Actually, we’ll call this a “preview” because yes, the 2021 NBA Playoffs kicked off this weekend, and yes, I am very excited. But what also got me excited this weekend, was being fully vaccinated, out of the house, and visiting with friends outside a zoom setting. So go get vaccinated and please forgive the lateness of this preview. But enough about my budding social calendar. Let’s talk about the first round, please? Can we talk about the first round? I’ve been dying to talk about the first round with you all day, okay?
Sixers (1) vs Wizards (8)
We start in the East, where Philadelphia has been a problem for teams all season, and none more so than for the Wizards. Washington couldn’t muster a win in three attempts against the Sixers. And although I think Bradley Beal and Russell Westbrook could potentially pull out one win in this series, Joel Embiid and Co. will shut them down fairly quickly. The Wizards had a little momentum heading into this series having won the 8th seed play-in game over the Pacers, but outside of Beal and Westbrook, I don’t think there is much there. Philly is just too strong of a team. I’ll give the WizShow the benefit of the doubt and say this series goes 5. But I don’t think it’ll go past that.
Christian Heilman: Sixers in 5
Terry Cudmore: Sixers in 4
Justin Colombo: Sixers in 5
Knicks (4) vs Hawks (5)
Next up the daunting #4 v #5 match-up. I wrote back in early March that it was ok to get excited about the Knicks again. And here we are, the Knicks overcame a daunting 2nd half schedule and nabbed the 4 seed in the East. Unfortunately, the guy you don’t want to see opposite you in the first round is a guy like Trae Young. Walking into the hostile setting of Madison Square Garden, he quickly quieted the jeering Knicks fans in his playoff debut. Playoff jitters clearly won’t be a factor for Ice-Trae Young.
While the Knicks won all three games in the regular season against the Hawks, each game was closely contested. And while I think the Knicks bounce back in game 2. I think after seeing Trae Young’s 32 point performance and game 1 winning shot. I have to give the edge to the Hawks in a long series.
Bucks (3) vs Heat (6)
Ahh, sweet revenge. That is what’s on the minds of Giannis and the Bucks as they meet the thwarter of their 2020 NBA Finals dreams, the Miami Heat in the opening round. Yes, we were all POSITIVE that last year’s finals would feature LeBron vs Giannis is a proverbial clash of the titans. What no one counted on was that Jimmy Butler would play David to Giannis and the Bucks Goliath, downing the Bucks in 5 games.
Nets (2) vs Celtics (7)
The Celtics face an uphill battle facing a Nets team that is probably the odds on favorite to win the East. Looking at the season series, no help there for the Celtics. The Nets beat them all three times, including Game 1, which makes four straight for Brooklyn over the Celtics. While Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker can easily take a game or two on their shoulders and elevate this Celtics team, that’s two players to the Nets ‘Big Three’. Boston needs that extra man to step up each game, and as much as I like Marcus Smart and Even Fourier, I don’t think they are the guys to do that constantly game in and game out.
Jazz (1) vs Grizzlies (8)
Well, suffice to say, the surprise of this weekend’s Game 1’s was the Grizzlies win over the Jazz Sunday night. Dillon Brooks put up 31 points, Ja Morant put up 26 in the effort. And while it would be fun to see a closely contested 1 v 8 seed, I see Game 1 as a very fun anomaly. Brooks and Ja had to put up 25+ points each, Donovan Mitchell was held out for the Jazz due to an injured ankle, and still, Memphis only won by 3. Factor in the Jazz had a week off, while Memphis played two play-in games in that span. I think Memphis could maybe steal another one, but with Mitchell back I think the Jazz win this series fairly handily.
Clippers (4) vs Mavericks (5)
Another vendetta series!! I love it. This time the Mavs have the honor of seeking revenge for last year’s first-round exit at the hands of the Clippers.
The season series was a 2-1 split going to the Mavericks. One of those wins was a 51 point win back in December. Granted that game the Clippers were without Kawhi Leonard. I have been high on the Mavs all season, and I like a good revenge tale. I felt like Luka’s performance in his playoff debut was just the tip of the iceberg for him and I think this series will be long and the talk of the first round. But when it’s all said and done I like the Mavs to exact revenge and move on.
Christian Heilman: Mavericks in 7
Terry Cudmore: Mavericks in 7
Justin Colombo: Mavericks in 7
Nuggets (3) vs Blazers (6)
The second knockdown drag-out series I foresee in the West is this battle of division foes. And, what’s this, another rematch? This time of the Western Conference Semis. Aside from going 7 games, you may recall the Game 3 quadruple overtime game-winner?
I’ve made it a point to watch most of the Nuggets and Trail Blazers games since that series. Obviously, the loss of Jamal Murray for the season to a torn ACL dampens the excitement of this series some. But Denver has had time to adjust to life without Murray and while their depth will be tested, I think they have it to not only stay competitive with Portland but win the series. Denver ranks no 2 in three-point attempts while Portland ranks 6th in 3-point percentage. I think the series comes down to who shoots the 3ball better. One side has Dame, and the other side does not have Jamal Murray. Even so, Dame has proven you don’t bet against Dame.
Suns (2) vs Lakers (7)
Who would have thought the 2020 champs would have had to play in the Play-in Tournament just to get a spot in the 2021 playoffs? Well, as the 2021 Lakers have shown us, it doesn’t help if LeBron and Anthony Davis are on your bench. And that is where both have spent a good portion of the season with an injury. Case in point. The Suns won the season series 2-1 but never saw LeBron and AD at the same time. That is, until their 99-90 Game 1 victory.
The story of the series is “Are the Suns Ready?” Vs “Are the Lakers Ready?” And those two questions have many different meanings behind them. For the Suns, are they ready for the big time? Along with the Jazz, they were this year’s up-and-coming team. The Lakers are expected to be here, the Suns it’s a pleasant surprise. Can they answer the call? For the Lakers. Have they squashed the injury bug? LeBron looked pretty solid against the Warriors in the play-in game but is AD back to 100%. I’d love to see the Suns win and advance. But I’d say that’s a tall order if LeBron and AD can stay healthy.
NBA Finals Prediction:
Christian Heilman: Dallas Mavericks vs Brooklyn Nets
Terry Cudmore: Philadelphia 76ers vs Los Angeles Lakers
Justin Colombo: Philadelphia 76ers vs Portland Trail Blazers
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