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NBA Playoffs: Giant Killers

Written by Jonathan Lidskin

The last 5 seasons, we have not had much parity in the NBA. The Warriors have won the West every year since 2015 and up until last season, a team led by LeBron James had won the East every season since 2011. This season, with the Warriors in last place in the west and LeBron not in the East, the playoffs are wide open for there to be more upsets than usual.

The term “giant killers” is usually used in the NCAA Tournament to describe lower seeded teams that have the capability of beating higher seeded teams. In this article, the “giant killers” will be teams that are seeded lower than 2 in their respective conferences and will also include some teams lower than 8 because of the undecided NBA playoff format. Without further ado, here are the lower seeds that can make some noise in the 2020 playoffs.

Boston Celtics

Jayson Tatum has emerged as a star for the Celtics this season (Photo: EssentiallySports.com)

The Boston Celtics would normally be the 3 seed in the Eastern Conference in a regular playoff format. However, with the playoff format possibly being changed, they might not get a chance to see a Sixers team that they have beaten up on for the better part of the last 5 years. It has felt like the Celtics have had the pieces to win the East for quite some time now. They are solid defensively, they can shoot and they have high IQ players. The one piece they were missing was a superstar. The way Jayson Tatum has developed this year, it is fair to consider him a superstar. With Tatum playing the way he was before the season was postponed, the Celtics have the capability to beat the top seeds in the East and maybe even win the franchise’s first championship since 2008.

Houston Rockets

James Harden (left) and Russell Westbrook (right) have been one of the top duos in the NBA this season (Photo: Forbes)

One of the more surprising stories of the NBA season is how the Rockets took off after the trade deadline. Trading Clint Capela dramatically improved the Rockets play style. The “iso ball” that we have seen for years with James Harden and Russell Westbrook is now much easier for the Rockets as they no longer have the 6 '10 Capela clogging the lane. The team has been scoring much more and while they have also been giving up more, a lot of teams in the playoffs are going to have a huge difficulty keeping pace with that offense. The Rockets have scored over 100 points in every game except for two since the trade deadline. Both of those games, the Rockets were without Russell Westbrook. When the playoffs finally roll around, don’t be surprised to see the Rockets neck and neck with teams seeded higher than them.

Philadelphia 76ers

Ben Simmons (right) and Joel Embiid (left) are looking to reach the Conference Finals this season for the first time in their careers (Photo: NBC Sports)

The hype for a Sixers playoff run seems like it comes up every year now. The Sixers without a doubt have the talent to win the East, but the question is, do they have the chemistry to win it? The Sixers fell just short of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance last season when they lost in heartbreak fashion in a game 7 against the Toronto Raptors. This season, the Sixers have the 6 seed in the East and have played parts of the season without Joel Embiid. The Sixers don’t have much depth which is usually a big part of a playoff run and can cost teams in later series due to injuries and fatigue. Most of their guys also don’t have the experience of playing in later series, but this might not be a huge issue because fans will not be in attendance. The Sixers were extremely close to getting over the hump last year, so they just might be able to do it this year despite the tougher road to the Finals.

Portland Trail Blazers

Damian Lillard (Right) and C.J. McCollum (Left) have been the backbone of the Blazers for most of the past decade (Photo: Bleacher Report)

After reaching the Western Conference Finals last season, the Blazers were expected to have another really good season. While currently sitting at 29-37 and the 9th seed in the West, the Blazers would miss the playoffs if the NBA went with a normal 16 team format. However, changes to this year’s format could allow the Blazers to compete in a play-in round. If they get the opportunity, last year’s Western Conference runner-up could make some noise in the playoffs. They bring a ton of playoff experience to the table as well as one of the best backcourts in the NBA. Damian Lillard has performed in clutch situations time and time again and playing in big moments doesn’t scare him. If they got a shot at one of the top seeds, they could probably push the series to 6 or 7 games. Winning a series is a huge question mark, but the Blazers have done that time and time again.

New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans Rookie Zion Williamson has made a huge impact in their playoff run since his return (Photo: Yahoo! Sports)

Like the Blazers, the Pelicans would need an extended playoff format in order to get into the playoffs. The Pelicans were 3.5 games out of a playoff spot when the season was postponed. This was in large part because of the return of Zion Williamson. The Pelicans were 11-9 since Williamson’s return and that is including the games he played limited minutes. The Pelicans likely would’ve had wins in two games against the Spurs and Nuggets if Williamson wasn’t limited. Assuming with Williamson at full strength, the Pelicans would’ve been 13-7 in those games, that record would be equivalent to a 41-23 record through the Pelicans current 64 games played. That record would currently tie for the 4th seed in the West. To summarize, the Pelicans are a dangerous team with Zion on the floor. If they were to play a top seed, they could without a doubt give that team a scare.

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