2020-2021 NBA Season Predictions

Alexander Bingham, Contributing Writer

The 2020-2021 NBA season is set to tip off on December 22nd. Here are my predictions for playoff seeding in each conference and the finals:

Eastern Conference 1 seed: Milwaukee Bucks

Despite earning the number one seed in the entire NBA last year, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks fell short of expectations in the playoffs, losing to the Heat in five games. However, this season, the Bucks should still dominate the regular season, especially with the addition of Jrue Holiday. The playoff performance is what is yet to be seen from Millwauke and Antetokounmpo.

Eastern Conference 2 seed: Boston Celtics

Over the offseason, the Boston Celtics addressed some of their biggest weaknesses from last year’s squad—center, backup point guard, and shooting off the bench—by signing Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague and drafting Aaron Nesmith. Losing Gordon Hayward to free-agency may hurt, but he was not a large part of the playoff run last season, and the massive trade exception the Celtics received for Hayward could prove to be valuable at the deadline. With continued development from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown among Boston’s other young players, the Celtics are poised to be contenders once again.

Eastern Conference 3 seed: Philadelphia 76ers

It was no secret last year: the 76ers did not have good chemistry. With no real threats from deep in the starting five, the floor was often clogged for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, making them less efficient than they could be. Over the offseason, Philadelphia looked to change this by trading away Al Horford and Josh Richardson for Seth Curry and Danny Green—both elite shooters. With a more cohesive roster, the Sixers should return to 2018-2019 levels. 

With continued development from Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown among Boston’s other young players, the Celtics are poised to be contenders once again.

Eastern Conference 4 seed: Brooklyn Nets

Last season the Nets made the playoffs without the team’s two biggest stars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. The return of Irving and Durant has many NBA fans predicting them to finish towards the top of the Eastern conference; however, it is yet to be seen how good Durant will be coming off of a devastating achilles injury, or if Irving can return to form following his own injury history. It is likely that the Nets could opt to rest Irving and Durant for the playoffs, leaving them with a lower seed than their talent might indicate. 

Eastern Conference 5 seed: Miami Heat

The Heat surprised many analysts last year by making it to the finals. Despite this run, the improvement made by the East during the offseason will likely push the Heat down to the five seed. If Jimmy Butler can continue his performance from the playoffs though, the Heat could once again be a tough out in the postseason.

Eastern Conference 6 seed: Indiana Pacers

The Pacers are a solid team on paper with Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, Victor Olaidipo, and T.J Warren. If Oladipo manages to return to his level of play pre-ACL tear, or if Warren resumes his stellar performance in last year’s restart, the Pacers can make some noise in the East 

Eastern Conference 7 seed: Toronto Raptors

Despite losing Kawhi Leonard last offseason, the Raptors still managed to come one game away from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. Losing Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol will be huge blows to the team, but the Raptors will still have quality depth and great coaching. If Pascal Siakam recovers from his playoff woes, Toronto will be a playoff team in 2020-2021. 

Eastern Conference 8 seed: Washington Wizards

Many NBA fans were perplexed by the lateral move of trading John Wall for Russell Westbrook. The Wizards don’t have the talent necessary to contend in the East, but Westbrook and Bradley Beal will still earn Washington a playoff spot. 

Western Conference 1 seed: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers are easily the favorites to finish atop the Western Conference for a second year in a row. The reigning champions even got better over the offseason after trading for Dennis Schroder, as well as signing free agents Montrezel Harrel, Marc Gasol, and Wes Matthews to a roster that already features two of the best players in the NBA: Lebron James and Anthony Davis. 

Western Conference 2 seed: Los Angeles Clippers

Considered by many to be the favorites to win the finals in 2019-2020, the Clippers fell apart in the playoffs, blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets. The Clippers still have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, and with those two, the Clippers will have a shot no matter what. If new head coach Tyronn Lue can get the team to play as well as their talent would suggest on paper, the Clippers will make up for the disappointment of last season.

Western Conference 3 seed: Denver Nuggets

Young stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic took their games up a level in last year’s playoffs, bringing the Nuggets to the Western Conference Finals. Both Mason Plumlee and Jerami Grant were big losses but, if Murray and Jokic can keep their bubble performance up and if Michael Porter takes the next step forward, the Nuggets will once again be contenders.  

Western Conference 4 seed: Dallas Mavericks

The future is bright in Dallas with Luka Doncic already on pace to go down as one of the all time greats. If Kristaps Porzingis can stay healthy (a big if), the Mavs could make some noise in the West, but their defense may hold them back from contention this year. 

The Lakers are easily the favorites to finish atop the Western Conference for a second year in a row.

Western Conference 5 seed: Portland Trail Blazers

There is plenty to like about this year’s Blazers team including the addition of Robert Covington. With several key players returning from injury, Portland will be a tough matchup in the playoffs especially if “Dame time” (Damien Lillard) takes over.

Western Conference 6 seed: Golden State Warriors

The Warriors aren’t the dynastic team they were a few years ago, but the additions of number two overall draft pick, James Wiseman, along with the pick up of Kelly Oubre will give Steph Curry enough help to make the playoffs.

Western Conference 7 seed: Phoenix Suns

Despite a miraculous 8-0 run during last year’s bubble, Devin Booker and the Suns fell just short of a playoff spot. However, with the addition of Chris Paul, and the continued development of Booker and Deandre Ayton, the Suns will easily make the playoffs this time around.

Western Conference 8 seed: Utah Jazz

The Jazz did little to improve its roster over the offseason to keep pace with the other teams in the West. Unless Donavan Mitchell can keep up his amazing playoff performance, the Jazz will merely be a borderline playoff team in the West. 

Finals Prediction: Celtics over Clippers

When it comes to playoff performance, grit and mental toughness are two of the most important traits, and few teams can match that of the Celtics and Clippers. Last year’s performance may frame Kawhi Leonard and Paul George as poor playoff performers, but Tyronn Lue should bring back what we have seen in the past from these two. The Celtics fell short in the playoffs last year, but a healthy Kemba Walker, plus the additions of Thompson, Teague, and Nesmith is just what they need to reach the finals. The matchup between the Clippers and the Celtics will be an intense one, but ultimately the Celtics, having more playoff tested players, will win.