With concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continuing to grow, the NBA has decided to suspend the 2019-20 regular season until health officials deem it safe enough to resume play. For now, there is hope that this campaign will pick up at a later date, but that is not a foregone conclusion.
In this piece, we’ll examine the various scenarios that would present themselves if the league jumped straight into the postseason upon a potential return in the summer.
Out of the hunt
If the NBA decides to dive right into the playoffs, teams currently vying for a spot would simply be left out of the hunt. This would leave the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers with No. 1 seeds in their respective conferences. However, teams fighting for an eighth seed before the onset of the coronavirus, such as the Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans, would be left behind.
For the Pelicans (28-36, 10th in the West), in particular, this would be an unfortunate circumstance, as rookie sensation Zion Williamson had his team playing well in recent games. New Orleans also had a soft closing schedule, while Memphis had a very difficult one.
The NBA playoff picture
In the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, the Lakers would be matched up against the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Led by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Los Angeles is enjoying its best season in years. In fact, with a win over Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks earlier this month, the Lake Show clinched their first playoff berth since 2013.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are a team that has played surprisingly well despite being at the start of a rebuild. Thanks in large part to the solid play of rookie Ja Morant, Memphis has recorded a 32-33 overall record this season, which is 3.5 games up on the ninth-seeded Trail Blazers.
A Lakers-Grizzlies first-round series would be intriguing, but Los Angeles would be the heavy favorite.
The Clippers — a team that acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George prior to the start of this season — would be matched up against the Dallas Mavericks in the first round. We’ll take the Clippers in this one, but with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, Dallas is clearly a formidable side thanks to its historically elite offense.
The 3-6 matchup in the West would feature the Denver Nuggets and Houston Rockets, with Nikola Jokic taking on James Harden, Russell Westbrook, and the super-small-ball crew. The Utah Jazz and surprising Oklahoma City Thunder would round out the first-round matchups in the West.
In the Eastern Conference, the 1-8 matchup would feature the Bucks and Magic. Giannis is the reigning MVP, and many feel that he is the favorite to win it again this season. In the days before this campaign was suspended, however, LeBron was making a case that he should be considered for the award.
At 53-12, Milwaukee holds the best record in the NBA. Taking down the Bucks would be a tall order for the Magic (30-35), but Orlando was playing better and could have Jonathan Isaac back from injury at that point. Notably, Orlando was riding a three-game winning streak before the league’s decision to suspend the regular season, with victories over the Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies and Minnesota Timberwolves.
Other first-round games in the East would include showdowns between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets, as well as a bout between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers. Toronto — now without Kawhi Leonard — would be looking to defend its crown, while Boston and Philly would square off in a classic matchup between two iconic teams.
Would Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving return for Brooklyn? It looks like KD wouldn’t be expected back no matter what, but you never know.
The final first-round matchup in the East would feature Jimmy Butler and the upstart Miami Heat against Victor Oladipo and the Indiana Pacers.
Making a prediction
Right now, the Lakers and Bucks have the best odds to make it to the 2020 NBA Finals, according to FiveThirtyEight. In the end, though, there can be but one champion, and we’re picking the Lakers to win it all.
Giannis is a matchup nightmare for opposing sides, and Khris Middleton is continuing to prove that he is a star. However, the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis is a force to be reckoned with when running at full steam, and that purple and gold train was rolling strong in recent games. Prior to the NBA’s suspension of the regular season, Los Angeles had won four of its last five, with impressive victories over the Bucks and Clippers. Conversely, Milwaukee dropped three straight.
Matchups would be an issue for the Bucks if they advance to face the Lakers in the Finals. Giannis could theoretically guard LeBron well enough, but would Milwaukee have an answer for Anthony Davis? And let’s not forget about Danny Green, a player who has knocked down several big shots over the course of his career. If the Bucks double up on James or Davis, Green could be the man waiting on the perimeter for an open triple.
In their last meeting (March 7), the Lakers came away with a 113-103 victory, splitting the season series at one game apiece. It was a clash of NBA titans and a matchup between MVP candidates. In the end, James’ 37 points led Los Angeles past Milwaukee. Notably, Davis had 14 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter alone.
“I came here to put this franchise back where it needed to be,” James, who’s leading the NBA in assists for the first time in his career, told ESPN after dispatching the Bucks. “The league is not what it is if the Lakers are not winning.”
For now, we await the NBA’s decision with regards to the 2019-20 season.