Who makes the NBA finals? My preseason picks were the Clippers to beat the Sixers and it’s fair to say that I’m not quite as confident in those picks as I was back in October.
Out west, I’ll stay with the Clippers, although I didn’t see the Lakers bouncing back to the extent to which they have thus far.
Despite the fact that the Clippers are losing important pieces like Ivica Zubac, Pat Beverley and Montrezl Harrell at exactly the wrong time, they’re still the single deepest squad in the NBA. In a normal playoffs run that might not mean so much, but in these playoffs that depth could matter a whole lot. From COVID related player withdrawals, to the distinct possibility of the truncated ‘pre-season’ resulting in injuries to older players in particular (hello Lakers!), that carefully arranged depth could carry the Clippers through the later rounds. The Clips themselves have their own injury concerns – Kawhi & PG aren’t exactly known for their durability. That’s their achillies heel: all the depth in the world is useless if your major artillery isn’t operational.
Out east, you simply can’t go past Milwaukee. The league best Bucks rode roughshod over the league before the shutdown, sporting the leagues 7th best Offensive Rating and a historic Defensive Rating of 101.9. The 3.3 point difference in their league leading net rating and the 2nd placed Lakers, is equivalent to the gap between the Lakers and the 7th placed Rockets. With the presumed back-to-back MVP in their ranks, a cadre of shooters at one end, giant bodies to wall off the basket at the other and last seasons playoff lessons still fresh, the Bucks are primed for playoff success.
But….about those Sixers. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion they’ll make some serious noise in these playoffs. First of all, the neutrality of the Orlando bubble negates their awful away record (although to be fair, it does the same to their sparkling home form). This team has traditionally suffered from being too emotional and the bubble is the perfect scenario to strip that away. Brett Brown’s move of Ben Simmons to full time power forward duties makes this team a touch more conventional, providing their star play maker and his dominant centre with more shooting and spacing. As long as Shake Milton can hold up defensively, this team – with Al Horford feasting on backup units – is a sneaky chance to come out of the East.
Still, it’s hard to trust Philly. For that reason as much as any, it’s going to be a Clippers/Bucks showdown, with Kawhi taking another title, and his 3rd Finals MVP (on 3 different teams) home.
For the Eastern Conference, I have to go with the Bucks. Giannis is likely going to win back to back MVPs and this is the year for him to lead Milwaukee to the Finals. Even without Brogdon, the Bucks supporting cast can get the job done against anyone in the East. Middleton is a knockdown shooter, Lopez can handle his own down low, and DiVincenzo is a spark for the second unit. Finally, Milwaukee destroyed Boston in the playoffs last year, and I think it will be more of the same this season. In the West, I have the Clippers making the finals and beating the Bucks to win the championship. Kawhi Leonard is dominant in the playoffs. Alongside of him, Paul George, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and others should get the job done against the Lakers, who are down some key players. The Clippers are the best coached team in the West (among playoff contenders) and have the best team in the conference.
The Clippers and Celtics will be the two teams in the Finals. Celtics are the best and deepest team in the East. Tatum will be a monster in the playoffs and Brad Stevens will have no trouble drawing up a gameplan for Giannis and the Bucks. I wasn’t going to pick the Clippers over rested playoff LeBron initially, but they’re better than I want to admit. The only game this season where they faced each other went to OT, which shows this would make for an interesting series. At the end of the day I trust the Celtics to get it done more than anything. C’s in 7.
Giannis. The only thing that will stop the Greek Freak is COVID-19. Whether it be a teammate gets sick or the league shuts down, otherwise, the freak is destined to rule Disney Kingdom. Look out for a Clippers-Bucks finals, that will go the distance, back and forth game after game. Unfortunately for Kawhi, he will not walk away with his third finals victory, with his third team.
The Clippers were my pick to win the Finals before the start of the year so I’m going to stick with it. This is a team that basically didn’t lose when all their pieces were healthy this year. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George aren’t just stars but they bring it on both ends. This team is just so deep. You’re going 10 men deep with no holes.
I will however, go with my homer pick to make the Finals. Bookmark the Celtics in the dance. Giannis may be the NBA’s most unstoppable force but he’s really a one man show. I’m not sure it’s enough to get in the Finals. I can make an argument that Boston’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th best players are better than Milwaukee’s. Jayson Tatum and Jaylon Brown really took steps forward and come out guns blazing. Boston also really needed this reset because Kemba Walker’s knees were shot. Gordon Hayward was nicked up too. Depth is going to be a big factor since we don’t know how many minutes these guys are ready to play. Boston and the LA Clippers have the deepest group.
The Clippers and Celtics will be the two teams in the NBA Finals. The Clippers pick is easy, especially after some Lakers players are injured or skipped out on the bubble. The Celtics aren’t considered as contenders by some, but they may have benefited the most from the break. Kemba’s knees have had time to heal and their young core of Tatum and Brown are really starting to grow as players. Both teams met twice during the season and split two close games, one of which went into OT. The edge has to go to the Clippers because of Kawhi. He’s a different beast in the playoffs. Kawhi has gotten 4 months worth of load management and the Clippers are just a deeper team. Clippers in 6, but no game is decided by more than 10 points.
I was with Jarrod, before the season, I thought a Clippers and 76ers NBA Finals was inevitable. However, I, too do not have much hope in Philly, anymore. However, I will be sticking with my Clippers pick out from the West. They’ve proved they’re the best team when all of them play and they also have the deepest team in the West. For me, it’s no question that they go to the NBA Finals.
As for the East, that is where it gets tricky. The Bucks have Giannis, The Raptors impressed without Kawhi and their defense is almost impentrable, and Celtics’ 5 best players average 96 points on their own, I could go on. However, these are everyone’s top 3 picks to come out the East. I don’t think it’s the Bucks, they rely too heavily on Giannis and that’s why they didn’t make it last year. That’s what is going to happen this year too them. While I can appreciate the Raptors elite defense, I won’t be picking them. Superstars are made in the playoffs, or at least the go-to guy. Who’s the go-to guy in Toronto? Pascal Siakam? Kyle Lowry? Hell, even Fred VanVleet? I think all of these players are all great talents, but none can be the go-to guy for Toronto like Kawhi was. That void will ultimately be their downfall…at least for this year.
That leaves the Celtics. I can’t deny Brad Stevens Coaching. He has adapted the small-ball lineup and basically perfected it. Marcus Smart is their defensive anchor. Jaylen Brown is a super solid 2 way player. Jayson Tatum is a budding star. Kemba Walker is a killer. Gordon Hayward will still get you buckets nightly. No other team in the NBA has their top 5 players as good as they do. With Daniel Theis at Center, this Celtics team has the best shot to make the Finals. Their offense is good enough to beat the Raptors defense and their talent can suffocate the Bucks. Also, Brad Stevens is still the best coach in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics should be in the NBA Finals.
In the NBA Finals, I will stick with my original pick to win it all, the Clippers. Kawhi Leonard is the truth and that Clippers depth can overcome the almost annual blunder Paul George has in the Playoffs. They have a great offense and defense to handle any team in the NBA. Their offense can go toe-to-toe with the Celtics. But, the Clippers have the edge over the Celtics because of their defense. I think it’s a helluva good series. It will esepcailly be the one to remember due to COVID-19 and the Orlando Bubble.
Clippers in 7.