The postseason action begins on Monday with four first-round series – two from the Eastern Conference, two from the West – getting underway.
And in an unprecedented atmosphere that could negate the benefits of home-court advantage, we could be in for another wild two months inside Disney’s Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
The Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz played a double-overtime thriller during the seeding games that the Nuggets (46-27) eventually won 134-132 and the two meet once more in the first playoff encounter on Monday evening.
To make matters more interesting, Denver’s three regular-season victories over Utah (44-28) were by a total of 11 points – meaning Monday’s clash could be too close to call.
Defending champions the Toronto Raptors open their title defence against the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Netson Monday having put together their best regular-season record (53-19) in franchise history despite missing MVP Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.
The Nets, who finished the season 35-37 are missing a number of big names, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, meaning few people will expect them to be victorious in this matchup despite their free-flowing style of play.
The Philadelphia 76ers won their season series with the Boston Celtics 3-1 and the Sixers would love nothing more than putting another one over their old rivals once more in the post-season.
But Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were pivotal in that trio of wins and with Simmons out with a knee injury and Embiid out of form, so Boston will be well aware that they are now facing a very different Sixers side.
Kawhi Leonard was influential in the Toronto Raptors first NBA title last year and will be looking to bring the Los Angeles Clippers, who have one of the league’s deepest rosters, their first-ever championship in 2020.
However, The Clippers will be tested defensively by Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis and a dangerous Dallas Mavericks offence, that ranks as the most efficient in league history with 115.8 points per 100 possessions, on their way to a 43-32 regular-season record.
The Milwaukee Bucks, along with their reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, have the best record in the NBA for the second consecutive season, finishing 56-17 and face an opponent that they dominated in four regular-season meetings this year.
Of the 192 minutes of basketball between the clubs this season, the Orlando Magic led for just 11 of them, meaning it’s difficult to see anything other than a repeat in the first round of the playoffs.
An ambitious Miami Heat, who are many people’s dark horses to win the eastern conference and reach the NBA finals, face the tenacious Indiana Pacers on Tuesday.
The Heat finished the regular season as the fourth seed in the eastern conference, while the Indiana Pacers finished as the fifth seed, with the clash stirring memories of when these two met in three consecutive postseasons during Miami’s ‘Big Three’ era, with the Heat winning them all in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Two teams who finished the season with the same 44-28 record meet on Tuesday night as the Houston Rockets take on the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The Rockets finished as the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference, while the OKC Thunder locked in the fifth seed with both teams are entering the series with plenty of momentum in the NBA bubble.
The LA Lakers eventually learned their opponent Saturday when Portland Timberwolves beat Memphis to win the NBA’s first Play-In.
Los Angeles rolled to the best record in the West finishing the season 52-19, and with LeBron James leading the league in assists in his second season at the club, should prove too much for a Trailblazers side who finished 36-39.
This week’s first-round playoff games
Denver v Utah 18:30
Toronto v Brooklyn 21:00
Boston v Philadelphia 23:30
LA Clippers v Dallas 02:00
Milwaukee v Orlando 18:30
Indiana v Miami 21:00
Houston v Oklahoma 23:30
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