NBA: Way-too-early Conference Finals matchups predictions

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics rebounds the ball during the second half of their game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on November 29, 2019 in New York City. 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. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 29: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics rebounds the ball during the second half of their game against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on November 29, 2019 in New York City. 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. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /

The race for the NBA Playoffs is starting to heat up, so we look at the potential matchups in the East and West Conference Finals

As Santa Claus prepares to make his annual trip next week, Christmas also brings an exciting period of the year for the NBA season.

With matchups such as Miami vs. Philadelphia, Lakers vs. Milwaukee and Houston vs. Clippers on the schedule over the next week, there is a hoist of massive games that will begin to shape the conference standings heading into the middle portion of the 2019-20 season.

These landmark games also help to give us fans a better insight into which teams are the true contenders and have an added advantage over other potential challengers. It may also give us a chance to see which of the top teams in the league are merely pretenders and have the potential to fall away from the top of the standings as the season moves along.

More from Sir Charles In Charge

With most teams having played around 25 games, give or take, in their regular season campaign, its time to try and predict what the playoff race may look like at the beginning of the real stuff in a few months’ time. In particular, I will be attempting to predict which teams will feature in the Conference Finals in both the Eastern and Western Conference.

I believe there are only three true contenders in both conferences and a clear No. 1 seed in each conference that will certainly feature at the pointy end of the season.

These predictions are all based on teams being at full strength and not suffering from any major injuries, particularly to any superstar players.

Western Conference – Los Angeles Lakers vs. LA Clippers

Okay, how exciting would this matchup be?

The two teams that share the Staples Center locker rooms going toe-to-toe for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. Seeing these teams dynamic duos and great supporting casts could potentially set up one of the greatest Western Conference Finals in NBA history.

Through the first 27 games of their season, the Lakers sit comfortably on top of the Conference with a mighty impressive 24-3 record and sit 4.5 games clear of the Clippers in the second spot. Doubters questioned whether the Lakers start was due to their favorable schedule to begin the season, only playing five teams with a .500-plus record out of their first 19 games.

But with four wins against .500-plus teams in their last seven games, the Lakers are beginning to show they are the full package this season. With four straight tough games coming up against Indiana, Milwaukee, Denver, and the Clippers, the Lakers can well and truly stamp themselves as clear favorites for the Western Conference title with wins against the highest caliber sides.

The Lakers are led by their dynamic duo of Lebron James and Anthony Davis, who are both legitimate MVP candidates and are the main reason why the Lakers are currently controlling Los Angeles. They are driven by their teams’ defensive efforts, averaging a league-high 7.1 blocks per game and are second in the NBA for steals per game, averaging 8.9 each night.

I believe the Lakers are certainties for the No.1 seed in the Western Conference.

On the other side of the hardwood court at the Staples Center is the LA Clippers, who are the clear second-best side in the Western Conference so far through the 2019-20 season.

The Clippers also sought out their own dynamic duo like the Lakers, bringing in Kawhi Leonard after his Championship run with the Raptors and superstar Paul George. The duo combined with a host of great role-players such as Pat Beverley, Lou Williams and breakout star Montrezl Harrell to build one of the deepest teams in the league on paper.

The Clippers currently sit in the second seed in the West, boasting a 20-8 record but also sitting 4.5 games behind the Lakers in the early part of the season. The Clippers have had a far harder run than the Lakers, already facing 13 teams with a .500-plus record for an impressive nine wins from those 13 matchups.

The main positive for the Clippers so far is that Kawhi and George have missed a handful of games each through the early part of the season, but they still have managed to maintain a healthy record and a position at the top of the Western Conference.

For me, the thing that makes these two teams stand out from the other contenders is that they have no real obvious weakness that has been exploited by opposition teams.

In comparison, the third-place Dallas Mavericks are probably the next best team in the West. My concern for them was their reliance on Luka Doncic and not enough support from their bench, but their win over Milwaukee proved otherwise. The only reason they are a step behind the LA teams is their lack of experience in playoffs, which I believe will be a decisive factor with the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard who have proven themselves as big moment players.

The fourth-place Denver Nuggets are a very defensively minded team and often struggle to push their pace of play, restricting them to be the 7th lowest-scoring team in the NBA. The other contenders are the Houston Rockets, who have too many issues with James Harden and Russell Westbrook being dominant ball-handlers, leading to many empty possessions on stupid shot-takes and their streaky shooting forms.

The reason why the Western Conference is seen as the stronger conference is due to the larger number of legitimate contenders. If any of those last three teams can iron out their flaws, they have the potential to push the LA teams for a spot in the Conference Finals.

But for me, the two Los Angeles teams will be fighting it out for a spot in the NBA Finals when the playoffs roll around later in the season.

Eastern Conference – Milwaukee Bucks vs. Philadelphia 76ers

This matchup is the one everyone was predicting before the season started.

Milwaukee was coming off a historic season in 2018-19, posting 60 wins across the regular season to finish with the best record in the East and across the whole league. Their season came to a disappointing end in the Eastern Conference Finals when Kawhi Leonard and the Raptors stormed back from 2-0 down, to claim the series 4-2 and move to the NBA Finals.

The 76ers were also left heartbroken by the Canadian team, who could ever forget that Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater to send Philadelphia home in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals. They were just one shot away from facing the Bucks in the Conference Finals last season, but I believe this year it will almost certainly happen.

The Boston Celtics are the only other team I consider to be true contenders in the East, but I still think they are just a step behind the Milwaukee and Philadelphia juggernauts.

The Bucks are off to another incredible start to the season, currently on top of the East with a 24-4 record. They went on a ridiculous 18-game win streak that was only broken last night and have already knocked off teams such as Toronto, Utah, Houston and most recently they absolutely dismantled the Clippers at home.

They are driven by reigning-MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo who is supported by excellent role-players such as Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, whilst also having one of the deepest benches in the league.

Their incredible form is driven by their offensive firepower, averaging the most points-per-game of any team in the league (121.2) on the highest field goal percentage (48.7%). They also average the most rebounds of any team in the NBA and have scored over 100 points in every game so far this season.

For Philadelphia, it was a sluggish start to the 2019-20 season that has recently started to turn, posting 13 wins from their last 16 games to sit 20-8 and third in the East. Their wins include victories over Toronto, Denver and Boston in consecutive games, proving they can beat the other contenders around the NBA.

The 76ers have built their team slowly over previous years, developing Joel Embiid into a rising star of the game since they drafted him and mixing him with No.1 draft pick, Ben Simmons. They do not have any real notable shooters other than possibly Tobias Harris but have managed to stamp themselves in my eyes as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference so far.

Philadelphia as a team rank in the top 5 in some major statistical categories such as field goal percentage, assists, blocks, and steals which proves they are a competent team on both ends of the floor. This is lead by Embiid and Simmons who are both very good defensive players but also help to transition their strong defensive efforts into good offensive play.

Next. NBA Trade Rumors: Should the Miami Heat go all-in, target Kevin Love?. dark

The exciting prospect of a Bucks v. 76ers Conference final would be pitting Giannis Antetokounmpo against Joel Embiid, two of the premier big men in the league. Through the early part of the season, these two teams look like the teams to beat in the East and are firm favorites to be facing each other when the Conference Finals roll around.