After a demanding regular season, which left candidates like the Lakers on the way, the NBA playoffs get underway on Saturday with numerous teams contending to dethrone Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks.
The first round of playoffs, to which two teams are yet to join this Friday, offers difficult duels, such as Kevin Durant’s Nets against Jayson Tatum’s Celtics and Steph Curry’s Warriors against the Nuggets of Nikola Jokic.
. Heat vs. Cavs or Hawks
Although they were finalists in 2020, few expected the Miami Heat to conclude this season as leaders of the Eastern Conference. The Heat displayed enormous strength in overcoming the extended absences of their three stars (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Kyle Lowry).
His rival in the first round will be the winner of this Friday’s playoff between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks. The Cavaliers have been one of the great surprises of the season but suffered injuries to key pieces like Jarrett Allen in the final stretch while the Hawks rallied at the most necessary moment thanks to their audacious point guard Trae Young.
. Celtics vs. Nets
The most in-form franchise against the best star duo of today. The Boston Celtics come into the series against the Brooklyn Nets in their prime, posting a 32-6 record since February.
The Celtics finally found the formula to surround the talent of their young figures, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
Although they took second place in the East, the Celtics face a dangerous playoff against a Nets who depend entirely on their two superstars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
In a tumultuous year on and off the court, the Nets had to qualify through the playoffs but nobody can trust a team that has Durant and Irving, who have a combined average of 57 points per night.
. Bucks vs. Bulls
The Bucks reach the playoffs with their leader Antetokounmpo in a spectacular moment of form and his squires ready to defend the ring won in the last Finals against the Phoenix Suns.
His first obstacle will be the resurgent Chicago Bulls, who will experience their first playoffs since 2017 at the hands of the trio formed by DeMar DeRozan, who lives a second youth, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic.
. Sixers vs. Raptors
The Philadelphia 76ers are favorites on paper for this tie but they have great pressure on them and face a tricky rival like the Toronto Raptors.
Cameroonian Joel Embiid has had the best season of his career, being the top scorer in the NBA (30.6 points on average) and a great candidate for the MVP award.
Both the center and James Harden, arrived in a mega transfer with Brooklyn, are facing their great opportunity to reach their long-awaited ring. The Raptors are far from the champion team in 2019 but they are always an uncomfortable opponent due to their defensive ferocity and their versatility in attack.
. Suns vs Clippers or Pelicans
The Phoenix Suns are emerging as favorites to have a second chance in the Finals. With Devin Booker and Chris Paul at the helm, the Suns have further tightened their gears to finish as the best team in the regular season.
His opponent will come out of Friday’s playoff clash between Paul George’s Los Angeles Clippers and CJ McCollum’s New Orleans Pelicans.
. Grizzlies vs. Timberwolves
The Memphis Grizzlies want to confirm themselves as one of the emerging teams in these playoffs, which will start against the Minnesota Timberwolves released after three years out of the playoffs.
The series will feature a collection of some of the NBA’s biggest young talents, most notably Ja Morant (Grizzlies), a former All-Star starter at age 22.
Minnesota’s options rest with the trio of Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell.
. Warriors vs Nuggets
Three years after their last Finals, the Golden State Warriors are back in the playoffs with the iconic trio that brought them three rings: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
With Thompson getting back on his feet after two years out injured, the spotlight is on Curry’s fitness, as he hopes to be ready after nearly a month out with a sprain.
His first exam will be Nikola Jokic’s Denver Nuggets, for many deserving of a second MVP after sustaining a squad decimated by injuries.
. Mavericks vs. Jazz
Another team in suspense for its star is the Dallas Mavericks, who do not know if they can count on Luka Doncic in their challenging series against the Utah Jazz.
If the Slovenian phenom misses games because of his calf problem, the Mavericks have very little chance of surviving Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell’s Jazz, forced to confirm their potential as a playoff pair.