2020 NBA Playoffs: Projecting Seeding, Western Conference Play-In Situations, More
Photo credit: Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Zion Williamson & Ja Morant
The NBA’s season restart is getting more real every day, and especially now that the league released the regular season schedule last Friday.
But let’s actually do some predicting now. To do so, three of our NBA experts — Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob), Matt Moore and Bryan Mears — are here to give their projected playoff seeds for both conferences, plus answer some questions about the value of home court, whether there will be play-in scenarios and more.
Eastern Conference Playoffs Seeding Predictions
Western Conference Playoffs Seeding Predictions
Which team will get the West’s 8-seed and why?
If you missed the details of the potential play-in scenario, it will happen only if the 9-seed after the eight games is within four games of the 8-seed. The 8-seed has to win just one play-in game, whereas the 9-seed has to win two in a row to reach the playoffs. The Pelicans, Blazers, Spurs and Kings are all within four games of the No. 8-seed Grizzlies right now.
Wob: Pelicans. Have you seen the last five games on their schedule? Those teams (Sacramento 2x, San Antonio, Orlando, Washington) are going to be fielding lineups of Billy Hoyle, Sidney Dean and the frontcourt of the original AND1 mixtape bus the moment they’re eliminated from playoff contention. There’s also the always-looming WWE factor of playoff Zion. Do I even need to say it? The Grizzlies have an entire schedule of day games, too. Woof.
Moore: The Spurs have the best value to make the playoffs (+1300), but I’ll agree and say the Pelicans. It’s super likely the Grizzlies get the 8-seed. But I think the Pelicans are the one team best suited to beat Memphis twice in a row.
So I’m taking New Orleans (+350 at PointsBet) to make the playoffs, and then I’m going to absolutely HAMMER the Lakers to sweep the Pelicans in Round 1 (pending health and testing).
Mears: In general, I think the market odds on the West teams to make the playoffs are a bit off. There will almost certainly be a play-in scenario with the Grizzlies, who are too far ahead to drop out of the 8/9 range but aren’t good enough to get too far ahead.
I think the most talented team to get the 9-seed is the Pelicans, but the Kings at +1100 and Spurs at +1300 to make the playoffs is too low. They could absolutely get the 9-seed and beat the Grizz. I’ll pick the Pels to make it through, but I’d bet on the other teams given the odds.
Which team has the easiest schedule? Which has the hardest?
Wob: Grizzlies: hardest. Pelicans: easiest.
Moore: The Raptors’ schedule is brutal. I’m always looking at these things in terms of the probability of a weird outcome. Toronto’s is brutal. Conversely, the Celtics’ is 10-ply. It’s just super-easy with matchups that favor them consistently. They play Washington, Memphis, Brooklyn AND Orlando!
Mears: This is a tough question, as it assumes perfectly even motivation from all 22 teams entering the bubble. A game against the Bucks could be equally hard at the beginning vs. Game 8, but I honestly have no clue if that’ll be the case. Just completely off team talent, the Pels and 76ers have the easiest schedules. The Raptors and Heat definitely have tough ones, which should make the middle of the Eastern Conference interesting for seeding.
How hard will teams fight for seeding with a lack of home-court advantage?
Wob: Every team seeded 2-5 will be doing their damndest to avoid finishing fourth or fifth while playing as few games as possible. You don’t want hell in the first round followed by the Lakers or Bucks. With no home court, the way to the Conference Finals is through the 2,3/6,7 bracket.
Moore: I don’t think the Clippers fight hard at all. They’re not scared of the Lakers, nor should they be, and they have zero respect for regular season games. Denver and Houston, though, I think claw and scratch to try to make it out of the Lakers’ side of the bracket.
In the East, I don’t think those teams are scared of the Bucks. The Celtics, Raptors and Heat all legitimately think they’re better. So seeding isn’t really the thing. I think it’s more about trying to wear out the Bucks by making them go through the rest of those teams.
Mears: This speaks to the hardest handicapping problem of the rest of the regular season: How much will teams care? They absolutely care about the playoffs, but without home-court advantage, will they maneuver to try to avoid the 1-seed in each region? Possibly. Will they prioritize that more than getting chemistry and conditioning back? I have no clue.
Will there be a play-in scenario for the West’s 8-seed? Who will it be?
Wob: Yes, the Pelicans vs. Grizzlies.
Moore: Yes, Pels vs. Grizzlies, but I want to say for the record there’s a lot of uncertainty here. The Blazers’ schedule is brutal and Trevor Ariza isn’t coming to Orlando. But the Blazers have always defied odds; it’s their thing. And the Spurs’ schedule is really favorable even/especially without Aldridge. There’s a real chance for some true chaos in the West.
Mears: Yes, like I said above, I don’t think in this environment with all good teams that the Grizzlies are going to be able to get a five-game lead on all the rest of the Western bottom-dwellers. I think it’ll be Grizz vs. Pels like Matt and Wob, but I think the best betting value is with the Spurs and Kings.