As the NBA playoffs get underway, the full playoff bracket is finally finalized. The first round and best of the seven-game series will get underway. Here is a look at the first round bracket for each conference:
No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. No. 8 Washington Wizards
No. 4 New York Knicks vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks
No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 6 Miami Heat
No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics
No. 1 Utah Jazz vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Dallas Mavericks
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers
With this bracket, some teams have a favorable path to the Conference Finals, but even the NBA Finals. With the talent on some of these teams, they should be considered the favorites march through the playoffs. As the playoffs get started, here are your biggest favorites to win the 2021 NBA championship.
16. Washington Wizards
The Washington Wizards can score. They have a walking triple-double in Russell Westbrook and the runner-up in the scoring race in Bradley Beal, However, all of that doesn’t matter when you can’t defend anybody.
Who is going to guard MVP candidate Joel Embiid? Right now, that assignment goes to Alex Len, and that is going to be a matchup that Embiid is going to eat alive. Ben Simmons is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year and is going to wear out Westbrook, who is the offensive motor for this team. The 76ers might lose one game, but the Wizards are going to get bounced in the first round.
15. Atlanta Hawks
When the Hawks signed Rajon Rondo, they were hoping he could provide similar play as he did for his previous teams. Then, they traded him before the deadline and now this team has no true veterans with playoff winning experience. This is going to be the first go-around for both Trae Young and John Collins, as well as the rest of their young core. They are going into this experience blind.
Combine that with the Hawks having to play the best defensive team in the NBA in New York. The Knicks are one of the hottest teams in the NBA. If Young can’t shoot, the Hawks are doomed and nobody prepares better defensively than coach Tom Thibodeau.
14. Boston Celtics
Had Jaylen Brown not suffered a season-ending wrist injury, then the Celtics would be in the running for making their four Eastern Conference Finals in five seasons. Instead, Jayson Tatum has to carry the load by himself. While Kemba Walker remains on the roster, he is not playing like an All-Star, which is going to doom Boston.
Nets point guard Kyrie Irving is going to have a chip on his shoulder against his former team. During his time in Boston, there were reports that he was cancer in the locker room. Star power alone, the Nets are better. Throw in a motivated Kyrie Irving? This is a dangerous team to face.
13. Memphis Grizzlies
After Ja Morant’s 35-point night to send home the Warriors, the Grizzlies have some of the NBA world believing in them. This team is the youngest squad to make the playoffs since the 2012 Thunder that made the NBA Finals. The Grizzlies took care of business against the Spurs and Warriors to go from No. 9 seed to No. 8 seed and qualify for the playoffs.
If the Grizzlies knock off the No. 1 seed Utah Jazz in the first round, it would come as a surprise. Morant does not match up well with Donovan Mitchell, nor does Jonas Valanciunas with Rudy Gobert. The Jazz also has far superior playmakers in Bojan Bogdanovic and Jordan Clarkson in comparison to Grayson Allen and Kyle Anderson. The Grizzlies have the Cinderella factor trending along with the team, but the Jazz should handle business in the first round.
12. Portland Trail Blazers
With Damian Lillard putting up another All-NBA-like performance this year, the Trail Blazers should be taken somewhat seriously. If Portland can take down Denver, their second-round matchup would be either the Suns or Lakers. Even if the Trail Blazers can take down the Nuggets, led by future MVP Nikola Jokic, getting out of the second round is unlikely.
The Lakers easily took care of Portland last season. The Suns own one of the best offensive and defensive rankings in the entire NBA. Portland will continue to be an early exit in the playoffs.
11. Phoenix Suns
Chris Paul has the biggest playoff series of his career this year. Paul has a reputation for not leading teams deep into the playoffs. He hasn’t made the NBA Finals once in his career. The Suns rose to the No. 2 seed in the West, but have to take on his good friend LeBron James and the Lakers in the first round.
If Paul can take down LeBron, so many implications to Paul and LeBron’s legacy will be discussed. The Lakers are the first No. 7 seed to be favored highly against a No. 2 seed in the first round. The defending champs are deep on paper, which is trouble for Phoenix.
10. Miami Heat
The Heat swung for Victor Oladipo and struck out swinging. Kelly Olynyk could probably have helped this team. Instead, Miami does not get to play either player, while questions remain about Tyler Herro’s production this season.
Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo are solid defensive players, but this has a revenge bid written all over the first round. The Heat bounced the Milwaukee Bucks last year in the second round. Jrue Holiday, PJ Tucker, and others have made Milwaukee better, while Miami is trending downwards.
9. Dallas Mavericks
On paper, the combination of Luka Doncic, Kristaps Porzingis, and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a solid shooting core. These Mavericks are unproven though. Porzingis has yet to show he can stay healthy and produce over a long playoff series. What makes us think he will start now?
Doncic put up amazing numbers against the Clippers last season, so this rematch is tantalizing. Before Porzingis left the rest of the series last year, the Mavericks trailed just 2-1 and their two losses were only by eight points. The Mavericks have the potential to make a run if their superstars remain healthy, but have the ceiling of being a first-round exit.
8. Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are good enough to make the Conference Finals, but that is their ceiling. The Nuggets should take care of the Trail Blazers even without Jamal Murray playing. If Murray was healthy, the Nuggets had the roster to make a run to the NBA Finals. With that said, replacing 20 points per game and deep range is hard, and there isn’t a player on this roster that can match that.
The Nuggets will go as far as the MVP takes them, but their second-round matchup is not good. If the Nuggets play the Lakers, they are at a disadvantage, even with the addition of Aaron Gordon. Los Angeles swept the Nuggets last season and got better on paper. The Nuggets lost one of their superstars, which will eventually hamper their chances of making the NBA Finals.
7. Utah Jazz
The Jazz was the best team in the NBA. They recorded a league-leading 52 wins this season, but until the Jazz make a deep playoff run with this regime, nobody is going to expect them. That includes these rankings because Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert haven’t proven they can beat the best of the best in a playoff series.
Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were like that during their days in Toronto, and this Jazz team has all the feelings of those good Raptors teams. The Jazz also has some of the hardest matchups after the first round with potentially the Clippers in the second round. If the Jazz can make the Conference Finals, that would be incredibly impressive.
6. New York Knicks
The Knicks are so interesting because they are the best defensive team in the NBA. Their matchup with the Hawks is one of the best first-round pairings in all the NBA. The Knicks matchup incredibly well and should make it out of the first round. After that, the Knicks would have another good matchup against the 76ers.
There isn’t a better team that matches up better than New York against Philly. RJ Barrett can guard Ben Simmons, Julius Randle can take Tobias Harris, and Nerlens Noel is a very underrated defender and can match up well with Joel Embiid in the paint. Throw in a Derrick Rose who can go point-to-point with any team, it’s time to start believing some of the Knicks’ hype.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee will handle the Heat in at least six games but will have one of the toughest second-round matchups in the league. The Bucks have already taken down the Brooklyn Nets at least once at full strength this season. Can the Bucks do that three more times?
Adding PJ Tucker and Jrue Holiday to the team makes the Bucks a better team defensively. With Giannis in the middle, there is an intrigue that this team could stop the three-headed monster of Kyrie Irving, James Harden, and Kevin Durant. With that said, those are three big names and outweigh the star power that Milwaukee has. This series could go as far as seven games, but on paper, the Nets have the more equipped team.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
The 76ers have a very clear path to the Eastern Conference Finals. With the No. 1 seed, the 76ers draw the Wizards in eh first round and match up very well with that team. In the second round, Philly would likely play the Knicks. While the Knicks have the players to provide a difficult matchup, their inexperience will eventually get the best of them.
The 76ers have felt loss. Remember when Joel Embiid cried off the floor two years ago after Kawhi Leonard’s game-winner in the second round? Those failures will lead to Philly’s success. Assuming that the Conference Finals will be Philly and Brooklyn, we are going to lean with the Nets in that matchup; however, it would also not be surprising if the 76ers made the NBA Finals.
3. Los Angeles Clippers
In the Western Conference, the Clippers have the easiest path to the Conference Finals. In the first round, the Clippers should beat the Dallas Mavericks. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are a better superstar duo than Doncic and Porzingis. In the second round, the Clippers would draw the Utah Jazz, who they match up well with.
The Clippers fell to the four seed because both Leonard and George missed time at points during the season. Make no mistake that both players are healthy and this team should have probably finished as the No. 2 seed overall. Throw in “Playoff Rondo” as an added effect and the Clippers have real potential.
2. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets finished as the No. 2 seed, but have the names to make this a No. 1 seed. Health was a huge issue for the Nets. Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan will play more games in the first two rounds of the playoffs together than they did all season. Assuming that these All-Star veterans can put everything together, there is no question that the Nets can make the NBA Finals.
Their path potentially includes the Celtics, Bucks, and 76ers. All of these are tough matchups, but who in the right mind is going to go against a team with two MVPs, three championship rings, and three players hungry to win their first title?
1. Los Angeles Lakers
Even with the Lakers sitting at the No. 7 overall seed, major oddsmakers believe the Lakers remain a favorite to win it all. Until the Lakers are dethroned, they will earn every team’s respect as the biggest threat. Before LeBron James and Anthony Davis missed significant time with injuries, the Lakers were competing for the No. 1 overall seed. After all, the Lakers were 28-13 in the middle of March and just two games back of the Jazz before injuries took over.
Nobody should discount what LeBron can do in the playoffs. LeBron and Davis are still the best duos in all of basketball. Andre Drummond has returned to full form. Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell are award-winning role players. Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwel-Pope, and Marc Gasol are championship-winning players. Experience and talent go a long way, which is why the Lakers remain the favorite to win it all.