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2020 NBA Champions Predictions - Unique 2020 Play-off format

  • Unique format to decide the 2020 NBA Champion
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After a four-month hiatus, the greatest basketball competition in the world is back on July 30, as the NBA returns to finish the 2020 season in unique and extraordinary circumstances. Has the landscape of the NBA changed, who will make the playoffs and who will become NBA champions?

The format
On July 30, a total of 22 teams will compete in the most unique NBA regular season and postseason in history, with all of the games being held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Each team will play eight ‘seeding games’ as a means to jockey for a better seed for the postseason. For others, it will just be about making the playoffs.

The seven teams in each conference with the best records (regular season games and seeding games) will clinch a playoff spot.

If the team with the eighth-best record in its conference is more than four games ahead of the team with the ninth-best record in the same conference, no ‘play-in tournament’ will be necessary. The final playoff berth will simply go to the team with the eighth best record (regular season games plus seeding games).

However, if the team with the eighth best record in its conference is four games or fewer ahead of the team with the ninth best record in the same conference, then there will be a ‘play-in tournament’ for the final spot between those two teams.

The tournament will essentially be a best-of-two series, in which the No. 9 seed will have to win two head-to-head matchups to take over the No. 8 spot. If the No.8 seed triumphs in either game, they progress onwards.

The upcoming tournament only features teams that still had a chance of making the playoffs before the season was postponed. Therefore, teams that cannot make the playoffs this season have been omitted from the NBA restart as a health and safety measure.

Teams competing

Eastern Conference (* = clinched playoff spot)

Milwaukee Bucks*
Toronto Raptors*
Boston Celtics*
Miami Heat*
Indiana Pacers*
Philadelphia 76ers*
Brooklyn Nets
Orlando Magic

Western Conference (* = clinched playoff spot)

Los Angeles Lakers*
LA Clippers*
Denver Nuggets*
Utah Jazz*
Oklahoma City Thunder*
Houston Rockets*
Dallas Mavericks
Memphis Grizzlies
Portland Trail Blazers
New Orleans Pelicans
Sacramento Kings
San Antonio Spurs
Phoenix Suns

Teams not competing

Eastern Conference
Atlanta Hawks
Charlotte Hornets
Chicago Bulls
Cleveland Cavaliers
Detroit Pistons
New York Knicks
Western Conference

Golden State Warriors
Minnesota Timberwolves

The contenders for NBA glory
Prior to the hiatus, each team had completed between 63 and 66 games of the regular season, with the Milwaukee Bucks (3.78*) topping the Eastern Conference and the LA Lakers leading the Western Conference.

The Bucks especially were having a fantastic regular season, leading the NBA with a record of 53-12. They ranked first in points per game (118.6), net rating (10.7), defensive rating (101.6) and in opponents’ field-goal percentage (.413), and tied for fifth in offensive rating (112.3).

Led by the frontrunning MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was averaging 29.6 PPG and 13.7 RPG (both the third highest overall in the NBA), Milwaukee were looking formidable and will be aiming to recapture their impressive form once the season resumes on July 30.

Their closest challengers in the East are the reigning champions the Toronto Raptors (15.58*). After losing last season’s playoff MVP Kawhi Leonard to the Clippers, they have responded superbly as a cohesive unit, ranking as the second best defensive team in the NBA. They are also the only team that ranks in the top five for both opponent field goal percentage in the paint (52.7%, second in the NBA) and opponent effective field goal percentage on shots from outside the paint (48.2%, third in the NBA).

Meanwhile out west, the highly anticipated pairing of Anthony Davis and LeBron James at the Los Angeles Lakers (3.26*) has lived up to expectations and propelled the Lakers to the top of the pile after missing out on the playoffs last season. Averaging roughly 50 points, 17 rebounds and 14 assists per game between them, the Lakers will rightly claim to have the best duo in the NBA.

Hot on the heels of their city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers (4.30*) boast a fearsome duo of their own in the form of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. However, getting both of these players on the floor at the same time on a regular basis has proved to be an issue, with George missing the first 11 games of the season.

Despite this, the Clippers have still been a formidable outfit with Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams being excellent in the rotation. The form of Leonard has been scintillating, leading his team in points, rebounds and steals. The astute additions of Marcus Morris and Reggie Jackson will look to serve them well in the playoffs as they both become more acclimatised to the Clippers’ style of play.

Playing under unique circumstances
Making predictions on the NBA can be difficult under normal circumstances, but these are far from normal circumstances.

Understanding HFA (home field advantage), or home court advantage as it is referred to in basketball, is a critical component when it comes to informing your basketball betting strategy. There are various factors that will determine how well or how badly an NBA team performs. Familiarity with surroundings, a home crowd cheering them on, favourable referee calls and travel fatigue for their opponents are components that won’t apply in this new competition environment.

Home court advantage is even more important in the playoffs, with the higher seeded team having the advantage of starting the first two games of the series at home. This is highlighted by the fact that between 2009 and 2018, the team with the home court advantage has won the playoffs series 111 out of a possible 150 times (74%).

Although the home team would be expected to win due to the fact they finished higher in the regular season and would therefore be deemed the better team, this still shows that no home court advantage will “level the playing field” for teams during the remainder of the NBA season.

With just eight games to play before the playoffs begin, teams will need to hit the ground running, especially those who are in danger of missing out on the postseason altogether. 

NBA Championship predictions: Value in the outsiders?
Having already discussed the favourites for the NBA Championship (the Lakers, Bucks, Clippers and Raptors), bettors will also want to consider if there could be potential value in one of the outsiders in these unique circumstances. Let’s take a look at the latest Pinnacle odds.

Houston Rockets – 15.860 at Pinnacle
With yet another fearsome duo for the league to contend with in the form of leading points scorer James Harden and the explosive Russell Westbrook, the Rockets will be looking to improve upon their current position of sixth in the standings to give them a better seeding for the playoffs.

Having made it to the Western Conference semi-finals before being beaten by Golden State Warriors last season, the Rockets will hope that the addition of Westbrook will help them go at least one step further this time around.

Boston Celtics – 18.730 at Pinnacle
The departure of Kyrie Irving as well as five rotation players left the Celtics in a potentially vulnerable position. However, Irving’s replacement Kemba Walker has helped the team gel as a more cohesive unit, with the Celtics being the only team in the East that ranks in the top five for both offensive and defensive efficiency.

Jason Tatum’s breakout season has been another key factor in the Celtics’ success. Prior to be named an All-Star for the first time in his career in January, Tatum was averaging 21.5 points. After the All-Star game, Tatum averaged 28.6 points. That 7.8 points per game differential is the fifth-biggest jump among 234 players who have played in at least 40 games in each of the last two seasons.

Philadelphia 76ers – 23.170 at Pinnacle
Prior to the hiatus, the 76ers were not in the greatest of form, losing five of their ten games since the All-Star break. However, that was without an injured All-Star Ben Simmons, who is now fit and ready for the restart along with fellow All-Star Joel Embiid.

Having narrowly missed out on a place in the Eastern Conference final last year to a dramatic buzzer-beating bucket from Kahwi Leonard in game seven, the 76ers will be determined to fulfil the promise that has long been associated with them and the much talked about ‘Process’.

Denver Nuggets - 29.450 at Pinnacle
The Nuggets have been remarkably consistent in both results and roster before the hiatus. Having kept the largest roster continuity from last season compared to any other team, Denver have been one of the league's best teams in close games for a second straight year and can boast victories over the top two teams in each conference.

On course to achieve a high seeding again this year, the Nuggets will be relying on Nikola Jokic to help them go one step further than the Western Conference semi-finals. 

Dallas Mavericks – 41.930 at Pinnacle
The Mavericks rank third in the NBA in scoring at 116.4 points per game and lead the NBA in offensive rating (115.8), putting them on pace to produce the greatest offence in league history while making the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Led by MVP candidate Luka Doncic and his European ally Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavericks are a dangerous opposition for any side in the league, as highlighted when they ended the Buck’s 18-game winning streak in their 120-116 win on December 16.

Doncic is averaging 28.7 points, 9.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game – phenomenal statistics for a player in just his second season in the NBA. He already has 22 triple-doubles in his career, a franchise record for the Mavericks. For perspective, it took the previous holder of the record Jason Kidd 500 games to reach 20 triple-doubles, whereas Doncic recorded his 21st triple-double in 119 games.

The much anticipated return of the NBA under such unique circumstances is sure to cause its fair share of talking points, memorable moments and maybe a few upsets. 

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16 March 2021