The 2021 NBA postseason has arrived, and this yr has the potential to be the wildest in current reminiscence. With a compressed schedule, coronavirus-related absences and seemingly an uptick in accidents to superstar players, most groups have had little time to discover a rhythm with one another. Most of the championship favorites, such because the Lakers and Nets, might want to develop championship-level chemistry whereas within the fireplace of the playoffs.
Whereas the dearth of taking part in and follow time could reduce the standard of play, it is going to result in some thrilling basketball, particularly within the first-round. This yr’s Play-in match gave followers a nibble of what’s to come back, however nothing will evaluate to the joy and really feel of the upcoming postseason sequence.
Sports activities Illustrated ranks probably the most entertaining first-round matchups of the 2021 NBA playoffs.
8. Utah Jazz vs Memphis Grizzlies
Tip-off: Sunday, Could 23 9:30 p.m. ET
Although the Grizzlies have impressed many by eliminating the Warriors within the Play-in match, the Jazz will be a completely different beast within the first-round. Utah, in distinction to Golden State’s one-man wrecking crew, has a extra egalitarian type of play and will probably be a lot tougher to anticipate on protection.
The Grizzlies have pulled off the very uncommon one-seed upset in 2011, however nearly all remnants of that Grit-and-Grind workforce have since disembarked or retired. That workforce’s place to begin guard, Mike Conley, will paradoxically be lining up on the opposite facet for this sequence, and his playoff return would be the most intriguing storyline in a sequence that the Jazz ought to in any other case win handily.
7. Boston Celtics vs Brooklyn Nets
Tip-off: Saturday, Could 22 8 p.m. ET
The Celtics and Nets have some nice storylines between them. The 2 are assembly within the playoffs for the primary time because the notorious Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce commerce, the place Boston dealt its getting old franchise icons for a large haul of draft picks. Nets star Kyrie Irving additionally parted with the Celtics on icy phrases within the 2019 offseason, which has not been misplaced on their followers.
Nevertheless, this sequence shouldn’t be notably shut between the 2 division rivals. Boston has been very underwhelming this season as is, and with Jaylen Brown out for the playoffs resulting from a wrist harm, it doesn’t have practically sufficient firepower to hold with a wholesome Brooklyn workforce.
6. New York Knicks vs Atlanta Hawks
Tip-off: Sunday, Could 23 8 p.m. ET
This sequence may very well be as shut as any within the first-round. Each groups lack playoff expertise from its primary gamers, and their organizations haven’t made the playoffs in a while. Hawks coach Nate McMillan has also been very vocal recently about what he sees as bias towards the Knicks.
Seeing New York and Atlanta back in the playoffs will little doubt be entertaining. Nevertheless, the stakes on this sequence are pretty minimal. The winner, no matter who it really is, is not going to make any vital noise in later rounds. In all probability, the 2 groups are competing for optics and the prospect to be steamrolled by one of many convention’s high tier within the second- or third-round.
5. Los Angeles Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks
Tip-off: Saturday, Could 22 4:30 p.m. ET
The Clippers appeared very content material dropping their final two video games of the season, which notably prevented a possible second-round sequence in opposition to the Lakers. Nevertheless, within the course of, the Clips additionally ensured a first-round matchup with the five-seed Mavericks, who’re getting into the playoffs as one of many hottest groups and maintain the most effective file within the league since April 19.
Although Los Angeles continues to be the favourite and holds home-court benefit, Dallas ought to have a puncher’s likelihood of knocking it off. The Mavericks pushed LA to 6 video games final yr on the again of a herculean efficiency from Luka Dončić. With a wholesome Kristaps Porziņģis and retooled roster from each groups, followers may very well be in line for a really enjoyable and shut sequence.
4. Washington Wizards vs Philadelphia 76ers
Tip-off: Sunday, Could 23 1 p.m. ET
The file disparity between these two groups is larger than any within the playoffs. The one-seed 76ers even have an MVP finalist in Joel Embiid, who may appear to be the most effective and most impactful participant within the NBA on any given evening. Even coaching-wise, Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers has nearly double the quantity of playoff wins as his counterpart on the opposite facet, Scott Brooks.
Nevertheless, the Wizard’s starpower is just too nice of a wild card to be missed on this first-round sequence. Even within the Play-in match, Washington went from getting blown off the ground by Boston in its first recreation to annihilating Indiana in its second. Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal definitely have sufficient expertise to make a seven-game sequence in opposition to the 76ers attention-grabbing.
3. Denver Nuggets vs Portland Path Blazers
Tip-off: Saturday, Could 22 10:30 p.m. ET
Neither of those groups are going to be lauded for his or her protection, and the Path Blazers specifically are recognized for being notably terrible on that finish of the ground. Nevertheless, these two explosive offenses battling in a seven-game sequence goes to make for lots of thrilling basketball.
Jamal Murray’s ACL harm doubtless torpedoed Denver’s title probabilities, however it leveled the taking part in subject on this sequence in opposition to lower-seeded Portland. The final time these two groups met within the playoffs, within the 2019 Western Convention Semifinals, the sequence went right down to the wire in Sport 7, and followers wouldn’t be incorrect to count on the identical this time round.
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs Phoenix Suns
Tip-off: Sunday, Could 23 3:30 p.m. ET
Phoenix has had an unimaginable season up up to now en path to securing the two-seed within the West and breaking an 11-year playoff drought. However the Suns acquired the quick finish of the stick by drawing the defending champions within the first-round.
LA will probably be favored because the decrease seed, however victory received’t come simple. The Suns have been a well-run, gritty workforce all the season whereas the Lakers have struggled with participant absences and creating workforce chemistry. When wholesome, which has not been a given this season, Los Angeles ought to have the 2 greatest gamers within the sequence, by far, in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
1. Milwaukee Bucks vs Miami Warmth
Tip-off: Saturday, Could 22 2 p.m. ET
Bucks proprietor Marc Lasry went on the file this week, saying his team wanted to face the Heat in the first-round once they may have simply tanked to make sure a special opponent. Watch out what you would like for. It is a very related Miami roster to the one which turned scorching in final yr’s playoffs and embarrassed Milwaukee within the bubble.
No matter what Lasry says, the Warmth matchup properly with the Bucks. Not solely have they got Bam Adebayo, who’s seemingly the right foible for reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, however their head coach Erik Spoelstra may be very skilled in exploiting Milwaukee’s weaknesses. The Bucks higher hope acquisitions Jrue Vacation and P.J. Tucker result in a special end result as a result of a first-round exit would spell catastrophe for them.