The 2021 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday. Here’s what it’s looking like on these hardwood streets.
The first round is set for the 2021 NBA Playoffs! 👀 pic.twitter.com/KzKaAWVlwL
— ESPN (@espn) May 22, 2021
(1) Philadelphia 76ers vs (8) Washington Wizards
Season series: Sixers (3-0)
Story line: The Wizards reward for advancing out of the East play-in tournament is a matchup with a Sixers team wearing a No.1 seed for the first time in 20 years (2001- Allen Iverson).
Washington simply didn’t have an answer for Joel Embiid in the three regular-season matchups. The multi-skilled big man averaged 30 points and 9.7 rebounds in those games on 60% shooting from the field, 96% from the line, and if that wasn’t enough the big Cameroonian was also 5-of-6 from three range.
Bradley Beal averaged 36.7 points in those games, but his balky hamstring certainly isn’t a great sign for the Wizards.
Key Matchup: Embiid vs Wizards frontline.
Prediction: Sixers in 5. Gentleman’s Sweep
(2) Brooklyn Nets vs (7) Boston Celtics
Season series: Nets (3-0)
Storyline: Brooklyn’s Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, make their playoff debut together against a Celtics team that went to the East Finals and never seem to get rolling this season.
Irving takes on his former team, and that means he’ll likely play in front of Boston fans for the first time since leaving Beantown in 2019. He played one game against the Celtics this season. The Christmas Day game between the Nets and Leprechauns had no fans in attendance.
Key Matchup: Kevin Durant vs Jayson Tatum. The Celtics have no chance IMO without Jaylen Brown. Tatum will have to carry the bulk of the scoring load. It won’t be nearly enough.
Prediction: Nets in 5. Another Gentleman’s Sweep
(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs (6) Miami Heat
Season series: Bucks (2-1)
Storyline: Milwaukee lost to the Heat on Miami’s way to the Eastern Conference title last season via the “NBA Bubble.” It’s safe to say the Bucks are looking forward to this opportunity at redemption. It’s a clash of styles. Bucks wanna play uptempo and the Heat are a team that prides itself on the defensive end.
Key Matchup: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs Jimmy Butler. Although not a likely head-to-head matchup we’ll see often, but the “Greek Freak” can’t afford another early postseason exit on his resume. Butler didn’t play in any of the regular season matchups.
Prediction: Bucks in 6
(4) New York Knicks vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
Season series: Knicks (3-0)
Storyline: Welcome back to the playoffs Knicks and Hawks, it’s been a while. Actually 2013 for the Knicks and 2017 for the Hawks. Both teams took huge leaps forward this season and one of them at the very least will be in the Eastern Conference Semis.
Great coaching by Tom Thibodeau and Nate McMillan. New York is defense heavy and the Hawks are free shooters, meaning something will have to give.
Key Matchup: Julius Randle vs Clint Capela and John Collins. Knicks run through “Orange Julius” and the Hawks are led by the frontcourt duo of Capela and Collins who’ll have their work cut out for them. Trae Young spearheads the “Hotlanta” attack. Knicks have former MVP Derrick Rose and his playoff savvy.
Prediction: Knicks in 7
(1) Utah Jazz vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies
Season series: Jazz (3-0)
Storyline: The Grizzlies are fresh off winning two play-in games (basically two Game 7s) just to get into the playoffs and have the nothing-to-lose chance against the everything-to -lose top-seeded Jazz.
Donovan Mitchell averaged 35 points per game in two regular season matchups against Memphis. “Spida Mitchell” will make his return to Utah’s lineup for Game 1 after an ankle injury prematurely cut his season short.
It’ll also be interesting to see how the Grizz reset after two hard fought play-in games this week.
Key Matchup: Rudy Gobert vs Jonas Valanciunas. The big-man battle will be critical. When “Stifle Tower” aka Gobert is at his best so are the Jazz. For Memphis big Jonas needs to stay on floor as often as possible. He averaged a double-double (14.3 point and 14.3 rebounds) during the regular season versus the guys from Salt Lake City.
Prediction: Jazz in 5. Gentleman’s Sweep
(2) Phoenix Suns vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Season series: Suns (2-1)
Storyline: This might be the first time in NBA history that a No.2 seed defeats a No.7 seed and it’d be considered an upset.
According to FanDuel, the Lakers are the betting favorite to win the series, even though the guys from the “Valley of the Sun” won nine more games. Also since 2003 when the NBA went to a best-of-seven format for all rounds No.2 seeds have won 35 of 36 matchups in their quarterfinal matchups with the No.7 seeds. Such is the power of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, coupled with the postseason inexperience of the Suns outside of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder.
Key Matchup: Chris Paul vs LeBron James. The two close friends who happen to be half of the “Banana Boat Crew” which also features Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony, have never faced one another in the playoffs. LBJ is still returning to form from a high ankle sprain. While Paul is dealing with the pressure of never making the NBA Finals.
Prediction: Lakers in 7 (Only because the Suns have no answer for Davis)
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Portland Trailblazers
Season series: Nuggets (2-1)
Storyline: The Nuggets won 30 of their last 40 games, shocking many by not falling apart following the loss of Jamal Murray for the season to a knee injury. Portland is in the postseason for the eight consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in the league. But three of its last four appearances have resulted in a first-round exit. There’s definitely more pressure on Damian Lillard and the guys from “Rip City.”
Key Matchup: Nikola Jokic vs Jusuf Nurkic. It will largely be up to Nurkic to contain Denver’s MVP front runner, as Jokic controls everything that the Nuggets on offense. If “The Joker” isn’t slowed, even if ever so slightly, an uphill task for the Blazers becomes even tougher.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Dallas Mavericks
Season series: Mavericks (2-1)
Storyline: Both teams have postseason demons to shake and these teams don’t particularly like one another either. The Clippers are a much different team than the one who blew a (3-1) to the Nuggets in the “NBA Bubble.” The last time the Mavs won a playoff series was during their magical 2011 NBA title run led by Dirk Nowitzki. They were beaten by the Clips last season in six games.
Key Matchup: Kawhi Leonard/Paul George/ Marcus Morris vs Luka Doncic. Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP, who’s had another excellent season. But there are lingering questions and rumors about a foot injury. Kawhi says it’s no big deal, but it’s nagged him for a few weeks. Doncic had two triple-doubles and scored at least 38 points in three of the playoff “Bubble” games.
Prediction: Clippers in 6 (Rondo Effect)