2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Predicting the Eight Playoff Teams in Each Conference

Story posted December 22, 2020 in Sports, CommRadio by Logan Bourandas

After a lightning quick offseason, the NBA is returning on Tuesday, Dec. 22. Let's preview the new season, by taking a look at which eight teams in each conference should be primed for an appearance in this year's playoffs.

Eastern Conference

1. Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks ended last season with a 56-17 record, which was good enough for the top seed in the East. While that season ended in disappointing fashion, the Bucks look like they will run it back this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signed, and the team made a trade for Pelicans star Jrue Holiday to give the Greek Freak some help.

2. Boston Celtics

The Celtics finished third in the East last season but still managed to go to the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Miami Heat. Boston will be without Kemba Walker to start the season, but the Celtics still have a majority of the roster from last season minus Gordon Hayward, who went to the Hornets.

3. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors fall from second to third, as they lost some key veteran pieces this offseason. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol went to the Clippers and Lakers, respectively, but Toronto was able to bring in Aaron Baynes from the Suns. The team also re-signed guard Fred VanVleet to an extension, which was big, as he was one of the top free agents of the offseason.

4. Philadelphia 76ers

The 76ers did a solid job this offseason at getting smaller and surrounding Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons with 3-point shooters. They also got rid of a bad Al Horford contract, turning him into Danny Green while also trading for sharpshooter Seth Curry on draft day. Their ranking could go up if they manage to trade for James Harden, but even without him, this 76ers team got much better heading into the season.

5. Miami Heat

The defending East champs stay at the fifth seed, just like at the end of the last regular season, as they got slightly worse heading into this season. Last year’s dunk contest champion Derrick Jones Jr., who was a solid role player for the Heat, left for the Trail Blazers, and key trade acquisition from last season Jae Crowder left for the Suns. This season will depend on the development of guys who balled out in the bubble, such as Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson.

6. Brooklyn Nets

This season for Brooklyn depends on two men: Durant and Irving. Kevin Durant will be attempting to come back from one of the hardest injuries to come back from in sports: a torn achilles. Kyrie Irving also missed most of last season with various injuries. The fact that this is the first time that the two stars are playing together and the lack of bench depth leads to many questions about this team, but it should have the raw talent to make the postseason.

7. Indiana Pacers

The Pacers have always been in the thick of things in the East, but now with the hiring of new coach Nate Bjorkgren and uncertainty of what role Victor Oladipo will have this season leaves things up in the air. T.J Warren broke out as a star in the NBA bubble last season, so look for him to take the next step. The Pacers didn’t make many moves in the offseason, so we will be seeing pretty much the same team that we saw that got swept in the first round by Miami a few months ago.

8. Orlando Magic

The Magic will basically be getting two first-round picks this season, as they drafted Cole Anthony to help at guard, and we will also see the debut of Chuma Okeke, who the Magic drafted last season. Okeke missed all of last year with an ACL injury. This is a well-rounded team which saw Markelle Fultz finally break out to add to a nucleus of Nikola Vucevic and Aaron Gordon.

Just missed: Washington Wizards, Atlanta Hawks

Western Conference

1. Los Angeles Lakers

The defending champs only got better this offseason, as they were able to steal Montrezl Harrell from the in-town rival Clippers. Harrell won the Sixth Man of the Year award last season and was a key part to a strong defensive unit for the Clippers. The Lakers also managed to replace Rajon Rondo by trading for Dennis Schroder from the Thunder. Schroder was a quality piece of the bench for the Thunder, but he’ll look to make an impact in the starting lineup for the defending champs.

2. Denver Nuggets

The surprise of the NBA bubble last season, the Nuggets are a young team that now looks to take the next step. The duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray is one of the scariest in the league, and the Nuggets have young players in Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol who are looking to take a big jump this season.

3. Los Angeles Clippers

No one had any idea what direction the Clippers would go after a major disappointment in last year’s playoffs. They decided to go all in and re-sign Paul George, who suffered a major decline in the playoffs, to a max extension. Los Angeles also traded for and signed Luke Kennard to help the depth at guard. Defense will be a big concern for the Clippers with the loss of the previously mentioned Harrell, as the team transitions from Doc Rivers to Tyronn Lue as head coach.

4. Utah Jazz

The Jazz ended last season in disappointment after blowing a 3-1 lead in the first round of the playoffs against the Nuggets. However, Utah will stay close to what it was last season with the duo of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert still intact despite some rumors of chemistry issues during the playoffs. Utah could make a jump with there being much uncertainty with many teams in the conference.

5. Dallas Mavericks

This season could come down to how soon Kristaps Porzingis can come back. The forward had surgery on a torn meniscus at the end of last season and will miss the start of this season. Luka Doncic is receiving MVP hype to start the year and should keep the team afloat until Porzingis comes back.

6. Phoenix Suns

The Chris Paul effect is real. The guard was sent to Phoenix after a surprise playoff run with the Thunder last season, as he looks to repeat that success with Devin Booker with the Suns. While the team did lose Kelly Oubre as part of the deal, the Suns have a solid big three in Paul, Booker and Deandre Ayton.

7. Golden State Warriors

Despite not having Klay Thompson this season, the Warriors return more than enough talent to make a playoff push. Former MVP Stephen Curry returns from injury, and the Warriors also acquired Kelly Oubre from the Suns as well as James Wiseman with the second pick in the draft. The Warriors are in a much better position than last season, especially at forward depth. If they lose anyone else to injury, they should be able to remain afloat.

8. Portland Trail Blazers

The Blazers, led by Damian Lillard, went on a great run in the NBA bubble to lead them to a spot in the playoffs last season. They’ll look to go on that run again this year. Lillard and CJ McCollum make up one of the best backcourts in the NBA. The team also brings in an underrated piece in Derrick Jones Jr. to provide a spark in the team’s scoring.

Just missed: Memphis Grizzlies, Houston Rockets (with or without James Harden)

 

Logan Bourandas is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email lxb5412@psu.edu.