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NBA Playoffs 2021: Ranking the top 5 matchups from Round 1

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns.
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball against Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns.
ANALYST

The eight first-round matchups for the 2021 NBA Playoffs are set after the Play-In tournament ended last night. This year gave us arguably the most unique NBA regular season in recent memory and it is no surprise that it has thrown up some intriguing postseason matchups.

One of them involves the reigning champions LA Lakers. LeBron James' team are the #7 seed and will begin their championship defense by facing the West's #2 seeded side, the Phoenix Suns.

Ranking the top 5 matchups from the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs

The first round will also provide us with series that are rematches of last year's NBA Playoffs, and it can only mean high competition and intensity from tip-off to the buzzer.

In this article, we give you the Top 5 series to look out for from the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs, in the Western and Eastern Conferences.


#5 Brooklyn Nets vs Boston Celtics

Kevin Durant #7 James Harden #13 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets.
Kevin Durant #7 James Harden #13 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets.

In the series between the second and seventh seeds of the Eastern Conference, the favored Brooklyn Nets will initiate their postseason campaign facing the Boston Celtics.

Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving will have their first taste of NBA Playoffs action together for the Nets. The first game against Boston will only be the ninth the trio have played together this year.

Still, the Nets are the frontrunners in the East, and Boston's underwhelming regular season (36-36 record), along with Jaylen Brown's absence, put Brooklyn as the clear favorite.

It will surely be interesting to see the Nets' star power on the court and their battle against Jayson Tatum, who is coming off a 50-point night against the Washington Wizards in the Play-In tournament.

This series will be the third between the Nets and Celtics, and the Nets won the previous two series in 2002 and 2003, when they were on the way to playing consecutive NBA Finals.


#4 Denver Nuggets vs Portland Trail Blazers

Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets goes to the basket.
Nikola Jokic #15 of the Denver Nuggets goes to the basket.

The Denver Nuggets and Portland Trail Blazers will meet in the NBA Playoffs for the second time in three years, and their 2019 encounter in the second round was settled in a thrilling seventh game.

The Nuggets (47-25) are the West's third seed this year, while the Portland Trail Blazers secured the last spot for direct entry to the NBA Playoffs (sixth seed) with a 42-30 record.

Likely NBA MVP winner Nikola Jokic will carry the Denver Nuggets even though Jamal Murray, who starred in last year's postseason, will not play for Denver. On the other end, Damian Lillard will look to put the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round for the first time since 2019.

In the regular season, Denver took the three-game series with two victories, while Portland won the season finale last week. Portland and Denver have met three times in the NBA Playoffs before, with the Blazers winning the in the second round in 1977 and 2019, and Denver winning a first-round duel in 1986.


#3 LA Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks

Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks drives to the basket against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers.
Luka Doncic #77 of the Dallas Mavericks drives to the basket against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers.

For the second year in a row, the LA Clippers (47-25) and Dallas Mavericks (42-30) will play each other in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. Last year, both teams saw each other in the first round too, when the LA Clippers were the second seed and Dallas was the seventh seed of the West.

This year, they'll compete in the fourth-fifth battle, and it will be another interesting struggle. The Clippers took last year's series in six games, but not without controversy (some questionable decisions by the referees in Game 1) or heated exchanges between the two teams, mainly between Marcus Morris and Dallas' superstar Luka Doncic.

This year, the Dallas Mavericks took the season series two victories to one for the LA Clippers, and the Mavs offense (ninth-best in the league) could pose a big threat to the title contenders.

Last year's first-round series was the first postseason matchup between the two franchises.


#2 Milwaukee Bucks vs Miami Heat

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks dunks.

In another rematch from the 2020 NBA Playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks (third seed of the East) will face off against the current champions of the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat.

While the Heat is constructed similarly to last year's team that made it to the NBA Finals, the Milwaukee Bucks look revamped. The additions of former All-Star Jrue Holiday, solid bench scorer Bobby Portis and the experienced PJ Tucker have give them a different dimension.

Still, to match up well against Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and company, Giannis Antetokounmpo's approach on offense will be essential to the Bucks' success.

Last year's duel in the second round of the NBA Playoffs was the second between Milwaukee and Miami, with the Heat winning both times. Miami swept the series in 2013 on its way to the NBA title and took a five-game series win in 2020.


#1 Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers will need to play great in the NBA Playoffs.
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers will need to play great in the NBA Playoffs.

It is rare to see two title contenders facing off in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and even more strange when one of those teams is the reigning NBA champion. But the 2021 NBA Playoffs could not have been any different after such a weird regular season, and the first-round matchup between the Phoenix Suns and LA Lakers will have the feel of a Western Conference Finals.

Phoenix enters this series after a great regular season, led by one of the best backcourts in the league, formed by Chris Paul (in his first year with the team) and Devin Booker. The Suns had a 51-21 regular-season record, the second-best in the NBA, and were the second seed in the West.

On the other end, the defending NBA champions LA Lakers started the 2020-21 NBA season firing on all cylinders and looking like the clear favorites in the West. But LeBron James and Anthony Davis suffered injuries almost simultaneously, and the team ended up with the seventh seed in the West.

The Lakers were forced to face the Golden State Warriors in the Play-In tournament to get to the NBA Playoffs.

After beating the Warriors in a thrilling game, guided by James' game-winning three-pointer, the Lakers are set to begin their quest for back-to-back titles in a heated series against Phoenix in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

In the regular season, the Phoenix Suns won two of the three duels between the two teams. However, the LA Lakers were not at full strength in either match.

Phoenix returns to the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2010. Back then, the LA Lakers ended the Suns' season in the 2010 Western Finals.

Overall, this will be the 13th matchup in the NBA Playoffs between the two teams, and the LA Lakers have won eight of the previous 12 series.


Also read: Philadelphia 76ers vs Washington Wizards Series Prediction & Preview | Round 1, 2021 NBA Playoffs

Edited by Parimal Dagdee
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