Sizing Up The Potential NBA First Round Playoff Matchups

By in NBA on
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NBA Playoffs Finals Trophy

The NBA has announced its planned return from its long hiatus later this summer. There are still some regular season games to be played by the 22 teams that have been delegated to continue action. With that in mind, we’ll size up the potential first round NBA Playoff matchups to give you a leg up on your futures wagers.

While nothing is set in stone due to the unpredictable nature of recent events, it does now appear that the 2019-20 NBA season will resume. The tentative plan calls for the 22 teams with legitimate postseason chances to resume play at the end of July. After eight games, the postseason will begin, with seven-game series for the entirety of the 16-team playoffs.

In those eight games, anything can happen. But for those who want to try to place some future wagers on the teams who just might be conference champion or even NBA championship contenders, this isn’t a bad time to do it. It’s likely you’ll get more favorable odds now as compared to once everybody lays eyes on these teams once again and sees what they look like off the layoff.

Still Many Unanswered Questions

It’s hard to say if some key players who were injured before the break might make a comeback. And it’s also difficult to predict if any players might choose not to make their return for fear of contracting the virus.

In addition, the standings are tight in many of the races in the Eastern and Western conferences. For example, in the West, four teams, currently seeded fourth through seventh, are within one game of each other in the win column. And in the East, the Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers currently have the exact same record heading into the final eight games.

In other words, anything can happen. And the matchups for the first round of the playoffs, as they currently sit, could easily get jumbled around by what happens in the closing games.

But it is important, for betting purposes, to start projecting teams forward. For example, it wouldn’t be a good idea to pick a team to win a conference title if they could get matched up with a first-round team that seems to have their number. You have to start looking ahead a bit if you want to make accurate futures wagers.

With that in mind, we’re here to size up the potential first-round NBA Playoff matchups as they sit right now. In the cases where teams are tied, we’re using the NBA’s tiebreakers for the seedings. As we said, a lot of this could change, but projecting these first-round matchups can be fun and quite useful to bettors looking ahead.

Projected NBA First-Round Playoff Matchups  – Eastern Conference

#1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #8 Orlando Magic

Where We Left The Bucks (+325, -200)

Milwaukee has been dominant in the Eastern Conference since the beginning of the season. They currently hold a 6 ½ game edge on Eastern second-place Toronto and a 3-game edge on the Lakers for best overall record. Oddly enough, right before the hiatus, they were stumbling a bit, with losses in three straight and four of five.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has somehow raised his game even more (with the exception of his free throw shooting) and looks like a lock for the MVP. The pieces around him are rock solid, with Khris Middleton headed for a 50/40/90 shooting season, fellow veterans Brook Lopez, George Hill and Brook Lopez playing key roles, and Donte DeVincenzo adding some youthful explosiveness. Milwaukee possesses 1 to 2 betting odds to win the East, although they’re only the third choice to win it all behind the Lakers and Clippers.

Where We Left The Magic (+25000, +8000)

The Magic haven’t really established themselves as any kind of threat and are lucky to be in the East where the threshold for playoff action is much lower. They are also just a shade behind Brooklyn for the #7 spot, which they surely would love to achieve to avoid Milwaukee. But it’s not likely that this team can make first-round noise against any opponent.

They rely heavily on center Nikola Vucevic’ all-around game and Evan Fournier, in the midst of a career year, on the outside. Aaron Gordon is wildly inconsistent but was hot before the break, while Markelle Fultz has done a solid, if unspectacular job at the point. The Magic also get a boost from Terrence Ross, one of the league’s best instant-offense options off the bench.

How They Match Up

It would have been interesting to see what might have been had Jonathan Isaac not got hurt for Orlando. Of course, if he hadn’t, the Magic probably might just have worked their way to a higher seed. But there is little doubt that this is shaping up to be the biggest of all first-round mismatches, which is part of the reason why the odds on Milwaukee overall are so low.

#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Brooklyn Nets

Where We Left The Raptors (+2500, +950)

Most experts though the Raptors would drop back to the edge of the playoff race without Kawhi Leonard in the fold. Instead, they have been just as strong to this point as they were in their championship season, relying on a more balanced approach and a chemistry level that’s off the charts. It hasn’t hurt that Pascal Siakam has turned into a true go-to option in the absence of Leonard.

The Raptors have exceptional depth (5 players average at least 16 points per game) and three-point shooting (nearly 14 per game.) And they have a steely resolve to prove that they were not one-year wonders or a one-man team. If there’s any team with the mental toughness to handle the layoff, it would be this one.

Where We Left The Nets (+5000, +2000)

The Nets figured this was going to be a bit of a rough year as they waited for Kevin Durant to recover. What they didn’t expect was that they’d have Kyrie Irving for only a handful of games in an injury-marred season. On top of that, Kenny Atkinson went from coaching darling to the unemployment line when Brooklyn canned him shortly before the break; Jacque Vaughn has the job on an interim basis.

Whether it was the on-and-off presence of Irving or just a lightning-in-a-bottle situation, for whatever reason the Nets have not been able to recapture the magic of their unlikely run to the postseason from a year ago. They rely heavily on Spencer Dinwiddie, which makes them a bit one-note in key possessions. And their outside shooting has been extremely erratic all year long.

How They Match Up

Durant has been steadfast that he will not return to play this year. Yet the oddsmakers have them ahead off many teams with much better records, mainly because that possibility is still dangling. Don’t take the bait; the Raptors are a much more solid option, top-to-bottom, with or without KD.

#3 Boston Celtics vs. #6 Philadelphia 76ers

Where We Left The Celtics (+1200, +600)

The substitution of Kemba Walker for Kyrie Erving has done wonders for Boston’s chemistry. Even with Walker still getting his, third-year players Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are having career years, giving Boston a lethal pair of wings. Throw in Gordon Hayward, once again looking like his old self, to make it a trio.

Still, there are some concerns here, including a somewhat questionable bench and committee approach at center. But the other way to look at it is that the Celtics have rarely had all their pieces healthy at the same time this year. They should have that coming out of the break, which is probably why they have the second-best odds in the East behind the Bucks.

Where We Left The 76ers (+2800, +1200)

The most volatile of all NBA championship contenders, the Sixers always tend to look much better on paper than on the court. Joel Embiid’s numbers are down this year, Ben Simmons missed significant time with a back injury, and neither Josh Richardson or Al Horford has made the expect impact as new acquisitions. No team gets more dissected by those trying to figure out if this team will ever realize its potential.

The good news is that Simmons should be ready to roll when play resumes. And his injury may have inadvertently led to a key piece of the puzzle being revealed, as Shake Milton has emerged as a lethal marksman. We’re guessing that this team actually rallies past Indiana to get to the #5 spot and a more favorable matchup.

How They Match Up

Without Horford, the Celtics lack the kind of inside presence to harass Embiid that they’ve had in the past. But the Sixers may scuffle to produce offensively when postseason play grinds things down to a half-court game. This matchup may not happen, but whoever wins it if it does might be so bloodied that they struggle going much further in the tournament.

#4 Miami Heat vs. #5 Indiana Pacers

Where We Left The Heat (+5000, +1800)

Online sports betting sites aren’t giving this team a lot of respect, which might be right up their alley. After all, no one gave them much of the chance at the start of the year to be among the East’s powerhouses, but here they are. Much credit goes to Jimmy Butler, who brought with him a winning spirit and his ability to make big plays down the stretch of games.

Beyond that, Bam Adebayo has been huge, emerging as a multi-dimensional big man who can do a little bit of everything. Still, the Heat will be relying on unheralded guys like Duncan Robinson and Kendrick Nunn to knock down their shots in the heat of playoff intensity that they’ve never before experienced. How much can Erik Spoelstra coax out of a team that has already overachieved so much?

Where We Left The Pacers (+8000, +4000)

If you had told Rick Carlisle at the start of the year he’d have his team at 13 games above .500 with an outside shot at home-court advantage in a first-round series, he probably would have taken it. Especially when Victor Oladipo has struggled to get reacclimated to the lineup, Myles Turner hasn’t taken the expected leap, and Malcolm Brogdon has battled injuries since a blazing start to his time in Indiana.

This team doesn’t really have an identity on which to hang its hat. Domantas Sabonis has been brilliant, but he’s not the type of player you would expect to carry a team in a playoff scenario. It seems likely that Indiana will fall behind Philly and settle for the #6 seed and a much tougher matchup.

How They Match Up

If these two teams do end up meeting in the first round, Miami appears to have a big edge. Unless Oladipo shows major strides, Indiana looks like it might struggle offensively. But neither of these squads looks like any kind of threat to Milwaukee in Round 2.

Projected NBA First-Round Playoff Matchups – Western Conference

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies

Where We Left The Lakers (+225, +130)

The addition of Anthony Davis has had the desired effect on the modern day-Showtime, as the Lakers have gone from a non-playoff team a year ago to the favorite to win it all right now. Of course, Davis hasn’t done it on his own. LeBron James has embraced a point guard-type role, leading the league in assists and putting up some of the best numbers of his otherworldly career.

There are some who believe that LA could use a legitimate third scoring option, something that Kyle Kuzma hasn’t quite proven to be this year. Still, the experience surrounding the two stars is quite impressive, with guys like Danny Green, Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard who have been through the wars and then some. The first round should be a breeze for this crew.

Where We Left The Grizzlies (+20000, +10000)

For such a young team to be in solid shape for a playoff spot in the rugged West is quite something. And the main reason has been the play of rookie point guard Ja Morant. He has been everything the team could have hoped and should be fun to watch come the postseason, even though it’s likely to be a short stay.

For them to have any shot against the Lake Show, Memphis will need Morant playing out of this world, Jaren Jackson Jr. to play to the positive side of his volatile tendencies, and, well, it wouldn’t hurt if LeBron or Davis didn’t play for some reason. The future is exciting for this team. But in the present, it should be a quick exit.

How They Match Up

As great as Morant has been, the NBA was probably hoping the Pelicans could surge to the #8 spot and put Zion Williamson in the spotlight. That’s not likely to happen, which means the Grizzlies draw the short straw. If this series went five, it would be a shock.

#2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks

Where We Left The Clippers (+300, +200)

If you bet on the Clippers to go all the way, you are betting on their ceiling. Kawhi Leonard has been out 13 games and Paul George out 22. In other words, we haven’t often seen what this team can do at full throttle, although the glimpses they have provided have been tantalizing.

While the two stars have missed time, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have held down the fort just fine, allowing the Clips to keep strong playoff position. Now we’ll get to see how Doc Rivers puts it all together down the stretch. The ultimate goal is a cross-town showdown with the Lakers, which could be one for the ages.

Where We Left The Mavericks (+4000, +2000)

It will be hard to keep Luka Doncic off the All-NBA team in this, his second season. His performance has been scintillating all year long, even as he missed some time. So too kas Kristaps Porzingis, who has been up and down in his first year in Dallas but still presents an interesting matchup dilemma for whatever team comes faces the Mavs.

Losing Dwight Powell to injury took some of the steam from the Mavs playoff hopes. Doncic is an electric player who can certainly carry a team to a win or two. But he’ll be up against other superstars who can do the same and are surrounded by much better supporting casts.

How They Match Up

The Mavs would probably be a trendy upset pick if they were facing anybody else. But the Clippers have too many veteran stars to allow a young team to catch them unawares. Like Memphis, Dallas is probably just taking notes this year, with hopes of doing much more damage down the road.

#3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Houston Rockets

Where We Left The Nuggets (+3000, +1500)

2019-20 feels like its been a mild disappointment for Denver. Key performers Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris have stagnated somewhat, while others, like Will Barton and Jerami Grant have picked up the slack. And, if he could ever stay heathy long enough, Michael Porter could be an intriguing X factor.

Reports have Jokic in top physical shape heading into the return of play. That’s good news, because the only way the Nuggets advance is if he puts on a tour de force effort like he did a year ago. This team is intriguing, but the matchup could be key.

Where We Left The Rockets (+1200, +650)

Sixth in the West but third in the odds, the Rockets are definitely a team worth watching. Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball experiment really started to take flight once Robert Covington was acquired as an ideal fit. Since then, this team looks like the type that could scare anybody with their unorthodox approach.

Before the break, Russell Westbrook was playing his best basketball, coexisting with James Harden in much smoother fashion. With the shooters and penetrators that they have, Houston will be extremely tough to defend. The question is whether they can rebound enough, or, in this series, stop Jokic without any size.

How They Match Up

A Nuggets-Rockets series would be ideal for those who like to philosophize on the direction basketball is headed. But in terms of sheer talent, Houston has the edge here. If they can pick the momentum they were starting to gather back up, they could be a serious danger to anyone they face.

#4 Utah Jazz vs. #5 Oklahoma City Thunder

Where We Left The Jazz (+4000, +2200)

As a coach, you have to deal with just about every contingency under the sun. And yet it’s doubtful that Quin Snyder could have ever envisioned his two best players would come to loggerheads over the reaction to a virus. Yet that’s where things now stand with Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell.

While the Jazz have other solid parts, including 2019-20 breakout Bogdan Bogdanovic, it’s hard to imagine them doing much in the playoffs without Gobert and Mitchell in harmony. This squad will be one of the great unknowns heading into the playoffs. You should watch Utah carefully in the eight-game run up before committing to any bet on their future prospects.

Where We Left The Thunder (+10000, +5000)

The Thunder are sort of like the Western version of Toronto, a team that nobody gave a chance after the departure of a star player. Give credit to Billy Donovan, who is easily doing his best coaching job since leaving the confines of the college game. And spare some of that credit for Chris Paul, who has stayed healthy and enjoyed his best season in years.

The Thunder also rely on rising star Shae Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari to score, while either Steven Adams or Nerlens Noel is always patrolling the rim. A first-round matchup against the Jazz would seem like their best option moving forward. But the possibility that the Mavericks leap-frog both those teams in the standings would throw a wrench into those plans.

How They Match Up

Oddsmakers have soured on the Jazz and never gave the Thunder much of a shot. The guess here is that a first-round series between these two would end up with the Thunder squeezing it out in seven. But it seems like the end of the regular season could lead to entirely different matchups.


We hope that this article gives you a nice refresher on how the teams most likely headed for the NBA postseason stack up. And we hope it helps you make wiser futures bets at top NBA betting sites while the odds are in your favor.

Jim Beviglia

Jim Beviglia joined as a staff writer in 2018, parlaying his years of freelance writing into contributions on a number of different topics. He handles the sport of horse racing for and the intersection between the worlds of cryptocurrency and online gambling in a weekly blog. For his full-time job, Jim handles the television and track announcing duties at a h ...

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