Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: Complete guide to each series of the first round

The 2021 NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday, May 22.

NBA.com is your destination for complete coverage of every series from now through the end of the NBA Finals.

MORE: Complete schedule of the first round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs

Find our previews for each first-round series below.

Eastern Conference | Western Conference

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. Washington Wizards/Indiana Pacers

Part of the bounce-back has been on the defensive end, where the Wizards ranked 10th for defensive efficiency since the All-Star Break. Despite the turnaround, they still don't have a reliable option to defend Embiid, who has destroyed the entire league when healthy during the 2020-21 season.

With that in mind, the Wizards' best chance of winning appears to lie on the opposite end of the floor, where the breakneck pace the team plays with could come to the fore.

In Russell Westbrook and Ben Simmons, these squads possess two of the greatest transition threats in the league, with both capable of generating easy scoring opportunities for their teammates.

The matchup pits the No. 1 team vs. the No. 18 team for pace, with the Wizards averaging six more possessions per game than the Sixers. Allowing the game to enter a halfcourt battle will spell doom for Washington. Instead, they must play at a fast pace and hope they can simply outscore Philadelphia.

Prediction: 76ers in four

- Kane Pitman (@KanePitman)

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

No. 2 Brooklyn Nets vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics

The Celtics are up against it without star guard Jaylen Brown in the lineup.

They had enough trouble against Brooklyn without all three of its stars, so it's hard to imagine things getting any easier with three of the best scorers in the NBA sharing the court at once.

It's well documented what level of heroics Jayson Tatum needs to bring in order to keep the Celtics' playoff hopes alive - look no further than his 50-point game to lead them out of the Play-In Tournament and into the No. 7 seed - but former All-Star Kemba Walker has to step up as the No. 2 guy in this series.

Prediction: Nets in five

- Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_)

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 6 Miami Heat

The key to Miami's success in last year's series was containing two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged 21.8 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game on shooting splits of .508/.214/.537. I know what you're thinking - those are still very good averages from a points, rebounds and assists standpoint. But coming off of a first-round series where Antetokounmpo torched the Orlando Magic to the tune of 30.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists per game on .590/.385/.625 shooting splits, it was a significant drop off in production that the Bucks could not overcome…

Granted, the All-NBA forward was labouring through an ankle injury that would eventually cause him to miss the fifth and final game of the series, but that doesn't take away from how locked in Miami was defensively…

Can veteran wing Trevor Ariza and/or Andre Iguodala replicate that defence to help their team contain one of the league's top players again?

Prediction: Bucks in six

- Kyle Irving

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

No. 4 New York Knicks vs. No. 5 Atlanta Hawks

While New York certainly wants to muddy things up and make this a grind-it-out series, it did a great job keeping pace with Atlanta's offence this season. Two of its seven-best offensive outputs of the year came against the Hawks, averaging 124.3 points per game against its future playoff opponent - well over its season-long average of 107 points per game.

A lot of that had to do with Randle averaging roughly 37 points and seven assists while shooting over 50 percent from the field and 3-point range over those three games, but who else on the Knicks will step up in the postseason to keep up with the Hawks' endless scoring valves?

Atlanta has five different players averaging more points per game than New York's third-highest scorer, and that's not even including players like Danilo Gallinari, Kevin Huerter or Lou Williams, who can get red-hot on any given night. The Knicks will need RJ Barrett to step up on both ends of the floor, while it's imperative that Derrick Rose maintains his offensive output from the home stretch of the season.

Prediction: Knicks in seven

- Kyle Irving

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

Western Conference

No. 1 Utah Jazz vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies

From their regular season play, Memphis can be a handful on both ends of the floor. Despite how young their squad is, they were amongst the top-ranked teams in multiple key stat categories. They led the league in steals and fastbreak points while ranking seventh in defensive rating.

On the other hand, Utah was the only team this year to finish in the top four in offensive and defensive rating.

Nearly every member of their rotation has appreciable playoff experience to fall back on. Jordan Clarkson, the newest member of their squad and least experienced, with respect to postseason games, has appeared in 26 playoff games.

Unless Memphis can pull something out of the hat and surprise everyone, this series is really a classic 1-8 series and should be expected to finish early.

Prediction: Jazz in five

- Yash Matange (@yashmatange2694)

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

No. 2 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers

It will be a big test for a Suns team that is short on postseason experience. Paul is no stranger to the big stage, having played 109 playoff games in his career. Ditto for Jae Crowder, who has appeared in 72 playoff games and played a key role in the Miami Heat's run to the Finals last season, but this will mark the playoff debuts for three of Phoenix's starters in Booker, Bridges and Ayton.

With how important each one of them has been to Phoenix's success this season, the Suns can't afford for the moment to be too big for them against the defending champions.

Prediction: Lakers in six

- Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles)

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers

Coming off of a trip to the Western Conference Finals, the Nuggets came out of the gates slow but started to find their stride around All-Star Weekend, winning 17 of 20 at one point to move up from eighth in the Western Conference standings to fourth. The Nuggets then lost Jamal Murray to a season-ending injury on April 12, which many thought would be the beginning of the end for them.

Only it wasn't.

The Nuggets went 13-5 after Murray's injury, earning them the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Jokic strengthened his MVP case during that stretch while Porter Jr. put his star potential on full display, boosting his scoring average to 23.5 points per game on .560/.489/.854 shooting splits…

The Nuggets still have the firepower to make some noise this postseason, but they'll be tested out of the gates against a battled-tested Blazers team that is hungry to prove themselves.

Prediction: Nuggets in seven

- Scott Rafferty

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

No. 4 LA Clippers vs. No. 5 Dallas Mavericks

Any time that two of the league's top 10 talents in Luka Doncic and Kawhi Leonard meet in a postseason series, it's hard to focus on much else. That it's happening for the second consecutive year only adds fuel to the fire, notching up the intrigue between the two.

Since last season, Doncic has only gotten better, so there's no telling what he has in store for an encore.

As one of the league's best perimeter defenders, Leonard is one of a number of players that will make life difficult for Doncic, in addition to George and Marcus Morris. Offensively, well, we know what Leonard brings to the table.

While we know what Kawhi can do as a scorer and defender, his playmaking could prove to be yet another key to this upcoming series.

Prediction: Clippers in six

- Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21)

FULL SERIES PREVIEW

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