NBA playoffs: Eastern and Western Conference first-round series preview – Yahoo Sports
With the regular season over, it’s time for business in the Orlando bubble.
The Portland Trail Blazers completed the NBA’s playoff bracket with their play-in win against the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks, the LeBron-James led Los Angeles Lakers and Kawhi Leonard’s Los Angeles Clippers are among the teams vying for supremacy at Walt Disney World Resort.
With the postseason scheduled to start on Monday, we use STATS data to preview the first-round series.
Milwaukee Bucks (1) v Orlando Magic (8)
Eyeing their first NBA championship since 1971, the Bucks head into the opening-round series struggling for form.
The Bucks, who went 52-8 from their first 60 games, recorded a 4-9 win-loss ratio from their last 13 fixtures – becoming the first team in NBA history to have more losses in their final 13 regular-season games than they did in the entire season prior to that.
Inside the bubble but in familiar surroundings, the Magic have the chance to snap a playoff drought, despite the odds being stacked against them.
Not since 2010 have the Magic won a playoff series. Orlando swept the Charlotte Bobcats and Atlanta Hawks en route to the Conference finals, before losing to the Boston Celtics. The Magic have since suffered first-round exits at the hands of the Hawks (2011), Indiana Pacers (2012) and Toronto Raptors (2019).
Toronto Raptors (2) v Brooklyn Nets (7)
Defending champions the Raptors have form on their side in pursuit of back-to-back championships.
Toronto went 27-5 over their last 32 games, easily the best record in the NBA during that period – ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (21-10), Los Angeles Clippers (20-10), Bucks (20-11) and Celtics (21-13).
Nets star Spencer Dinwiddie has been one of the most clutch players this season, making an NBA-high seven go-ahead baskets in the final minute of the fourth quarter or overtime.
Dinwiddie’s seven for 13 is better than the Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic (five), Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray of the Nuggets (both four).
Boston Celtics (3) v Philadelphia 76ers (6)
The Celtics renew hostilities with rivals the 76ers, having won the past four series between the two teams – Philadelphia have not claimed a series against Boston in the playoffs since 1982.
Philadelphia’s hopes will rest on Joel Embiid in the absence of injured fellow All-Star Ben Simmons, who is the only player in NBA history to average 8.0-plus rebounds and 8.0-plus assists per game for his career.
The 76ers are 35-22 (.614 per cent) with Simmons in the team, while they are just 7-8 (.467 per cent) without the Australian star on the court. Philadelphia also allow more opposition points per game in his absence – 113.6 compared to 107.2.
Indiana Pacers (4) v Miami Heat (5)
All eyes will be on Indiana’s T.J. Warren, who averaged 31.0 points per game with a .664 effective field-goal percentage this month following the restart.
Since 1985-86, the players with 30.0-plus points and a .650-plus effective field-goal percentage in a month (minimum five game played) are Charles Barkley (1990), Stephen Curry (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Antetokounmpo (2017 and 2019) and Karl Anthony-Towns (2019).
With Heat pair Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, Miami are the first NBA team to have two undrafted players averaging 13.0-plus points per game in the same season – minimum 70 per cent of team games played – since the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956-57 (Joe Graboski and Neil Johnston).
Los Angeles Lakers (1) v Portland Trail Blazers (8)
Making their first postseason appearance since 2013, the Lakers – who have a 74.6 per cent chance of winning this series using Stats Perform’s advanced simulation tool – are one of the favourites to go all the way thanks to James and Anthony Davis.
James and Davis have combined well in LA, where the former has supplied 184 assists for the All-Star recruit this season – the most to one player in 2019-20, ahead of Damian Lillard to Hassan Whiteside (132). Three-time champion and four-time MVP James is also the second-oldest player to average 10 assists or more in a season in NBA history, with Steve Nash averaging 10.0-plus assists in each of his final three campaigns.
This will be the second playoff meeting between James and Carmelo Anthony. James and the Heat eliminated Anthony and the New York Knicks in the first round in 2012. Both averaged 27.8 points in the series. James was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, while Anthony was the third pick. Their matchups date back to high school, when LeBron was at St. Vincent St. Mary’s and Carmelo at Oak Hill Academy.
Portland’s go-to man Lillard leads the NBA in scoring inside the bubble at 37.6 per game, including the play-in clash. The Trail Blazers star is averaging 46.3 points in his past four games following a career-high 61 against the Dallas Mavericks earlier this month. He has contributed to Portland averaging a league-high 126.0 points per game at Walt Disney World Resort, while the Lakers have only managed 106.4 points per game – the second worst behind the Washington Wizards.
How about most points per game by team-mate duos? Lillard and CJ McCollum (52.2) are second to James Harden and Russell Westbrook (61.5) but ahead of third-placed James and Davis (51.4).
Los Angeles Clippers (2) v Dallas Mavericks (7)
Can Leonard claim consecutive NBA titles after leading the Raptors to their first champion last season? Well it all begins against the Mavericks.
Leonard – the 2019 Finals MVP – averaged a career-high 27.1 points per game this season, while he averaged 30.5 during last year’s playoffs. The four-time All-Star has also averaged 31.0 points per game in three games against the Mavericks this term, with the Clippers sweeping the season series.
Led by Luka Doncic, the Mavericks boast the second-highest offensive rating ever – 113.7 – behind last year’s Golden State Warriors (113.9). The Clippers have a 111.1 rating, tied with the Trail Blazers for second this season.
Doncic is averaging 30.0 points, 10.1 assists and 9.7 rebounds in the bubble. The reigning Rookie of the Year also has three triple-doubles, including a 20-rebound triple-double.
Denver Nuggets (3) v Utah Jazz (6)
A Jazz team boasting the likes of Joe Ingles and Mitchell are the best three-point shooting team at 38.0 per cent, though Utah went 2-5 in their last seven regular-season games – allowing 110-plus points per game.
Rudy Gobert is also one shy of 250 career double-doubles as the Jazz look to avenge their season sweep at the hands of the Nuggets, though each game was decided by six or fewer points.
The Nuggets made the Conference semi-finals last season, snapping a five-year playoff drought. Jovic will be key for Denver, having averaged 7.0 assists per game for a second successive season – the most by any center in the NBA.
Houston Rockets (4) v Oklahoma City Thunder (5)
It will be a reunion as Harden, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul face their former teams.
The Rockets have advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs in three straight seasons and their hopes will depend on the team’s starting five – their starters are averaging 89.1 points per game, the most in the league.
Former Thunder star Harden is also coming off his third consecutive season averaging 30 or more points per game (34.3 in 2019-20). He is the franchise’s all-time leader in postseason assists (510) and second in points (2,061) behind Hakeem Olajuwon (3,727).
Westbrook, who arrived from the Thunder in a blockbuster trade at the start of the season, is second all-time for Oklahoma City in playoff points (2,489), behind Kevin Durant’s 2,620, third in rebounds (686), first in assists (778) and first in steals (184).
The Thunder, boasting ex-Rockets guard Paul, have not progressed beyond the first round of the postseason since 2016 after blowing a 3-1 lead against the Warriors in the Conference Finals.