The NBA playoffs were set to begin on April 18th. While the regular season never ended and we have yet to have the opportunity to see what teams would have officially made the playoffs (with some exceptions), we will construct a fantasy NBA playoffs round by round based on how the first 67 games of the regular season played out and which teams would have been playing who based on their current positions in the standings. This week, we will analyze each team that made the playoffs and introduce the series that they would play in and announce the winners of that series and who they play in the next series. Each week we will continue picking the winners of each series until the end of the Finals for our NBA Fantasy Playoffs.
1. Bucks vs. 8. Magic
The Bucks held the best record in the NBA this past season with a 53-12 record, 6.5 games ahead of the Raptors in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks were the highest-scoring team in the NBA scoring 118.6 points per game and were also very good on the defensive side of the ball allowing just 107.4 points per game. This gave them the highest win differential in the league as well at +11.2 points over its opponents which is 3.8 points better than the next team (Lakers). The Bucks became the fastest team in NBA history to clinch a playoff spot when they secured their spot on February 23 with 27 games remaining in the season. This team has a lot of talent with two all-stars including Khris Middleton and the defending MVP Giannis Antetokumpo who would be the front-runner for MVP again this season averaging 29.6 points per game (3rd in the NBA), 13.7 rebounds per game (3rd), and 5.8 assists per game.
The Magic are not quite the Bucks as they would be making the playoffs as a sub-.500 team with a 30-35 record on the season and would have only grabbed the eighth seed because the team held a 5.5 game lead over the Wizards for this spot. Nonetheless, the Magic are a very good defensive team and had most of its issues on offense as they allowed just 107.3 points per game which ranked third in the Eastern Conference. The problem was their inability to score with just 106.4 points per game offensively giving them a -0.9 point differential overall. Nikola Vucevic was the team’s best player averaging 19.5 points per game and 11.0 rebounds per game.
The Match-up: In the season series between the Bucks and Magic, the Bucks won all 4 games with two wins at home and on the road. In these games, the Bucks average margin of victory was +17 points. The largest margin of victory was in their first meeting where the Bucks won 123-91 (32 points) and the smallest margin of victory was in the second meeting where the Bucks won 110-101 (9 points). The Bucks’s biggest strength in this series would be having home court where they have dominated winning 28 of its 31 games at home. Although the Magic struggled against the Bucks, their defense did slow the Bucks down more than they usually are overall as the Bucks scored just 113.7 points per game opposed to its season average 118.6 points per game.
2. Raptors vs. 7. Nets
Many thought the defending NBA Champions would have a worse year this year after losing Kawhi Leonard in free agency and their best player a season ago. The team held a 46-18 record with 18 games remaining following a season where they ended 58-24 meaning 12 more wins would have tied their record from the previous season. The Raptors fell second to the Bucks in the Eastern Conference in both points per game (113.0) and point differential (+6.5) but was the best defensive team in the conference allowing just 106.5 points per game. In the absence of Leonard, Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry have had significantly improved seasons. Siakam went from 16.9 points per game and 6.9 rebounds per game in 2018-19 and was named the Most Improved Player to averaging 23.6 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game this season and making the case to be named Most Improved Player once again. Lowry’s numbers significantly increased from 14.2 points per game and 8.7 assists per game last season to 19.7 points per game and 7.7 assists per game.
The Nets had much higher expectations coming into the year after acquiring Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in free agency but Durant missed the entire season with a torn Achilles that he suffered in the NBA Finals and Irving dealt with multiple injuries that led to him missing the remainder of the season. Overall, the Nets put together a decent season of 30-34 without its two best players. The team was relatively average offensively scoring 110.8 points per game but struggled defensively allowing 111.4 points per game giving them a -0.6 point differential. Spencer Dinwiddie noticeably stepped up, scoring 20.6 points per game and 6.8 assists per game.
Match-up: The Raptors led the season series winning four of the five games, 2-0 at home and 2-1 in Brooklyn. The Raptors maintained their season averages in these games scoring 112.8 points per game and allowing 106 points per game for a 6.8 margin of victory. The only game the Nets won was at home where they played much better on the season with an 18-14 record at home and a much worse 12-20 record on the road. The largest win for the Raptors was in the third meeting where they won 121-102 at home but the Nets did go on to tighten the games after this losing by just one point in their fourth meeting with each other in Toronto and winning their most recent meeting in Brooklyn.
3. Celtics vs. 6. 76ers
The Celtics are the third seed in the Eastern Conference with a 43-21 record on the season. They were tied in second with the Raptors in scoring at 113.0 points per game and just behind them in points allowed at 106.8 points per game giving them a point differential of +6.2. The Celtics lost Kyrie Irving to free agency but immediately replaced him with Kemba Walker who averaged 21.2 points per game and 4.9 assists per game. They also got a huge improvement from Jayson Tatum in his third season in the league as he averaged 23.6 points per game and 7.1 rebounds per game.
The 76ers were a significantly better team at home than on the road. If it were not for how poorly they played on the road this season, they could have been a top-three seed in the playoffs. The Sixers held a 39-26 record with a home record of 29-2 which is the best in the NBA but an awful 10-24 on the road which would be the worst of any team to make the playoffs. The team averaged 109.6 points per game and allowed 107.4 points per game which is a +2.2 point differential. Joel Embiid was their best player as he had a down season from a year ago averaging 23.4 points per game and 11.8 rebounds per game.
Match-up: The 76ers had the upper hand in the season series with the Celtics winning three of the four games they played winning both at home and taking one on the road. Only one of the games was close which was a 6-point Sixers win in their second meeting. The Celtics reached their season average in scoring (113 points) in just one game which was their only win of the series and was held to under 100 points in two of the other three games. Interestingly, one of the 76ers ten road wins came against the Celtics which was a very good team at home as well as winning 23 of 32 games in Boston. This series is overall very interesting because the Celtics are a solid team on the road at 20-12 but the 76ers are nearly unstoppable at home but almost the complete opposite on the road.
4. Heat vs. 5. Pacers
The Heat had a very productive offseason that took the team from 39-43 a season ago to 41-24 and one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. This included the acquisition of Jimmy Butler in the offseason, draft picks, Kendrick Nunn and Tyler Hero, as well as the huge improvement from big man Bam Adebayo. The Heat scored 112.2 points per game and allowed 108.9 points per game with a point differential of +3.3. The Heat had the third-best home record to just the 76ers and Bucks, winning 27 of its 32 home games but was very poor on the road with a 14-19 record. Jimmy Butler averaged 20.2 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game, and 6.1 assists per game while Adebayo averaged 16.2 points per game, 10.5 rebounds per game, and 5.1 assists per game. Adebayo is one of the top contenders to be named the Most Improved Player while Kendrick Nunn will likely be a top-5 candidate for Rookie of the Year.
The Pacers had a 39-26 record on the season to fall into the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. They were solid on both sides of the ball but a bit better defensively as they scored 10.3 points per game and allowed just 107.4 points per game (+1.9 point differential). The team was better at home with a 21-11 record but not awful on the road with an 18-15 record. The Pacers were without Victor Oladipo for a large portion of the season but were picked up well by his teammates as Domantas Sabonis was the best scoring 18.5 points per game and pulling in 12.4 rebounds per game.
Match-up: The Heat had the better of the Pacers in the two games they played with wins in both which took place at each team’s home stadiums. The first game took place in Miami where the Heat barely won 113-112 but was able to secure a more comfortable win in Indiana where they won 122-108. Although the Pacers lost both, they showed that they could give the Heat a fight on their home court as a team that is much better playing at home. These were both also relatively higher scoring games as three of four scores for each team were above their season averages.
1. Lakers vs. 8. Grizzlies
The Lakers improved significantly this year from having missed the playoffs a year ago to the top seed in the Western Conference with a 49-14 record, 5.5 games ahead of the Clippers. The Lakers scored an above-average 114.3 points per game and allowed a Conference-low 106.9 points per game for a Conference-best +7.4 point differential. While the Lakers have played well at home with a 23-8 record, they played better on the road winning 26 of its 32 away games. The Lakers surge this season was due to LeBron James moving to point guard and the acquisition of Anthony Davis via trade in the offseason. In his new role, LeBron has scored 25.7 points per game, 7.9 rebounds per game, and has set a new career-high and is the league leader with 10.6 assists per game. Anthony Davis has been just as productive scoring 26.7 points per game, 9.4 assists per game, and 2.4 blocks per game (3rd in the NBA).
The Grizzlies improved greatly this season as well with a lot of that coming due to their second overall pick in the draft, Ja Morant. The Grizzlies are 32-33 on the season and were able to score well with 112.6 points per game but struggled on defense allowing 113.7 points per game for a -1.1 point differential. When the season is ultimately concluded, Ja Morant is the front-runner for Rookie of the Year as he averaged 17.6 points per game and 6.9 assists per game. He was also helped by his big man Jonas Valanciunas who scored 14.9 points per game and pulled in a career-high 11.2 rebounds per game.
Match-up: The Lakers took three out four games against the Grizzlies this season winning both at home and splitting the games in Memphis. The series was closer than thought to be though as the Lakers did win easily in their first meeting in Los Angeles by a score of 120-91 but the Grizzlies played them close in game two in Memphis losing just 109-108. In the following two games, the Lakers won at home by 12 points and the Grizzlies defeated the Lakers in the final meeting by a score of 105-88 (17 point win) in Memphis. The Lakers played better on the road this season but struggled to score in Memphis not reaching its season-average 114.3 points per game in either game. The Lakers were able to win easily in both of its home games as the Grizzlies are not a good road team with a 14-18 record.
2. Clippers vs. 7. Mavericks
The Clippers had a huge off-season where they acquired Kawhi Leonard in free agency and Paul George via trade from the Thunder. The Clippers are 44-20 and had the best home record in the Western Conference at 25-7. The team was third in scoring in the Conference with 116.2 points per game and allowed 109.7 points per game for a +6.5 point differential. Leonard is the reigning Finals MVP and has posted nearly identical numbers to last season (some better) averaging 26.9 points per game, 7.3 rebounds per game, and 5.0 assists per game. Paul George missed some time with an injury but has played well averaging 21.0 points per game and 5.7 rebounds per game.
The Mavericks have had a much improved season with a 40-27 record in which was primarily carried by the fast development of Luka Doncic. The Mavericks were the second-highest scoring team in the Western Conference with 116.4 points per game and allowed 110.3 points per game for a league’s third-best point differential of +6.1. They were the third-best team in the Conference on the road with a 21-12 record and a more average team at home with a 19-15 record. Luka Doncic has played a major role in the Mavericks improvement scoring 28.7 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, and 8.7 assists per game while leading the league with 14 triple-doubles. They also acquired Kristaps Porzingis in a trade with the Knicks last year as he has averaged 19.2 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game.
Match-up: The Clippers took both games against the Mavericks in the regular season with both games taking place in Dallas. The Clippers took the first win easily by a score of 114-99 but the Mavericks made their next meeting much closer and lost by just three points on a score of 110-107. Neither game was played in Los Angeles where the Clippers are particularly better but the Mavericks are also a better road team and showed a clear improvement over the two games against the Clippers.
3. Nuggets vs. 6. Rockets
The Nuggets are again one of the top teams in the Western Conference with a 43-22 record on the season. They are the lowest-scoring team of any Western Conference playoff contender with just 110.4 points per game but maintained the second-best defense allowing 107.4 points per game for a point differential of +3.0. The Nuggets were much better at home with the second-best record in the Conference at 25-8 but did not play as well on the road with an 18-14 record. Nikola Jokic has had another great season scoring 20.2 points per game, 10.2 rebounds per game, and 6.9 assists per game.
The Rockets are a much different team than the Nuggets with a 40-24 record on the season. The Rockets are reliant on scoring with a Conference-high 118.1 points per game but allowing a playoff contender high 114.4 points per game (3.7 point differential). The Rockets were a slightly better team at home with a 22-10 record at home and an 18-14 record on the road. The team acquired Russell Westbrook in the offseason via trade and traded away Clint Capela at the trade deadline committing to small-ball. James Harden leads the league in scoring for the third consecutive year with 34.4 points per game and tacked on 7.4 assists per game and 6.4 rebounds per game. Russell Westbrook has a solid stat line of 27.5 points per game, 8.0 rebounds per game, and 7.0 assists per game.
Match-up: The series for the Nuggets and Rockets is tied 2-2 with both teams winning on their home courts. The Nuggets won both games in which the scoring was lower: Game 1: 105-95 Game 4: 117-110 while the Rockets won both games that were higher scoring: Game 2: 130-104 and Game 3: 121-105. The Nuggets did not score more than 110 points in any of the games and the Rockets won both games in which they were able to score more than 120 points. This series would likely come down to whether or not the Rockets hit their shots and if a team can steal a win on the road.
4. Jazz vs. 5. Thunder
The Jazz has a very similar team to the one they had last year and has led them to a 41-23 record for the fourth seed. The Jazz is an overall very well balanced team scoring 111.0 points per game and allowing 107.9 points per game for a +3.1 point differential. In addition to this balance, they have a 21-10 record at home and a 20-13 record on the road. The Jazz’s two best players are Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. Mitchell averaged all career-highs with 24.2 points per game, 4.4 rebounds per game, and 4.2 assists per game while Gobert averaged 15.1 points per game and a career-high 13.7 rebounds per game.
The Thunder surprised many people this year after parting ways with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the team finds itself in the fifth seed in the playoffs with a 40-24 record. The Thunder are a very similar team to the Jazz scoring 110.8 points per game and allowing 108.3 points per game for a +2.5 point differential. The Thunder are slightly better on the road with a 20-11 away record and a 20-13 home record. Chris Paul was the main piece that came back to the Thunder in their trade with the Rockets that included Westbrook and he has played very well scoring 17.7 points per game, 6.8 assists per game, and 4.9 rebounds per game.
Matchup: This might be the evenest matchup of the playoffs as the teams split the two games they played and both taking place in Utah. The Jazz won the first game by a score of 100-95 and the Thunder took game 2 by a score of 104-90. Neither team has any clear advantage as the two teams score similar season averages, both games played out very similarly, and both teams are very equal at home and on the road. This is a type of series where every game could be close.