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NBA Playoff Preview: Lakers, Bucks stand atop the polls

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Saturday afternoon saw the Western Conference finalize their playoff picture, as the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Memphis Grizzlies 126-122 in the play-in game for the eighth and final spot in the NBA Playoffs.

With the Eastern Conference having set themselves up in the first week of the bubble, both conferences now have a clear view of who is playing who when the first round starts on Monday. Here we’re going to give you the match-ups and give some insight as to who has the upper hand going into the series.

EASTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

Pascal Siakam, Kyle Lowry, NBA playoffs preview
Pascal Siakam gives Kyle Lowry a high-five during a game for Toronto. Getty Images

#1 MILWAUKEE BUCKS vs. #8 ORLANDO MAGIC: Vegas odds-makers give the Bucks a 95 percent chance of winning this series and it’s no question why: Milwaukee has reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Orlando doesn’t. However, if Orlando can find a way to keep Giannis out of the paint, all of a sudden they have a chance to take a game or two in this series. The question becomes though: can Orlando manage that for an entire series? The answer is no.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: MILWAUKEE in 5

#2 TORONTO RAPTORS vs. #7 BROOKLYN NETS: It is always tempting to count out the Raptors, especially without the presence of Kawhi Leonard. But remember, they went 17-5 last season without him and actually had a better record this season (53-19). While Brooklyn has been a surprise without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, their two signature off-season additions, they don’t have the depth that Toronto has from 1 all the way to 12. This should be the only series that ends in a sweep.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: TORONTO in 4

#3 BOSTON CELTICS vs. #6 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS: Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum can cause enough issues scoring wise to offset Joel Embiid, who is capable of holding his own against Boston’s undersized lineup. However, without Ben Simmons (out for the remainder of the season after knee surgery), the only way Philly pulls off this series upset is if one of the key scorers gets hurt. Even then, the 76ers will have to play as much big-man ball as possible – something Boston will have to adjust to. At the end of the day, can Embiid put on his Superman cape and will the 76ers past the Celtics on his own? Their history against each other tells me no.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: BOSTON in 5

#4 INDIANA PACERS vs. #5 MIAMI HEAT: T.J. Warren has been a BEAST in the bubble so far, and he will have some solid help with Victor Oladipo and Myles Turner holding down the fort in the paint. Miami is solid, but their 3-5 record in the bubble showed that they will need more than just a locked-in Jimmy Butler on the offensive end. Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro will need to give more than they are used to against this motivated Pacers squad, who looks like they could be a potential threat to the Bucks.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: INDIANA in 5

WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, NBA playoffs preview
Anthony Davis and LeBron James during a game for the Lakers. Getty Images

#1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS vs. #8 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS: If it had been Memphis who won the play-in series, then this series goes to the Lakers hands down. But now, what seemed like a cakewalk for Anthony Davis and Lebron James may be their biggest threat to winning a championship together. The Lakers’ bubble performance has been spotty thus far, and Portland – thanks to Damian Lillard’s white-hot performances – may actually pull off this upset. Ultimately, this series is going to come down to whoever wants it the most.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: LA LAKERS in 7 (though it could easily go the other way)

#2 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS vs. #7 DALLAS MAVERICKS: This series scares me the most because it truly comes down to one thing: will the Clippers have a full, healthy roster? Yes, they have Paul George, reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and a surprisingly effective Ivica Zubac. But the inconsistencies with this roster gives some pause. Luka Doncic has performed great against the Clippers and the Mavs has the most efficient overall offense in NBA history, but their inexperience has been a clog in their championship aspirations. Even with the Clippers at less than 100 percent, they have more experience on one of Kawhi’s giant hands than the Mavs have on their entire squad.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: LA CLIPPERS in 6 (because they never makes things easy)

#3 DENVER NUGGETS vs. #6 UTAH JAZZ: Michael Porter, Jr. and Bol Bol have given the Nuggets some bright glimpses of what promise awaits next season if their is a full season and everyone is healthy. Along with leaders Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the Nuggets have what it takes to be a darkhorse candidate to represent the West in the Finals. While Utah is not a team to laugh at, beyond Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert there isn’t enough bench-wise to give them the advantage.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: DENVER in 5

NBA playoffs preview, Russell Westbrook, James HArden
Russell Westbrook and James Harden converse during a game for Houston. Getty Images

#4 HOUSTON ROCKETS vs. #5 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: This series, along with the Lakers and Blazers, will be THE series to watch in the opening round. Houston will be leaning on James Harden probably more than they have ever had to, especially without Russell Westbrook on the floor to give The Beard some breathing room. They’ve gotten career performances from Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon has been consistent so far, but the Rockets only go as far as Harden goes. Oklahoma City has been on and off during bubble play, but the resurgence of Chris Paul has been the saving grace for this squad. That being said, their defense has been among the stingiest all season and are able to do small-ball just as great as Houston can. Russ will not be 100 percent for this series, which is going to be the X-factor here.

CHRIS’S CHOICE: OKLAHOMA CITY in 7

The NBA Playoffs start on Monday, with the Utah Jazz and Denver Nuggets tipping off at 10:30 am PST.

Chris Bullock
Chris Bullock
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation's Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women's basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, "The Triple Double". A self-described "foodaholic", Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, "Conscious Cravings", where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.

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