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NBA playoff bracket predictions, picks, odds & series breakdowns for the 2020 bubble

The NBA took a long and winding road to get here, but yes, the 2020 playoffs have finally arrived.

While there were plenty of valid concerns about restarting play amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the league did manage to create a safe environment inside the bubble for participating teams as they finished out an unusual regular season schedule. The “seeding games” provided some much-needed entertainment for desperate hoops fans, including an incredibly tight race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. 

For the teams still hanging around the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla., the intensity will jump to another level as the postseason begins. Betting favorites like the Bucks, Clippers and Lakers are chasing down a championship, but the path to the NBA Finals is filled with challenges.

The overall weirdness of the NBA’s “bubble” makes the first round of the playoffs (and beyond) difficult to predict. Still, we’re ready to offer some picks for each series.

MORE: Explaining the NBA’s play-in tournament

NBA playoff bracket 2020

NBA playoff bracket predictions, picks, odds & series breakdowns for the 2020 bubble 1
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The No. 9 Grizzlies finished within four games of the No. 8 Trail Blazers in the Western Conference standings, triggering a play-in tournament for the final playoff spot. The Trail Blazers only have to win one game in order to advance to the first round, but Memphis must defeat Portland twice if it wants to enter the playoff bracket.

Beyond the play-in round, the 2020 NBA playoffs will follow the typical format with full best-of-seven series all the way through the NBA Finals.

Here are the first-round matchups in each conference:

Eastern Conference

(1) Bucks vs. (8) Magic

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(2) Raptors vs. (7) Nets

(3) Celtics vs. (6) 76ers

(4) Heat vs. (5) Pacers

Western Conference

(1) Lakers vs. (8) Trail Blazers/Grizzlies

(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks

(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Jazz

(4) Thunder vs. (5) Rockets

NBA playoff bracket predictions, picks, odds & series breakdowns for the 2020 bubble 2
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NBA playoff predictions: Eastern Conference

(1) Bucks vs. (8) Magic

The key player: Reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 26.3 points, 15.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists in three games against the Magic this season. With Jonathan Isaac unavailable after suffering a torn ACL, expect Orlando coach Steve Clifford to throw Aaron Gordon at Antetokounmpo — and expect “The Greek Freak” to post some ridiculous stat lines. 

The big number: When Brook Lopez sat during the Bucks’ “seeding games,” Milwaukee had a net rating of minus-11.2. When he played, that number jumped to plus-8.9. It’s easy to place the spotlight on Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton — they are really good! — but don’t forget about Lopez’s impact, particularly on the defensive end.

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The prediction: Bucks win, 4-0

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 18Game 11:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 20Game 26 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 22Game 31 p.m.TNT
Aug. 24Game 41:30 p.m.NBA TV
Aug. 26Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 28Game 6*TBDTBD
Aug. 30Game 7*TBDTBD

*if necessary

(2) Raptors vs. (7) Nets

The key player: What will Pascal Siakam do in his first playoff series as the Raptors’ top offensive threat? After bumping up his scoring average by six points from last season (16.9 to 22.9), the All-Star forward will be expected to carry the load with Kawhi Leonard gone. The Nets are an ideal matchup for him because they don’t have a great wing-stopping option.

The big number: Toronto has a defensive rating of 101.8 inside the “bubble,” the best mark in the NBA by a significant margin. Brooklyn has been surprisingly feisty given its health issues, but outside of Caris LeVert, the Nets don’t possess a ton of strong initiators on offense. That’s a major issue when facing a team with plus defenders at each position.

The prediction: Raptors win, 4-0

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 17Game 14 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 19Game 21:30 p.m.NBA TV
Aug. 21Game 31:30 p.m.NBA TV
Aug. 23Game 46:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 25Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 27Game 6*TBDESPN
Aug. 29Game 7*TBDTNT

*if necessary

(3) Celtics vs. (6) 76ers

The key player: It has to be Joel Embiid. The 76ers know Ben Simmons is unlikely to return this season, so they need Embiid to be the best player on the floor and control the interior on both ends. If the 26-year-old vacillates between dominant and average, this series won’t last long.

The big number: Gordon Hayward has been terrific overall in Orlando, but his aggression stands out. In his last seven games, Hayward has averaged 4.9 free throw attempts, nearly doubling his output prior to the suspension of play (2.8). If he continues to attack with confidence, Boston becomes much more dangerous in the East.

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The prediction: Celtics win, 4-1

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 17Game 16:30 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 19Game 26:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 21Game 36:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 23Game 41 p.m.ABC
Aug. 25Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 27Game 6*TBDESPN
Aug. 29Game 7*TBDTNT

*if necessary

(4) Heat vs. (5) Pacers

The key player: Is T.J. Warren the next Michael Jordan, or is the hot streak over? The Pacers forward averaged 31.0 points per game while shooting a scorching 57.8 percent from the field inside the “bubble.” However, he has struggled in three games against the Heat, averaging just 10.3 points on 35.5 percent shooting, including a 5-for-14 outing on Aug. 10. Jimmy Butler is easily winning this new rivalry at the moment. The Pacers need Warren to flip the script.

The big number: Miami is often viewed as a hard-nosed, grind-it-out team, but don’t dismiss the firepower. The Heat shot a league-high 38.1 percent from 3-point range this season. Indiana must find the shooters on the perimeter, especially Duncan Robinson, who is capable of going on his own personal 6-0 run at any moment.

The prediction: Heat win, 4-2

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 18Game 14 p.m.TNT
Aug. 20Game 21 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 22Game 33:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 24Game 46:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 26Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 28Game 6*TBDTBD
Aug. 30Game 7*TBDTBD

*if necessary

NBA playoff bracket predictions, picks, odds & series breakdowns for the 2020 bubble 3
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NBA playoff predictions: Western Conference

(1) Lakers vs. (8) Trail Blazers/Grizzlies

This section will be updated following the conclusion of the play-in tournament.

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 18Game 19 p.m.TNT
Aug. 20Game 29 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 22Game 38:30 p.m.ABC
Aug. 24Game 49 p.m.TNT
Aug. 26Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 28Game 6*TBDTBD
Aug. 30Game 7*TBDTBD

*if necessary

(2) Clippers vs. (7) Mavericks

The key player: At just 21 years old, Luka Doncic has shown he is a legitimate superstar, and he’s ready to take center stage. Unfortunately for Doncic, the Clippers are designed to make life difficult with a combination of Patrick Beverley, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard following him all over the floor. In three games against Los Angeles, Doncic averaged 29.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists (good!) but shot 42.6 percent from the field and 27.3 percent from deep while totaling 15 turnovers (bad!). How he handles the pressure will determine whether the Mavs have a real shot at the upset.

The big number: Expect points. Lots of points. The Mavs (115.9) and Clippers (113.6) are the top two teams in the league in terms of offensive rating. This series could produce a few games in the 120-130 point range. Which team gets the key stops when it matters?

The prediction: Clippers win, 4-1

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 17Game 19 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 19Game 29 p.m.TNT
Aug. 21Game 39 p.m.TNT
Aug. 23Game 43:30 p.m.ABC
Aug. 25Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 27Game 6*TBDESPN
Aug. 29Game 7*TBDTNT

*if necessary

(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Jazz

The key player: This series could come down to a big man battle: Rudy Gobert vs. Nikola Jokic. In three games against the Jazz this season (all close wins for the Nuggets), Jokic averaged 29.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists while shooting 56.3 percent from the field. However, Gobert kept Jokic to a more pedestrian 48.9 percent in their individual matchups, per NBA.com tracking data. Gobert bringing Jokic down from All-NBA to even above average would be a huge win for Utah.

The big number: In seven “bubble” games, Michael Porter Jr. averaged 22.0 points on 55.1 percent shooting from the field and 42.2 percent from beyond the arc. This version of Porter is the perfect complementary player next to Jokic and Jamal Murray. Maintaining this level of production throughout the playoffs may be unrealistic considering his lack of experience, but Porter realizing his potential is a game changer.

The prediction: Nuggets win, 4-2

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 17Game 11:30 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 19Game 24 p.m.TNT
Aug. 21Game 34 p.m.TNT
Aug. 23Game 49 p.m.TNT
Aug. 25Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 27Game 6*TBDESPN
Aug. 29Game 7*TBDTNT

*if necessary

(4) Thunder vs. (5) Rockets

The key player: When will Russell Westbrook take the court? That’s the biggest question looming over what could be the most intriguing first-round series. The nine-time All-Star will miss the “first few games” of the series and possibly longer with a strained quad, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen. It’s hard to nail down an exact timeline because Westbrook’s return largely depends on how he responds to treatment.

The big number: As NBA.com’s Scott Rafferty notes, the Thunder’s lineup of Chris Paul, Dennis Schroder, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams has a net rating of 29.9 this season. Among lineups that have played at least 100 minutes, that’s the best mark in the NBA. The Rockets could be particularly vulnerable against that group if Westbrook is unable to play until late in the series.

The prediction: Thunder win, 4-2

DateGameTime (ET)National TV
Aug. 18Game 16:30 p.m.TNT
Aug. 20Game 23:30 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 22Game 36 p.m.ESPN
Aug. 24Game 44 p.m.TNT
Aug. 26Game 5*TBDTBD
Aug. 28Game 6*TBDTBD
Aug. 30Game 7*TBDTBD

*if necessary

NBA playoff bracket predictions, picks, odds & series breakdowns for the 2020 bubble 4
(Getty Images)

NBA playoff odds

The Clippers, Lakers and Bucks are unsurprisingly the championship favorites heading into the playoffs. They have been considered the top contenders since last summer’s free agency bonanza.

In addition to the title odds below, you can also find odds to win the Eastern and Western Conferences here.

TeamOdds
Clippers+275
Lakers+300
Bucks+325
Celtics+1,000
Raptors+1,000
Rockets+1,200
Nuggets+2,800
Trail Blazers+2,800
Heat+3,300
Mavericks+5,000
Thunder+5,000
Jazz+5,000
76ers+6,000
Pacers+12,500
Nets+15,000
Grizzlies+20,000
Magic+25,000

NBA Finals picks 2020

Eastern Conference champion: Raptors

Western Conference champion: Clippers

NBA Finals: Clippers win, 4-2

NBA Finals MVP: Kawhi Leonard

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