o no surprise, we are amidst the most unprecedented season in NBA history. We just had a game between the Grizzlies and the Blazers and this game not only decided who gets in the NBA playoffs, but it was a game in which it was not considered a playoff game nor a regular season game. Hence NBA statistical record holders don't know where to categorize this game. Things never done before has been the theme of 2020, and the NBA is no different.
As the 2020 NBA Playoffs begin, a few dark horse teams have emerged in the bubble. Don't be surprised to see some upsets; some players thrive better in games with no live crowds, and this claim is backed with some players playing the best basketball of their lives under these unusual circumstances. Here are our dark horse picks to win it all this year.
The Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers are now clicking, and the MVP of the bubble without a doubt has been Damian Lillard. Similar to Steph Curry, Lillard's offense has become so lethal that the second he crosses half court, he's an instant threat. He's averaging 37.6 points per game to go along with 9 assists in the bubble. Dame has been carrying the offensive load, but not without some help from his backcourt partner CJ Mccollum, the sharp shooting of Gary Trent Jr and the timely shots of the future hall of famer Carmelo Anthony.
The big men on the Blazers are also incredibly under appreciated. This is not surprising since the NBA is now a guard driven league, but the play of Nurkic and Whiteside has been impressive. Particularly Jusuf Nurkic, who is coming off a catastrophic injury yet playing like he hasn't really missed a beat. His use of the glass on his jump hooks on both sides of the block have been effective, and more importantly, the screens that Nurkic has been setting for Dame and CJ has been something that many don't notice. The screen assists of the two 7 footers have made life easy for the Blazer's back court. Without Zach Collins in the lineup, Terry Stotts looked to play both Whiteside and Nurkic at the same time to counter the Laker's frontcourt of AD and Mcgee/Howard during their first round matchup.
The Blazers defense is definitely a weak point, but if the role players can take on a bigger load on that end, things can go a long way. In the playoffs, the game slows down and the game gets more physical. It is imperative the Blazers be more aggressive closing out on shooters, playing the passing lane, and using their length inside to protect the rim. Dame and CJ have been knocking on the door of the NBA finals for a few years now, and with Dame playing the best basketball of his career in the bubble, and with veteran experience around him, don't be too surprised if the Blazers are able to knock off the Lakers; especially after game 1.
The Toronto Raptors
What Masai Ujiri has done up in Toronto has been nothing short of sensational. When Kawhi Leonard left for LA last summer, every member of the media wrote the Raptors off, calling it a development year for the team. They have exceeded everyone's expectations and more, and still, the favorites of most pundits to come out of the East are the Celtics and the Bucks.
Dennis Scott predicted that the Raptors won't even make the playoffs in the beginning of the NBA season. Sam Mitchell placed the Raptors finishing 8th, and that is surprising considering he was a head coach of the Raptors once upon a time.
The Raptors finished 2nd in the East, finishing behind only to the Bucks who ended up with the best record in the entire league. The team's record is no different when entering the playoffs last year with Kawhi Leonard, and this speaks volumes to how hard this team plays. The movement of the basketball on every virtually every possession, the swarming defense, the different unorthodox schemes Nick Nurse utilizes on both ends of the floor, the veteran experience, the chip on their shoulder, the leadership, the front office, and the team chemistry are all undeniable assets.
Kyle Lowry is without question the best Raptor player in franchise history. At 34, Lowry doesn't seem to be slowing down. His leadership is stellar because he leads by example. He is the best in the league at taking charges no matter who it is. He sacrifices his body out there on the court time and time again. Add this with the continual ascent of Pascal Siakam, the unselfish play of Marc Gasol, the interior defense of Serge Ibaka, the aggressive 3&D play of OG Anunoby, the scoring punch off the bench of Norman Powell, the great play of the other role players, and the ever so confident play of steady Freddy, the Raptors are poised to win it all again this year.
You can make a legitimate argument that Kawhi Leonard would have had a better chance of winning a championship again with this Toronto Raptor squad than with his current team the LA Clippers.
The playoff woes of the Raptors are in the past, and the path to the finals might be a little easier than one might think. For one, Ben Simmons of the Sixers is injured, the Celtics have just lost Gordan Hayward for 4 weeks with an ankle sprain, and the Bucks aren't the same; they just lost to the Magic in a shocking upset in in their first playoff game. The Raptors are constantly overlooked by American pundits, and despite them flying under the radar, this team is battle tested and hungry to prove the doubters wrong yet again.