2021 NBA Playoffs Preview


(Photo by: Derick Hingle/AP)

Connor Easterday

The 2020-21 NBA Playoffs are officially underway. This postseason is poised to be special, as its the first one in years without a prohibitive title favorite. Every team that has a case to win a championship also has major draw-backs. I’ll do my best to alleviate some of the uncertainty by previewing what to look for in each series, including which players will have an impact, and who might just be the x-factor to get it all done.

(Photo by: Mark Humphrey/AP)

No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. 8. Washington Wizards

As impressive as Washington’s home stretch was in the regular season, going 17-7 in their last 24 games, they have little-to-no hope in this 1-8 matchup. The 76ers not only overpower the Wizards with talent and depth, but they are a perfect kryptonite, matching up as well as any team in the association. The Wizards’ entire offense is run through their two guards, Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal. Unfortunately for them, the 76ers’ have two elite defensive guards in Ben Simmons and Matisse Thybulle. They should also win on the offensive side with ease, as Washington lacks the post defenders to rival Joel Embiid, a player of such dominance, that he goes some nights looking like the best player in the NBA. The Wizards could potentially steal a game, but it would take a monumental night from the aforementioned duo of Westbrook and Beal.

No. 4 New York Knicks vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

This series should be a great test-case for team building. The Knicks, a lightning-in-a-bottle, quasi– ’We Believe’ team, that has re-captured the energy of sports being fun again in New York, is built for war. Coached by long-timer, Tom Thibodeau, they believe in slowing down the pace on offense, while constantly hustling and playing a physical brand on defense. This is in stark contrast to the Hawks’ approach, which is one freeing up shooters, and jacking up three pointers on offense, while getting just enough stops on the other end to ensure the win. While watching them may take you back to the 1980’s, I am slightly leaning toward the Knicks as the favorites in this series. There’s just something special about the season they’re having that makes you want to believe in them. It’s also crucial to mention that Julius Randle, a potential top-5 MVP finisher, has feasted on this Hawks defense in the regular season. While Atlanta will keep it close, I believe the New York Knicks pull out a thrilling series win in a potential game seven, which would be played under the bright lights of a fan-packed Madison Square Garden.

No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 6 Miami Heat

The Heat should be a great round one test for the Bucks. Beating them handily in the playoffs last year, they know how to go all out in stopping Giannis Antetokounmpo. Whether its with Bam Adebayo playing him on an island or the “wall defense,” in which a number of forwards line up next to each other as he’s driving to the rim, coach Eric Spoelstra always pulls out the tricks. The ultimate difference-maker, that gives Milwaukee an edge in this series, is Jrue Holiday. It seemed that in last year’s matchup, the Bucks were lacking a disruptor on defense and a set-up man on offense. Well, this year, they’ve killed two birds with one stone by trading for Holiday, who can do both with ease. I don’t expect this series to be a rout, however don’t be surprised if Milwaukee cleans up in under seven games.

No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs. 7. Boston Celtics

Don’t expect this series to last long. While they did enough to get through the play-in tournament, the Celtics have had one of their most disappointing seasons in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Nets’ top-rated offense, led by Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, will cause bloodshed for a rather meek Boston defense. Unless Jayson Tatum has a career night, I’d expect a sweep here.


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No. 1 Utah Jazz vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies

The Ja Morant-led Grizzlies have been one of the most fun teams to watch in the entire league this year. Young, athletic, smart, and deep with talent. While the Jazz should be able to escape this series clean, with an elite defense, don’t expect Memphis to just roll over. The x-factor for the Grizz will be Dillon Brooks, who is just as capable of scoring four points as he is scoring 30 on any given night. This could end up being a sneakily fun series.

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5. Dallas Mavericks

The Clippers are the clear favorite in this series. They arguably boast the best starting five in the league and can turn on their offense with the flip of a switch. The concern is that the switch may stay off for too long. The talent is unquestionable, but the Clippers are riddled with chemistry issues, both on and off the court. It seems as if they are without a true vocal leader in the locker room, which could spell trouble if they start out the series on the wrong foot. They also settle for too many jump shots, rather than attacking the rim to open up free looks. This could be due to the fact that their two best players are wings who lack playmaking ability. I’d expect them to win this series, likely in under seven games, however the Mavericks are a potential spoiler. All it takes is one absurd Luka Doncic game, which is not a rare occurrence, to turn the tables.

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers

When Jamal Murray’s season ended with a torn ACL, all hope seemed lost for the Denver Nuggets. However, they rallied, finished the season strong, and ultimately worked their way up to the number three-seed. With the emergence of Michael Porter Jr. as a superstar talent combined with Nikola Jokic’s MVP season, Denver should still be able to take advantage of Portland’s middling defense. However, with the firepower punch of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Norman powell, there should be a fair bit of traded punches. I’m not sure who will come out of this series alive, but it should make for a lot of fun with two high-octane offenses battling it out.

No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

After an 11-year drought, the Phoenix Suns have finally made it back into the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, they’ll be facing LeBron James and Anthony Davis in round one. Due to multiple injuries, the Lakers’ regular season performance fell far short of expectations. However, with their two superstars back and healthy, they’ll be as much of a title threat as any team in the league. It’ll be interesting to see how the Suns attack the Lakers, defensively. Will they allow DeAndre Ayton to take on Davis in his first ever playoff appearance? Will they do the same with Mikal Bridges and LeBron, or maybe the seasoned veteran Jae Crowder? Either way they’ll have plenty of options. The fact of the matter is that these are two of the five best teams in the league. Both are efficient on offense and defense, and have the poise of title contention. I’d lean toward the Lakers in this series, however the possible x-factor for the Suns is veteran leader, Chris Paul. Despite never making it to an NBA championship, its hard to find somebody who you could trust more to instill faith in a locker room than Paul.