Photo courtesy of NBA.com
With the Orlando Magic’s overtime loss to the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets’ win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday evening, the first two match-ups for the NBA Playoffs are set.
In an unprecedented season, the entire playoffs will take place in a “bubble” in Central Florida. The measure was taken to help protect players against COVID-19.
There remains plenty of volatility in the playoff race. Three teams are separated by 1.5 games in for spots No. 4 through 6 in the Eastern Conference. In the West, one game separate four teams vying for the final spot. The teams that finish eighth and ninth in the West will play in a one-game playoff to take on the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers.
Following Sunday’s action however, the Nets are locked into the No. 7 seed in the East. The Magic will occupy the final playoff spot.
The top two seeds are also set in stone with the Milwaukee Bucks securing the top seed. Sitting behind Milwaukee is the reigning champion Toronto Raptors, who will take on Brooklyn. Milwaukee will battle it out with Orlando.
(1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (8) Orlando Magic
Season Series: Milwaukee won 4-0
Previous Playoff Match-ups: One. (Milwaukee won 3-1 in 2001 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals)
Bubble Records: Milwaukee 2-4, Orlando 2-4.
Milwaukee: For the second straight season, the Milwaukee Bucks are the top seed in the East. The Bucks are a well-oiled machine led by the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo. While Antetokounmpo makes a compelling case for league MVP, the Bucks are far from a 1-man team. Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez are key pieces. Milwaukee leads the NBA in points per game, ranks fourth in 3-pointers made and first in point differential.
Orlando: After missing the playoffs in six straight seasons, the Orlando Magic are in the postseason for a second year in a row. The Magic started off bubble play with two impressive wins, but have dropped four straight and are losing key pieces by the minute. Since Jonathan Isaac’s gruesome injury, Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier have each missed time. Terrence Ross left the bubble on Monday to be treated for an injury. There is hope that those players, minus Isaac, will return. For the Magic to have any playoff success, they need a big effort from center Nikola Vucevic.
(2) Toronto Raptors vs. (7) Brooklyn Nets
Season Series: Toronto won 3-1
Previous Playoff Match-ups: Two. (New Jersey Nets won 4-2 in 2007 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, Brooklyn won 4-3 in 2014) Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Bubble Records: Toronto 5-1, Brooklyn 4-2
Toronto: Despite losing reigning NBA Finals MVP Kahwi Leonard to Los Angeles, Nick Nurse’s team showed no signs of tailing off in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors have six players averaging in double-figures scoring, including five who average at least 15 points per game. Pascal Siakam has emerged as a star for Toronto alongside guard and perennial All-Star Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka provides a presence defensively inside while Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet are capable of big offensive performances. Toronto allows the fewest points in the NBA.
Brooklyn: Without top two scorers Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving and center DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn’s performance in the bubble has been nothing short of amazing. Without those pieces, Caris LeVert has paced the offense. Center Jarrett Allen has averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds in the bubble. Forward Joe Harris has averaged better than 20 points per game in the bubble while shooting a remarkable 62 percent from the field and 58 percent from beyond the arc. In the bubble, Brooklyn owns wins over two of the NBA’s four best teams.