NBA East and West First Round Playoff Preview Capsules
Video clips for the NBA First Round series starting this weekend:
N Â° 1 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (49-23) vs. N Â° 8 WASHINGTON WIZARDS (34-38, 1-1)
Series of the season: 76ers, 3-0.
History: The Wizards’ reward for advancing out of the Eastern play-in tournament is a clash with a Philadelphia team that has a No.1 seed for the first time in 20 years. Washington simply didn’t have an answer for Philly’s Joel Embiid in all three regular-season games; he’s averaged 30 points and 9.7 rebounds in those games on 60% shooting from the field, 96% from the line and if that wasn’t enough he was 5 for 6 at 3 points. Bradley Beal has averaged 36.7 points in those three games, but his shaky hamstrings certainly aren’t a good sign for Washington’s shock odds.
Key Match: Washington’s Front Line vs. Embiid. The MVP runner-up won’t be stopped, but the Wizards’ obvious best hope in this series is to get someone else to beat them. If Embiid makes it to his favorite spots without difficulty, this series will not last long.
Prediction: 76ers in 5.
N Â° 2 BROOKLYN NETS (48-24) vs N Â° 7 BOSTON CELTICS (36-36, 1-0)
Series of the season: Nets, 3-0.
Story: The Brooklyn Big Three of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden make their playoff debuts together against a Celtics team that made it to the Eastern Finals last year and never started this season. Irving faces off against his former team, and that means he’ll likely play in front of Boston fans for the first time since leaving the Celtics in 2019. Irving has played one game in Boston this season; the Christmas game between the Nets and the Celtics had no fans.
Key Match: Durant vs. Jayson Tatum. For the Celtics to have a chance to upset, it will fall on Tatum’s shoulders.
Prediction: Nets in 5.
N Â° 3 MILWAUKEE BUCKS (46-26) vs. N Â° 6 MIAMI HEAT (40-32)
Season streak: Bucks, 2-1.
History: Milwaukee lost to the Heat on Miami’s path to the Eastern Conference title last season, and the Bucks are clearly looking forward to making the playoff rematch. âWe wanted it,â Bucks owner Marc Lasry said earlier this week on CNBC. It’s a clash of styles; the Bucks play at the fastest pace in the league, the Heat have always put defense first.
Key match: Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Jimmy Butler. It is not a confrontation in the sense that they will keep each other a lot, if at all. But a premature exit would have Antetokounmpo faced with questions he wouldn’t like, and it’s worth noting that Butler has missed all three Miami-Milwaukee games this season.
Prediction: Bucks in 7.
N Â° 4 NEW YORK KNICKS (41-31) vs N Â° 5 ATLANTA HAWKS (41-31)
Series of the season: Knicks, 3-0.
History: Welcome to the playoffs, Knicks and Hawks. New York has not been there since 2013, Atlanta not since 2017. But both teams have made great strides forward this season and one of them will, at a minimum, make the semi-finals in the East. . New York is defense first, the Hawks are free shooters, and obviously something will have to work.
Key Match: Julius Randle vs. Clint Capela. Forget the landmark feats of Atlanta’s Trae Young for a second or the Hawks’ perimeter shooting collection. The Knicks run through Randle, and Capela’s job is to defend, harass, and bounce back. If Randle gets into the rhythm, Knicks advantage. If Capela controls the paint on the defensive side, Hawks advantage.
Prediction: Hawks in 7.
No.2 PHOENIX SUNS (51-21) vs. No.7 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (42-30, 1-0)
Series of the season: Suns, 2-1.
History: This could be the first time in NBA history that a No.2 seed has beaten a No.7 seed and it would be seen as an upheaval. According to FanDuel, the defending champion Lakers is the betting favorite in this series, even though the Suns have won nine more games and – since the NBA moved to best-of-seven for all rounds in 2003 – the seeds. No. 2 have won 35 of their 36 quarterfinal series against the top 7 seeds. Such is the power of LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
Key Match: Chris Paul vs. James. They have never faced each other in the playoffs. James is dealing with the effects of a high ankle sprain, and Paul will face the pressure that comes with not qualifying for the NBA Finals yet.
Prediction: Lakers in 7.
NUGGETS N Â° 3 DENVER (47-25) vs N Â° 6 PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (42-30)
Season Series: Nuggets, 2-1.
Story: Denver has won 30 of its last 40 games, shocking many by not collapsing from Jamal Murray’s knee injury at the end of the season. Portland is in the playoffs for the eighth consecutive year – the current longest run in the NBA – but three of its last four appearances have ended in a first-round outing. It looks like more pressure is on the Blazers.
Key match: Nikola Jokic vs. Jusuf Nurkic. Much of it will be up to Nurkic to contain the favorite MVP of Denver, who controls pretty much everything the Nuggets run. If Jokic is not slowed down, even if only slightly, a difficult task for the Blazers becomes that much more difficult.
Prediction: Nuggets in 7.
No.4 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (47-25) vs. No.5 DALLAS MAVERICKS (42-30)
Series of the season: Mavericks, 2-1.
Storyline: Both teams have post-season demons to shake up. The Clippers – a very different team last season – lost a 3-1 second-round lead to Denver and are once again a long way from the Western Finals. The last time the Mavericks won a playoff series, hard to believe, was the 2011 NBA Finals. They were beaten in six games by the Clippers last season.
Key match: Kawhi Leonard vs. Luka Doncic. Leonard is a two-time NBA Finals MVP who had another great season, but there are questions over a foot injury; he says it’s not a big deal anymore, but it’s been a problem for weeks. Doncic had two triple doubles and three 38-point games against the Clippers in last season’s playoffs.
Prediction: Mavericks in 6.