2020 NBA Playoffs – Historical Preview

FINALLY, the 2020 NBA Playoffs are here! I take a look back at the history of each series and some connections between the teams.


1. Los Angeles Lakers vs 8. Portland Trail Blazers

Playoff history: Lakers have won 9 of 11 all-time series.

Their most recent series was in 2002 first round – Lakers won 3-0. Kobe Bryant (26.0 ppg) and Shaquille O’Neal (25.7 ppg) led the Lakers and the Blazers were led by Rasheed Wallace (25.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg) during these three games.

Blazers lost 5 series in a 6 year span, all to the Kobe and Shaq duo (1997-98, 2000-2002). From 2000-2002, the Lakers won the NBA title each year, beating the Blazers in the Western Conference Finals in 2000 and the first round in 2001 and 2002.

Scottie Pippen, fresh off his Bulls run, was part of these Blazers teams going up against his former coach Phil Jackson.

The Blazers only NBA title came in 1977 – they beat the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals (their first ever playoff series) to get there.

Player connections: 2003 was a historic draft, with 4 future Hall of Famers being drafted in the first 5 picks. Among them, Lebron James was #1 (to Cavs) and Carmelo Anthony was #3 (to Denver). These two have faced each other one time in the playoffs – Heat swept the Knicks in 2012.

The last time the Lakers made the playoffs was 2013. That season featured rookies Anthony Davis (#1) and Damian Lillard (#6). Davis joined the Lakers this year after a 7 year run in New Orleans. Davis won just one playoff series, and that came in 2018 against Lillard and the Blazers in a first round sweep.

4. Houston Rockets vs 5. Oklahoma City

Playoff history: These teams have met 8 times overall, with OKC/Seattle going 6-2 in 8 series.

But since moving to Oklahoma City, Thunder and Rockets have met twice in the playoffs, both times in the first round. Thunder won in 6 games in 2013, shortly after the two teams made a big trade together.

Rockets won in 5 games in 2017, during a season in which Russell Westbrook won MVP after averaging a triple-double following the departure of Kevin Durant.

Player connections: During the summer of 2019, Rockets and Thunder swapped point guards, with Chris Paul going to OKC and Russell Westbrook going to the Rockets, reuniting him with James Harden (more below). The Thunder, for taking on Paul’s large contract, also received two future first round picks PLUS two future first round pick swaps.

The night before the 2012-13 season began, and months after the Thunder reached the NBA Finals (losing to Lebron the Heat), they decided to trade James Harden. The decision was made to trade him rather than pay him a max extension and move forward with Westbrook and Kevin Durant. In return, the Thunder received Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and two first round picks.

Those first round picks became Steven Adams (#12, 2013) and Mitch McGary (#21, 2014) plus Alex Abrines (#32, 2013).

3. Denver Nuggets vs 6. Utah Jazz

Playoff history: Jazz have won 3 of 4 all-time series.

These teams last met in the playoffs in 2010 – Jazz won 4-2 in the first round. This was Carmelo Anthony’s final playoff series with the Nuggets, as he would be traded halfway through the 2010-11 season to the Knicks. ‘Melo averaged 30.7 ppg in the 6 game series.

For the Jazz, Deron Williams averaged 25.8 ppg, 11.2 apg and Carlos Boozer averaged 22.5 ppg, 13.3 rpg.

Before that, the Jazz won in 1994 and they met in back-to-back playoffs in 1984 and 1985.

Player connections: 2020 Jazz All Stars Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert were both drafted by the Nuggets.

  • 2013 – Rudy Gobert drafted 27th, traded to Utah for the 46th pick (Erick Green, who played 52 career games).
  • 2017 – Donovan Mitchell drafted 13th, traded to Utah for 24th pick (Tyler Lydon, who played 26 career games) and Trey Lyles

Nuggets forward Paul Milsap spent the first 7 years of his career with the Jazz, after being a second round pick in 2006. Milsap averaged 12.4 ppg and 7.0 rpg. He signed with Denver in 2017 and has averaged 11.6 ppg and 5.7 rpg in three seasons.

2. Los Angeles Clippers vs 7. Dallas Mavericks

Playoff history: 2020 is the first ever playoff matchup between these two teams.

Rick Carlisle (2011) and Doc Rivers (2008) are the only two coaches in the Western Conference Playoffs who have previously won an NBA Championship.


1. Milwaukee Bucks vs 8. Orlando Magic

Playoff history: Bucks beat the Magic in the first round of the 2001 playoffs. Tracy McGrady was insane for the Magic, averaging 33.8 ppg, 8.3 apg, 6.5 rpg. The 33.8 ppg is the 25th best in NBA playoffs history.

Ray Allen (24.5 ppg) and Sam Cassell (22.0 ppg) led the Bucks in scoring.

Player connections: In Feburary 2013, Magic traded JJ Redick (and others) to the Bucks for, among other lesser pieces, Tobias Harris.

In February 2016, Magic traded Harris to the Pistons for Ersan Ilyasova and Brandon Jennings. Ilyasova has played 72% of his career games with the Bucks and just 22 games with the Magic during the 2015-16 season.

Jennings was drafted 10th overall by the Bucks in 2009 but in 2013 was traded to the Pistons as part of a package for Khris Middleton, who has been an All Star in both 2019 and 2020.

4. Indiana Pacers vs 5. Miami Heat

Playoff history: Heat have won 3 of 4 playoff series all-time and the Heat are 14-11 overall in playoff games vs Pacers.

All 3 series wins took place between 2012-2014, with 2013 and 2014 being Eastern Conference Finals matchups. It was the Lebron James-led Heat against the Frank Vogel-coached Pacers (both together with Lakers now). Paul George, David West, and Roy Hibbert were the stars of those Pacers teams. A lot has changed since they last faced each other.

Pacers lone series win came in 2004 in the second round. With Reggie Miller aging (38), Metta World Peace (21.3 ppg) and Jermaine O’Neal (20.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg) were the stars for Indiana. Rookie Dwayne Wade averaged 21 ppg for the Heat, while playing just over 40 minutes per game.

3. Boston Celtics vs. 6 Philadelphia 76ers

Playoff history: These two franchises have played 105 playoff games against each other. Celtics have won 4 straight series and are 9-4 in playoff series against Philadelphia. Including the Syracuse Nationals, Celtics are 13-8 in series against the 76ers/Nationals franchise. Philly’s last series win came in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals.

Their most recent meeting was 2018, with the Celtics winning 4-1 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Jayson Tatum led the Celtics in scoring with 23.6 ppg and current 76er Al Horford averaged 15.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg. Joel Embiid led Philly with 23.0 ppg and 14.p rpg.

Player connections: After spending the first 9 years of his career with the Hawks, Al Horford signed as a free agent with the Celtics in 2016. He spent 3 years in Boston, averaging 13.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg. He signed with Philadelphia in 2019 and has been a weird fit next to Joel Embiid. He averaged 11.9 ppg and 6.8 rpg.

Jayson Tatum was the #3 pick in the 2017 Draft. Celtics “won” the lottery, courtesy of the Nets pick that they acquired in the trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Celtics loved Tatum and moved down to #3, swapping picks with Philly at #1. 76ers took Markelle Fultz, who played only 33 games in a year and a half before being traded. Celtics also received a 2019 first round pick from Philly, which turned out to be the Kings’ #14 pick, used to draft Romeo Langford.

2. Toronto Raptors vs. 7. Brooklyn Nets

Playoff history: 2020 is the third time these franchises have met in the first round, with the Nets winning both of the first two series, both times as the lower seed.

Since 2007, the Nets have won only 2 playoff series – both have been against the Raptors. The most recent series was 2014, during their second season in Brooklyn when they had Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, along with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez. Nets won that series in 7 games.

In 2007, the Nets leading scorer was Raptors legend Vince Carter, who averaged 25.0 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.0 apg in the 6 games. Jason Kidd averaged a triple-double for the Nets – 14.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 13.2 apg.

Player connections: Vince Carter was traded from the Raptors to the Nets in December 2004. Raptors receiving Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first round picks (which didn’t amount to anything).

Mike is a member of the FWAA (Football Writers Association of America) and an alum of the University of Cincinnati.

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