The NBA play-in games and playoffs are nearing, and there’s plenty of surprises that can happen. In this month’s Sports Section blog, I’ll be predicting the qualifiers and outcomes for this year’s playoffs.
Since 10 games were removed from the original 82 games for this season (due to the 2021 Tokyo Olympics), it’s only fair that the 9th and 10th seeders have a chance to qualify for the playoffs and have a chance for the title. That’s why the NBA plans to have the “play-in” tournament, where NBA teams face off each other for the final 8 spots in each conference. This is how it’ll work:
- The 7th and 8th seeds from each conference will face off each other.
- The 9th and 10th seeds from each conference will face off each other.
- The winner of the 7/8 game will take the 7th seed spot, and the loser will face the winner of the 9/10 game.
- The winner of that final game will claim the 8th seed in each conference
This offers hope to teams fighting for playoff spots, only a few wins away from landing the bottom seed. It also makes competition tougher, as proven by the Portland Trailblazers, who had a flawless record in the Orlando Bubble of last year. They were rewarded by receiving the 8th spot in the playoffs, and gave tough competition to LeBron and the Lakers.
Playoff Qualifier Predictions
Although the season isn’t yet over at the time of writing, here are my predictions for the playoff seeds per conference:
- Philadelphia 76ers
- Brooklyn Nets
- New York Knicks
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Atlanta Hawks
- Miami Heat
- Boston Celtics
- Washington Wizards
- (eliminated) Charlotte Hornets
- (eliminated) Indiana Pacers
- Phoenix Suns
- Utah Jazz
- Los Angeles Clippers
- Denver Nuggets
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Dallas Mavericks
- Portland Trailblazers
- Golden State Warriors
- (eliminated) Memphis Grizzlies
- (eliminated) San Antonio Spurs
The above predictions reflect what I think will be the outcome of the standings after the season and play-in games. I do think several teams will make a final push to snag a chance in the playoffs.
There will be several teams that’ll try hard to get in the playoffs towards the end of the season. Here are some teams I think will successfully do so;
After they signed Russel Westbrook in the offseason, it’s hard to see that the Wizards are low in the standings. Bradley Beal and Russel Westbrook have been phenomenal this season; Beal’s 2nd in the League in scoring with 31 Points per game (as of April 23rd), and Westbrook is leading the league in assists with nearly 11 APG.
They have a lot of help as well. David Bertans, Rui Hachimura, and more have been helpful to the team as well. Although they didn’t get off to such a good start this season, they’ve gone from 14th seed to 10th seed, and are just a few games away from playoff positions.
If Beal and Westbrook continue to amaze for the rest of the season, they will no doubt shine in the play-in tournament, and land a playoff seed.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors have done exceptionally well without Klay Thompson, and are 9th seed (as of April 22nd) in the Western Conference. Although they’ve had some frustrating losses (119-114 against the Celtics, 118-114 against the Wizards) they’ve also had some incredible wins (107-96 against the 76ers, 122-121 against the Bucks).
Curry set a new NBA record against the 76ers on April 19th, scoring 30+ points in 11 games (in a row). Draymond’s been making some great plays and boosting the Warriors’ defense. Looney has been grabbing all their rebounds and is playing as big man while Wiseman is out. Although Kelly Oubre Jr. didn’t start off the season well from deep, he’s been an exceptional hand on defense. And Andrew Wiggins has been a great Shooting Guard while Klay’s out for the season.
If Curry, Green, and the rest of the dubs can finish up this season strong, they can definitely grab the 7th or 8th seed. Even if they don’t land in a playoff-qualifying spot, they might be able to pull-through the play-in games and get in the playoffs that way.
What We Can Expect in the Playoffs
When the playoffs do begin, here’s what we can realistically expect to happen:
Lakers Will try to go back-to-back (and might)
After upsetting the Miami Heat 4 games to 2 in the NBA finals last year, the Los Angeles Lakers will definitely attempt to get another title this year. Although the blows of Anthony Davis and LeBron James mid-way through the season has affected the Lakers in the standings, they still remain in a good spot for the playoffs. When both stars return, King James will do what he does and put them in a possible title spot.
The Lakers can realistically get another title if they play well.
Brooklyn might disappoint
The Brooklyn Nets came in this season as title contenders, and they still are. But they’ve had some terrible blows.
- KD fighting injuries: Durant has played some of this season, but he’s been out several times due to injuries. The “Big Three” might not be as explosive without the two-time MVP.
- James Harden suffers Hamstring injury: Harden suffered a hamstring injury, which was a big loss to the Nets, as they were already downsized without Durant. As there isn’t a definite timetable for the Beard to return, Brooklyn has to hope he will in time for the playoffs.
- The “Big 5” didn’t last many games: The Nets acquired Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at the end of the 2019 season. This year, they made a blockbuster trade with the Rockets for Harden, and they signed Blake Griffin as well. A few weeks ago, they signed veteran LaMarcus Aldridge, but a few games later he unexpectedly announced his retirement. At the moment, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin are the only ones playing that are part of the main 4 for Brooklyn.
With these setbacks, Brooklyn might not be able to recover. If KD and Harden return before the playoffs, the Nets has a chance. But Kyrie Irving may not be able to carry Brooklyn for so long…
Upsets are going to happen, and happen often.
There’s been some crazy upsets this season (Cavaliers beating the Nets, twice?), and I expect this to happen more often in the playoffs. Although stars will try even harder, younger teams have made some new additions this season and have gotten many more wins.
The playoffs aren’t going to be an exception for this. Even if a #8 seed might not beat a #1 seed, they’ll give them a tough chase.
Chris paul can get his first ring
Chris Paul has had an amazing career that’s lasted over 15 years. What’s surprising to know is that he’s never won a championship with any of the teams he’s played on (Hornets, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, and now the Suns). But the Suns rank 2nd in the West (as of April 23rd) and are favorites coming into the playoffs.
CP3 (Chris Paul) and Devin Booker, along with DeAndre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and the rest of the Suns are doing a great job this season. They definitely have the talent and skill to win the championship.
If Paul and the Suns do win the Finals, not only will he get his first ring, but the Suns franchise as well.
Who Will Win?
And now for the big question. Who will win the 2021 NBA Championship? Here are my top picks
Los Angeles Lakers
Simply put, LeBron James and the Lakers have a high chance of winning this championship. The “King” can dominate in the playoffs, and with Anthony Davis, they can go back-to-back.
As previously mentioned, the Suns can definitely win with their strong core of players. They’ve shown their talent in the regular season, and they can prove their worth in the playoffs.
If Kevin Durant and/or James Harden can return before the playoffs, the Nets have will be coming into the playoffs as favorites. The “Big Three” can make it happen in the playoffs.
Although they might be the underdogs out of these four teams, the “process” has payed off for the 76ers. After drafting Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in the past few years, they’ve gone from underdogs to the first seed in the East. They have the hope and will to win this championship.
Who do you think will win the NBA Championship? Put your team in the comments down below. Leave a like and follow the Fremont Forum for more content like this!