Even though the NBA season has already resumed, it is still never too late to make some bold predictions of what could happen in the rest of the bubble and the playoffs.
Even if they currently don't have the 8-seed, it just doesn't feel right to have a postseason without Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers. Portland made the Western Conference Finals last season led by Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, but due to some questionable off-season moves and Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins missing the season due to injury, Portland has struggled. However, with a completely healthy lineup, Portland can be a team to look out for in the bubble. They are 1 game behind the Grizzlies for the 8-seed and based on how Memphis has played, it definitely looks like they have the advantage in the matchup. The Lakers haven't played great as they are 1-2, which is worrisome for LA and great for Portland. Even though I don't see Portland beating the Lakers, Lillard is definitely not giving up without a fight. The Blazers match up perfectly against the Lakers and if they can outplay the Lakers on offense, all while being able to slow down Lebron and Anthony Davis, we might see a crazy upset in the making.
This is an interesting one as the Heat currently sit as the 4-seed in the East, but they have an opportunity to move up and do big things in the postseason. Even though they recently lost to the Bucks, they are one of the teams that match up really well against Giannis and the Bucks, winning both their regular-season meetings against them. Their duo of Butler and Adebayo has stepped up into All-Stars and have been their go-to scorers and defenders. Miami have looked great in the bubble and one thing that they can do is get hot extremely fast. They are a team that could lose early, but they have what it takes to win their conference. Miami is the only team in the bubble that started two undrafted players with Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson and both of them have played their roles. With 2 All-Stars, a great supporting cast, and an experienced coach, the Heat can go far and they're my wild card team.
The Celtics are a team that can perform at a high level and be a threat to any team, but when they have an off night where they have a hard time scoring, the team is going to struggle as they rely on their shooting immensely. Boston is 2-2 in the bubble, but they lost to two teams they might face in the playoffs, Milwaukee Bucks and the Miami Heat. They currently are the 3-seed in the East and even if they drop to 4, they still will either play the Pacers or the 76ers in the 1st round, which they have high likelihoods of winning. However, the 2nd round will either make or break the Celtics as they have lost a game to each of the other top 4 teams in the East and have lost twice to the Bucks. The Celtics have plenty of guys they can go to for a basket and they are the 4th best defense in the league according to defensive rating. With three guys averaging over 20 PPG, the only team in the NBA to have that, they can be a dark horse team that can make the Conference Finals, or they can lose a series against any of the other top 4 teams in the East.
Don't forget about Houston. The Rockets have so far beaten the 2 best teams in the league and they are 3-1 in the bubble. Houston currently has the 4 seed, but with the Nuggets, Jazz, and Thunder in contention for that, there is a good chance that Houston takes it. Harden has been the leading scorer and Westbrook has put up 31 points in two separate games, and that duo has helped them beat the Bucks and the Lakers. Harden is known to struggle in the postseason, but the way he has been playing, I expect that narrative about him to change this playoff run. Houston can outplay any team on offense and their unique style matches up with the Clippers nicely. The Rockets are a surprise contender because even though they don't have a starter over 6'7, they are one of the hardest teams to keep up with on offense, which is why they'll give the Clippers and any team a run for their money.
At this point, this isn't too bold. The Wizards are 0-4 in the bubble and is without doubt, the worst team in the bubble. Bradley Beal has been the star for the Wizards for the past season and when he got injured as well as starting power forward Davis Bertans, the Wizards playoff chance now have a 0% chance of making the playoffs, at the way they're playing, it will be surprising if they even win a game. This is a chance for young guys like Troy Brown Jr and Thomas Bryant to show their worth as part of the Wizards rebuild, but they definitely aren't capable to be the best players on any team, yet. The Wizards should look into next year where John Wall will supposedly come back from injury and maybe make a playoff run next year.
Yes, this means that I'm not picking the Lakers or the Bucks to win the championship, but the Clippers. The Clippers are 11-1 when the full team is healthy and playing and even though they lost to the Lakers and the Suns in the bubble, Montrezl Harrell didn't play for them in both those games and that is an extra 18 points and high energy that you lose. Kawhi had a historic postseason run last year and this season has arguably been his best season averaging 27 PPG while still being the best defender in the league. Kawhi doesn't let the pressure come to him, and I believe if they play the Bucks in the Finals, Kawhi would be able to shut Giannis down like he did last year. Also, Paul George is an elite two-way wing and can score the ball at will, and with two of the top 6th man of the Year candidates, a defensive minded point guard, and an experienced championship coach, the Clippers are the team to beat in the playoffs. If they are champions by the end of the season and Kawhi wins the Finals MVP, he will probably solidify himself as a top 15 or even top 10 player of all-time.
This might be the boldest of the article, but I won't be surprised if this actually happens. Even though the Lakers have the best record in their conference, the way they've been playing recently has been questionable and, yes, 4 games isn't everything, but it sure makes people worry. The most likely conference finals matchup would be the Lakers and the Clippers, but I won't be surprised if a team like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets, and even the Portland Trail Blazers take that spot from the Lakers. The Thunder and the Rockets have both beat the Lakers in the bubble and are both Wild Cards in the West because they have proven they can beat the elite teams, and the loss of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo will hurt the Lakers a lot. The Lakers have the potential to win the championship because Lebron James and Anthony Davis are still both superstars, but they both haven't played their best in the bubble and they are both under pressure in the playoffs. This will be surprising if this ends up happening, but if there is any year a surprise team makes the Conference Finals, it's the 2020 playoffs
We are almost 2 weeks away from the playoffs. It will be fun to track if all these bold predictions were correct and what ends up happening in the NBA bubble, but whatever happens, it's going to be a thriller.
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