Disclaimer: Some of the games of the 2021 NBA Playoffs have been played and some haven’t been played yet. Day 1 was yesterday where 4 games were played and 4 games are being played today. Nonetheless, here is my rundown of the annual event.
Here we go. Here it is. Firstly, what I want you all to know about the playoffs this year is that the Knicks vs Hawks series is the best series and I thought it was going to be the Hornets vs Knicks at one point in the season. Never in a million years would I have guessed that the New York Knicks and the Atlanta Hawks would be facing off at the 4th and 5th seeds, two of the brightest teams in the league today. But you know what they say, hard work and a little talent goes a long way. They are two of the brightest teams in the league today. Atlanta is spearheaded by point guard Trae Young and a little help from talented power forward John Collins, who each make their playoff debuts today and the New York Knicks led by Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, and an entire young supporting cast, make their debut. This one is, to say the least, going to be fun. Both teams worked hard this season. That seems to be the motto this season. Teams on the rise who have worked hard. We see it in the Utah Jazz being the No. 1 seed in the West and in the Philadelphia 76ers being No. 1 in the East, and the rest is history. So, we’ll work our way from the top and keep going from there in this article, shall we?
Philadelphia 76ers vs Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards just made it into the playoffs via the play-in tournament, and that seems to be the most fun of this series. Watching an 8th seeded Wizards team go up against a burning and raging 76ers team is going to be fun. Also, watching Russell Westbrook try to make it in the paint running full speed at Joel Embiid is going to be fun. He probably wants this matchup after working so hard to get it. Bradley Beal, longtime Wizard and scoring machine, helped him get it. Bradley Beal is probably going to help him win the playoffs, at least try, despite being an 8th seed. The two new teammates are going to help each other, having both been to the playoffs numerous occasions. At the beginning of April, the Wizards had a 0.6 percent chance of making the playoffs. These are the facts. Now, they are in full-speed at the 8th seed after losing a game and winning a game as the 10th seed.
The most fun of this matchup, though, isn’t the hard-working talent going on in the Capital, it’s the dynamics at work in Philadelphia with Joel Embiid. The 76ers have the MVP candidate, and a Defensive Player Of The Year candidate, Ben Simmons, who is going to be an MVP candidate most likely next year. It doesn’t get more fun or 1st-seeded than that. The most fun of it all is that Simmons, the 76ers playmaker and ball-handler, missed the playoffs last season right before the playoffs due to a knee injury., but he’s back. Ben Simmons is back. The 6’10 superstar is going to help his team, um, a lot. He was the key last year and he’s certainly the key this year to the 76ers success. Then, they have Embiid, who helped get them to the first seed atop all the East this year and had to do it alone in the postseason last year. There’s also Tobias Harris, who can’t be stopped, especially at the midrange no matter what. There’s also Doc Rivers, who just gained a fresh start with the 76ers organization and look at what he’s done with it. This is what legendary coaches do. Watching the 76ers work their way to the top has been fun all season and it’s likely going to payoff in a first-round matchup against the Wizards, which it didn’t last year after being swept by the Boston Celtics.
No. 1 Utah Jazz vs No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
I wish this was the Utah Jazz vs Phoenix Suns, so we can all pack up and go home. I almost wrote it. Imagine if the two top teams, especially the Jazz and Suns, faced off in the first round instead of the 1st and 8th seeds. That would be fun. What else is fun is Ja Morant making his playoff debut in his second year. Ja Morant isn’t fun, he’s exciting and explosive. Memphis made its way into the playoffs via the play-in like the Wizards and their scenario against the top-seeded Jazz is similar, however, it’s a little different. Memphis and Utah are both young teams, with Donovan Mitchell and Jordan Clarkson, who scored 28 points off the bench in a win over the Grizzlies this season, leading the Jazz pack and of course, Ja Morant along with a host of others, leading the Gritty Grizzlies. They have similar playing styles in the grit and grind. “Gritty Grizzlies” is right, and the Jazz are tough also. Watching Ja Morant go up against DPOY legend Rudy Gobert is going to be interesting. Donovan Mitchell vs Ja Morant is going to be interesting. These dynamics, plus an all-around team effort is going to be key to this matchup.
As we all try to watch Morant stick out and shine, this is something the Jazz have been doing all year and they are more used to it than Morant’s Grizzlies. The Jazz have been here before, and after being knocked out last year in a series they fought to seven games, they’re back with a vengeance. Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley, especially Mike Conley are back with a vengeance. They also didn’t need a play-in to do it. They are the number one seed in the West and if being the top team doesn’t speak enough to having a vengeance and proving your team is one of the best teams in the entire league, then I don’t know what does. Utah will have to play their very best game against a team like the Grizzlies, and at least they have the respect and facts to prove it all. The odds are in their favor.
No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs No. 7 L.A. Lakers
The Phoenix Suns vs L.A. Lakers is going to be a fun and exciting series. It’s all she wrote. It is going to be most fun because the Suns rose to the top this season all of a sudden and the Lakers have sorta fallen to the bottom. But they’re still the Lakers and that’s what’s most important. The Lakers have all the fans on their side and hype, and also LeBron James and Anthony Davis. The superstar pair both suffered injuries this year, and it scared the Lakers. Now, they’re both back for the playoffs. After coming off a championship win, the Lakers look to regain their status and what better way to do it than looking like the underdog this season at the 7th seed. They will likely regain their playoff notoriety and play hard against the Suns. They will have to play hard, though, and not rely simply on all of that. This isn’t an easy-breezy first-round matchup, and that’s why it’s my second favorite matchup of all the matchups.
The Suns are the true top dog in the West. Sometimes, being number 2 is good. They are the true team on the rise, and that’s what makes their team and matchup against the Lakers most exciting. The Suns, with newly-acquired Chris Paul and Devin Booker, are hot. They are on fire. They’ve been doing something the Lakers haven’t been doing all season long, and their success also still fresh in our minds and their playoff run has yet to be seen. What we all know is that Phoenix is going to run, and they’re going to give Lakers a run and hopefully run away with a win.
No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs No. 7 Boston Celtics
The Brooklyn Nets vs Boston Celtics is quite possibly the hardest series to try to predict. It just sounds essential and professional and playoff-ish. The Brooklyn Nets, as we all know, are one of the top 1 or 2 teams in the league. They are the second seed in the East. Then, you have the Boston Celtics, who fell to the 7th seed, but there they sit with all of their flaws this year and a 6’10 Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and would-be Jaylen Brown if he wasn’t out due to injury. The Celtics are going to miss Jaylen Brown, but here they still are with the Nets as two alpha dogs in the East, despite what you’ve heard. No one would have ever really thought that Brooklyn and Boston would meet in the playoffs in the first round, even though it happened last year, but that was without KD and Kyrie. Boston took advantage last season. They really took advantage making it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals against the fireball that is the Miami Heat. Nothing has changed. The Celtics are still a good team, and an even better team after making improvements in the offseason. That’s the most important part, despite falling to the 7th seed instead of their expected 3-5th seed spot. Because of it, they matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. As they say, and it’s true: the playoffs are about matchups. Boston will have to play their best game and give it all to advance, but it is going to be a fun and thorough fight all the way through.
The Nets, all alone, are an easy prediction for fans and analysts alike. KD and Kyrie – referring to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving – are with the team this season after suffering from injuries which sidelined them last season. That really hurt Irving, who likes to compete and was with his team for a second before the postseason was even thought of and has been in the playoff position before. KD, also, being in the playoff position. Now, the duo has James Harden, and the Harden-KD-Kyrie trio makes their playoff debut together. James Harden is back from a hamstring injury, and Brooklyn is going to come ready. The Nets have a championship on their mind, and with their superstar trio, the matchup game is likely not an issue for them like others. No other obstacles stand in their way, and they shouldn’t. The Nets just have to make sure to play their best game and not lose sight of their goal being different from the others. The Nets have to go into this like the Lakers last season with all of the expectations on them and the usual competition that gets in their way. A first round against Boston isn’t going to be easy, but at last, they have arrived.
Winner: Nets without Jaylen Brown
No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs No. 6 Miami Heat
This is another series that is not going to be easy to neither predict or watch. This series right here. This series is the one. The Miami Heat upset Milwaukee last season, nearly sweeping the top-seeded Bucks for a 4-1 victory. But it wasn’t exactly an upset. Miami upset a lot of teams last year with their talent, defense, and hard work, which has turned into an entire culture this season, “Heat Culture.” They are back and they are not an easy team to beat. The Heat gained the 6th seed after a few scares during the regular season which was a crisis for them and a wish for everyone else. The Heat are different. They’re not the number one team after the run they had last season. They’re not number two. They’re not even above the Bucks in seeding, who hold down the 3rd seed. But they are there at the 6th seed awaiting any and all competition. They are a better team than last season, as last season seemed to be a tester. Heat Culture is in full effect this season. Duncan Robinson and Tyler Herro are back. Jimmy Butler is back. Bam Adebayo is back and better. Adebayo is going to be their key. The Heat roster is still young, but it’s a combustion waiting to happen and their Center Adebayo tops that off.
Onto the Milwaukee Bucks. The sweet Milwaukee Bucks. Their goal this year is to get past the Heat, and they have the first round to do so. Then the rest is history. That’s the Bucks slogan this year: “History in the Making.” And many are thinking, like me, that it should be, “Beat the Heat.” But also, many might be thinking how smart and accurate this is of the Bucks, and who better than the Bucks to make history? The Bucks will be making history if they win, especially if they win it all, which they have come so close to doing on multiple occasions in the past couple years with their star Giannis Antetokounmpo. So, it would be a joy – no, a thrill – if the Bucks made their trip count this time and got past the first round even against the Heat. Also, it makes sense that Miami is a first round matchup more than ever now. More than the excitement. More than the coincidence. This is about winning for the Bucks more than the Heat. They need this bad, and they’re probably going to get it to move on to their next biggest competition, which are the Brooklyn Nets.
No. 4 Knicks vs No. 5 Hawks
This is another series that is not easy to predict, but it’s my favorite and it will be easy to watch. Popcorn, please. The Knicks and the Hawks represent a lot in this year’s playoffs and a lot is at stake in this playoff series. They represent the rising teams of the league. They represent the teams that make it and not on a fluke. The Hawks, especially are not here on a fluke, represent a lot, and a lot is at stake for them. Trae Young has been playing his heart out since being drafted in 2018 and he is a superstar, high-stakes caliber player with a playoff-contending franchise. Every year that Trae Young has been in the league, the Hawks have not been in the playoffs, that means not even looking at the 8th seed, and the Knicks haven’t been in ages. Here we are in 2021, and Ja Morant is making his playoff debut in his second year. It is his second time playing in the play-in tournament after falling last year to Dame Time in Portland. Trae Young makes his playoff debut this year in his third year against the Knicks, and he deserves it. It’s going to be one for the history books. The young (no pun intended) point guard is making it with his team, which consists of savvy power forward John Collins, De’Andre Hunter, and others. We’ll have to see if the Hawks can make it past the first round at least, and it’s going to be a task, but fun. It is the task, though. Being the more experienced team and with such a leader by their side, the beloved Hawks will make the most of their playoff experience. Also, seeing as they got this far to make it, they more than likely will see their task at hand and take care of business.
Now, the New York Knicks represent a team on the rise in every way imaginable. The epitome of their success is rooted in their ability to rise above the pack, and that has been the story all season for the young and rising franchise. What makes the Knicks a rising team is not only their rise to the top of the East, it’s their noticeably young and talented roster consisting of guys like Julius Randle, RJ Barrett, Mitchell Robinson, Reggie Bullock, Frank Ntilikina, and their star-drafted rookies, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley. I could go on. It makes me want to name the whole roster, really. Then, there’s a few vets here and there with Elfrid Payton, Nerlens Noel, and you guessed it – Derrick Rose. Rose made his return to the Garden via a trade this season, and it’s been nothing but beneficial to them. Most of all, it’s their well-rounded and carefully-crafted team topped off by new head coach Tom Thibodeau which makes this roster fun and successful. Hats off to Tom Thibodeau, Derrick Rose, and of course, Julius Randle. Randle has been more than pivotal to the Knicks success ever since joining in 2019. He’s enjoyed some individual success as one of the most talented stars in the league, but none more than this year when he made he dropped 44 points in a win against the Atlanta Hawks, made his All-Star debut, and is a finalist for one of the league’s most prestigious awards, Most Improved Player. Now, he’s making his playoff debut and like Trae Young, he’s doing it with his team. Favor and betting odds should be on the Knicks side, but this is one we’ll have to just sit back and enjoy. Stars like ones on the Knicks will be out there to play their game, though, and of course, coach Thibodeau is probably there to win against their foe the Atlanta Hawks.
Winner: N/A this series is too close to call
No. 4 Clippers vs No. 5 Mavericks
The Clippers and Mavericks are back at it. They’re up to their old antics. They’ve played one game in the series so far, which the Mavericks won and it was because of their Maverick, Luka Doncic. Luka is magic. It’s inevitable. It’s going to be the thing the Clippers have to stop. It’s going to be the thing they can’t stop on most nights. But they have to find a way and so far this season they’ve done it. The Clippers managed to squeeze out a better record than even the Luka-led Mavs this year, earning the 4th seed and the Mavs sitting at the 5th. This is a rematch and the most even matchup behind the Hawks-Knicks. There’s always an even matchup, and it doesn’t get anymore even than the LA-based Clippers and the other team from Texas Dallas. When the two franchises met last season in the postseason, the Kawhi Leonard and Paul George Clippers won the battle in six games to advance and eventually lose in a controversial 4-3 series against the Denver Nuggets. The series last year revealed much about both teams. For the Mavs, it was their first trip with Luka. For the Clippers, it revealed that they could sustain a playoff matchup against the other highly-competitive teams in the West, but their matchup against the Nuggets in the next round proved that it may have been a fluke. Anyone watching could see that the duo of Kawhi and PG can’t possibly be a fluke, and that’s why everyone was mad. Nearly everyone had the Clippers on their betting odds as favorites to win the series against Denver, especially after the show we’d witnessed against the Mavs. Maybe it was the second round woes and the newly-designed Clippers team got cold feet. The biggest question lingering for the Clippers is can they make it past the Mavericks and other teams like the Nuggets or Jazz? Their goal in this series should be to answer it. The next question for the Clippers is, are they ready to face L.A.? They avoided it last season, but as the series against the Mavs proves it, there’s no way to avoid anything, even if you are literally one of the top 2 teams in the West.
The question for the Mavs this postseason is, can they handle the postseason? Can they handle another matchup with the Clippers this postseason? The Mavs took the Clippers to six games last season, eventually falling to the heavy hand of Kawhi and PG. Having two stars is always better than having one, but the Mavs have two stars also, and they must not forget that in Kristaps Porzingis. With all of the magic on their side in Luka, all of the extra good luck in Porzingis, and their intellect in head coach Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks can make a run for it. Also, they have an extra motive on their side and that’s to not lose to the Clippers again. All the Mavericks have to do is look up and see that they’re facing the Clippers, which is not easy anyway, and try to win. They must try. Despite falling behind to the 5th seed, which still proves they are a top 5 team in the West. Despite needing to pull on magic in games, which works. The Mavericks have more than enough to put their heads together and try, at least try, to defeat the Clippers and move forward in the Western Conference. The competition ahead will face the same problem in Luka Doncic, so they might as well make full use of it. After all, they’ve made it to the postseason before with him, which is a big deal.
No. 3 Nuggets vs No. 6 Trailblazers
The Portland Trailblazers and Denver Nuggets have already played one game in their series so far, which saw Portland come out on top. The Nuggets were missing their vital piece in point guard Jamal Murray, and Murray made headlines in a much different way in Game 1 on the sideline when he questioned a call from the ref, but that’s a story for another day. That is a story for another day, and that’s how the Denver Nuggets must approach this series. Being the 3rd seed, behind only the Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns, and working so hard to get there only to have to face Damian Lillard, one of the NBA’s point gods and unstoppable scorers, is not something you can control. Facing a 6th seed is likable, wanted, but facing Lillard and Rip City isn’t. Denver will have to just face the day head-on and take it game by game, especially after losing Game 1. They have the will and talent to do it, though. As mentioned, without Murray, it will be especially tough and against Dame Time, but Denver can’t worry about their foe too much. The Nuggets still have Nikola Jokic, who is an MVP candidate and Michael Porter Jr., who is a Most Improved Player candidate, and he’s seeing his second year of playoff action. Head coach Michael Malone and the Nuggets will have to rely on these two, and they will get it done. The Western Conference team made it to the Western Conference Finals to face the Lakers after defeating both the Jazz and Clippers, so the power is on their side.
The Trailblazers, on the other end, embody ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way.’ They solidified this statement last year in the postseason when they beat the Grizzlies in the play-in tournament. Portland, with their backs against the wall, won that thrilling game and made it to the 8th seed. There, they played the underdog role well, although being defeated in the end by LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the Lakers. But that wasn’t a bad opponent to lose to. That wasn’t a bad opponent to face either in retrospect. Portland, if they were going to make it at all and be a serious contender, would have to face the invincible Lakers anyway, so it might as well had been in the first round. This year, their backs are not against a wall so much. If seeding was their problem, it is a problem no more. With the 6th seed, the Trailblazers have a little more breathing more and they are inhaling every bit of it now as they won Game 1 against their competition, the Denver Nuggets. This isn’t a bad opponent either. Portland, with all of their will and talent and hard work, have a chance to prove their worth in a big way, which they are used to more than Denver. The Nuggets are a team on the rise, and Rip City has been here in the regular season success and the postseason. The Trailblazers, along with CJ McCollum can prove more than a simple Game 1 win. Portland can prove their postseason worth and go on a run for it if they can make it past Denver in the first round.