We made it. The NBA playoffs are finally here after months of waiting and anticipation. The bubble is going better than anyone could have predicted and offered up plenty of excitement, from the Suns going 8-0 to Damian Lillard going on an unreal scoring streak. With the field set, there are now plenty of questions that remain heading into the playoffs. Will the Lakers regain their March dominance? Will no homecourt advantage lead to more upsets? Will the Bucks make the finals?
There's certainly no lack of storylines and we're sure the drama will be revved up from the first tip. Even better, we're about to have playoff basketball on all day for the foreseeable future. You can't get much better than that. With the playoffs kicking off today, the Complex Sports team put together some bold predictions to get you ready for the action. Let's get to it.
Bucks Don't Make the NBA Finals
Milwaukee finished the season with the best record in the league at 56-17, and they are considered to be, with the Lakers and the Clippers, favorites to win the title. However, this Bucks team might be just as succeptable to an upset as the Lakers and Clippers out west. For instance, a potential matchup with the Heat could cause issues for the Bucks.
The Heat may have their issues with playing solid defense consistently, but it is fair to say that they provided the blueprint on the Bucks in their March 2 matchup. In that particular game, the Heat held the Bucks to 40 percent from the field and 20.6 percent from three. They put Bam Adebayo on Giannis Antetokoumpo. Adebayo is a big and difficult defender that forced Antetokoumpo to the outside and forcing him into difficult jumpers. This could end up being a significant factor in a potential series.
Throw some long and disruptive defenders at Antetokoumpo and force him to the outside, halt ball movement and you got a solid chance for an upset. Miami has some defenders that matches up with them really well. And let's not forget the defending champion Toronto Raptors here. - Jannelle Moore
Toronto Returns to the NBA Finals
As we said, don't forget about the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have somewhat been overlooked as contenders, which is why the notion of them returning to the Finals is considered to be a bold prediction. However when you look at what they have done this season-finishing second in the East at 53-19, the thought of this squad returning to the Finals isn’t really as far fetched as some assumed that it would be.
Yes, the Raptors are without Kawhi Leonard, but it doesn’t matter. Why? Because the continued emergence of Pascal Siakam, the elevated play of Fred VanVleet, and Nick Nurse’s coaching have compensated for Leonard not being there. Simply put, this is a tough, battle-tested team that defends extremely well and can score in the half-court, which is very important in a playoff setting. Now isn't the time to count out the defending champs. - Jannelle Moore
James Harden Drops 65 In a Playoff Game
This might not actually be a hot take with the way James Harden is able to score these days, but doing it in a playoff game is a whole different beast. But if anyone can break Michael Jordan's record for most points in a playoff game, it's Harden in this Rockets offense. We all know about the Rockets history in the playoffs and the 27 missed 3s against the Warriors, but a neutral court could lead to some huge games from a number of guys. And with Russell Westbrook set to miss some time to start the playoffs, Harden is going to be running and gunning like no other. - Zach Frydenlund
There's At Least One Notable Upset in the First Round
This might not be that bold either. There's no homecourt advantage, which means there could be some legit upsets. And this isn't us saying the Blazers are going to beat the Lakers, but we should all be prepared for some sort of surprising upset in the first round. Austin Rivers said the same on a recent episode of our Load Management podcast. So who could fall victim to the upset? Well, it could very well be the Rockets against Chris Paul and the Thunder. Wouldn't that be some irony. The sneaky pick would be the Mavs to upset the Clippers, which we're not predicting will happen, but would anyone be shocked if that series goes the distance? Buckle up, everyone. - Zach Frydenlund
Luka Will (Further) Become a Household Name
If there's one player to watch during the playoffs, it's Luka Doncic. The young Mavs star is already one of the most exciting players in the NBA, but we're about to get our first taste of Doncic in a playoff series. And while he's already a star, there's a good chance that average fans don't realize just how good Luka is. That's all about to change in this Clippers series, which should be competitive and possibly go the distance. Luka is going to put on a show, you can bet on that. - Zach Frydenlund
Nets Will Give the Raptors a Scare
If you can name more than two Nets on the current roster that’s a badge of honor because it’s practically impossible to keep track of all the new faces the organization brought with it down to Orlando. But surprisingly, the Nets were quite frisky in the eight seeding games including almost derailing Portland’s playoff push. Interim coach Jacques Vaughn has gotten something extra out of all the anonymous Nets because they play hard. Like, really hard for him. And what many expected to be a pushover squad handed two serious title contenders Ls in the bubble. Maybe that’s because all the no-name players are auditioning for next season when the Nets stars (Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie) return and take their rightful places in the rotation. Or maybe other squads have just been taking the Nets lightly and getting burned. Regardless of what the magic formula has been in Orlando, a team with players hungry to prove they belong in the league and zero expectations should be considered dangerous.
Could the defending champs overlook Brooklyn with a much harder matchup supposedly waiting for them in the second-round? Easily. Without one of the best home-court advantages in the NBA, can the Nets steal a few games from the Raptors? Absolutely. Will Toronto win this series? Of course it will. But if you saw the Nets play at all in the bubble—and beat the Bucks and Clippers—then you know this superstar-less version will not roll over for anybody. Yeah, Milwaukee and LA sat a few of their stars in those matchups, but the Nets you saw nearly grind it out against Dame Lillard and the Blazers can do the same to Kyle Lowry and the Raptors. Toronto in 6, but a tough 6. - Adam Caparell
Michael Porter Jr. Will be the Breakout Star of the Playoffs
The MVP of the bubble was, not surprisingly, Damian Lillard. But if they handed out a breakout star award in Orlando, Michael Porter Jr. probably would’ve taken home the honor after the Nuggets forward put up huge numbers (21.6 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 42.5 percent on 3-pointers) in the seeding games. His 37-point performance against Oklahoma City stands out, but if you caught a few of the Nuggets games then you saw the emergence of another high-caliber scoring threat Denver desperately needs if it wants to advance deep into the playoffs. Whether he was slashing to the basket, knocking down threes from the corner, or cleaning the glass, the 6’10” Porter fully displayed the skills that made him a lottery pick in 2018. Injuries, of course, have slowed down his development, but going up against a Jazz team whose defense was pretty putrid in the bubble should offer up ample opportunity for Porter to keep shining. - Adam Caparell