LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 08: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket on Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers during a 112-103 Lakers win at Staples Center on March 08, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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How will the NBA Finals finish in this ridiculous season? You can expect LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers to be in the thick of it.

The NBA is officially back. As teams adjusted to life inside the bubble in Orlando over the past few weeks, some players violated the quarantine precautions for their Postmates orders, while others took time to go fishing. The preparation for the toughest postseason came in bunches of seriousness and relaxation, but in the end, only the strongest will emerge with the Larry O’Brien trophy.

A lot can happen on the star-studded campus. Teams that were clicking prior to the restart may take some costly time to realign their chemistry. Others may fire on all cylinders upon returning to play. There may be positive COVID-19 tests along the way, which could be detrimental to not only the player’s own team, but the league itself.

Tons of question marks remain ahead of the triumphant return of basketball, but I’m gonna do a full prediction of the restart anyways. Why? Because why not? Can LeBron James capture his fourth ring? Will Zion Williamson catapult his Pelicans into the playoffs? Will Joel Embiid actually lose 50 pounds due to the lackluster food options? I have all the answers — hopefully (except for the last one).

Close, But No Cigar (Teams That Will Miss The Playoffs)

Washington Wizards (Bubble record: 1-7, Overall: 25-47)
Can we really expect the Wizards to do much without their star Bradley Beal and sharpshooter Davis Bertans? No, not really. Facing one of the tougher schedules in the bubble, Washington will struggle big time. The good news? This opportunity will provide a ton of experience for the younger guys on the roster, which is all head coach Scott Brooks can ask for as the team looks towards next season.

Phoenix Suns (2-6, 28-45)
Despite missing out on the playoffs, the Suns should look back at this season as a success. Booker finally got some help this year, but one of his main counterparts, Kelly Oubre, is nursing an injury away from the bubble, which will prove to be too heavy a hurdle for Phoenix. Deandre Ayton will probably waste away a lot of the nights playing video games too, which should only hurt the upstart Suns and his 2K rating simultaneously.

Sacramento Kings (1-7, 29-43)
Sacramento was really starting to click prior to the league’s suspension, rattling off seven wins in its last 10 to stay alive in the playoff hunt. Things happen, unfortunately, and the Kings are now back to square one. The young, developing team will struggle to find its footing in Orlando extending its playoff drought to 14 years. Ouch.

San Antonio Spurs (3-5, 30-41)
Tiger Woods won his first Masters Tournament the last time the Spurs missed the playoffs—1997. Need I say more. It was a great run for the Popovich-led Spurs, but losing LaMarcus Aldridge took away from an already depleted roster, putting the final nail in San Antonio’s coffin before even arriving at Disney.

Memphis Grizzlies (0-8, 32-41)
Speaking of ouch, talk about Ouch with a capital O. The Grizzlies face one of the toughest schedules in the bubble, and with 20-year-old rookie Ja Morant being its leader, Memphis will produce a big, fat donut in the win column. A veteran presence will be the biggest beneficiary to any team in Orlando, something the Grizzlies lack. This newest version of “Grit and Grind” won’t let teams walk all over them, but expect a troubling eight-game stretch for the current eight seed in the West.

New Orleans Pelicans (4-4, 32-40)
I know it, you know it, we all know it. The NBA desperately wants Zion Williamson in the playoffs. Facing off against LeBron in the first round may singlehandedly make back all the lost revenue from the suspension (I’m kidding, but you get where I’m going with this). Sadly for the Pels — thanks to Dame Dolla — their time will have to be put on the back burner until 2021.

Round 1

No. 1 Milwaukee (7-1, 60-13) defeats No. 8 Brooklyn (2-6, 32-40) in 5
Milwaukee made quick work of its schedule in Orlando, while the paper-thin Brooklyn Nets did just enough to force its way into the playoffs. Despite the large margin of skill between these two teams, the Nets will steal a game behind a fabulous performance from Jamal Crawford in his return to the NBA. The heroics of the ageless wonder won’t be enough, however, as the Bucks easily dismantle the Nets in five.

No. 2 Toronto (6-2, 52-20) defeats No. 7 Orlando (5-3, 35-38) in 5
Playing on familiar turf played to Orlando’s advantage, as the Magic jumped the Nets in the standings en route to a 5-3 record and a rematch of last year’s first-round matchup against the Raptors. Toronto had one of the toughest schedules in the bubble, but conquered most who came in its way on the road to back-to-back championships. The result should be the same from last year, with the Raptors easily stifling the Magic.

No. 3 Boston (5-3, 48-24) defeats No. 6 Indiana (4-4, 43-30) in 5
The amount of bark the Pacers will produce will depend on whether or not Domantas Sabonis can return in time from his plantar fasciitis injury. Victor Oladipo’s return helped alleviate the loss of Sabonis, but even so, the Celtics have the perfect balance of sturdy offense with elite defense to counter Indiana’s efforts. Jayson Tatum was rolling before the hiatus and he should continue his torrid stretch into Orlando and guide the Celtics to a first-round victory.

No. 4 Miami (6-2, 47-26) defeats No. 5 Philadelphia (6-2, 45-28) in 7
The Sixers and Heat playoff series from 2018 was a slugfest unforeseen in the NBA for quite some time. Couple in Jimmy Butler squaring off against his former team and we have ourselves a must-see battle in the East. Philly adjusted its lineup a bit by moving Ben Simmons to the four, which will help the Sixers hurdle the Pacers in the standings. Miami should also fare pretty well despite a rather difficult schedule, setting up the marquee showdown of the first round. In the end, the Heat will do just enough to send the Sixers packing early.

No. 1 LA Lakers (5-3, 54-17) defeats No. 8 Portland (6-2, 35-38) in 6
The Blazers benefitted the most from the long delay, allowing their big man tandem of Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic to come back healthy. On the other hand, the surging Lakers got hit hard by the suspension of play, stifling the team’s momentum while also eliminating a valuable defensive piece in Avery Bradley. Portland will make this a series after defeating the Pelicans in the play-in tournament, but nothing is stopping the King from reclaiming his throne, especially in the first round. LeBron and the 2020 version of the Showtime Lakers will advance after a hard-fought series.

No. 2 LA Clippers (4-4, 48-24) defeats No. 7 Dallas (3-5, 43-32) in 5
Doc Rivers’s squad got hit hard in the early going, losing valuable practice runs with the majority of its lineup due to several players having to isolate themselves. Luckily, the Clippers won’t falter at all in the standings and by the playoffs roll around, the team will be at full strength. Luka Doncic and the young Mavs will be an interesting foe to the Clippers, but experience will outweigh anything the Mavericks have to offer.

No. 3 Denver (5-3, 48-25) defeats No. 6 Oklahoma City (4-4, 44-28) in 7
Denver has boasted one of the scariest lineups ever assembled in recent scrimmages, with its shortest player in the lineup being Jerami Grant at shooting guard. That should be enough to defeat the rather undersized Thunder squad, but don’t be fooled. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Chris Paul lead a group of scrappy guards and defensive-minded forwards that could prove troublesome for the Nuggets. Playoff struggles could emerge for Denver, but they should sneak by OKC in seven games here.

No. 4 Houston (5-3, 45-27) defeats No. 5 Utah (4-4, 45-27) in 4
Last year the Rockets made quick work of the Jazz. In the same situation in 2020, Houston will do one better in pulling off the only sweep of the first round. In a true battle of offense versus defense, the undersized offense led by Russell Westbrook and James Harden will overpower the Jazz. Utah has had a decent amount of drama during the season’s suspension, and despite the reported resolution of the issues, those chemistry struggles could shine a light on the team’s struggles in Orlando.

Round 2

No. 1 Milwaukee defeats No. 5 Miami in 5
Jimmy Butler finally earned his leadership badge after a rough few years in Minnesota and Philly. The dude shipped basketball hoops to his teammates during quarantine. That sense of leadership has pushed the young Heat well past expectations this year and will continue to do so in Orlando. Still, a young team with fearless veterans such as Butler and Andre Iguodala can only go so far, as an unfortunate second-round matchup against the Bucks will prove to be the team’s swan song. Milwaukee is just too good in all facets of the game, leading to a quick series.

No. 2 Toronto defeats No. 3 Boston in 7
Is it crazy to think the Raptors are the new-age Spurs? With Nick Nurse at the helm and an established group of unselfish players, Toronto may be the most poised team in the NBA. They mirror the Spurs of the early-2010s — despite the loss of Leonard — with its tenacious defense in the interior and scrappy guard play. Toronto figures to prove doubters wrong and make another deep playoff run. Fending off the Celtics may be a tall task, but this series will sway on the side of experience.

No. 1 LA Lakers defeats No. 4 Houston in 7
As the alpha-dogs in the West, the Lakers will be faced with every obstacle known to man upon the return-to-play and that includes its second-round matchup against Houston. After a tough go-around against Damian Lillard, LeBron and company will face a test against a red-hot Rockets squad. With Mike D’Antoni’s job security in question, Harden and Westbrook will prove why D’Antoni’s extreme small-ball tactics are a diamond in the rough and force seven games. Despite a gutty effort by Houston, leadership from Bron and an oft-dominating defense will prove too much for Houston.

No. 2 LA Clippers defeats No. 3 Denver in 6
Denver has been dealt a tough card in the West and should continue its playoff troubles against the Clippers. Nikola Jokic looks like a new man and will bring the Nuggets within inches of the Western Conference Finals, but the star power in Los Angeles will prove to be too much. Los Angeles should regain its chemistry prior to the NBA restart after the quarantined players integrate themselves into the lineup. The recurring theme in this piece is leadership and the leadership for the Clippers outduels the Nuggets semi-inexperience compared to them.

Conference Championships

No. 2 Toronto defeats No. 1 Milwaukee in 6
This series will be a huge deciding factor in Giannis Antetokounmpo’s impending free agency next summer. With the Bucks losing last season to the underdog Raptors, this time around should be easier with the absence of the game-changer Leonard. However, the Raptors haven’t missed a beat all season and will continue to play like a well-oiled machine in Orlando. Stripping Milwaukee and Antetokounmpo of a Finals berth for the second straight year will have major residual effects across the NBA. Giannis shouldn’t be staying in Milwaukee after this disappointing loss in the ECF and a trade may very well be on the horizon during the offseason as the Raptors advance to the Finals for the second year in a row.

No. 1 LA Lakers defeats No. 2 LA Clippers in 7
The Battle of Los Angeles. What a fitting way to culminate an ultra-competitive Western Conference with the two teams destined to square off from the start. LeBron and Anthony Davis against Leonard and Paul George. It’s a matchup that will be a shell of what it could be in the fan-less confines of the Disney resort campus. The anticipation, however, will match the expectations, as a vicious battle will ensue between the top-two West teams. In the end, the Lakers will find a way to edge the Clippers and continue the King’s quest for another championship.

2020 NBA Finals

The culmination of the strangest and most unorthodox NBA season will come down to a competition between the defending NBA champion Raptors and the determined Lakers squad led by LeBron James. Toronto will battle in Game 1 and capture the opening matchup behind an impressive showing from Fred VanVleet, picking up where he left off in last year’s Finals. Los Angeles will respond with a valiant victory in Game 2 behind a dominant performance from Bron and Davis — similar to LeBron and Kyrie in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

The usual position of underdog will feed into the Raptors’ efforts, with the defending champs stealing Game 3 behind a strong defensive exhibition. The Lakers will be faced with doubts down 2-1, but from there on, despite a tight overtime contest in Game 4, LeBron will lead the Lakers to its first championship since 2010 and James’s first since the improbable Cleveland championship in 2016.

A season mired by the coronavirus stoppage and particularly for the Lakers, the loss of the legendary Kobe Bryant, will wrap up with the NBA Championship returning to the City of Angels. A season defined by the resiliency followed by the NBA’s stoppage will finish with the team who has had to overcome more than any other hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy to the cheers of virtual fans.

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers defeat No. 2 Toronto Raptors in 6

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