If the NBA playoffs Started Today: Ranking the Best First Round Matchups

By Luke Ervin
May. 23, 2020

As the days go by, it seems more likely than ever that the 2019-2020 NBA season will end up resuming action sometime this summer. What that will look like is up for debate, but I thought it would be fun to rank the first-round playoff matchups if the playoffs started today. We'll be ranking them based on competitiveness and overall watchability.

Eastern Conference

4.) #1 Bucks vs. #8 Magic

This series feels like a quick 4 game sweep. The Bucks lead the season series vs. the Magic 3-0. I just don't think the Magic have the firepower or the depth to keep up with the Bucks. For the Magic, the best-case scenario is stealing a game or two at home, but I don't see that happening.

3.) #2 Raptors vs. #7 Nets

Assuming Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant remain out when the NBA resumes, I don't see this series being competitive. The Raptors are playing great basketball a year after losing Kawhi Leonard. With that being said, the defending champs are a deep basketball team and Pascal Siakam is playing at a high level. I could see the Nets getting a game or two, but the series lacks star power without Durant or Irving.

2.) #4 Heat vs. #5 Pacers

The Heat are a rejuvenated unit. Jimmy Butler has brought new confidence to this Heat team. The Heat are loaded with young talent like Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Kendrick Nunn, Derrick Jones Jr., and sharpshooter Duncan Robinson. Add that with the fact Victor Oladipo has had plenty of time to get healthy, and this series should be highly competitive. The Pacers were able to thrive without Oladipo, in large part due to all-star Domantas Sabonis. I see the Heat winning the series, but this series will be competitive, and fun to watch with loads of good young talent.

1.) #3 Celtics vs. #6 76ers

This is the most intriguing round one matchup in the east by far. The Celtics and 76ers have had an intense rivalry over the past few years. There is no love lost between either squad. A round one playoff series would only increase the intense rivalry between the teams. The 76ers are loaded with talent, but they've definitely underachieved so far this season. I do expect the 76ers to turn it up when the playoffs come around. Meanwhile, the Celtics bounced back from an underachieving season last year to become one of the top teams in the east. This series has it all, star power, competitiveness, and an existing rivalry.

Western Conference

4.) #1 Lakers vs. #8 Grizzlies

The storylines and star power that come with this series would make good T.V. The problem is this feels like a sweep to me. I will say seeing Ja Morant and the upstart Grizzlies face LeBron James and Anthony Davis would be an entertaining matchup. With other good matchups in the western conference, I can't rank this any higher but this will be a good but quick watch. Look for the Grizzlies to use this series as experience for a very young and talented team.

3.) #4 Jazz vs. #5 Thunder

Two small market teams facing off in the playoffs isn't always must watch T.V. But if you like basketball this could be the most competitive in the western conference. There is also history with this matchup. The Thunder and Jazz previously met in the 2018 NBA playoffs. The Jazz took the series 4-2. Both teams have been overlooked by some because they lack star power that other teams in the western conference have. Quietly the Thunder, once projected as a last-place team, have put together a fantastic season. Both the Jazz and Thunder have played great defense this year. It might not be the most entertaining style of basketball but this series has all the making of going seven games.

2.) #2 Clippers vs. #7 Mavericks

Luka Doncic will have his work cut out for him if he faces the Clippers round one. Seeing Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis face the deepest team in the NBA should be a treat. This series will be a real measuring stick for the Mavericks. The Clippers should be able to win the series in 5 or 6 games. The Mavericks are one big piece away from being real contenders in the west. This series gets ranked ahead of the Jazz vs, Thunder matchup because of all the star power involved in this series. On top of all that, the Clippers and Mavericks are two of the highest-scoring teams in the western conference.

1.) #3 Nuggets vs. #6 Rockets

Seeing the Rockets guard Nikola Jokic without a true center puts this series on the top of my list already. The matchup here will be very entertaining. The two teams are pretty evenly matched and both play a fun brand of basketball. The season series between the Nuggets and Rockets is knotted up at two apiece. The Rockets and Nuggets while evenly matched, both have different strengths. The Rockets are the highest-scoring team in the western conference, while the Nuggets allow the second-fewest points per game in the western conference. This series would be competitive and fun to watch.

Let me know what first-round series you're excited to see.