2021 First Round NBA Playoff Predictions
May 22nd, 2021
by Alan Lu
After seeing a fun set of games in the play-in tournament, the playoff picture is now crystallized and finalized, and we now have a set group of NBA teams that are ready to square off against each other in the first round of the NBA playoffs. After looking and pouring over the information from Basketball-Reference and ESPN, I have decided to make my analysis and picks of which teams will win in the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs.
The 1st Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs: The Eastern Conference Portion
(1) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (8) Washington Wizards
The 76ers won all three of their head-to-head meetings in the regular season against the Wizards and they have the top seed, so they should be in great shape to play them in the first round. Joel Embiid has been dominant in their season series against them, and Ben Simmons, Shake Milton, Seth Curry, and Furkan Korkmaz have all played really well against Washington.
The 76ers have two superstars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and they definitely can dominate in the paint in any given night. Ben Simmons is a terrific playmaker that can guard anyone on the floor, and he is a Defensive Player of the Year contender.
Tobias Harris also can provide solid skills on both ends of the floor, and Danny Green is a solid veteran that can 3 and D for Philly, and he was an underrated acquisition that they got in a trade in the offseason. Also, Matisse Thybulle is a very good defensive player that also can play shutdown defense, and the combination of himself, Simmons, and Joel Embiid helps Philly form a formidable defensive unit. Also, head coach Doc Rivers led the 76ers to having the best record in the East, and the 76ers are a formidable contender for the NBA championship this year.
Bradley Beal has been terrific against the Philadelphia 76ers, and his ability to muster up strong performances against the best teams could help the Wizards steal some wins in this series. Russell Westbrook is a triple-double machine who has had his ups and downs in big games, but he’s always capable of taking over the game to help lead his teams to wins.
The Wizards didn’t really get too much individual production out of the rest of the players on their team in their season series against Philly though. Dāvis Bertāns is a tall shooter that can space the floor, and they will also rely on a group of shooters, scorers, and interior defenders to try to help them out. However, they are going up against a very good and talented Philadelphia 76ers’ team, so the Wizards will have to play really well if they have any shot to win their first-round playoff series.
Prediction: The Philadelphia 76ers over the Washington Wizards in 5
(4) New York Knicks vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
In the three meetings against each other, the New York Knicks have won all of the matchups against the Hawks this year. With Nate McMillan as Atlanta’s new head coach, they lost in overtime late in April in their only meeting against the Knicks with McMillan at the helm.
In analyzing that game, Clint Capela played really well, as he scored 25 points and had 22 rebounds, and Trae Young and Bogdan Bogdanović also scored 20 points each, although they did not shoot or score as well as expected. John Collins and Kevin Huerter also played well, and Lou Williams also provided some scoring off the bench, although he struggled with his jump shot.
It is important to note that neither Danilo Gallinari nor De’Andre Hunter played in that game, and they will give the Hawks an extra boost in their lineup. Also, the Hawks have a sharpshooter in veteran swingman Tony Snell, who is the first member to join the 50/50/100 club by making over 50% of his field goals, over 50% of his threes, and 100% of his free throws this season.
For the New York Knicks, Julius Randle was unstoppable, as he scored 40 points on 21 shots to give his team an overtime win, and he played like an MVP candidate in that game. Reggie Bullock, Derrick Rose, and Immanuel Quickley all played very well, as he really excelled at shooting, scoring, and passing the basketball. Nerlens Noel made shots efficiently, and he was very effective as a rebounder, shot blocker, and interior defender.
R.J. Barrett scored points in volume, and he also excelled as a facilitator and rebounder, but he struggled to consistently make shots in that game. Elfrid Payton struggled on offense, but he was more effective as a rebounder and help defender in that contest. Mitchell Robinson is out for the season though, and he ended up getting hurt midway through the year with an ankle injury. The Knicks are a very good defensive team. They also have a very good player in Julius Randle, who is also complemented by shooters and scorers to surround him.
The Atlanta Hawks have a very good big three in Trae Young, Clint Capela, and John Collins, and they are a very talented and deep team, but they haven’t quite found their footing against the Knicks yet.
Prediction: New York Knicks over the Atlanta Hawks in 7 games
(2) Brooklyn Nets vs. (7) Boston Celtics
The Nets have three of the best players in today’s NBA in Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. Kyrie Irving finished the season as the 9th member in NBA history to join the 50-40-90 club, and the 7-time All-Star is arguably just the third best player on his own team. Kevin Durant and James Harden have both won MVPs. That’s some serious offensive firepower. Adding to that, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, Jeff Green, and Landry Shamet can all shoot, score and make plays, and Bruce Brown and DeAndre Jordan are solid defensive players.
The Celtics are a good team in their own right. Jayson Tatum scored 50 points in the play-in game win over the Wizards, though it statistically didn’t really count, but he and Kemba Walker are All-Stars that can put up plenty of points down the stretch. Marcus Smart is a tremendous defender. Payton Pritchard is an offensively skilled point guard that can shoot and pass the basketball. Tristan Thompson is a defensive-minded veteran center that has won before. But when the Nets are healthy, they look to be unstoppable, and the Celtics are no match for the Nets, and this could be a sweep if the Nets take care of business and if they don’t let up from the jump.
Prediction: The Brooklyn Nets over the Boston Celtics in 4
(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (6) Miami Heat
The Miami Heat had the Milwaukee Bucks’ number last year, and they were able to defeat them in 5 games, which prompted the Bucks to sort of overhaul parts of their roster to better complement and fit Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Bucks swung a big trade to land Jrue Holiday in the offseason. In their three meetings together this year, Milwaukee has won twice against Miami, and all of the wins have been double-digit wins in those games.
For the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday have all played well against the Heat, and they have also gotten strong shooting from Donte DiVincenzo, Bryn Forbes, Brook Lopez, and Bobby Portis.
For the Heat, Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have played well for them, and Kendrick Nunn has excelled as a shooter and scorer for them. They’ve also been able to get solid scoring production from Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Goran Dragić. Victor Oladipo struggled to shoot well against Milwaukee for Miami, and he is out for the season with a knee injury. Miami has struggled to defend them though, and it seems clear that they have missed Jae Crowder’s presence this year.
Last season, Miami Heat’s head coach Erik Spoelstra did a masterful coaching job to lead his team to a stunning series win over the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks though, are still favored to win this series against Miami, but head coach Mike Budenholzer should definitely be on the hot seat if his team ends up losing to Miami again in the playoffs.
Prediction: Milwaukee Bucks over the Miami Heat in 7 games
The 1st Round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs: The Western Conference Portion
(1) Utah Jazz vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies managed to pull of the unthinkable. Led by the extremely athletic, star point guard Ja Morant, and skilled big men such as Jonas Valančiūnas and Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies were able to pull off an elimination game win over Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, head coach Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors. Ja Morant was dominant in the play-in games, and he is a future superstar in the making.
Make no mistake about it, Taylor Jenkins can coach, and he is a rising star in the coaching ranks. The Grizzlies had a very impressive run in the play-in tournament, as they managed to pull off successive wins over legendary coaches such as Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, and over well-coached and talented basketball teams in the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors. They’ve really came out charging in the play-in tournament, and they’re carrying such strong momentum that I might feel inclined to pick them, even though they are still heavy underdogs in their first-round playoff series against the Jazz.
The Utah Jazz swept the Memphis Grizzlies in the three games they’ve played in the season series against them though, and the Jazz are coming in as strong favorites to win this series. Donovan Mitchell has dominated with his tremendous ability to shoot and score the basketball, and he’s been solid as a playmaker on offense.
Rudy Gobert has been fantastic for Utah on both ends of the floor against Memphis, and they’ve also gotten reliable offensive production out of Jordan Clarkson and Joe Ingles. Mike Conley and Bojan Boganović are solid, reliable offensive players, and the Jazz also have a group of solid, defensive minded role players to round out the rotation.
The Jazz have arguably the best defender in the game right now in Rudy Gobert, whom has very good odds to win the Defensive Player of the Year award this year. They also boast having a terrific second unit, and both Joe Ingles and Jordan Clarkson are strong offensive players that are each well-qualified to win the Sixth Man of the Year award honors. They also have a very good head coach in Quin Snyder, who led his team to win 52 games in the regular season, and he also is a candidate for the Coach of the Year award as well.
The Grizzlies are a young, talented, but inexperienced team, but they are led by a group of really promising offensive players to lead the way. Star point guard, Ja Morant is an electrifying playmaker that can score and distribute the basketball. Jonas Valančiūnas and Jaren Jackson Jr. complement each other well, as Valančiūnas is very effective as a low post scorer, and Jackson is an athletic shooting big man that can stretch the defenses.
Kyle Anderson is a versatile, fill-in-the-blanks type of player that can facilitate and guard multiple positions, and his versatility has proven to be really helpful to the Grizzlies. Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, and Desmond Bane are athletic guards that can shoot and score the basketball, and they also play solid defense. Brandon Clarke and Xavier Tillman are an athletic, energetic big man that makes highly efficient basketball plays. They have a talented, young team that is well schooled defensively.
The Jazz may have the stronger team top to bottom, but the Grizzlies have put up a lot of fight, and their persistence and determination, combined with their raw talent combined with having considerable potential to excel as a team could make it a tougher and longer series than expected.
Prediction: The Utah Jazz over the Memphis Grizzlies in 6 games
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Dallas Mavericks
Interestingly enough, Dallas has won two of the three meetings against the Clippers this year, and that includes a 51-point win really early this season, although Kawhi Leonard didn’t play in that lopsided match. Although they acquired J.J. Redick midseason to bolster their roster and depth, he will be out for the season due to a heel injury.
Luka Dončić played really well for Dallas against them, and they also got strong offensive production out of Kristaps Porzingis, Tim Hardaway Jr., and Josh Richardson. Dorian Finney-Smith, Jalen Brunson, and Maxi Kleber have shined in lower volume offensive roles, and they figure to be key members of Dallas’ rotation in the playoffs.
If you only take into account games in which Kawhi Leonard played against Dallas, then both teams would have split the series at one apiece in the regular season. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are superstar forwards that do everything for their team, though neither shot the ball well against Dallas during the regular season.
They got solid scoring out of Ivica Zubac and Serge Ibaka, and they also relied on Marcus Morris Sr. for offense. Unfortunately, the Clippers didn’t shoot nor defend Dallas well in the regular season, but they are a talented and deep team that is capable of going far in the playoffs.
Although Dallas has had the upper hand in the regular season, it seems like it’d be too early to write off the Los Angeles Clippers. Just a season ago, the Clippers were considered to be strong contenders to win the title in 2020. On the other hand, there’s no denying that Dallas has matched up to the Clippers well in the regular season. Kawhi Leonard and Luka Dončić are two of the best players in the game right now, both teams have coaches that have won NBA championships, and this series could go down to the wire.
Prediction: Los Angeles Clippers over the Dallas Mavericks in 7
(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
In their three meetings together, the Suns won two of them. Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are rising stars that work well together, as Booker is the sharpshooter and scorer that can knock down an abundance of jumpers, and Ayton is a low post scorer that can score in the block.
Chris Paul was a terrific acquisition that they got in a trade, and he makes everyone else better with the ball in his hands. They also made a great signing by getting Jae Crowder, who takes the 3 and D role and elevates it to the next level. Mikal Bridges is also another solid 3 and D role player, and they also have other solid role players on their team.
The Suns have a lot of depth and talent, and they are a well-coached team led by head coach Monty Williams, as he helped them win a lot of regular season games. But they will be going up against one of the best teams in the NBA when healthy in the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers have had trouble getting all of their players to be healthy at the same time, which may explain why they didn’t win as many games in the regular season as expected. Right now though, all of their players are healthy, which is good for them, and definitely bad for their opponents.
LeBron James and Anthony Davis both played only in one game against the Suns this year, but both of them were dominant when they played. Montrezl Harrell has packed a strong punch off the bench, and they’ve gotten reliable offensive production out of Dennis Schröder.
Talen Horton-Tucker, Ben McLemore, and Alex Caruso have fared well in moderate volume roles and have averaged double-digit points per game in their season series against the Suns. Alex Caruso is a very good defensive point guard that can reliably run the team at the point.
They’ll also depend on Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Andre Drummond, though neither of them played particularly well against the Suns this year. Also, the Drummond and Davis lineup didn’t seem to mesh very well, and that lineup struggled in the play-in game against the Warriors, as there wasn’t enough floor spacing, and Anthony Davis played much better when he was playing at center rather than at power forward, as the Lakers were able to rebound to get a comeback win in the play-in game over Golden State. Also for the Lakers, Wesley Matthews is a solid defensive player, and Markieff Morris and Marc Gasol are two other players that could round out their rotation.
The Lakers are a very strong team on paper, but the game is played on the court. When they’re healthy, they can be the best team in the NBA. They haven’t shot the ball or defended quite as well as hoped this year, and they’ve had trouble having guys stay healthy. They’re healthy now, and having two superstars that are the best in the game right now definitely helps and could get them a series win if they can execute as expected.
Prediction: The Los Angeles Lakers over the Phoenix Suns in 6 games
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers
The Nuggets and the Blazers have played each other three times in the regular season, and Denver won two of those games, but Portland won the most recent game, with Jokić having started in the final contest of the year. There were people saying that Jokić didn’t have to play in the final game, and Denver losing would get them to avoid the Lakers in the first round. Now that the Blazers know that they can beat the Nuggets, they may have gained more of a mental edge than if Denver had opted to play Bol Bol and Vlatko Čančar 30-40 minutes in the final regular season game of the year.
For Denver, Nikola Jokić has played well for them, and rookie point guard, Markus Howard was impressive in the one time he played against Portland this season, even though he’s not a regular in Denver’s rotation. They have also gotten consistent offense out of Michael Porter Jr., and Paul Millsap and Will Barton have also provided some offense for their team. Aaron Gordon was a terrific midseason acquisition, and he is a high-flying combo forward that can finish plays around the basket, pass the ball, and he is a solid defender whose defensive versatility allows him to guard multiple positions. Jamal Murray is out with a knee injury, but Jokic and Michael Porter Jr. could still power their way to a first-round series win.
For the Blazers, both Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Norman Powell have played very well, and they have also gotten solid production out of Jusuf Nurkić, Carmelo Anthony, Enes Kanter, Derrick Jones Jr., and Anfernee Simons. From the looks of things, this could be a very tough series, and both teams are deep and talented teams that have superstars that could get them to the second round.
Prediction: Denver Nuggets over the Portland Trail Blazers in 7 games
All in all, those are my first round playoff predictions for the 2021 NBA playoffs.
Also, here are my updated playoff picks for the 2021 NBA Playoffs. I didn’t really make any changes to my picks on the Playoff Bracket Challenge, and the seventh and eighth seeded teams are now finalized as the teams that are ready to play in the playoffs. Without further ado, here are my picks.
I am excited about the NBA playoff games that we will get to watch, and there will be a lot of good basketball games. I can’t wait to see who will end up winning the NBA championship this year. Thanks for reading.