be a pushover opponent, as it seems Donovan Mitchell and Co. are officially among the West’s elite. Jazz head coach Quin Snyder continues to be one of the most underrated leaders in the NBA.
Chris Paul getting dealt from Oklahoma City to Phoenix helps to push the Suns into the postseason and sends the Thunder to the NBA draft lottery. A healthier Warriors squad, despite the loss of sharpshooter Klay Thompson for a second straight season, returns to the playoffs with a new-look lineup, a resurgent Stephen Curry and a legitimate rookie No. 2 overall pick James Wiseman at center.
Finally, another team that could get hot late is the Portland Trail Blazers. The only thing is, they’ll need to stay afloat long enough to be relevant by then, what with CJ McCollum missing extended time with a foot fracture. Damian Lillard is an incredible leader who seems to will his teammates to be at their best more often than not, so doubt Dame Dolla and Portland at your own risk.
One notable omission from our list this time has been the San Antonio Spurs. They’re hanging tough with smart basketball under legendary coach Gregg Popovich and are committing the fewest turnovers in the NBA as the start of March nears. San Antonio just doesn’t have enough talent to last past the play-in tournament, though.
Postseason matchups and winners
Eastern Conference bracket:
2021 NBA Finals: Lakers defeat Nets, 4-2
This will be a battle but our prediction is Lakers winning is based on a fact that individual players will have more impact on their side than on Nets. It can happen that the Nets trio will need to become much more than their individual skills or the Lakers will cruise to another title.
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