First Blood

The 2021 NBA playoffs took off with a blast, and it looks like we are in for an exciting campaign ahead. Of the 8 mano-y-mano series openers, no less than 5 underdogs came up on top! Indeed, there are basketball gods up there that favor parity and thriller games.

In the West alone, Game 1 saw all betting favorites wiped out. The 4th seed Denver Nuggets were upended by the Portland Trailblazers 123-109; the 3rd seed LA Clippers were humiliated by their bubble victims Dallas Mavs 113-103; the defending champs LA Lakers lost to the up-and-coming Phoenix Suns 99-90; and the top-seed Utah Jazz bowed to the Memphis Grizzlies 112-109. In the east, it was the New York Knicks who were denied victory, nosed out by the Atlanta Hawks 107-105 in Game 1 of their series. Only the Brooklyn Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Milwaukee Bucks were spared the upset axe in their opening games.

By the end of the week, all 3 were poised to step forward to the 2nd round early. The Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving taking turns in showing off their offensive prowess, are simply a cut above the injury-saddled Boston Celtics. The Celtics, with Jayson Tatum as the lone gunman in uniform, simply don’t have the manpower to outduel this juggernaut-of-an-offense. The Nets are ahead 2-1, but can certainly cut the series short if they truly want to.

Same with the 76ers’ Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris trio. Though not as scary as the Nets’ triumvirate, this trio is far better than the Washington Wizard’s Russell Westbrook-Bradley Beal tandem. The 76ers will breeze thru this series, particularly with Westbrook and Beal nursing slight, yet disturbing injuries.

As for the Bucks, the addition of Jrue Holiday has bolstered the Giannis Antetokounmpo — Kris Middleton tag team. With most of the Miami Heat coming from sick bay, the Bucks are on the road to redeem their sorry loss to this same crew that torched them last year. Ahead 3-0, plus homecourt advantage, there is simply no way the Bucks will lose this.

As for the rest of the series, brace yourself and get ready for some slam-bang action. It seems that the cage gods are all for giving us entertainment to the max.

The Denver – Portland match-up is so close, it could take just 1 lucky break to decide the victor of this series. MVP-in-waiting Nikola Jokic has been conjuring different magical ways to lead the offense, but the pleasant surprise has been the way the Argentinian PG Facundo Campazzio has been filling the void for the injured Jamal Murray. He may be a bit undersized to defend against Damian Lillard, but his help defense has been disrupting plays and causing lots of turnovers for the Blazers. Nuggets now lead, 2-1.

Luka Doncic and the Mavs are poised to get their revenge over the team that booted them out of last year’s Bubble Games. The Mavs have always had the Clippers’ number this year, even stamping a huge 51- point massacre last December. They have absolutely shown no fear for the Clips. It seems that the Clippers can’t seem to reach their fullest potential, not even with the arrival of Mr Playoff himself, Rajon Rondo. They may have the star power in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but the chemistry just isn’t there. The Mavs look poised to move up, 2-1. And if the Clips exit the playoffs this year, it could be the end of a failed Kawhi era in LA.

Ja Morant and the Grizzlies played greedy in Game 1 as the Jazz refused to activate Donovan Mitchell. Given the go-signal to lace up, Mitchell led the Jazz to win Game 2 and are now back in the race for a 2nd round slot. With Mitchell on board, the Jazz should nail this down, as they are far more loaded than the Griz. Series is tied at 1-1.

Finally, Lebron James is starting to feel the groove once again. After months of absence with an ankle injury, Lebron is back. And with his return, the complexion of the Laker ballgame has changed. The confidence and the chemistry seem to have come back. Tumbling down to 7th seed in his absence, the Lakers are slowly easing into the playoff picture. The Suns may have improved a lot with Chris Paul’s cerebral play, but the presence of Lebron is simply a game-changer. The Lakers are back in business, 2-1.

That said, how are the 2nd round pairings shaping up right now? It looks like it’s gonna be the Utah Jazz versus the Dallas Mavericks; and the LA Lakers battling the Denver Nuggets in the West. While for the East, we have the Philadelphia 76ers against the lightweight Atlanta Hawks; and the Brooklyn Nets battling the Milwaukee Bucks for the other slot. Hmmm…. definitely something to look forward to.

I’ve got the Lakers besting the Jazz in the Western Finals, while the Nets will win over the Sixers in the East. The best duo in the league in Lebron and AD vs the best trio in Kevin, Kyrie and The Beard. What do you think?

A good fit for the Finals? (courtesy of Marka)

From the looks of it, we have a dandy here.

Cover pic courtesy of Sporting News. Other pics courtesy of USA Today, Sportskeeda, YouTube, Wizofawes.com, NBAanalysis.net, NBA.com, ClutchPoints and Philadelphia Inquirer.

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