A hectic back-and-forth series between two of the league’s up-and-coming stars: Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and Nuggets guard Jamal Murray.
An all-time buzzer-beater against the second seed in the Western Conference, courtesy of Mavericks guard Luka Doncic.
A series of powerful postponements across the league as a protest against racial injustice.
And, that was all in the span of just the first round of the 2020 NBA Playoffs.
The stage is now set for the second round in the league’s bracket, with a few series getting underway before others from the first round could even conclude. The Eastern Conference saw just one win total from the four losing teams, while the Western Conference proved their parity with three of its four first-round series reaching Game 6.
Now, as the number of teams starts to dwindle and the number of people inside of the league’s bubble in Orlando starts to change, business starts to pick up. Spots in the Conference Finals are on the line, and the NBA Finals are less than a month away.
Looking for information on when to watch your favorite team or which players to look out for in each series? We have you covered with a full guide and schedule below:
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 5 Miami Heat
The favorites to make the NBA Finals on the Eastern Conference’s side of the bracket, the Milwaukee Bucks have a few tough tests standing in their way. First up? An Eastern Conference Semifinals match-up against the fifth-seeded Miami Heat.
After a first-round “upset” against the fourth-seeded Pacers, Jimmy Butler and company are looking to stick around in their home state and continue a “Cinderella” run to the Eastern Conference Finals. With Butler’s veteran leadership, 20-year-old rookie Tyler Herro’s youthful energy and key defender Bam Adebayo in the fray, the Heat at least have a chance to shock the world in September.
But, things are never exactly looking up for a team when Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the other end of the court. The Bucks star, reigning MVP and newly-crowned Defensive Player of the Year, Antetokounmpo is looking like he’s well on his way to adding “Eastern Conference champion” to that resume in the near future.
Combine that with the other familiar faces in the Bucks lineup, like forward Khris Middleton and guard Eric Bledsoe, and it’s a tough cookie to crumble when you talk about Milwaukee. Those two will have to pick up the scoring pace in this series against the Heat, and the team will need increased production from someone outside of the Greek Freak in general, but it’s tough to pick against the best team in the East.
Prediction: Bucks win in five games
Game 1: Monday, August 31 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 2: Wednesday, September 2 at 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Friday, September 4, time 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 4: Sunday, September 6, time 3:30 p.m. ET
Game 5: Tuesday, September 8, at 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 6 (if necessary): Thursday, September 10, time TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): Saturday, September 12, time TBD
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 3 Boston Celtics
If Game 1 is any indication of how this series will go, the Boston Celtics seem to be on a good pace to an Eastern Conference Semifinals appearance, even without forward Gordon Hayward in their lineup.
A 112-94 win to open the series have the C’s operating at an all-time high as it relates to confidence, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Star guard Kemba Walker is showing off what he can do when given the platform in the postseason, which is a welcomed opportunity for the UConn alum after an almost decade-long tenure in Charlotte.
Celtics youngster Jayson Tatum continues to deliver and exceed the already-high expectations set for him both by fans in Boston and across the country, and forward Jaylen Brown is proving that he was worth the money that the team spent to sign him to a long-term extension back in October.
But, the Toronto Raptors aren’t a team that will simply be walked over en route to the Bucks-Celtics series fans have been rooting for. Yes, they lost the reigning NBA Finals MVP when Kawhi Leonard took his talents to Los Angeles this past offseason, but the results didn’t reflect that in the regular season.
They finished as the second seed in the East, Nick Nurse won the league’s Coach of the Year award, and they dominated in the first round as they swept the Brooklyn Nets.
But, Kyle Lowry isn’t at 100 percent, and he and Serge Ibaka even revealed that members of the team debated leaving the bubble not too long ago. They’ll need those two players, along with emerging stars like Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, to step up and try to channel their energy if they want to repeat as Eastern Conference champions in 2020.
The three-headed monster of Tatum, Walker and Brown seems to be too much for the Raptors to handle at the moment though, and it appears as if the Celtics will return to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2018, and the third time in four years.
Prediction: Celtics win in five games
Game 1: Sunday, August 30 at 1 p.m. ET
Game 2: Tuesday, September 1 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Thursday, September 3, time 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 4: Saturday, September 5, time 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 5: Monday, September 7, time 6:30 ET
Game 6: Wednesday, September 9, time 6:30 p.m. ET
Game 7: Friday, September 11, time at 9 p.m. ET
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. Winner of Rockets/Thunder
NBA playoff ratings are about to skyrocket, and a major reason for that success is bound to be due to the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis on one end. James Harden and Russell Westbrook on the other. What more could a basketball fan ask for in the postseason, let alone in the second round?
Outside of a single hiccup, the Lakers found themselves in full control of their first-round series against the Trail Blazers, albeit as Blazers guard Damian Lillard battled a knee injury and missed the series finale.
Davis and James started to find their groove together, with the former dropping 43 points and the latter scoring 36 of his own in Game 5, combining for more than half of the team’s points to clinch the series. Unfortunately, the duo’s teammates struggled with their own offensive production, which is a situation that could pose problems in the event of an off-night for Davis and/or James.
Meanwhile, the Rockets were forced to endure a grueling Game 7 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and a late defensive highlight from Harden (a statement many NBA fans may laugh at) turned out to be the straw that broke the Thunder’s back.
If Houston has any hope of advancing to the Western Conference Finals, the whole lineup will have to play to that caliber defensively. With so many different ways for the Lakers to beat a team, defense and physicality will be key, and forwards like P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon will be vital in those efforts.
On the flip side, the Game 7 formula that the Rockets unintentionally followed, which featured a widespread offensive attack rather than a singular performance from Harden or Westbrook, will be just as important.
20-plus point nights from players like Gordon and Robert Covington will allow the team to spread the ball effectively and share the wealth accordingly, which may be the opposite of what fans will see from the Lakers.
All in all, though, the Lakers looked too good in the first round to be pushed around by a team like the Rockets.
Yes, the personalities and perennial MVP candidates are evident on both sides of the ball. But, a 1-2 punch of James and Davis is a scary sight to look across the court at in the postseason, and it should be the only thing the Lakers need to advance.
Prediction: Lakers win in six games
Game 1: Friday, September 4 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 2: Sunday, September 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Game 3: Tuesday, September 8 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 4: Thursday, September 10, at 7 p.m. ET
Game 5: Saturday, September 12, time TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): Monday, September 14, time TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): Wednesday, September 16, time TBD
No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets
After a stressful Game 7, Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets successfully erased a 3-1 series deficit against Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz, and advanced to the second round to play the Los Angeles Clippers.
Murray’s reaction during a postgame interview with Scott Van Pelt may tell the whole story for Denver’s upcoming series, however, after the Nuggets had to exert everything they had to pull out the series win.
“We play Thursday?” Murray asked Van Pelt as the SportsCenter host subtly let Murray know when his team would start its series against the Clippers. “We get two days off?”
That will be the ultimate factor heading into this second-round match-up: Rest.
The Clippers made quick(er) work of their lower-seeded opponent in the opening round when they defeated Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks in six games. Kawhi Leonard made dropping 30 points look easy, and Paul George began to return to form towards the tail end of the series.
Some may argue that the delay in waiting for the Nuggets/Jazz series to end could benefit either team, respectively. Are the Clippers going to falter as a result of a break in the action when they seemingly hit a peak? Or, will the rest, which guys like Leonard and George became accustomed to during the regular season, actually help in the long run?
On the flip side, what do Murray, Nikola Jokic and company have left in the tank after such a historic comeback? After putting multiple 50-point games on his resume, does Murray have it in him to replicate his efforts, all against the second-best team in the conference?
This series could turn into one based more on depth than its stars, considering the focus guys like Murray and Leonard will get from their opposing defenders. The postseason experience of the Clippers will undoubtedly play a role, while a younger up-and-comer in Michael Porter Jr. could turn out to be Denver’s difference-maker.
In the end, it seems like a tall task for the Nuggets to overcome, and it feels as if the Clippers will be advancing to the second route, all potentially en route to an all-Los Angeles episode of the Western Conference Finals.
Prediction: Clippers in six games
Game 1: Thursday, September 3 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 2: Saturday, September 5 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 3: Monday, September 7 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 4: Wednesday, September 9 at 9 p.m. ET
Game 5: Friday, September 11, time TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): Sunday, September 13, time TBD
Game 7 (if necessary): Tuesday, September 15, time TBD