Ranking all eight first-round series

Long-time friends Chris Paul and LeBron James matchup in the first round. Photo from Arizona Sports.

The Play-In Tournament has concluded, and we now have a clear sight of the NBA playoff matchups. After a lot of game postponements due to COVID-19 protocols, we’re finally in for the most wonderful time in basketball season.

NBA Playoff matchups 2021

There is no bubble this time. Fans are now allowed to watch their teams in a limited capacity. This is what the players are all excited about—the intense playoff atmosphere with loud oohs and aahs from the crowd.

Now that we have the first round of the NBA playoff matchups set, we will be ranking all eight first-round series.

8. Nets vs Celtics

Let’s face it. The Nets lineup is stacked with Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Blake Griffin as their starters.

The Celtics won the play-in tournament as the 7th seed against the Wizards. But in doing so, they will face a full healthy Nets team. Without Jaylen Brown, the Celtics lack another superstar scorer outside of Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker.

Anything is possible in the world of basketball, especially in the playoffs. But we wouldn’t be surprised if the Nets sweep the Celtics.

7. Jazz vs Grizzlies

The Grizzlies earned the 8th seed after a tough overtime win against the Warriors in the last game of the play-in tournament. They are the youngest team to make the playoffs since the Thunder in 2010.

They will face the Jazz which is the best team in the West and in the whole league. Their lineup is elite offensively and defensively. After all, they have the Defensive Player of the Year favorite, Rudy Gobert. Their superstar scorer, Donovan Mitchell, is also reportedly planning to play in Game 1 after suffering an ankle injury.

The series will be a battle between a hungry and young Grizzlies team versus a veteran and a steady Jazz team.

6. Nuggets vs Blazers

The Blazers have the longest active streak in playoff appearances, reaching the postseason for the last eight seasons. Portland will rely again on Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. The acquisition of Norman Powell will help ease the load offensively; while Robert Covington will provide them a defensive disruptor they badly need.

Meanwhile, the Nuggets are starting the series with one of their stars down. Jamal Murray (ACL) is already done for the rest of the season.

However, the rise of Michael Porter Jr. could be the difference-maker for the Nuggets. He was on fire after the all-star break with crazy efficiency. The addition of Aaron Gordon also gives the Nuggets size and defense. And as always, it will be another day in the office for MVP-favorite Nikola Jokic.

Both teams are balanced offensively and defensively. Both teams also have recent playoff experience. Thus, we expect to see this matchup extended to a 6-game or 7-game series. Who knows? We might see another game-winner moment from Damian Lillard.

5. Knicks vs Hawks

Finally, the Knicks are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013—all thanks to the emergence of Julius Randle this season. The Tom Thibodeau-led Knicks are one of the best defensive teams in the league. They could do some serious damage in the playoffs. But first, they need to get past the first round.

The same goes with the Hawks. They are in the playoffs for the first time since 2016. The Hawks look like a new team under coach Nate McMillan. They also have a deep lineup led by Trae Young.

While the Knicks are great at defense, the Hawks are a great offensive team. Expect these teams to go at it in their first playoff matchup in recent history.

4. Clippers vs Mavericks

A rematch just like last year’s first round. The Mavericks are looking to get their revenge against the Clippers.

The Mavericks are one of the hottest teams after the all-star break led by a 22-year old phenom Luka Doncic. He may average a triple-double in the series but is that enough to beat a championship favorite team like the Clippers?

The key here is Kristaps Porzingis’ health. While he is injured most of the time, he’s still the Mavericks second star. He is an elite rim protector who can space the floor pretty well.

Meanwhile, the Clippers bolstered their lineup by acquiring veterans like DeMarcus Cousins and Rajon Rondo. The Clippers are in a win-now situation while they still have their two superstars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. If they want to win a title, the time is now.

In this series, expect a barrage of fireworks outside the arc for both teams. Both the Clippers and Maverick excel in 3-point shooting.

3. Wizards vs 76ers

This series is one of the best postseason matchups. We will see another heated battle between Joel Embiid and Russell Westbrook. And we witnessed their rivalry very well for the past few seasons.

The Wizards were on fire during the second half of the season. They went from being from bottom to 8th seed in the East in just a span of two months. We witnessed the crazy stat lines from Westbrook and the high-scoring effort from Beal every night.

However, the 76ers and MVP finalist Joel Embiid could steamroll the Wizards, especially with their thin frontcourt. There’s no clear answer against Embiid for the Wizards. The 76ers suffocating defense could hold the Wizards’ high-paced offense.

Still, the beef between Westbrook and Embiid is enough to make this series entertaining. Get your popcorn ready!

2. Bucks vs Heat

Ah, another playoff rematch. The Bucks are looking to avenge last year’s almost-sweep humiliation against the Heat. For the past year, the Bucks bolstered their lineup by acquiring Jrue Holiday and some key bench players. Could Holiday be the catalyst for the Bucks’ success in this series?

The Heat may have the same lineup as last year’s deep playoff run. But the Heat is still the Heat. Their underdog mentality is what makes them dangerous, even for top-seeded teams like the Bucks. Jimmy Butler is looking to lead them again for another potential NBA Finals run.

Will this be another upset for the Heat? Or will the Bucks get their revenge finally?

After all, the Bucks need to win now or else Giannis Antetokounmpo may have second thoughts on his max contract extension. The series will be a dogfight right from the start.

1. Suns vs Lakers

The most awaited first-round matchup is between these two powerhouses.

The Lakers earned the 7th seed by beating the Warriors in the play-in tournament. The defending champions have fallen to the 7th seed, but that’s entirely because of LeBron James and Anthony Davis‘ injuries.

If the Lakers can stay healthy throughout the series, it could pose a threat to the second-seeded Suns team. After all, they are one of the best defensive teams in the league.

Meanwhile, the Suns are one of the most balanced teams in the league—offensively and defensively. They clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. While it’s true that they don’t have that recent playoff experience, they are being led by Chris Paul who is a veteran in the playoffs.

Will we see Devin Booker‘s first playoff win? Or will the Lakers make another title run? Nevertheless, we expect this series as one of the best NBA playoff matchups in 2021.

We are just as excited as you to watch all the intense first-round NBA playoff matchups. To make things easier for you, here’s a quick guide on how to watch the NBA playoffs in the UK.

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