As the chaotic 2020-2021 NBA season nears its end, the playoff race is beginning to heat up.
In just a few weeks, the regular season will end, followed by the debut of the play-in tournament for the seventh and eighth seeds. The 2021 NBA Playoffs will begin on May 22.
While the playoffs never lack excitement, there are always certain matchups that make for an especially good series, even in the first round. Seeding will be finalized in the coming weeks, but these three matchups would be the best series of the first round if they took place.
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs Los Angeles Lakers (6)
The marquee matchup of the L.A. teams everyone hoped for in last season’s playoffs could potentially take place in the first round this season. Injuries to both LeBron James and Anthony Davis have slid the Lakers to the back of the playoff standings, while the Clippers have played consistently well this season.
While many anticipated this matchup occurring in he semi or conference finals, a first round matchup between the Lakers and Clippers would still make for an entertaining series. Both teams, when healthy, are title contenders.
Despite the Lakers’ health in question, they are still one of the league’s most talented teams. And with the Clippers, particularly Paul George, closing on the season on a high note, this battle of ‘big twos’ could make for a classic seven-game series, even if it is in the first round.
Brooklyn Nets (2) vs Charlotte Hornets (7)
The mid-season acquisition of James Harden took the Nets from title contender to title favorite. The Durant-Irving-Harden trio hasn’t played much together this season due to injuries, but that shouldn’t matter come playoff time if Harden returns from his hamstring injury in the near future. Brooklyn’s offensive firepower has been proven all year, ranking first in the NBA.
Charlotte has been one of the league’s best stories this season, as the team has managed to win with an exciting brand of basketball even despite injuries to LaMelo Ball, who has returned, and Gordon Hayward. Terry Rozier, Miles Bridges, Devonte Graham and others have proved to be one of the league’s best young cores.
A matchup of these two teams could be a lot more entertaining than some might expect. Even if Harden isn’t healthy in time for the first round, the Nets would still be heavily favored and probably win this matchup. Still, the Hornets would likely not go down without a fight.
Milwaukee Bucks (3) vs Boston Celtics (6)
A matchup between the Bucks and Celtics would pit two teams facing a lot of pressure against each other, and would likely make for one of the best series of the first round.
Milwaukee is having another great season behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and new acquisition Jrue Holiday. However, the Bucks have yet to reach the NBA Finals in the Giannis era, and are coming off an early exit in last year’s playoffs. The addition of Holiday, a stout defender and solid scorer, should make the Bucks better this postseason.
The Celtics’ season has been ravaged by COVID-19 as well as injury. While the lack of continuity may be a challenge in the postseason, Boston’s best six players could be a difficult group to defend. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have continued to improve as perimeter scorers that could give Milwaukee problems.
The Bucks would be the favorite, but the Celtics may be better than their record shows. The loser of this series will almost certainly see a shakeup this offseason.
Featured image credited to Forbes.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.