Photo by Silver Screen and Roll
Let’s be honest – the NBA has been a little unpredictable this season.
The league has been full of upsets and amazing games, leading to some strange standings at this point in the season. Seasoned teams like the Trailblazers and new look Pelicans are in the bottom of their conferences, while a Westbrook-less Thunder are only a game back from the team that got him, the Houston Rockets.
J Squared Hoops will try to do the impossible and give a simulation of the Western Conference based on current standings (3/7/20). And so, here’s what the playoffs could look like come April.
Lakers vs. Grizzlies
This series looks great on paper for the Lakers. LeBron and his squad are playing the best basketball in the NBA, so going up against a team anchored by a rookie (albeit a fantastic one). This series simply comes down to matchups. Anthony Davis is too much for Jaren Jackson Jr., and LeBron James is miles ahead of where Dillon Brooks can even dream of being. This should go quickly, although you can’t completely rule out Ja Morant’s takeover status.
OUTCOME: Lakers in 5.
Clippers vs. Mavericks
Very few 2 vs. 7 series are as close as this one. The Mavericks are only 4.5 games back from the Clippers, who themselves lie 5.5 games back from the leading Lakers. And while that makes the job all that more difficult for the Clippers, it makes the fan’s experience far more fun. Getting a Kawhi vs. Luka match up in the first round will spoil NBA fans, but then again, that seems to be what the new league is like. I think this series will be close, but ultimately, having Kawhi and PG13 together will be just too much for a relatively playoff-naive Mavericks roster. Plus, with their bench depth, the Clippers can knock you in the mouth for 48 straight minutes – which may just wear down the Mavs.
OUTCOME: Clippers in 6.
Nuggets vs. Thunder
I would say this is the most boring of the match ups in the first round. Nevertheless, it could be really interesting one. The Thunder are one of the best teams when it comes to starting lineup efficiency. Chris Paul, Danilo Gallinari, and Shai-Gilgeous Alexander have been tearing it up this season, and those 3 guys along with Dennis Schroder are all averaging over 17 PPG this season. But their depth is going to kill them, especially against the Nuggets. Denver arguably is a Top-5 team in terms of bench depth, and it could be argued that their second unit is almost as strong as their first. And for that main reason, I think this should be light work for the Nuggets.
OUTCOME: Nuggets in 5.
Jazz vs. Rockets
Despite being only half a game away from each other, these two teams could not be more different. The Jazz are a complete unit team, one that relies on the extra pass and finding good shots to get points on the board. Plus, they’re great on defense. The Rockets play a lot differently. They get shots up, play isolation basketball, and try to get to the foul line. I think this series will be a great one for both teams, but it could be the Jazz’s series to lose. They have the obvious advantage with Rudy Gobert, but it’s very hard to slow down James Harden and Russell Westbrook. They won 2/3 of the match ups this season against Utah, but only time will tell if the new small ball lineup can handle a beating by Gobert. But for now…
OUTCOME: Rockets in 7.
Lakers vs. Rockets
The Rockets are great, don’t get me wrong. However, it’s going to take a lot more than a few iso moves to knock the King and the Brow out of the playoffs. Although they’ve split the season series up to this point, in a best of 7 series, I think something will have to give. PJ Tucker can’t guard Anthony Davis 7 times, and LeBron will eventually find a way to bully through the small ball lineup. Plus, Javale McGee and Dwight Howard wouldn’t mind catching a lob over guys like Danuel House Jr. in the frontcourt. This should be a break for the Lakers going into the Conference Finals.
OUTCOME: Lakers in 5.
Clippers vs. Nuggets
Man, oh man! These will be seven (almost definitely seven) games of basketball that are competitive from minute one to minute forty-eight. And yet, every match up this season has been a double digit win for either side, 2 for the Nuggets and 1 for the Clippers. With the teams so evenly matched, it will come down to the little details to win the series. And for that reason, I think the Nuggets have this one. They’ve played together longer and play better together. This season, PG13 and Kawhi just haven’t shared the floor enough, while the Nuggets lineup will be a complete, high functioning unit by the time the playoffs roll around.
OUTCOME: Nuggets in 7.
Lakers vs. Nuggets
At the risk of downplaying the Nuggets lineup, I just think they won’t be able to get past the Lakers. The Lakers play with as much intensity, skill, and depth, but with arguably better players. Instead of MPJ, the Lakers have Kuzma. Instead of Jokic, they have Davis. And LeBron should be able to make Will Barton a relative non-factor. But the Nuggets will put up a good fight. They’ve got an arguably stronger guard unit and a great knack for defensive efficiency. Nevertheless, they just don’t have the tools to dismantle the Lakers – but they’ll sure try.
OUTCOME: Lakers in 6.