The NBA 2021 Playoffs: Anticipating a Wild Finish Up Ahead!

The race for the last 4 slots for the NBA 2021 playoffs is finally over. Unceremoniously booted out were: (horror of horrors!!!) the 2017-18 NBA champs Golden State Warriors and the 2019 NBA champs Toronto Raptors; plus perennial contenders San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets. Even the defending champs LA Lakers were not spared from the possible ignominy of an early elimination, as injuries and the COVID crisis wreaked havoc on this year’s regular season games. Promoted to the playoffs for the first time in years, and giving the playoffs a refreshing new look are: the New York Knicks, the Atlanta Hawks, the Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the title-contending Brooklyn Nets.

As a result, the race is now wide open as we gear up for the playoff opener. Two teams from the east, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Brooklyn Nets, and 5 teams from the west – namely: the Utah Jazz, the Phoenix Suns, the LA Clippers, the Denver Nuggets and the defending champs LA Lakers, have legit claims to the coveted crown. No team has a clear path to the finals.

Here are the compelling storylines for the first round and who I got moving to the next round:

For the Eastern Conference:

1. New York Knicks (4th) vs Atlanta Hawks (5th)
Whose youth development program is better? Knicks’ Coach Tom Thibodeau has unleashed the potential of this young Knicks line-up. By reaching the playoffs for the first time in years, the Knicks have overachieved. Most Improved Player top contender Julius Randle finally made it to the All-Star games, and RJ Barrett and the gang are a vastly developing bunch.
But the equally-young Atlanta Hawks, with Trae Young leading, have more offensive firepower ready for this big match-up. With Bogdan Bogdanovich, Clint Capella and Danilo Gallinari, Trae’s supporting cast looks more deadly. Ultimately, it will be the Knicks’ defense vs the Hawks’ offense, and Randle vs Young on display.
I’ve got the Hawks winning this, 4-3.

2. Milwaukee Bucks (3rd) vs Miami Heat (6th)
The Bucks will aim to avenge the humiliation dealt by the Heat in last year’s Bubble Games. With Jrue Holiday beefing up the Giannis Antetokounmpo – Kris Middleton scoring tandem, this year’s version of the Bucks should be better than last year’s. And they know how the Heat took away Giannis’ slashing game last year.
The Heat was hit by a slew of injuries during the regular season. Their line-up is relatively weaker than last year’s, and a lot will depend on whether Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic are physically ready for the playoff grind. The Heat would have been a really dangerous team if new guy Victor Oladipo didn’t get injured once again. Will the Bucks avenge last year’s sorry loss? Or will the Heat stamp their dominance further?
With health a nagging issue for the Heat, plus the lack of game-time minutes to jell, the Bucks should squeeze thru this time, 4-3.

3. Brooklyn Nets (2nd) vs Boston Celtics (7th)
Perhaps the strongest team on paper, the Brooklyn Nets need only to show up healthy and in sync. They are definitely the heavy favorites to win, with Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving capable of concocting a million and one ways to pile up points. Now, if only they can play better defense.
On the other hand, Boston’s Jayson Tatum will be overmatched without his scoring partner, Jaylen Brown. Jaylen’s recent season-ending wrist injury created a huge hole in the Celtic offense. How will the Celtics respond to this offensive juggernaut without Jaylen’s contribution on noth ends of the court?
The Nets will overwhelm the Celtics 4-0.

4. Philadelphia 76ers (1st) vs Washington Wizards (8th)
With first year coach Doc Rivers providing stability and focus, the 76ers have fared far better this year despite a less talent-laden line-up. There is order in the rotation, and MVP contender Joel Embiid is cashing in on his best stats ever. Tobias Harris has improved much under Rivers’ new system, and Ben Simmons and Danny Green have thrived as well.
Russell Westbrook may have had a stellar triple double season for the Wizards, but he will have major difficulties in leading the Wizards, particularly with Bradley Beal still recovering from a fresh ankle injury. How will the Wizards contain a rampaging Joel Embiid?
The 76ers will win this 4-1.

For the Western Conference:

1. LA Clippers (4th) vs Dallas Mavericks (5th)
Again, this will be a match pitting 2 protagonists in last year’s playoffs. Luka Doncic will aim to avenge the Mavs’ loss last year, but the Clippers are not expected to play dead either. The Clippers are a better team than last year’s, with the crosstown playoff magician, Rajon Rondo, joining the team. Without the spotlights trained on them, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have been performing with more consistency, something that has been obviously missing in the Clippers’ dictionary.
Luka and the Mavs will be hard-pressed to try to keep in step with the Clippers’ depth. Luka and Kristaps Porzingis will need a 3rd guy to take them deep into the playoffs.
Minus the distractions outside the hardcourt, the Clippers will repeat last year’s win 4-2.

2. Denver Nuggets (3rd) vs Portland Trailblazers (6th)
The Nuggets may have lost Jamaal Murray for the season, but his teammates have stepped up in support of top MVP candidate Nikola Jokic. Michael Porter Jr provides a strong second option on the offense, Aaron Gordon takes a lead role in the defense, and Facundo Campazzo has taken Murray’s playmaking chores to heart.
The Blazers still have a dynamic duo in Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum, but their frontcourt will be badly beleaguered against the behemoths of the Nuggets. And the Nuggets’ legendary 1-3 fight-outs in last year’s playoffs will be a game-changer. Will that fighter’s heart be there for the Nuggets once again this year?
Nuggets to nose out the Blazers 4-3.

3. Phoenix Suns (2nd) vs LA Lakers (7th)
Despite the Suns’ regular season record, the odds should favor the Lakers, with both Lebron James and Anthony Davis now back in uniform. The Lakers were early frontrunners, threatening to dominate the regular season, until injuries to Lebron and AD forced the Lakers’ flight to flounder. If Lebron isn’t 100% fit, then this could be a dogfight. The result of this series will hinge primarily on Lebron’s fitness state.
The Suns have matured tremendously, under the tutelage of that miracle man, Chris Paul. But despite that and Devin Booker’s emergence as the Suns’ second All-Star, the Lakers’ depth will definitely be difficult to match up.
Lakers to win 4-2.

4. Utah Jazz (1st) vs Memphis Grizzlies (8th)
The Jazz will be facing a young, but steadily-maturing Grizzlies squad. Short-handed and underrated, last year’s Rookie of the Year Ja Morant and the rest of the Grizzlies will need to tighten up their defenses in order to keep in step with the well-oiled Jazz machine.
The Jazz will have Donovan Mitchell returning from sick bay, but he is not expected to bear the brunt of the scoring load with so many scorers around. With Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert anchoring the defense, and 6th man of the Year candidates Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles leading the second unit, the Jazz have a well-balanced team capable of winning from either the offensive or defensive ends of the court.
Jazz will win this 4-2.

I’ve got the 76ers (1st seed), the Nets (2nd seed), the Bucks (3rd seed) and the Hawks (5th seed) advancing in the East. From the west, it will be the Jazz (1st seed), the Nuggets (3rd seed), the Clippers (4th seed) and the Lakers (7th seed) moving to the next round.

To sum it all up, contrary to earlier predictions, we will not see the Lakers dominate this year’s playoffs. Instead, we have a dangerous Brooklyn Nets trio, a well-oiled Utah Jazz combo, a maturing Philadelphia 76ers, and an under-the-radar LA Clippers team making this playoffs far more interesting. These teams are all perfectly capable of upending the Lakers’ reign.

Gentlemen, we have a war coming up. Are you ready for this?

Cover photo courtesy of Fadeaway World. Other photos courtesy of Bleacher Report, The Athletic, Rappler.com, ClutchPoints, Nitrogen Sports Blog, Sportskeeda and cbssports.com.

7 comments

  1. Hey hey Chay. Rhodes and I might actually be able to catch a ball game in person during this historic time. Rooting for our home team’s randomly assembled non-superstar Knicks lineup at Madison Square Garden. Care to wager a bet? Rose

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha! The Knicks-Hawks series is really a toss-up. But yes, I have the Hawks winning over the Knicks. I do admire coach Thibs for having transformed this team into a defensive biggie, but talent-wise, I think the Hawks have better credentials. How about lunch or dinner the next time you’re here?

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.