After a thrilling All-Star weekend, the 2019-20 NBA regular season enters its final two month stretch, roughly the final third of the season. With 66% of most team’s 82-game schedule complete, it’s a great time to pause and reflect how the final standings might shake out. For comparison, check out my preseason predictions for all 30 teams records as well […]
After a thrilling All-Star weekend, the 2019-20 NBA regular season enters its final two month stretch, roughly the final third of the season. With 66% of most team’s 82-game schedule complete, it’s a great time to pause and reflect how the final standings might shake out.
For comparison, check out my preseason predictions for all 30 teams records as well as the playoff matchups and Finals winner.
Some key questions that will shape the NBA’s next two months:
- 1. Can the Clippers make a run for the #1 seed in the West? The Clippers are currently five games behind the Lakers with an average of 27 games left to play for the two teams. The Clippers can absolutely catch the Lakers, with any combination of the Clippers getting hot and/or LeBron James and the Lakers going cold. After adding Marcus Morris at the trade deadline and Reggie Jackson in the buyout market, the Clippers are all-in on 2020. With a healthy Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, surrounded by a deep supporting cast, the Clippers could rip off a great stretch to claim the #1 or #2 seed in the West. They currently sit third, sitting a game behind the Denver Nuggets. The top-seed will be important, although ultimately the #1-#2 matchup could be between two teams that call the Staples Center home.
- 2. Can the 76ers get it together before playoffs time? The Philadelphia 76ers have been trusting the process, and building around Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid for years. But come playoff time, the results have been mixed at best. This year’s team was set to improve off last year’s strong regular season, but the 76ers find themselves fifth in the Eastern Conference after the All-Star Break. This would be a death sentence come playoff time, as Philadelphia is abysmal away from home. An absolutely dominant 25-2 home record is spoiled by a 9-19 road record. The drastic discrepancy is jarring, but if the 76ers can somehow fix their road woes, they’re still a threat in the East.
- 3. Who is the second-best team in the East? The Milwaukee Bucks are obviously the best team in the East, if not the NBA. But after that, who is the next best team in the conference? This is important not only in terms of playoff seeding, but the Bucks eventual opponent in the Eastern Conference Finals. Milwauke has been great, but I’m hesitant to consider them unbeatable in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers could all lay claim to the second-best team in the East, on their best nights. Toronto holds the second seed, in an incredible year post-Kawhi Leonard. But Boston, third in the conference, may be a more dangerous matchup for Milwaukee. And if Philadelphia can figure things out, they’re just as explosive as anybody. Miami slots in as a wildcard and dark horse in the race.
- 4. Can the Trail Blazers, Spurs, and Pelicans push for Western Conference Playoff spots? Damian Lillard has been going on a historically great scoring run, but the Trail Blazers find themselves 9th in the West, four games behind the Memphis Grizzlies. With 26 games to play and the 6th-easiest remaining schedule, Portland will have the opportunity to make a late-season playoff push. The San Antonio Spurs’ streak of 22 straight playoff appearances is in serious jeopardy, as they trail the Grizzlies by five games 28 games left to play. The Spurs do have the 10th-easiest remaining schedule, but with the Trail Blazers also ahead of them, it will be an uphill battle. The Pelicans also have a chance, and have been playing better with Zion Williamson on the court. They sit five-and-a-half games behind Memphis for the 8th seed, go1od for 11th in the West. The Grizzlies have the hardest remaining schedule in the league, but can earn their playoff spot by warding off these playoff-hungry squads.
Current Standings/Projected Records
Projected records reflect the estimated win-loss totals for each team given their current winning percentage.
- Milwaukee Bucks (46-8) (Projected: 69.9-12.1)
- Toronto Raptors (40-15) (Projected: 59.6-22.4)
- Boston Celtics (38-16) (Projected: 57.7-24.3)
- Miami Heat (35-19) (Projected: 53.1-28.9)
- Philadelphia 76ers (34-21) (Projected: 50.7-31.3)
- Indiana Pacers (34-23) (Projected: 47.7-34.3)
- Brooklyn Nets (25-28) (Projected: 38.7-43.3)
- Orlando Magic (24-31) (Projected: 35.8-46.2)
- Washington Wizards (20-33) (Projected: 30.9-51.1)
- Chicago Bulls (19-36) (Projected: 28.3-53.7)
- Charlotte Hornets (18-36) (Projected: 27.3-54.7)
- Detroit Pistons (19-38) (Projected: 27.3-54.7)
- New York Knicks (17-38) (Projected: 25.3-56.7)
- Atlanta Hawks (15-41) (Projected: 22.0-66.0)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (14-40) (Projected: 21.2-60.8)
- Los Angeles Lakers (41-12) (Projected: 63.5-18.5)
- Denver Nuggets (38-17) (Projected: 56.7-25.3)
- Los Angeles Clippers (37-18) (Projected: 55.2-26.8)
- Utah Jazz (36-18) (Projected: 54.7-27.3)
- Houston Rockets (34-20) (Projected: 51.7-30.3)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (33-22) (Projected: 49.2-32.8)
- Dallas Mavericks (33-22) (Projected: 49.2-32.8)
- Memphis Grizzlies (28-26) (Projected: 42.6-39.4)
- Portland Trailblazers (25-31) (Projected: 36.6-45.4)
- San Antonio Spurs (23-31) (Projected: 34.9-47.1)
- New Orleans Pelicans (23-32) (Projected: 34.3-47.7)
- Phoenix Suns (22-33) (Projected: 32.8-49.2)
- Sacramento Kings (21-33) (Projected: 31.9-50.1)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (16-37) (Projected: 24.8-57.2)
- Golden State Warriors (12-43) (Projected: 17.9-64.1)
Sak Sports Blog Final Standings Predictions
How I expect the final standings to shake out. The win totals of all 30 teams has to add up to the 1230 total games played in the NBA.
- Milwaukee Bucks (66-16) (21-7 rest of the way)
- Toronto Raptors (58-24) (18-9 rest of the way)
- Boston Celtics (56-26) (18-10 rest of the way)
- Philadelphia 76ers (55-27) (21-6 rest of the way)
- Miami Heat (54-28) (19-9 rest of the way)
- Indiana Pacers (47-35) (13-12 rest of the way)
- Orlando Magic (38-44) (14-13 rest of the way)
- Brooklyn Nets (37-45) (12-17 rest of the way)
- Washington Wizards (28-54) (8-19 rest of the way)
- Chicago Bulls (27-55) (8-19 rest of the way)
- Atlanta Hawks (26-56) (11-15 rest of the way)
- Charlotte Hornets (26-56) (8-20 rest of the way)
- Detroit Pistons (26-56) (7-18 rest of the way)
- New York Knicks (25-57) (8-19 rest of the way)
- Cleveland Cavaliers (19-63) (5-23 rest of the way)
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks cruise to the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Locking up the top seed early is part of the reason the Bucks lose seven games in the season’s final stretch, after losing just eight to this point so far.
The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics hold place with solid stretches, winning about two thirds of their remaining games. The Miami Heat perform just as well, but find themselves leapfrogged by a desperate Philadelphia 76ers squad. The 76ers close out the season on a 21-6 run, which is extremely important in terms of getting homecourt advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.
The Indiana Pacers and Orlando Magic play roughly .500 ball the rest of the way to earn their playoff spots. Orlando slots in the 7th seed, as the Brooklyn Nets go 12-17 in their final 29 games, stumbling into the playoffs with a losing record. Kyrie Irving’s availability always seems to remain uncertain, but with or without him, the Nets have built up a big enough lead on the Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls (unless one of those two teams flips some kind of switch and goes on a tear.)
The Atlanta Hawks see some upward movement, finishing 11th in the conference by virtue of an 11-15 record in their last 26 games. The Cleveland Cavaliers finish 19-63, last in the Eastern Conference and 2nd-to-last in the NBA, with two more wins than the Golden State Warriors.
- Los Angeles Lakers (64-18) (23-6 rest of the way)
- Los Angeles Clippers (58-24) (19-6 rest of the way)
- Denver Nuggets (55-27) (17-10 rest of the way)
- Houston Rockets (55-27) (21-7 rest of the way)
- Utah Jazz (54-28) (18-10 rest of the way)
- Dallas Mavericks (49-33) (16-11 rest of the way)
- Oklahoma City Thunder (47-35) (14-13 rest of the way)
- Portland Trailblazers (42-40) (17-9 rest of the way)
- Memphis Grizzlies (41-41) (13-15 rest of the way)
- New Orleans Pelicans (38-44) (15-12 rest of the way)
- San Antonio Spurs (36-46) (13-15 rest of the way)
- Phoenix Suns (31-51) (9-18 rest of the way)
- Sacramento Kings (29-53) (8-20 rest of the way)
- Minnesota Timberwolves (25-57) (9-20 rest of the way)
- Golden State Warriors (17-65) (5-22 rest of the way)
The Los Angeles Clippers are locked, loaded, healthy, and ready to push for a higher playoff seed in the Western Conference. They finish a red-hot 19-6, but can’t make up much ground on the Los Angeles Lakers, who close out the season 23-6 on an obvious mission. The Clippers do claim the 2nd seed though, advancing over the Denver Nuggets in the standings. Denver finishes a respectable 17-10 in their last 27 games, but the Clippers timely run of wins puts them ahead in the standings at the season’s end.
This is important as it prevents a potential Lakers-Clippers playoff series from happening until the Western Conference Finals. The postseason meetings could be one of the most highly anticipated matchup in years, super-ceding even the NBA Finals.
The Houston Rockets also hit their stride at the right time, going 21-7 in their last 28 games to claim a Top-4 seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Their opponent will be the Utah Jazz, who earn the 5th seed after an 18-10 run to end the season.
The Dallas Mavericks and Oklahoma City Thunder flip-flop, due to both good play by Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and the Mavericks (16-11) and middle-of-the-road play by the Thunder (14-13.)
Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies would be a fun team to see in the playoffs, but Memphis holds the hardest remaining schedule in the league. While they make it out 13-15, just a tad under .500, another team finishes the season on a winning streak to bump them out of the playoffs: the Portland Trailblazers.
On paper, Portland going 17-9 with Memphis going 13-15 to end the season is hardly a longshot. But of course, the Trailblazers are currently six games under .500: so asking them to win two out of every three games to close out the season may be a tall task. But I won’t put it past Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to will Portland to the postseason, just as they sparked an unlikely run to the Western Conference Finals last year.
The New Orleans Pelicans (15-12,) and San Antonio Spurs (13-15,) remain just beyond striking distance. The winning mark in their last 27 games serves as a positive sign for Zion Williamson and the Pelicans moving forward. The Spurs see their 22-season playoff streak finally come to an end.
The lottery teams don’t move much, with the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Golden State Warriors losing the majority of their games in the final third of the season. The Warriors finish with the NBA’s worst record, and subsequently, the best odds at the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Though the draft doesn’t necessarily offer a franchise-changing talent at the top, holding a top pick, with the return of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson by next season, will help gear the Warriors for a quick return to contention.
Playoff Matchups and Predicted Outcomes
- #1 Milwaukee Bucks over #8 Brooklyn Nets in five games
- #2 Toronto Raptors over #7 Orlando Magic in five games
- #3 Boston Celtics over #6 Indiana Pacers in six games
- #4 Philadelphia 76ers over #5 Miami Heat in seven games
The first round goes all chalk, with three relatively easy series. But the #4-#5 matchup, which is very likely to be Philadelphia-Miami with the remainder of the regular season to decide who will hold the higher seed, goes the distance. The 76ers ultimately come out on top by winning all four game in Philadelphia but none on the road.
- #1 Milwaukee Bucks over #4 Philadelphia 76ers in six games
- #3 Boston Celtics over #2 Toronto Raptors in seven games
The 76ers test the Bucks, and even win a game in Milwaukee. But the Bucks prevail in six games, winning on the road and at home en route to an Eastern Conference Finals appearance. The Raptors have a better chance at the Finals than anyone gave them credit for post-Kawhi Leonard, but they run into a Celtics team that is beginning to shine at the right time.
Eastern Conference Finals
- #3 Boston Celtics over #1 Milwaukee Bucks in seven games
The Celtics finally get over the hump and win the Eastern Conference once again, after some heartbreaking playoff runs in recent years. Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and company have the experience under the belts, and it shines in a long series with the league’s best regular season team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and the Bucks won’t go down without a fight. But as Boston slowly shifts more defensive pressure on to the league’s reigning MVP, the Bucks role players fail to come up big in the moment. The Celtics advance to their first NBA Finals since 2010, and the chip on Antetokounmpo’s shoulder grows ten times larger.
- #1 Lakers over #8 Trailblazers in six games
- #2 Clippers over #5 Thunder in five games
- #6 Mavericks over #3 Nuggets in seven games
- #5 Jazz over #4 Rockets in seven games
Compared to the Eastern Conference (shorter series, higher seed always winning,) the Western Conference playoff get wild early. After grinding their way to the 8th seed, the Trailblazers give the Lakers an early scare and even take a 2-1 lead before LeBron James takes over and closes out the series with three straight victories.
The Clippers are able to dispatch Chris Paul and the Thunder with relative ease, winning in five games.
The Denver Nuggets suffer another playoff exit as the higher seeded team, after falling to the Trailblazers in the second round last season. Doncic and Porzingis find some playoff magic and advance the Mavericks in seven games, including a Game 7 victory in Denver.
Despite finishing the season hot and securing homecourt advantage in their matchup with the Jazz, James Harden and Russell Westbrook fall short in seven games, much to the chagrin of NBA Twitter. The first-round exit perpetuates the narrative that Harden and Westbrook are purely statistical machines that can’t lead their teams to playoff victories.
- #1 Lakers over #5 Jazz in five games
- #2 Clippers over #6 Mavericks in five games
After a wild and exciting first round, the focus quickly shifts to the Western Conference Finals, as the Lakers and Clippers enter the semi-finals as heavy favorites. The Staples Center will host six playoff games in this round, all home wins by the Lakers and Clippers. The Mavericks and Jazz each win a game apiece on their homecourts to avoid sweeps.
The Clippers-Mavericks series is still fun and interesting, with closer results despite the short series. The Lakers take care of the Jazz pretty handily in their series.
Western Conference Finals
- #1 Lakers over #2 Clippers in seven games
The moment the NBA has been waiting for since July, when Kawki Leonard and Paul George were acquired by the Clippers: a high-octane postseason matchup between Los Angeles’ two NBA teams. LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers going toe-to-toe with Leonard, George, and the Clippers in the Staples Center, specifically with an NBA Finals trip on the line.
On paper, I like the Clippers roster more. They re-loaded in February as well, adding big man Marcus Morris and veteran guard Reggie Jackson to an already deep bench. The Clippers have also won both matchups with the Lakers in the regular season thus far.
But in their third playoff series together, the Lakers starting and bench units continue to grow and mesh together. Playoff LeBron James makes his triumphant comeback, putting up historic stats despite being guarded mostly by Kawhi Leonard.
This series really could break either way, and going less than seven games wouldn’t feel right. I have the Lakers in seven, with James playoff experience shining through when it matters most.
NBA Finals: #3 Boston Celtics vs. #1 Los Angeles Lakers
One of the most historic and decorated Finals rivalries in the league gets a new chapter: Lakers vs. Celtics. The franchises last met here in 2010, with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers winning in seven games over the Big Three (plus Rajan Rondo) Boston Celtics.
James has his own rivalry with the Celtics: as Boston bounced the Cavaliers from the playoffs, and ultimately, LeBron James from Cleveland, in that 2010 run. In 2018, James led the Cavaliers to an Eastern Conference Finals comeback win over this young Celtics core. In this way, this Finals matchup will be a rematch on several fronts.
But as I mentioned earlier, the height of excitement in the NBA will be during the Western Conference Finals, with the NBA Finals serving as a victory lap. This isn’t a slight at the Celtics, or the Bucks who could easily come into the Finals with homecourt advantage. But after winning the Battle of Los Angeles, I expect the victor to also take home the Larry O’Brian Trophy.
The Lakers take care of the Celtics in just five games in the NBA Finals. Boston puts up a good fight, and down just 2-1 through three games, the series won’t feel entirely one-sided. But after emerging from a gauntlet of a Western Conference, the Lakers take care of the Celtics. If it’s the Bucks instead, the series could potentially go longer.
Lakers defeat Celtics in five games
Header Photo Credit: Acquired via ForumBlueandGold.com
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