The 2021 NBA regular season has officially come to an end.
This year, the playoffs will expand into a somewhat new format, as ten teams, rather than eight, will be in the running for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
For the first time ever, there will be a play-in tournament to become the seven or eight seed. The teams who currently hold the ninth and tenth spots in the conference will now get a chance to keep their season alive. Four teams will compete, but only two will move on.
The NBA recently posted how this new playoff will be formatted.
With the addition of four teams into the postseason, there are many unknowns about what could happen. The field of competition is wide open, with multiple championship caliber teams competing from each conference.
A seven game series against any one of the twenty total teams battling this summer will be a tough task to overcome. When looking at the playoff picture, it is difficult to find teams who will be a walk in the park for anyone.
When taking into account load management and possible injuries, the advantage that a team may hold over others will most likely not be comfortable enough.
This year, we will see teams from both the east and west who are ready to be contenders.
Eastern Conference Contenders
Sixers: Following their first year under head coach Doc Rivers, the Sixers are heading to the playoffs for the fourth straight year, this time as the number one seed in the east. However, the postseason has not been kind to Philly fans, as they were a first round exit last year. They were also eliminated in the conference semi-finals the previous two seasons. With Joel Embiid playing the best basketball of his career, finishing the 2021 stint averaging 28.5 points per game, there is hope for the Sixers to prove that they are not just a regular season team.
Nets: Despite not being the top overall seed in their conference, the Nets are the favorites to win the east. This does not come as a surprise with a roster that includes star players such as Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving. We know that the big three will show up ready to dominate, but the question will be whether or not Brooklyn’s role players and bench can contribute enough to help carry them to the finals.
Bucks: For the third straight year, the Bucks will be contenders to win it all. Last season, they lost all start guard, Khris Middleton, to injury, and lacked enough depth in the lineup. Two postseason’s ago, the dominance of Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors was too much for Milwaukee to overcome. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having another MVP type of season, there is a chance for them to redeem themselves this summer.
While the remaining teams from the east that will be showcased such as the Knicks, Hawks, Heat, Celtics, Wizards, Pacers, and Hornets have talent around them, these top three are most likely to win out due to the level of stardom, and experience throughout their rosters.
Western Conference Contenders
Jazz: Led by Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, the Jazz have looked like the sharpest team in the league all year long. They finished the season with the best record in the NBA, and enter the playoffs as the number one seed in the west. However, their success in 2021 will be put to the test in a tough conference where nearly every team seems to be a contender.
Suns: The Suns had a somewhat surprising season in 2021, finishing second in the west, and earning their first trip to the playoffs since 2010. Led by future hall of fame point guard Chris Paul, and the rising stardom of Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton, Phoenix is in a position to make a deep run in the summer. It will be the youth and inexperience that will play a deciding factor in their fate.
Nuggets: The Nuggets were hit hard this year after start guard, Jamal Murray went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. Nonetheless, Denver has been led by all start center, Nikola Jokic, who averaged 26.4 points per game, and 10.8 rebounds per game this season. The potential MVP, in addition to the depth surrounding him, certainly makes Murray’s injury less devastating. But, It will still be a difficult task to overcome.
The western conference is even more competitive than the east. The road to the finals continues with gritty and talented teams like the Clippers, Mavericks, Blazers, Lakers, Warriors, Grizzlies, and Spurs. Now, more than ever, it is anyone’s series to lose.
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