This season has been different to say the least. With the tragic loss of Kobe Bryant, GiGi and the other victims of the plane crash, the COVID-19 pandemic, and race relations being called into question the league found itself between a rock and a hard place.

The suspension of the season on March 11th was soon followed by other sports leagues around the world and all hope seemed lost for sports fans. Until June 4th, where the NBA approved of a 22-team bubble to continue the season in Orlando.

In came July 30th, and a much-needed sense of normalcy was brought to us as the NBA bubble season tipped-off and gave us an action packed double header with the Jazz outlasting the Pelicans 106-104 and the Lakers edging out the Clippers in a thriller 103-101.

Now we're here! The playoffs are officially starting and below are the match ups and my predictions.

  1. Clippers Vs. 7. Mavericks 

The Dallas Mavericks may be lowly seeded but don’t count them out. Rick Carlisle has shown his ability to navigate through the West (2011 Mavs Championship run).  With Luka Doncic playing at an MVP caliber level (28.7 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 8.7 APG) and Kristaps Porzingis having multiple 40-point performances in the seeding games the Mavs are going to be a tough out for the Clips.

The Mavs also have the best offensive ratting of all time! Yes, better than the 72-win Bulls, the 17' Warriors, the showtime Lakers, or the Run N' Gun Suns from the Mike D' Antoni days. They could be the real deal.

Los Angeles Clippers v Dallas Mavericks
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Although the Clippers have a daunting task, they're well equipped to stop the Mavs. With a top five defensive rating and opponent 3-point percentage they have solid match ups across the board to defend this potent attack. With Kawhi and Paul George on the wing it allows them to throw multiple bodies on Doncic and switch on the high pick and rolls Dallas tends to run.

On top of that, the depth of Clippers is unmatched. The bench is averaging 50 points per game and being led by two Sixth Man of The Year candidates in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. This with the combination of playoff experience gives the Clippers the edge, in my opinion, but it will be close.

Josh's Pick: Clippers in 6. 

  1. Nuggets Vs. 6. Jazz 

The Jazz is led by an All- Star in Donovan Mitchell who's averaging 24 PPG and perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Rudy Gobert. They play at a very deliberate tempo while ranking 24th in the league in pace and tend to focus on making things difficult on the other end of the floor.

With a top-ten ranking in opponents points per game, defensive rebound percentage, and free throws allowed per game, it shows the grittiness of the Jazz and their mentality of making nothing easy for opponents.

Utah Jazz v Denver Nuggets
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On the other hand, you have the Nuggets who are led by the All-Star center Nikola Jokic whose skill set can create problems for any defense. Jokic is the definition of position less basketball. His high IQ and soft touch at and away from the rim allow him to make plays in transition, bring the ball up and initiate offense, and create out of pick and roll situations. He's leading all centers in assists with 7 per game and is still in the top five in his position for scoring while averaging 20 points per game.

His mentality of spreading the wealth has been taken on by the rest of the team as well, as they primarily focus on off ball movement, cuts off of screens, and swinging the rock to the open man the Nuggets boast a top five offensive rating, assist percentage, AND a top three rating in assist to turnover ratio.

With the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. who's exploded in the bubble while averaging 22 points and 8 RPG on 42% from deep, and the return of Jamal Murray who's averaged 27 points and 6 assists against the Jazz this season. I see this as the Jazz simply not having enough fire power to keep up. In addition to the Jazz losing Mike Conley due to him exiting the bubble for the birth of his son, I just don't see an upset on the horizon.

Josh's Pick: Nuggets in 5 

  1. Raptors vs. 7. Nets 

The Brooklyn Nets deserve all the credit in the world for making it here. With not having KD, losing Kyrie to season ending surgery in February, AND having to deal with numerous injuries Coach Vaughn has experimented with different lineups and found a way to go 5-3 in the bubble and finished 3rd in voting for Coach of the Bubble.

With Caris LeVert showing an ability to be a viable No.1 option while averaging 25 points a game in Orlando, Joe Harris has also picked up some slack by contributing 20 points on 54% from deep.

Their second rank in rebounding will be crucial if they have any chance against the defending champions. Another key stat to see would be their 3-point attempts and makes as the rank in the top-10 in both. The three ball has become the ultimate equalizer in the game, but will it be able to offset the lack of talent in this match-up?

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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The Raptors have shown all year that they were more than Kawhi Leonard and could be a legit contender without him. Upon his departure granted Pascal Siakam the keys to the franchise and he hasn't disappointed. He's help guide Toronto to the No. 2 seed while averaging 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block a game.

With his All-Star partner Kyle Lowry, the Raptors have shown the ability to get it done on both ends of the floor. While ranking second in steals, and No. 1 in points allowed per game, they also are top-five in 3-point percentage and free throw percentage which are the most efficient shots outside of layups. Toronto is the real deal.

Though we love Cinderella stories, I don't see it happening here. Toronto has been on a mission all year to assert themselves as the Beast of the East and has picked up quality wins in the bubble against the Lakers, Bucks, and the Heat. Sorry Brooklyn, maybe next year play.

Josh's Pick: Raptors in 4. 

  1. Celtics vs. 6. 76ers 

Trusting the process in Philadelphia has led to tremendous highs and lows. It landed Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid but has also led to their injury ridden careers. This year is no different as the 76ers have to face the Celtics without Ben Simmons who's more than likely going to miss the rest of the season due to a dislocated knee injury.

Embiid is recovering from a hand and ankle injury but he will be suiting up and is expected to play tonight. This gives them a major advantage as he serves as not only their number one scoring option but their defensive anchor. While averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game he's also the key reason why the team ranks top ten in blocks, and defensive rating. With contributions from Tobias Harris (19.6 PPG), Josh Richardson (13.7), and Al Horford (12 PPG) it's very plausible for the 76ers to advance.

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics
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The Celtics however are led by the elite wing duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown who both are averaging 20+ points per game and complimented by Gordon Hayward (17.5 PPG). This alongside with elite guard play of Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker can cause problems in transition with their playmaking.

The Celtics though small are still in the top five in defensive rating, steals, and blocks. Their fourth in offensive rating as well, alongside a fifth ranking in free throw percentage is a testament of Coach Stevens being able to get the most out of his team.

Although Joel Embiid is the best player in the series, I don't see him overcoming the Celtics versatility on both ends and their 3-point shooting. The loss of Ben Simmons creates too many problems to overcome. He was the primary playmaker, so their 8th rank in Assists is bound to drop. He also was their most versatile defender who could match up with Tatum and Brown, and his ability to carry the team while Embiid rest is irreplaceable. I still see them fighting but I expect the Celtics to handle business.

Josh's Pick: Celtics in 6. 

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