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Best matchups of a 1-16 seeded NBA playoffs


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As the NBA slowly rolls ahead, developing plans for restarting the season, we’ve been treated to a dizzying array of reports on different permutations. Yesterday on ESPN, Brian Windhorst reported there “a really good chance” the league would opt for a standard 16-team playoff with no resumption of the regular season. He also mentioned that the door was open for the league to experiment and go with a conference-less No. 1 – No. 16 seeding structure.

These would be the NBA first-round playoff matchups in a No. 1 – No. 16 seeding structure.

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Orlando Magic (16)

Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (15)

Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (14)

Los Angeles Clippers (4) vs. Dallas Mavericks (13)

Boston Celtics (5) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (12)

Denver Nuggets (6) vs. Indiana Pacers (11)

Utah Jazz (7) vs. Houston Rockets (10)

Miami Heat (8) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (9)

Of course, none of this is set in stone. J.J. Redick also said on his podcast that he’s heard there would potentially be play-in games for the final seeds which could change the actual teams. The implications of this structure don’t appear to be enormous, at least for the first round. Only four of these first-round series would involve cross-conference matchups and two (Bucks vs. Magic and Celtics vs. 76ers) are the same as what we’d see under a traditional playoff format.

Still, there are a few extremely exciting possibilities here, both for the first-round and for potential second-round matchups.

Raptors vs. Grizzlies (first round)

The Raptors hadn’t played either of their scheduled games against the Grizzlies before the season was suspended but, on paper, they should have the clear upper hand here. But even if Memphis isn’t really able to put the final outcome in jeopardy, it’s the first playoff appearance for Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke and they’re definitely going to bring some fire and chaos. The Raptors may be guided by the steady veteran hands of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka but it is the youthful legs of OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and Terence Davis that really give them their juice. Forgive the mixed metaphors but this seems like two first-act Ricky Vaughn’s just hucking triple-digit fastballs daring you to hit something, anything.

Clippers vs. Celtics (second round)

The Celtics don’t really have a Montrezl Harrell and the offensive primacy and timelines are a bit jumbled but otherwise, these teams are funhouse mirror reflections of each other. Patrick Beverley vs. Marcus Smart. Paul George vs. Jaylen Brown. Kawhi Leonard vs. Jayson Tatum. Lou Williams vs. Kemba Walker. Marcus Morris vs. Gordon Hayward. As a Finals matchup in the old playoff format, this would be fairly unlikely. Here it’s probable and holds as much potential narrative and strategic complexity as anything else in the bracket.

Bucks vs. Los Angeles (third and fourth rounds) 

One of the quirks (an unfortunate one if you’re the Bucks) of this bracket is that Milwaukee would potentially have to beat both Los Angeles teams on their way to a title. In a traditional bracket, they could count on one knocking the other out but here, assuming higher seeds prevail, they’d have to get through Orlando and Miami in the first two rounds, before beating both the Clippers and then the Lakers. It’s an absurdly difficult challenge but it makes for an incredibly compelling narrative. Whoever wins the title this year will get an asterisk (actual or implied) because of the circumstances but if Milwaukee gets through both of the Los Angeles teams they can argue it should be a pretty small one.

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