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Round-by-Round NBA Playoff Predictions If 2020 Season Resumes

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No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies

The ahead-of-schedule Grizzlies weren’t supposed to be here, and an impatient, 35-year-old LeBron James will remind them of that with a ferocious series of knockout punches. Add on Anthony Davis’ reminders to Jaren Jackson Jr. that the youngster isn’t quite ready for the spotlight, plus L.A.’s bigs going airborne over the ground-bound Jonas Valanciunas, and this will get ugly really quick.

Prediction: Lakers sweep Grizzlies 4-0

                

No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

The fact that Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are not the best duo in this series is a big deal, as it puts the Mavs in the unenviable position of lagging behind their opponent in both star power and depth. Doncic is clever enough to create some scoring chances against Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and Porzingis can exploit the Clippers’ lack of size. That’s enough to make L.A. sweat and even put a couple of notches in Dallas’ win column.

But the Mavericks’ 17th-ranked defense doesn’t have the bodies to keep all of Leonard, George, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell—all 18-plus-point scorers—in check. The Clippers’ fifth-ranked defense can focus on quieting the stars or silencing the others. Either way, L.A. has the pieces to advance.

Prediction: Clippers defeat Mavericks 4-2

               

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Houston Rockets

This is a grab-your-popcorn-and-settle-into-your-couch’s-sweet-spot kind of series. The teams not only split their season series 2-2, but you have one squad in an outright embrace of all things small-ball and the other built around a multifaceted 7-footer.

Nikola Jokic will be worth whatever he costs in daily fantasy, as the Association’s third-highest post-up scorer toys with a frontcourt now built around 6’5″ PJ Tucker. But the Nuggets will need—and be unable to find—a more consistent No. 2 option to keep pace with James Harden, soon to collect his third straight scoring title, and Russell Westbrook, who’s been power-boosted by the small-ball shift.

Prediction: Rockets defeat Nuggets 4-2

               

No. 4 Utah Jazz vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder

Mike Conley’s offensive struggles are a red flag. Even with Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson helping elevate this attack into a top-10 offense, the non-Donovan Mitchell scoring can be sporadic. That’s problematic against an OKC team that plays three offensive triggers at the same time, plus a 6’10” net-shredder in Danilo Gallinari (2.7 triples per game at a 42.1 percent clip since the start of last season).

As unconventional as it appears, the Thunder’s three-headed point-guard monster of Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dennis Schroder has emerged as the Association’s most efficient trio. They’ve obliterated opponents by 28.6 points per 100 possessions, the best net rating of any lineup to log 200-plus minutes.

Even with Rudy Gobert anchoring the interior, the Jazz won’t have enough to contain a lineup the entire league has yet to solve.

Prediction: Thunder defeat Jazz 4-3

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