This year's edition of the NBA Playoffs will be the most unique ever. While the format remains the same, the concept of homecourt advantage has been rendered obsolete, something that comes in handy particularly during the postseason.
The change in scenery has impacted players profoundly with some of the stars still adjusting to the bubble. This can affect a team's rhythm as a whole both positively or negatively on a case by case basis. And there are the injuries as well.
So the stage has been set for a few surprises in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Upsets are certainly on the cards while some jinxes could be finally broken. On that note, here are five bold predictions for the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
#5 No Luka Magic on display?
Luka Doncic has continued to raise the standards for young players in the NBA. He was two assists shy of averaging a 30-point triple-double in Orlando and was deservingly selected for the All-Bubble First Team.
At the same time, he'll be up against the LA Clippers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, a franchise against whom the Dallas Mavericks have floundered all season. The Mavs have lost all three of their regular-season games against Doc Rivers' side and although Doncic had 29 points in their most recent match-up, he recorded a sorry -21 plus-minus rating for the night.
Additionally, the Clippers are expected to ramp up their efforts during the NBA Playoffs. They know that Doncic runs the show so he will be the primary target. He will also be coming up against the three-headed defensive monster in Patrick Beverley, Paul George, and Kawhi Leonard. The last time Doncic faced these three together in a game, he had 22 points on 4-of-14 shooting.
No, I don't think the Slovenian will have miserable numbers during this series. However, they are unlikely to be anywhere close to his usual 30-10-10 outputs.
#4 Philadelphia 76ers get swept in the first round of the NBA Playoffs
After a not so impressive run in the seeding games, particularly due to injury troubles, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves staring down the barrel. They'll be up against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Playoffs and all signs hint towards a win for the Cs. However, the Sixers could be in for some misery.
Firstly, they are just much worse defensively without Ben Simmons on the court, something that Boston will make good use of. While Joel Embiid will enjoy a favorable match-up inside the paint, Brad Stevens' side holds the advantage everywhere else on the court.
The wing depth that the Celtics have is simply unparalleled. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward are all stars in their own right. They've also allowed their opponents to score at only 32.6% accuracy from beyond the arc in Orlando. All things considered, this could get ugly for Philly who are primed for a short run in the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
#3 Portland Trail Blazers stretch the LA Lakers to seven games
The Portland Trail Blazers have played impressive basketball in Orlando. They're still not close to being good while protecting their basket but the things they can do offensively deserves to be marveled at.
The bubble MVP Damian 'Logo' Lillard has averaged 37 points per game and peaked particularly during the last three seeding games, where he managed 154 points altogether. The LA Lakers' inability to defend treys during the seeding games makes the issue even worse.
The Portland Trail Blazers simply seem to be in the zone while the Purple and Gold do not, so expect the former to take this NBA Playoffs series to the decider. At the same time, the Lakers still have the greatest player in the NBA right now in LeBron James at their disposal. So anything could happen when push comes to shove.
#2 T.J. Warren finally breaks his Jimmy Butler jinx
T.J. Warren simply hasn't managed to do well with Jimmy Butler guarding him. The highest that he's managed against the Miami Heat this season is 16 points, which is simply not good enough for the NBA Playoffs. However, Warren could put all of that behind him and finally torch Erik Spoelstra's side.
This prediction has more to do with the prowess of Nate McMillan as a coach. He has to come up with ways to free up Warren considering that he's been the Pacers' go-to scorer in the bubble. The forward getting clamped up regularly could be catastrophic for Indiana, especially with Domantas Sabonis still injured.
Be it constant defensive switches or a high pick-and-roll, expect coach McMillan to give Warren as much help as possible to provide him the room to get his offense going in the NBA Playoffs.
#1 OKC Thunder eliminate the Houston Rockets from the 2020 NBA Playoffs
The most interesting match-up in the first round of the NBA Playoffs sees both Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook squaring it out against their former teams, albeit Westbrook is set to miss a few games. The OKC Thunder simply weren't supposed to be here but the fact that they are is no fluke. They hold the head-to-head advantage against the Houston Rockets as well.
While the Thunder need to find a way to prevent James Harden from getting to the free-throw line too often, they've shut him down from the field. In the three regular-season games this season against OKC, The Beard has managed to score only at a 32.8% clip while making only 15% of his three-point attempts.
Most importantly, the Thunder are clutch. And they showed in the 22-point comeback win against the Miami Heat that their second unit can come up big too when needed. So don't be surprised if they oust Mike D'Antoni's men in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.