With the seedings confirmed and the match-ups set, the NBA play-offs is ready to begin. The showpiece tournament sees 16 teams battle it out to win the Bill Russell Trophy and be crowned the 2020 NBA Champions.
The 16 teams are made up from eight teams from each conference who will compete in a knockout tournament consisting of best-of-seven head to head series’, which means a team would have to win four games in order to progress to the next round.
The Western Conference bracket of play-offs are seen as the more exciting than the East, boasting eight highly, skilled and competitive teams, each with many of the league’s star players. Here we will take a look at the match-ups ahead of the first round:
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Portland Trail Blazers
The top seed in the West and favourites to win the NBA Championship, LA Lakers, kick off their play-off campaign against play-in tournament winners and eighth seed Portland Trail Blazers.
While the Lakers didn’t make the play-offs last year, the Trail Blazers reached the Western Conference finals where they were swept 4-0 by the Golden State Warriors.
The destructive duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis along with a team brimming with championship winning experience are hoping to bring the Lakers their first Championship in 10 years.
However Portland boast one of the most dangerous backcourt pairings in the league in Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Towards the close of the regular season everyone has seen the form Lillard is in, he has shown he is capable of taking over games on his own and can shoot buckets from almost anywhere.
While the Lakers still remain overwhelming favourites in this series, I expect to see many close games that could go either way. Portland will push the Lakers in each and every game but I can’t see LA losing here.
Prediction: LA Lakers win the series in 6 games
(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
The LA Clippers, team seen by many as the only ones that could topple the LA Lakers, face off against a plucky Dallas Mavericks side that are more than equipped to pull off an upset.
The Clippers troubled the Golden State Warriors in their first round match-up last year, however they did still lose that series 4-2.
This time around they’ve added six-time NBA All-Star and last years NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to an already impressive squad that includes the ever reliable three-time 6th Man of the Year, Lou Williams, who will certainly provide a spark off the bench.
The Mavericks are hoping their underdog story is similar to the one of 2011, where against all odds they won their first ever Championship. Their pair of European stars Kristaps Porzingis and last years Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic are seen as big players in the league despite their young age.
The Clippers would have to remain focused and not let their standards drop or they could be subject to an upset here against Dallas. If they do so, they will win this series. Expect some highly competitive, close games.
Prediction: Clippers in 6
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Utah Jazz
The third match-up sees the Denver Nuggets square off against the Utah Jazz.
The Nuggets are hoping to go one step further than last years Western Conference Semis where they lost the decisive game seven to the Portland Trail Blazers in a thrilling series, whereas Utah were defeated 4-1 by the Houston Rockets in the first round.
The contrast in squad is a factor that looks like it will ultimately decide this series; Denver’s squad down to their bench run deep, and have players returning from injury. Utah on the other hand will be missing key players for some, if not all, of the first round.
The key to this series lies in the hands of Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, the 7ft triple double machine regularly gets the better of his direct opponent Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Aside from him Denver can also rely on Jamal Murray and rising young star Michael Porter Jr who ended the regular season brightly.
The Jazz do have Donovan Mitchell who has shown to thrive in big games, and Jordan Clarkson who will definitely get them points off the bench. But the absence of Bogdan Bogdanovic and his average of 20 points-per-game may be too much of a miss for them to cope without.
Prediction: Nuggets in 5
(4) Houston Rockets vs (5) Oklahoma City Thunder
The final match-up in the Western Conference first round sees the Houston Rockets take on the Oklahoma City Thunder in a too hard to call clash that could go either way.
The two teams finished with identical regular season records; Houston edged the fourth seed due to the fact that they had won their division, despite having a worse head-to-head record against their opponents.
OKC have made the play-offs in 9 of the last 10 years, however, they haven’t progressed from the first round since 2016. After losing stars Paul George and Russell Westbrook (who was traded to the Rockets) in the aftermath of their 4-2 series defeat to Portland last year, they weren’t given a hope by anyone to reach the playoffs.
As a result of those trades they received veteran Chris Paul (Westbrook trade), sharpshooter Danilo Gallinari and young star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who have all delivered big time. That, accompanied by the return of lockdown defender Andre Roberson after being out for two years through injury, the Thunder believe that they are finally back to full strength.
Houston’s play-off run last year ended at the hands of the Golden State Warriors, they played out 6 tightly contested games but lost the series 4-2.
This time around they feel with their old enemy absent this post-season, if they can progress from this first round clash that they can finally claim the Western Conference crown and make the NBA Finals.
The Rockets boast the leagues leading scorer, James Harden, who always puts on a show. Russell Westbrook is confirmed to miss the first game of this series, so Harden’s average of 34 points-per-game will be extremely vital in an opening game that will shape the rest of the series.
Houston have reliable shooters in multiple positions, while OKC play intense basketball and have nothing to lose. This could easily be the most entertaining clash of the first round due to it’s unpredictability and how hard it is to call. Don’t be surprised if it goes the distance.
Prediction: I honestly can’t call it, but I’ll go for Rockets in 6.
A full schedule of the NBA play-offs; including dates, times and broadcasting can be found here.