Saturday, April 18 was the date scheduled to mark the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA playoffs. Unfortunately, because of the unanticipated landscape of the world, we have been deprived of what was one of the most entertaining seasons the NBA has played in years.
From the MVP race between Los Angeles Lakers power forward LeBron James and Milwaukee Bucks point guard Giannis Antetokounmpo to the impressive rookie seasons of New Orleans Pelicans power forward Zion Williamson and Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, and even the new-look Clippers with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the league has seen quite the development of multiple franchises in not even a whole league year. That’s not even mentioning the rise of Boston Celtics small forward Jayson Tatum ascending to superstar levels of production, or the Houston Rockets’ duo of point guard James Harden and shooting guard Russell Westbrook being reconnected for the first time since their days on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Just as the end of a European era in Dallas came to fruition, a new star emerged in Luka Doncic, who has taken the league by storm while pairing with center Kristaps Porzingis to quietly keep the Mavericks in the playoff picture. The Toronto Raptors had also continued their success from the previous season, despite Leonard’s departure, while the Antetokounmpo led Bucks were on pace for a league-leading 66-win season. In heartwarming fashion, James and center Anthony Davis made the Lakers’ true contenders for the first time in the post-Kobe Bryant era, paying homage to the late point guard at several games following his passing prior to the end of the season. The list goes on for the number of storylines that have entertained us for the entire season.
Now imagine all of that plus a healthy Warriors team with the splash brothers tandem of point guard Steph Curry and shooting guard Klay Thompson back in action with a top draft pick that the Warriors will get this offseason, along with a healthy Brooklyn Nets team with point guard Kyrie Irving and small forward Kevin Durant completely healthy. The league is in good hands going forward, and it is a shame that this season seems as though it will likely not be completed following the de-escalation of restrictions for public events, barring some insane system where the players move to a biodome in one central location. It is fun to flirt with that idea, but it is hard to imagine the players consenting to be away from their homes and families for an indefinite amount of time, without the ability to leave or see anyone else.
Despite the overwhelmingly pessimistic view regarding the finish to the NBA season, we can still use our imagination to see how things would have shaken out. Before the suspension of the season, there were many promising matchups scheduled to take place. In the East, the first seed Milwaukee Bucks would have taken on the eighth seed Orlando Magic, which would be an easy sweep for the Bucks. The second seed Toronto Raptors would have taken on a seventh seed Brooklyn Nets team without Irving or Durant, leading to an easy sweep as well. The first good matchup of the first round of the playoffs in the East would be the third seed Boston Celtics taking on the sixth seed Philadelphia 76ers, showing off the power of two of the best rosters in the conference, leading to a six or seven-game series. Lastly, the plucky fourth seed Miami Heat would host the fifth seed Indiana Pacers for another likely lengthy series.
As for the Western Conference, the first seed Lakers would make quick work of the eighth seed Memphis Grizzlies, despite the impressive first season from Morant, due to their better roster and the James-Davis tandem. The second seed Los Angeles Clippers, depending on the consistency of Paul George and Leonard, will have a tough matchup against the seventh seed Mavericks, as Doncic has shown he can catch fire at both ends of the court when necessary. The third seed Denver Nuggets would have their hands full against the sixth seed Houston Rockets in an impressive battle of offense and defense. Lastly, the fourth seed Utah Jazz and the fifth seed Oklahoma City would be an impressive bout between guards Donovan Mitchell and Chris Paul.
Revisiting some of the matchups, a rivalry that has been brewing for the past couple years has been the Celtics and 76ers. Since the growth of the two teams’ younger players, like Tatum, small forward Jaylen Brown, center Joel Embiid and point guard Ben Simmons, the two teams have faced each other in the second round of the 2018 playoffs. The 76ers came in as the favorite after Boston lost Irving for the season. Boston ended up winning the series 4-1 in part to strong performances from Tatum, Brown and shooting guards Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart. Since then, the two teams have been competing hard against each other in the past two regular seasons. This undoubtedly would have been a great playoff series. The Lakers vs Grizzlies would have been a fun watch as well. The Lakers would open up as overwhelming favorites, but seeing Morant in his first playoff series in his first season going against James and Davis would have been a sight to see. Miami vs Indiana had the makeup to be a great series as well, with small forward Jimmy Butler going toe-to-toe with point guard Victor Oladipo who was progressively getting stronger since returning from his Achilles injury.
Other anticipated matchups down the road would be the conference finals between the two Los Angeles juggernauts, the Lakers and Clippers. Since the day Leonard signed and George was traded from the Thunder, people have been anticipating this western conference showdown that would feature some of the best talents the league has ever seen going head-to-head. The eastern conference finals would likely be between the Milwaukee Bucks and either the Raptors or Celtics. Some potential great finals series could have been the two top MVP candidates James and Antetokounmpo facing off, or the decade could start off with an old fashioned Celtics-Lakers Finals, or Kawhi Leonard facing his old team, the Raptors. In the meantime, we hope that we can somehow find a breakthrough from this virus and see some of these highly anticipated matchups.