The NBA Playoffs are set as the exciting play-in games have concluded. Tailgate Society contributors Jarael and Ryan give their predictions for the first round of the Eastern and Western Conference Playoffs. Make your bets accordingly.
2021 NBA Play-Off First Round Predictions:
Jazz (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)
Jarael: It feels odd to see the Jazz as the number 1 seed. To me, they didn’t make too many changes in the off-season for anyone to predict this type of consistency all season. They have dealt with injuries all year and Donovan Mitchell may be out for the start of the first round. I think the Grizzlies are a tough group and will be competitive but I don’t see them winning a game. I think the Jazz show up and dominate defensively. Utah Jazz (4-0).
Ryan: The Utah Jazz, even with injuries, have played consistently great basketball. The Jazz are top 5 in both offense and defense this year and while the Grizzlies have Ja Morant, that still won’t be nearly enough against my Cyclones… I mean Jazz… Jazz (4-1).
Clippers (4) vs. Mavericks (5)
Jarael: The Mavericks, who I assumed would be so much better this year, happen to face one of the most efficient teams in NBA history. The Clippers had a lot of pressure last year; this year they may be underrated. I look for this to be competitive, but at the end of the series it won’t appear to be close. I got the Clippers (4-1).
Ryan: Finally a healthy Mavs team against the Clippers. What a fun series last year when Luka Doncic almost carried the Mavs to an upset… almost. But this year Luka is back with a healthy Kristaps Porzingis. I am feeling Luka will have a breakout series and upset the Clippers. Mavs (4-3).
Nuggets (3) vs. Trail Blazers (6)
Jarael: There is something about this match-up that brings me zero excitement. Nikola Jokic is the MVP, but I would say he’s had an underwhelming season in terms of viral moments. No shame in that, but when I tune into this series I’ll be interested more in Damian Lillard and seeing if MPJ can be that second option the Nuggets desperately need. I will give Denver the edge (4-2).
Ryan: Most likely MVP Jokic’s back has to be killing him, because he has been carrying this Jamal Murray-less Nuggets team to a 3-seed. But don’t worry, he will have plenty of rest after this series. Portland have recently found their stride and have been on fire from 3 lately. I see their momentum pushing them past the Nuggets. Blazers (4-2).
Suns (2) vs. Lakers (7)
Jarael: A lot of people said the Lakers have a better match-up against the Suns. I don’t think so. I think the best thing about the Suns is that they play at a slow pace and the Lakers could take advantage of that, but I like the Suns roster; they have consistent, dependable young players. However, this is the playoffs and I have to go with the more experienced but rhythmless Lakers (4-3).
Ryan: Bruh, those poor Suns. They have one of their greatest seasons in a decade and now have to play the defending champions in the first round when they are finally at full health. The Lakers looked sluggish against the Warriors, but they will find their groove and should breeze through the Suns. Lakers (4-2)
76ers (1) vs. Wizards (8)
Jarael: Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal have been able to do the unthinkable after such a horrendous start to the season. This series is a lot more interesting than a Pacers/76ers series. Westbrook and Joel Embiid have had some interesting exchanges in the past few years and I think this series will add to their rivalry. Can the Wizards make this interesting? I think so. It is going to take a Philly team to be overconfident and everyone outside of Beal and Westbook to hit some shots. I am taking the 76ers (4-2).
Ryan: As a former DC resident who could pay $12 to attend any game and have it be so quiet I could hear the basketball shoes squeak on the court, I am so happy to see Washington put together a talented team. Even with the talented duo of Beal and Westbrook, unfortunately they have to face off against MVP candidate Embiid who has absolutely dominated the Wizards this season by averaging 30 ppg and shooting 60% from the field against them. Beal and Westbrook will “go off,” but it won’t be enough. 76ers (4-2).
Knicks (4) vs. Hawks (5)
Jarael: I have to admit, I was completely wrong about the Hawks, but in my defense their mid-season coaching change saved their season. This is a high-powered offense going against the top defense in the league. If I’m a betting man, I go with the better defense. However, there is nothing about the Knicks that I believe in. The entire city is excited to be in the playoffs; I don’t expect much. I’m going with with Hawks (4-2).
Ryan: It is almost like Tom Thibodeau is a great coach (cough Bulls cough). Okay, it also helps that Julius Randle has been playing out of his damn mind this season with his LeBron James stat line (24 ppg, 10 rpg, and 6 apg). I am on the Knick train and excited that they are back… Knicks (4-2).
Bucks (3) vs. Heat (6)
Jarael: I hate that the Bucks have this match-up. However, I am excited to see if they can overcome great coaching and fierce defense in the playoffs. The Heat found their groove late in the season but the Bucks have also been consistent, understanding who they are on offense. Late game situations scare me for the Bucks, but I like their chances and ability to compete with any team. I think players like P.J. Tucker and Bobby Portis Jr. make a big difference in this series. I mean, why not? Bucks (4-1).
Ryan: This should be the most exciting series in the first round. We all saw the Jimmy Butler-led Heat team dominate the East last season in the bubble. I feel that the Heat got hot (pun) at the right time and the Bucks were exposed in the bubble, and did the Bucks really do much in the off-season to address their concerns? But I give a slight edge to the Bucks because Giannis Antetokounmpo can’t lose to the Heat again… right? Bucks (4-3).
Nets (2) vs. Celtics (7)
Jarael: Lord, I have never wished a Celtics team was ever at full strength, but I was hoping they would be. This would be one of the most entertaining series of the playoffs. The Nets should win the championship, but their big three have played less than 15 games together and I think that matters a little bit. I look for Jayson Tatum to average over 30 points a game, but this won’t be close. I think the Nets have an extended break. Nets (4-0).
Ryan: KD is constantly surrounded by incredible offensive players and this year is no different. The Nets enter the playoffs with the best offensive team with nine players averaging over 10 ppg and three averaging over 24 ppg. Celtics, pick your poison on how you want to lose. Nets (4-1).