The NBA season is rumored to be returning, but this time at Walt Disney World instead of the usual venues. The West has multiple teams that have a shot at the finals, but it looks like the Milwaukee Bucks are the main contender in the East. Will this remain true? Will the Bucks losing their home court advantage be enough to take them out?
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Orlando Magic
The 53-12 Bucks will begin their potential championship run against the 30-35 Orlando Magic. The Magic couldn’t win even half of their games and lost their best defender, Jonathan Isaac, for the rest of the season. It would be a moral victory for the Magic if they can win a single quarter in what is almost guaranteed to be a sweep.
Result: Bucks win 4-0.
Toronto Raptors vs. Brooklyn Nets
This matchup is a situation similar to the Magic’s, where the lower seed lost important players to injury. Except unlike the Magic — who only lost a role player — the Nets are without All-NBA players Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. With them, the team would probably be favored over the 46-18 Raptors. Instead, the Nets are a mere 30-34 and are relying on Spencer Dinwiddie to carry them to victory. Unfortunately for the Nets, he will not be enough to take on the Raptors’ well-balanced attack, led by All-Stars Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.
Result: Raptors win 4-0.
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
In what should be the most interesting matchup of the first round, the new-look Celtics led by Kemba Walker take on the 76ers tandem of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The 76ers entered the season as strong contenders, but have stumbled to sixth seed in the playoffs due to injuries and an abysmal 10-24 road record, worse than even the 12th-seeded New York Knicks. Due to their road issues and the fact that no team will get to play at home these playoffs, the Sixers have an uphill battle if they want to beat All-Stars Walker and Jayson Tatum in Orlando.
Result: Celtics win 4-2.
Miami Heat vs. Indiana Pacers
The Celtics-Sixers matchup has more intrigue, but the closest first-round matchup in the East belongs to the Heat vs. Pacers. Separated by only two games, this series could really go either way. The Heat have the coaching advantage with two-time champ Erik Spoelstra, and they have two All-Stars: Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. The Pacers only have Domantas Sabonis. If this was a normal season, Miami would easily win the series due to its dominance at home, losing only five home games all season. Because there will be no home court, however, Indiana will not go down easily.
Result: Heat win 4-2.
Bucks vs. Heat
What makes this matchup so interesting is that only one team all season has beaten the Bucks twice, and that team is the Miami Heat. The Heat held MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo to only 13 points on 6-18 shooting in their most recent 16-point victory over the Bucks. It’s also the best 3-point shooting team in the league, shooting a blistering 38.3% from downtown. With the defense of Adebayo and Butler combined with their elite shooting, the Heat have as good of odds as anyone in the East to beat Antetokounmpo and the Bucks. However, the Bucks are the NBA’s best defensive team, with arguably the league’s best player. Sometimes, that’s all that matters in a playoff series.
Result: Bucks win 4-3.
Raptors vs. Celtics
These teams met three times in the regular season, and the Celtics won two of those matchups, one of which had the Raptors missing Siakam, their best player. This matchup will come down to if the youth of the Boston Celtics can trump the experience of the reigning champion Raptors. Even though they’re a different team than they were last season after losing superstar Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors have been just as good this regular season as they have been the two seasons prior. They have played at a 59-win pace despite myriad injuries. Unlike the Raptors, who mostly rely on their defense, the Celtics are one of three teams that rank top five in offense and defense, along with the two Los Angeles teams. But will youth be able to conquer experience?
Result: Raptors win 4-2.
Bucks vs. Raptors
At the start of the season, nobody would have expected the Kawhi-less Raptors to make it this far for a conference finals rematch from last season. The Raptors won 4-2 last year but are now without Kawhi. The Bucks have also vastly improved this season despite the loss of Malcolm Brogdon. With the Raptors losing their No. 1 scorer and No. 1 defender for Antetokounmpo, it’s going to be extremely difficult for them to make it to a second consecutive finals.
Result: Bucks win 4-1.