It has been more than two months since the NBA season was suspended, and for the first time since, there is hope that the season will resume. Due to time constraints, the remainder of the regular season will probably not take place. With this in mind, here are some predictions for how the Western Conference may play out based on the current standings.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The No. 1 seed powerhouse LA Lakers (49-14) will take on the fiesty No. 8 seed Memphis Grizzlies (32-33). LeBron James has never lost a first-round playoff series, and that streak is unlikely to end this season. The Lakers won their season series against Memphis 3-1 and have two MVP candidates in LeBron and Anthony Davis. Sorry, Ja, your time will come, but not this year.
Result: Lakers win 4-0.
LA Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks
The other LA giant, the Clippers (44-20), will not get as easy an opponent to start. The Luka Dončić-led Mavericks (40-27) have taken everyone by surprise and will not allow an effortless victory for the Clippers. The Mavs have not only MVP candidate Dončić, but also All-Star Kristaps Porzingis and championship head coach Rick Carlisle. Ultimately though, the superstar duo of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George combined with the Clippers’ elite depth will be too much for even the Mavericks’ No. 1 offense.
Result: Clippers win 4-2.
Denver Nuggets vs. Houston Rockets
In what should be the closest series in the first round, the Denver Nuggets (43-22) will have to go up against the NBA’s leading scorer, James Harden, and the rest of the Houston Rockets (40-24). The Rockets have been inconsistent at best lately, and after trading Clint Capela, they have no center to deal with superstar Nikola Jokić. The Rockets’ inconsistency and lack of size could lead to their untimely demise.
Result: Nuggets win 4-3.
Utah Jazz vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The 4-5 matchup is usually the most interesting, as typically, it is two teams with almost identical records going head-to-head. Not this time. The Utah Jazz (41-23) may be a mere one game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24), but their records are misleading. Expect this series to be an absolute mismatch. The Jazz are notorious for their difficulty in defending the midrange because their two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, struggles to defend outside of the paint. The Thunder are led by Chris Paul, the best midrange shooter among those who take at least four such shots per game. Paul will surely feast on the slow-footed Jazz, just as he did two seasons ago as a Rocket, when he scored a playoff high of 41 points.
Result: Thunder win 4-1.
Lakers vs. Thunder
Unlike the Jazz, the Lakers should have no trouble with the Thunder. The Lakers won the season series 3-0, and in the third game, didn’t even have stars LeBron and Davis. In the first two games, Paul was held to just 11 points per game and 33% shooting from the field. Expect a somewhat competitive sweep.
Result: Lakers win 4-0.
Clippers vs. Nuggets
The Clippers’ biggest weakness all season has been their center position. They have Ivica Zubac, who is slow-footed and poor defensively, and they have Montrezl Harrell, who is quick and a great scorer (18.6 points per game) but at 6’7” is too small to defend most centers. Thus, the Clippers will have their hands full with the Nuggets, who get to roll out Jokić, arguably the best center in the league. This 7-foot monster has averaged 20.5 points and 12 rebounds on 56% shooting in two meetings against the Clippers this season. The season series was split 1-1. On paper, this should be an easy win for the Clippers because they have a clearly superior roster and the best player, Kawhi. But this series will be surprisingly close, as they have nobody fit to guard Jokić.
Result: Clippers win 4-3.
Lakers vs. Clippers
The matchup everyone has been waiting for, the battle of LA. Lakers vs. Clippers. LeBron vs. Kawhi. Who will reign supreme? In their three matchups this season, the Clippers won two of them, and one of those was without George, an All-Star. Both of the Clippers’ wins were before the new year, so it isn’t easy to base an entire playoff series on two games that took place almost half a year ago. Their most recent March matchup holds the most weight and is also the only game the Lakers won. In the end, what this series will come down to is that the Lakers’ top two players, LeBron and Davis, are a better duo than the Clippers’ Kawhi and George. Expect the Lakers back in the finals after a 10-year drought.
Result: Lakers win 4-2.