This year's NBA Playoffs promise to be packed with drama and some unlikely heroes.
When the NBA season started in December, there were a select group of teams that most fans could have guessed would be title contenders. Of course, the defending champion, Los Angeles Lakers, were near the top of that list, while the Brooklyn Nets were a close second. After all, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are two of the best in the league and with both players healthy, the Nets were projected to do some damage. In the end, the Nets also finessed James Harden onto the team, which turned them into a bonafide super team and immediate title favorites, even over the Lakers.
Meanwhile, teams like the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers, Philadelphia 76ers, and even the Milwaukee Bucks, came into the season with the weight of their world on their shoulders. All of these teams fell short last season and for teams like the Clippers and 76ers, this season was going to be all about revenge. For the most part, revenge was handed down swiftly, with the 76ers taking the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and the Clippers showing everyone why they should be feared heading into the postseason.
With the playoffs starting this weekend, these franchises have a real opportunity to demonstrate just how ready they are for the big stage. At the time of writing this, there are still some play-in games to be dealt with, although none of those teams have any real shot at a title. Having said that now is the best time to dive into these playoff matchups, and determine who is going to come away with an NBA title.
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In the Eastern Conference, it truly feels like it is a two-team race, with everyone else lagging significantly behind. The 76ers finished the season with the best record out East at 49-23. Meanwhile, the Nets were just one game behind them with a solid record of 48-24. Perhaps the most impressive part of Brooklyn's season is that they were able to win two-thirds of their games, despite rarely having their big-three on the court at the same time. With everyone healthy for their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, everyone in the league should be shaking in their boots right now.
As for the rest of the conference, the Milwaukee Bucks were solid, finishing in third place, however, they are known as perennial playoff chokers and despite Giannis' presence, they simply do not have a strong enough team to contend with the 76ers and the Nets. Aside from the Bucks, the rest of the Eastern Conference is a bit of a mess. The New York Knicks remain a great story, however, aside from an easy series against the Atlanta Hawks, they will be hard-pressed to beat a team like the 76ers in the second round. Miami Heat fans are hoping for yet another deep playoff run although, beyond a potential upset against the Bucks, they really don't have much of a chance against the Brooklyn Nets, who, once again, will be at full strength. This ultimately leaves the Nets and the 76ers as the last two teams standing once we get to the Eastern Conference Finals.
In three games this season, the 76ers defeated the Nets twice, although the games were relatively close and the Nets weren't always fully healthy. This potential Eastern Conference Finals series will ultimately come down to Joel Embiid & Ben Simmons Vs. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. At first glance, this seems completely one-sided towards the Nets, and quite frankly, it is. KD, Kyrie, and Irving are all top 10 players in the NBA, and in any given year, they can make their own case for league MVP. On the flip side of that, Embiid has made a massive case for MVP, however, he and Simmons' lack of deep-run playoff experience could prove to be the deciding factor. Over the course of seven games, the Nets' big three will be too much to handle, and they will likely come away with the win despite a valiant effort from the 76ers.
Conference Champion: Brooklyn Nets
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While the Eastern Conference is relatively easy to predict, the Western Conference proves to be a much more difficult task. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is the fact that the top two seeds are occupied by teams that no one thought would have as much success as they did. The Utah Jazz finished with the best record in the entire league at 52-20 while the Phoenix Suns finished second at 51-21. From there, the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers finished with the same record, although due to a tie-break, it was the Nuggets who got the third seed. Clearly, the biggest surprise here is the Los Angeles Lakers, who nabbed the seventh-seed after injuries forced them into a play-in situation.
As for the actual matchups, it feels like we could be in for a wild. Starting with Lakers-Suns, we are met with perhaps the evenest Western Conference series, despite the gap in seeding. The Lakers come in as the defending champs, and they are also healthy. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are a monstrous duo and they will be determined to get back to the NBA Finals. With this in mind, it wouldn't be a shock to see a seventh-seed dismantle a team like the Suns, who only have one experienced player in Chris Paul. At the end of the day, the Lakers are an artificial seventh seed, and had the season gone differently, they would be at least top three. From there, the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers are on track to play each other in the second round. These are two teams that have had playoff issues over the last few years, although when it comes to experience, the Clippers should be heavily favored, and we fully expect them to come away with the win. Meanwhile, the Lakers will take on the Denver Nuggets on the other side of the bracket, and just like last year, the Lakers will prove to be the dominant team.
Once the Western Conference Finals come around, it will be the two teams from Los Angeles left standing. This is the matchup we were supposed to get last year, although the Clippers choked the opportunity away. In 2021, it feels like the stars are aligning and it's going to be an incredible series. This will probably go the distance and there will be a ton of twists and turns throughout. However, players like Paul George have yet to prove their credibility in the playoffs, which makes it hard to pick them in a series against a team like the Lakers. PG could definitely prove us wrong although until then, it seems like the purple and gold would be the safest prediction here.
Conference Champion: Los Angeles Lakers
Lakers Vs. Nets is the NBA Finals we have all been hoping for. I mean, let's be honest, who doesn't want to see LeBron James take on Kyrie, KD, and James Harden over the course of a seven-game series. It's a Herculean task that only LeBron could complete, or better yet, even have a shot at conquering. Unfortunately, the Nets are looking like the Warriors super team of old, and we know how that worked out for LeBron and the Cavs in 2017 and 2018.
Of course, LeBron has a much better group of teammates this time around. From Anthony Davis to Kyle Kuzma to Andre Drummond, and even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, LeBron has a lot to work with. However, the Nets are scary and have some of the best players in the NBA. Not to mention, their support cast has been solid this year and with LeBron getting up there in age, this Nets team has the ability to break LeBron down as a series goes on. As for Anthony Davis, he has been neutralized quite a bit this season and if he runs into injury problems as he did during the regular season, the Lakers could wind up losing control very fast. On the opposite side of that, the Nets have also run into injury issues and if someone like KD goes down, then it's hard to imagine the Nets winning.
Barring any injuries, it seems pretty apparent that the Nets should be the favorite. On top of their big three, they have Blake Griffin, who has had a huge resurgence since signing with the team. He has proven his keep amongst three superstars and it's going to be hard for the Lakers to handle all of that talent. Make no mistake, this series could easily go six or seven games but at the end of the day, the Nets firepower is just too much.
NBA Champion: Brooklyn Nets
Who do you think is going to win the Championship this season? Let us know in the comments below.