The final eight regular-season games of the 2019-20 NBA season allowed teams to shake off some rust following a four-month stoppage because of the coronavirus pandemic. They also featured surprises as some teams showed flashes of how they could outplay their playoff seed.
With the first-round playoff matchups set, USA TODAY Sports ranks four of the most improbable upsets that could shake up the championship race:
No. 7 Dallas Mavericks over No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers. When an elite offense (ahem, Dallas) meets an elite defense (LA) in a best-of-seven playoff series, the latter typically prevails. For the Mavs’ high-octane offense to break through against the Clippers’ smothering defense made up of length and athleticism, 21-year-old phenom Luka Doncic will have to be at his usual triple-double level. His 36-point, 19-assist, 14-rebound outing in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks was the highlight of a subpar 3-5 bubble showing. But the key in that victory was Dallas’ ability to exorcise old demons and win a close game down the stretch. If Doncic can find his clutch gene in this series and Kristaps Porzingis can avoid a disappearing act, there’s reason for the Mavs to be positioned for an upset.
The Clippers, a championship contender behind Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, could be hurt by a lack of chemistry from a roster far from full strength in the restart games. Big man Montrezl Harrell sat out those eight games after the death of his grandmother. The Mavs are not a team the Clippers will want to see while trying to iron out kinks.