The Return of Sports: Predictions for the rest of the NBA season

The calendar has turned to July, and now all four of America’s biggest sports have plans to return to action. The NBA and MLB are both set to start this month, and the NHL is likely to do the same. The NFL will start training camp towards the end of the month as well. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making predictions about the sports that are returning, starting with the NBA and MLB (since they have set return dates).

The NBA is set to begin at Walt Disney World on July 30 with 8 additional regular season games for each team, known as seeding games. From there, the top 7 teams in each conference will slot into the NBA’s playoff bracket. If the 9 seed is within four games of the 8 seed, they’ll get the chance to compete with the 8 seed for a playoff spot. If they beat the 8 seed in both of two play-in games, they’re in.

Below are my predictions for the final NBA playoff seeding and my NBA playoff bracket. Realistically, there are 4-5 teams that I think have a legitimate chance at a title. Keep reading to find out which teams those are, and which team I have taking it all.

Final Playoff Seeding

Eastern Conference

  1. undefined Milwaukee Bucks (60-13)
  2. undefined Boston Celtics (51-21)
  3. undefined Toronto Raptors (48-24)
  4. undefined Miami Heat (46-27)
  5. undefined Philadelphia 76ers (46-27)
  6. undefined Indiana Pacers (42-31)
  7. undefined Orlando Magic (33-40)
  8. undefined Brooklyn Nets (31-41)

There’s a clear cut top 6 in the Eastern Conference. The Bucks will most likely secure the 1 seed after dominating all season. The Celtics, Raptors, Heat, 76ers, and Pacers will also finish strong. I have Boston surpassing Toronto as the duo of Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum continues to improve, leading the Celtics to come closer to the elite tier of NBA teams. The Heat would have the tiebreaker over the 76ers to keep the 4 seed, and I have the Pacers comfortably holding on to their 6 seed.

The Magic and Nets will most likely round out the playoff field in the East. The two teams play each other twice, and I have the Magic winning both match-ups since they’ll be close to home and the Nets will be without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan, and Nicolas Claxton at Disney.

However, the Nets are still likely to grab a playoff spot. They’re currently 6 full games ahead of the Wizards, who will be without Davis Bertans and may be missing Bradley Beal as well.

Western Conference

  1. undefined Los Angeles Lakers (56-15)
  2. undefined Denver Nuggets (51-22)
  3. undefined Los Angeles Clippers (50-22)
  4. undefined Oklahoma City Thunder (44-28)
  5. undefined Houston Rockets (44-28)
  6. undefined Utah Jazz (43-29)
  7. undefined Dallas Mavericks (42-33)
  8. undefined New Orleans Pelicans (34-37)

So long as they at least come close to their level of dominance from before the break, the Lakers should grab the top seed here. I have the Nuggets beating out the Clippers for the 2 seed, as the young duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray and PF Paul Millsap lead Denver to upset both LA teams. I don’t expect the Jazz to have much success now that Bojan Bogdanovic is out and chemistry between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert is fractured. This will allow the Thunder and Rockets to slot into the 4 and 5 seeds.

The Mavericks should have the 7 seed secured, but the 8 seed will come down to the wire. I think the young Grizzlies will struggle to replicate their strong season thus far against tough competition at Disney. Meanwhile, I have the Pelicans, who were handed one of the easiest 8 game slates, edging out Portland in an 8-9 play-in series to grab the final playoff spot. The NBA made this very easy for Zion Williamson and the Pelicans to make the playoffs, and I think they will. Winning in the playoffs will be a challenge for them.

Playoff Bracket

I can’t see many upsets happening in the early rounds, as 8 additional games will be enough to make for accurate seeding. But the last couple rounds could come down to the wire.

I have the Bucks taking the whole thing, as Giannis Antetokounmpo and the deep roster around him will be tough to beat. But I don’t think any single team is a lock to win it all. There are four other teams I could also see taking it all: the Lakers, Nuggets, Celtics, and Clippers.

The Lakers easily have the best duo in the NBA with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. But the depth around them is thin. Kyle Kuzma might be their next best player, and he’s a good offensive player but nothing extraordinary. C Dwight Howard has had a bit of a resurgence in LA, but is no longer anything special either. PG Rajon Rondo is also aging, and the team will be without Avery Bradley, instead bringing in J.R. Smith.

The Nuggets’ duo of Jokic and Murray isn’t quite as good. But SF Will Barton and PF Paul Millsap have also played a significant role throughout the year. Millsap has some good playoff experience, and Barton has a bright future, so I expect the Nuggets to be very competitive at Disney.

Jayson Tatum will be making his case for Most Improved Player, and the Celtics have a rising duo of their own in Tatum and Kemba Walker. SG Jaylen Brown has also averaged over 20 PPG, and SF Gordon Hayward is still a significant contributor despite being past his prime. They also have Marcus Smart, who’s average 13.5 PPG, as their 6th man. They will definitely give the Bucks a headache in the Eastern Conference Finals, and could be a dark horse title contender.

I don’t have the Clippers making the Conference Finals like these other three teams, but they have the league’s most well rounded player in Kawhi Leonard. They had planned for the duo of Leonard and Paul George to lead them, and George has done well despite regression. PG Lou Williams and big man Montrezl Harrell have also done very well in rotational roles. I think the Nuggets will step it up in their return and outperform the Clippers, but the Clippers could make a run as well.

I think the Bucks have the best combo of depth and star power in this league, and therefore I have them winning it all. But it’s definitely close, as those other four teams I mentioned could make for a good match-up against Milwaukee.

That’s all for my predictions of the NBA’s return. While I am picking the Bucks to win it all, I think my hometown Celtics have a shot and hope they can win their 18th banner. Despite the disappointment of last year’s team, I have hope that the core of Walker, Tatum, Brown, Hayward, and Smart can lead this team all the way to the championship.

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