Colin McGee ‘22
For the first time in 2 years, NBA Playoff games will be played in NBA Playoff arenas. Last year the playoffs were played in the Orlando bubble. Although the 2020 playoffs, which featured the Los Angeles Lakers winning the championship, were great, the playoffs didn’t feel the same without the atmosphere of the fans. However these playoffs will have more and more fans coming back to arenas. On top of this great news, the 2021 NBA Playoffs have the makings to be a classic.
The Eastern Conference is viewed by many as a 3 horse race between the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, and Milwaukee Bucks. The 76ers, owners of the best record in the East, are a very complete team led by Joel Embiid. Had it not been for a stretch of missing games due to injury, Embiid would be the front runner for the MVP award. This 76ers team is a much more complete team than ones in previous years due to their new additions which have bolstered their 3 point shooting and defense. The Brooklyn Nets, the presumptive championship favorites, are the #2 seeds. If the Nets cannot win a championship this year, this season will be viewed as an absolute failure because of their immense talent. For the Nets, it will be very intriguing to see who out of Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving will be the closer in close games. The Milwaukee Bucks are flying under the radar after being the 1 seed in the East for the previous two seasons. The Bucks are seeking redemption for multiple playoff disappointments.
The New York Knicks, one of the best stories of this season, are the 4th seed in the East. Led by Julius Randle and a gritty defense this team is ready to make noise in the playoffs. For their first playoff series since 2013, the Knicks will face off against the fifth seed Atlanta Hawks. After spending a couple years at the bottom of the East, this young Hawks core led by Trae Young is looking to set their new era off on the right note. The East’s 6th seed belongs to the Miami Heat. One year after a stunning run to the NBA Finals in the bubble, the Heat are still a formidable team as most of the core from last year’s conference championship are still intact. The Heat will play the Bucks, the team they shockingly upset in the second round last year in 5 games.
Right under the Heat in the standings come the Boston Celtics, who lost to the Heat in the conference finals last year. Despite the stellar play of Jayson Tatum as of late, the Celtics have underperformed to expectations this year and also lost Jaylen Brown to a season ending injury while he was enjoying a career year. The 8th and final seed in the East belongs to the Washington Wizards. The Wizards are perhaps the hottest team in the association in Russell Westbrook’s first year with the team. The Eastern Conference Playoffs will for sure be interesting to watch.
The top two seeds in the Western Conference have taken many people by surprise. The first seed belongs to the Utah Jazz. The Jazz have been a perennial playoff team who had a fantastic regular season. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert will try to prove the doubters wrong and find success deep in the postseason. The Phoenix Suns are the #2 seed in the West. After missing the playoffs last year, the Suns addition of Chris Paul as well as other key pieces has catapulted them to their first playoff appearance in over a decade.
The Denver Nuggets hold the 3 seed in the Western Conference. The Nuggets took a huge blow to their championship hopes when star guard Jamal Murray tore his ACL. However, all hope is not lost for Denver as Nikola Jokic, the favorite in the MVP race, is playing the best basketball of his career. The Los Angeles Clippers are the 4th seed in the West. This is a make or break season for the Clippers as they suffered a collapse to the Nuggets in the playoffs last year. Fans will be expecting Paul George in particular to step up after a rough postseason last year. The Dallas Mavericks as the 5th seed will rematch against the team who beat them in the first round last year: the Clippers. The Mavericks will go as far as third year superstar Luka Doncic can take them.
At the 6th spot in the West comes the Portland Trail Blazers. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum are a great duo who can never be taken for granted. The 7th seed in the West are, to the surprise of many, the Los Angeles Lakers. Coming off an NBA title, the Lakers have been plagued by injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis for long stretches of the season. Lucky for them they are once again healthy and are perhaps the most feared 7th seed in NBA history. The final playoff seed in the West belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies after winning back to back games against the Spurs and Warriors in the play-in tournament. This team is young and ready to prove themselves in the postseason. With reigning Rookie of the Year Ja Morant at the helm, the Grizzlies are going to be a tough out for any team.
These 2021 NBA Playoffs are set up to be a great one. Just by looking at all the 16 teams competing you can see how much storylines there will be to coincide with the playoffs. I also feel that for the first time in a while there are many possible teams who can make the NBA Finals. As a fan, I am very excited to see how these playoffs unfold.