Never has there been a better time for the NBA champs to proclaim that they are "going to Disney World," for that is the only place they can go anyway.
Yes! Finally the NBA is returning on July 31st with 22 teams, 13 from the West and 9 from the East - 16 teams currently in playoff position with 6 more contenders battling to get seeded. There will be 8 games played to determine seedings, then the standard best-of-7 playoff format; all of which will be played at the Walt Disney World Resort. While it has been fun to watch re-runs of classic and “instant classic” NBA games, it will be very refreshing to see new games.
Here at the Peanut Gallery, we’d like to take a stab at some predictions for this year's NBA playoffs, sponsored by Disney. We are picking our top 4 contenders from the East and the West.
When the NBA returns, it will have been over four months since the last game, which means players are likely not in tip-top game shape. Anyone who has played sports or watched sports long enough knows this is crucial to winning games. Because of this, our analyses and predictions will rely heavily on teams with the best chemistry, most raw talent, athleticism, and size.
It’s also important to note that playoffs will remain in conferences and not 1-16 seeding. Finally, there is no homecourt advantage or fans, which play a part in a team's success, even if your father disagrees.
Let’s start with the Eastern Conference, which is coming at you with 9 teams.
1. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee has been the best team in the East (and possibly the NBA) all year. Led by the reigning 2019 MVP and very likely 2020 MVP and DPOY, Giannis Antetokounmpo, these boys were rolling up until the break.
The Bucks have the most efficient defense in the league, while they beat opponents by an average of 11.3 PPG, 5th best all-time. Pair that defense with the best offense, as they average 118.6 PPG, even more than the offensively-minded Houston Rockets, and you’re looking at a very dangerous team. They have a number of guys who can penetrate as well as bigs who can step out and hit 3s, and we also cannot forget about sharpshooters Kyle Korver and Pat Connaughton.
With a mix of height, athleticism, a high-powered offense, the Greek Freak, and tough defense, the Bucks get the nod for winning the East as well as the NBA Finals. Can anyone stop Giannis?
2. Boston Celtics
Boston is currently in 3rd place but has an easy remaining 8 games, whereas the Toronto Raptors have a tough remaining schedule. The Celtics will likely move into second place and have an easy first round due to the large dropoff in quality rosters at the 7th and 8th seed.
Boston is loaded with young talent, plus athletes galore, and their small ball causes problems for opposing defenses. They have arguably the best coach in the league, who will make sure his team is sticking to his gameplan. Kemba will also be healthy after dealing with some injuries over the course of the regular season; we all know Kemba can kill any defense.
Still, as talented as they may be, they will have a tough time stopping Giannis in a 7-game series - even if they do, Giannis is surrounded with solid role players and ‘Celtic Killer’ Khris Middleton.
3. Toronto Raptors
It’s strange to say the defending NBA champion Raptors have been a surprise this season. They’ve played well all year despite losing Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers and Danny Green to the Lakers. Kyle Lowry has done a great job of leading his team, along with 2019 Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam.
As stated above, the Raptors are in a tricky position since the 2-seed is so important this year - they need to finish in 2nd to skip a potential early exit. The Raptors boast the best Opponent PPG in the League, while maintaining a strong offense with 113 PPG. Toronto has a unique mix of youth (VanVleet, Siakam) and experience (Lowry, Ibaka, Gasol) to help their excellent chemistry return to normal once the season resumes.
This team definitely thrives off of their homecourt advantage and energetic fans, which will sadly be missing this year - this does not bode well for a team that does not perform positively against teams above .500, with an 11-14 record.
4. Indiana Pacers
The sleeper in the East is Phi- No, no, no, not Philadelphia! Yes, they’re a huge team with a lot of explosiveness, but they aren’t playing at Wells Fargo, where they’re 29-2. They’re playing on the road, where they’re 10-24...basically the New York Knicks.
The sleeper in the East is Indiana. The Pacers had been figuring it out prior to the suspension and had also gotten their stud Victor Oladipo back. The Pacers have a lot of size and athleticism with great rim protectors in Sabonis and Myles Turner. Victor Oladipo was a top scorer in the League before his quad injury in January 2019.
Combine Oladipo with a now 100% healthy Malcom Brogdon and you’re looking at a legit sleeper. Remember, this is the team who gave the Boston Celtics a tough time in the playoffs last year.
Now onto the West, which has a larger pool of teams than the East - might be due to the West being stronger, but let’s not go there.
1. LA Lakers
The LA Lakers had a lot of momentum going into the hiatus with quality wins against the big, bad Bucks and their hallway rivals the Clippers. The Lakers are stacked with two of the most impactful players in the League in LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who can take over a game at any point.
Davis has been dominant in postseason play, it’s a small sample size of 13 playoff games, but Davis has averaged 30.5 ppg, 12.7 rpg, and 2.5 bpg. Wow! The acquisition of Danny Green has helped tremendously to spread the floor, which contributed to LeBron’s league-leading 10.6 dimes per. Green also won a championship last year with the Raptors, aka playoff experience - which leads us to high IQ veteran baller Rajon Rondo.
In the postseason, Rondo’s first name is changed to ‘Playoff,’ even if he denies it. Playoff Rondo puts up absurd numbers, as evidenced by his time in Boston and his time in Chicago...vs. Boston. He’s a savage. His averages go up significantly in every major category. This team can certainly win it all and with LeBron getting up there in age it might be one of his last chances - a lot of it might hang on if Davis can stay healthy, we all know he’s made of glass.
2. LA Clippers
Unsurprisingly, the other Staples Center team is the number 2 horse out of the West. The Clippers have struggled with injuries all season - Paul George didn’t return until around late December and Kawhi has had lingering knee pain. The time off should certainly help these guys heal up; they will be shouldering a lot of the load for the starters.
Nothing needs to be said about Kawhi - he’s a top player in the League and we know what he’s going to bring. One major strength this team has is its deep bench, which leads the League in scoring and could play a huge role in the playoffs, especially if players get nabbed with positive COVID-19 tests. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are two of the top athletes and two-way guys in the league, combined with defensive juggernaut Patrick Beverly, and one of the top coaches in the league in Doc Rivers. It’s very likely we will see that Opponent PPG number drop.
With star power and a strong bench, look for these guys to go to war with the Lakers to come out of the West.
3. Denver Nuggets
It was somewhat difficult to plug Denver in at the 3-spot since they are not a team that relies on raw ability like a lot of other teams here. With high expectations after a terrific 2018-2019 campaign, the Nuggets have been playing good ball all year despite some injuries. Led by 7 foot tall point guard/center Nikola Jokic and his uber chemistry wing Jamal Murray, the Nuggets currently sit at third in the elite West.
Denver has good size throughout their roster with a balanced attack of 6 guys in double digit scoring, but they play average defense. This is a huge concern, especially when Millsap is on the bench - the defense is 8.5 points per 100 possessions worse when he isn’t on the floor. Yikes! Another big concern is the status of Jokic physically, he looked a bit softer this season. He appears to have trimmed down, but we will have to wait and see if this affects his game in any way.
Look out for Michael Porter Jr. to come out hot during these playoffs, he was impressive in limited time during the regular season and will be looking to carry that momentum through the playoffs. He could be an X-factor for Denver. If everything comes together nicely for these boys, you could see a legit run to the Western Conference Finals.
4. Dallas Mavericks
This fourth contender was very challenging to pick. Teams from 4-7 all have 40+ wins. That’s crazy! Each one of these teams is a few stops or a few buckets away from being 3rd. A lot of people might be thinking James Harden and the Rockets are poised for another playoff run, but not here at the Peanut Gallery. The Dallas Mavericks have the makings to do some damage. Led by super-soph Luka Doncic, the young Mavericks will be a regular in future playoffs, but could they make their mark this year?
Yes, there is a great opportunity for the Mavs to slide up a few spots in the seedings, which will make for an easier first round matchup. Kristaps Prozingis started off the season rusty and out of whack with the offense, but as the season has progressed he’s turned into an absolutely deadly force with Doncic - they’ve developed good chemistry and no one is going to want to face that two-headed pick-and-roll monster. Luka made significant improvements in his game from his rookie to sophomore season. The current hold on the league is about as long as a normal off-season, so it is likely that we could see an even better version of Luka. The rate at which he’s been able to elevate his game is frightening.
The team has good role players with Hardaway and shooter Seth Curry. The biggest hit against the Mavs this season has been the injury bug, which will be holding Powell and Brunson out - both key contributors.
No matter what happens, it will be great to see the NBA sponsored by Disney back in action.