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For the first time in league history, the final spot in the postseason picture was determined by a play-in game between the eighth and ninth seeds in the Western Conference. The Portland Trail Blazers came out victorious over the Memphis Grizzlies in that game, and as a result they will face off against the top-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the first round.
Due to the need to play inside of the bubble at Disney World, home-court advantage has been largely eliminated this year, since there is no travel, no fans in attendance, and no true home or away teams. Otherwise, the format remains the largely same, with the top eight teams in each conference playing best-of-seven series, and the winner of each conference meeting in the Finals, which are scheduled to begin on Sept. 30. Kawhi Leonard’s first foray in the postseason with the Los Angeles Clippers begins with a potentially tricky matchup against Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks.
The defensive skills of Leonard and Paul George will be put to the test in the first-round series against a team that played solid basketball during the eight seeding games in the bubble.
How well Leonard and George contain the Dallas offense could alter the betting markets throughout the series as well. The Clippers and Mavericks have the only over/under set above 230 for Game 1.
The scoring expectations are much lower for the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers because of the way the Heat limited the scoring of the Pacers’ top players in their previous clashes.
If Miami keeps up its high defensive standard against Indiana, the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs could be set fairly quick. Although most people are buzzing about the first-round matchup on the other side of the Western Conference bracket between the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers, the Clippers and Mavericks could have the more intriguing series.
The inside-outside combination of Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis could cause some trouble for the Clippers. Porzingis could take charge of the paint matchup with Ivica Zubac, and if he can get the Clippers center into foul trouble, he could take advantage of battles against Patrick Patterson and JaMychal Green.
In their first regular-season meeting, Zubac played 17 minutes and 52 seconds because of foul trouble and Porzingis recorded a double-double. Even with the Clippers using bench players down low, they still found a way past the Mavericks behind 54 points out of George and Leonard.
Los Angeles went on to win the other two matchups and held Doncic beneath 30 points in two of those contests. If Doncic matches his 30 points per game from the seeding games, he could give Dallas the chance to win a game or two against the Clippers.
If that output is backed up by decent performances from Tim Hardaway Jr. and Seth Curry, who were solid in the seeding games, the Mavericks could have backcourt scoring depth to be competitive.
That might not be the case for the Blazers against the Lakers if one or both of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are frustrated by the defense of LeBron James and others.
While there could be an abundance of players featuring in the box score, there is no guarantee we will see a high-scoring series, like the oddsmakers predict.
Only one of the three contests between the two sides eclipsed 230 points, and if Doncic is unable to hit the 30-point mark, the under could be the play for Game 1 and beyond.The series between Miami and Indiana carries the most intrigue in the East, but it could be over without being too competitive.
Both Milwaukee and Toronto are expected to cruise through their matchups, and Boston is a heavy favorite over Philadelphia. The promise for the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series to go the distance could be quelled by Miami’s defensive prowess, led by Jimmy Butler.
In the August 10 win over Indiana, Butler shut down T.J. Warren in the second half and no Indiana player scored more than 15 points. The good news for Indiana is Butler can only guard one player at a time, but it has not received the necessary production from other scorers to down the Heat.
In two meetings in December and January, the only Indiana scorer to reach over 20 points was Domantas Sabonis on January 8. Sabonis is currently out with an injury. If the Heat continue to slow down Indiana’s top scorers, they could overwhelm their first-round foe with the scoring depth they worked on in the bubble.
In its first six seeding games, Miami had five or more players reach double digits. Between the three-point prowess of Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo’s strength down low, Butler scoring from all angles and others chipping in when needed, the Heat could have too much scoring depth for Indiana to keep up with.