Top 10 storylines for the 2021 NBA Playoffs

Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Vincent Frank  |  Last updated 5/17/21

The 2021 NBA Playoffs are about to get started here soon. They begin with eight teams taking part in the inaugural play-in tournament, including the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers going up against the Golden State Warriors.

Back east, we’re highly intrigued to see how the Philadelphia 76ers perform after earning that conference’s best regular-season record. Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics are limping into their play-in matchup against a red-hot Washington Wizards squad.

Below, we look at the top-10 storylines for the 2021 NBA Playoffs.

Upstart New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks to do battle

After winning a mere 21 games a season ago, these Knicks just locked up the fourth seed back east following a win over the Boston Celtics on Sunday . New York finished its first regular season under head coach Tom Thibodeau with a 41-31 record. Julius Randle has looked every bit the part of an MVP candidate. Meanwhile, youngsters such as Immanuel Quickley and R.J. Barrett showed out big time.

With that said, New York’s first-round matchup is not going to be a piece of cake. It comes against an ascending Atlanta Hawks squad that posted a 27-11 record under Nate McMillan following the firing of Lloyd Pierce . Flush with a ton of young talent, star guard Trae Young included, these Hawks could very well be looking at a deep run in the NBA Playoffs. It starts this week against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Boston Celtics on the hot seat with difficult play-in matchup

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

After earning a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last year, the Celtics regressed big time during the regular season. In fact, Brad Stevens’ squad finished with a .500 record and as the seventh seed back east. Their reward? A play-in matchup with the Washington Wizards for a spot in the NBA Playoffs.

With Jaylen Brown sidelined for the remainder of the season to injury , Boston is certainly facing an uphill battle. That’s especially true given the way Russell Westbrook and his Wizards closed out the regular season. After starting the season with a 17-32 record, Washington finished by winning 17 of its final 23 games. For his part, Westbrook averaged 23.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 14.0 assists during that 23-game span. Watch out, Celtics!

Stephen Curry’s absolute brilliance heading into the NBA Playoffs

Since returning from a tailbone injury back on March 29, the NBA scoring champion has been otherworldly. Curry dropped 46 points in Golden State’s season finale win over the Memphis Grizzlies en route to helping the Warriors clinch the eighth seed in the play-in tournament. In 24 games since he returned, the all-time great point guard is averaging 36.9 points and has made an obscene 154 threes.

Curry and his Warriors will now take on the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday evening for an opportunity to earn the seventh seed in the NBA Playoffs. Should the Dubs come out on top, they’ll face the Phoenix Suns in the first round. This is notable in that Golden State just recently knocked off Phoenix . Even with a loss to the Lakers, these Warriors would then have a shot at the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with a Utah Jazz team that they also just recently defeated.

Milwaukee Bucks against the Miami Heat is going to be great for the NBA Playoffs

Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

In a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals series, the defending conference champion Miami Heat are riding a hot streak into this series. Miami won eight of its final 10 regular-season games to avoid the play-in tournament. Even with Victor Oladipo sidelined for the playoffs , the Heat are in a good position against Milwaukee. In fact, this team boasted a 33-19 record when Jimmy Butler suited up during the regular year.

As for the Bucks, they won two of three regular-season matchups against Miami. In need of a deep run in the NBA Playoffs, the pressure is squarely on Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer to avoid a disastrous first-round loss to a lesser team. That’s where two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo comes into play. He averaged a surprisingly low 21.8 points in last season’s defeat at the hands of Miami.

The defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers

It’s official. Even after defeating the New Orleans Pelicans in their regular-season finale, the defending champion Lakers will be forced to contest with Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in Wednesday’s Western Conference play-in. The winner of said game will have the seventh seed and take on the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The loser would go up against either the Memphis Grizzlies or San Antonio Spurs for the eighth spot and a first-round outing against the Utah Jazz.

This is not what the Lakers had envisioned when they started the season with repeat aspirations. Given the way Curry is playing and with the Lakers’ injury concerns, there’s no telling whether Los Angeles will come out on top in this game. The good news? Both LeBron James and Anthony Davis will be on the court at the Staples Center come Wednesday evening. The bad news? Los Angeles is looking at an uphill climb to repeat as champs and James just tweaked his ankle injury.

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