It feels like the 2020 NBA Finals in the bubble just ended a couple of weeks ago, but here we are gearing up for the 2021 Playoffs, which will be finalized tonight with the Warriors/Grizzlies game and officially begin tomorrow.
I think the Warriors are going to win tonight, but I’m not super solid in that conviction. I’m more like 60-40 Warriors, it might be closer than people think, but ultimately Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Steve Kerr all have the heart of a champion, and they’re not going to lose to Ja Morant.
However, I think that no matter which team makes it into the playoffs–Golden State or Memphis–the Utah Jazz are going to beat them. So I’m fine with filling out my bracket now; tonight’s game doesn’t really impact what I think will happen with the playoffs.
So here’s my Eastern Conference picks:
I have the Sixers getting past the Wizards, and then past the Knicks into the Eastern Conference Finals.
I have the Bucks getting revenge on Miami after losing to them last year, but then I have the Nets taking out the Bucks in the second round and getting to the conference finals. Then I have the Nets taking down Philly in the semis to win the East.
It’s worth noting I think both Milwaukee and Philly have a shot to beat Brooklyn, but I just can’t bring myself to pick against the Nets. There’s just too much talent. Yes, I know the Nets have a lot of question marks–three prima donna superstars who haven’t played a lot of games together, terrible on defense, little to no interior presence, rookie head coach who has at times looked in over his head–but other than the KD/Steph Warriors, this might be the most talented team in NBA history offensively. You could even argue the Nets are better than the KD Warriors, although I’d disagree with that.
Eventually, one of these super teams is going to flame out and be a massive failure. It might be these Nets. But history shows us not to bet against Super Teams, even in year one. The KD-Steph Warriors breezed to a title in their first year together in 2017, going 16-1 in the playoffs and not even losing a game until they were up 3-0 in the Finals against the Cavs. The LeBron Heat rolled through the playoffs in 2011 and even got a 2-1 lead on the Mavs in the Finals before mentally collapsing and blowing the series. But LeBron was only like 26 when that happened–he was young and not mentally strong enough to be a champion. This Nets team is full of veterans, and although a lot of people would say all three of their stars are mentally weak, I just can’t bet on them collapsing like the 2011 Heat did. The 2008 Celtics won the Championship in their first season as a super team with KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. The Nets are title favorites for a reason. I don’t want to pick against them.
Will they be able to contain Joel Embiid and Giannis on the interior? Probably not, but does it matter? Can the Sixers and Bucks contain the Nets’ perimeter scorers? That’s the real question. Brooklyn can score 140–will it really matter if Giannis and Embiid are going for 38 and 18 every night? Let ’em.
Milwaukee and Philly are both very good teams, but Brooklyn is a super team, and there’s no competing with that. Brooklyn is the only super team in the East, and therefore they ought to be viewed as prohibitive favorites over everyone else.
Now we turn to the West:
The West was harder for me to pick, definitely. I have the Lakers making it to the Finals, but I am by no means confident in that pick. Honestly, the series I’m most concerned about is the Suns in the first round. If the Lakers are going to lose in the West, I think the highest odds of that happening are in the first round against the Suns. Because the Lakers are still not fully healthy and they’re still trying to get back to their normal selves and get everyone on the same page. LeBron and AD didn’t look great for the first three quarters of the Warriors game, and Drummond clearly doesn’t fit into the offense with LeBron and AD.
Vegas has the Lakers as heavy favorites over Phoenix, and I would agree with that if I knew the Lakers were fully healthy and playing their best ball, but neither of those things are true. If I had to bet on the series, I’d bet the Lakers to win, but I definitely think they’re on Upset Alert™ against Phoenix.
As for Denver/Portland, I could go either way with that series. Denver hasn’t seemed to miss Jamal Murray since he went down with a torn ACL, and Michael Porter Jr. has filled in beautifully for him and emerged as a great player. But I just think back to last year’s playoffs: Jokic took a back-seat, and Jamal Murray was the one who shined the brightest in the playoffs. It really hurts not to have him in the playoffs. Denver was fine in the regular season, but the playoffs are a different animal. I wouldn’t be surprised if Denver won, but I’m going with Playoff Dame to get it done, probably in 6 or 7 games.
Then I have the Lakers taking care of the Blazers in round two. If the Lakers beat the Suns, then they’re well on their way. It will mean the Lakers are healthy and the team has gelled and they’re rolling. The Suns are a better team than both Denver and Portland, so if the Lakers take care of the Suns, they’ll definitely be able to handle the Nuggets or the Blazers. So I have the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.
In the top half of the bracket, I have the Jazz taking care of the Warriors, and the Clippers taking care of the Mavericks. The Mavs made it a series last year with the Clippers, and I think this one has the potential to go 6 again, but the Clippers are not losing in the first round. That would be a total catastrophe. I mean they might just blow the whole thing up and conclude the Kawhi-PG era was a failure if they go out in the first round. But if Porzingis can stay healthy, Dallas absolutely can win that series. Again, I don’t think they will, but you could argue Luka is the best player in the series ahead of Kawhi. That means something.
I have the Clippers taking down the Jazz in round 2. The Jazz were great in the regular season, but we see it all the time: regular season tough guys tend to get bounced in the playoffs. The Clippers just have more playoff veterans. Yes, Paul George is a choker, but Kawhi and Rondo should be able to lead that team. I see this series going at least 6, maybe even 7, and I absolutely think the Jazz can win. They have Rudy Gobert patrolling the paint and plenty of perimeter scorers like Donovan Mitchell, Mike Conley, Jordan Clarkson, Joe Ingles, Bojan–the Jazz can fill it up. I wouldn’t be shocked if they beat the Clippers; it wouldn’t even be an upset. In fact the more I think about it, the more I want to take the Jazz. But I also think Paul George and Kawhi are the two best players in the series and that’s why I’m taking them to win it.
In the Western Conference Finals, I have the Lakers. If the Lakers get to the Western Conference Finals, they will be rolling. And when the Lakers are rolling, they’re the clear-cut best team in the West. LeBron is still the best player in the NBA, Anthony Davis is elite–until the Nets got Harden, the Lakers had the best 1-2 punch of superstars in the NBA. They are and always have been better than the Clippers–even last year when it was trendy to pick the Clippers and write off the Lakers.
While I think the Clippers have a shot, I am not about to pick them after they tanked their final two games of the regular season in order to avoid the Lakers. That’s just weak as hell. It shows they have no self-confidence going up against the Lakers, and the Lakers know it, too. I have LeBron and Company taking down their cross-town rivals in 5-6 games and reaching the Finals. If LeBron smells blood in the water before the series even begins, you’re toast.
In the Finals, I think I have to take the Nets. Again, same argument as with them making it out of the East: too much star power. I think the Lakers are a way more mentally-tough team than the Nets, and they play way better defense, but it’s just hard to see anyone beating the Nets in a seven-game series.
Now, remember, I did make that post a few months back about how the Nets are extreme outliers in terms of their defense (or lack of it) when compared to past NBA champions going back to 2000. There hasn’t been a single NBA champion since 2000 that was as bad as these Nets are on defense. So if the Nets lose in the Finals or even before it, we can’t say we weren’t warned. History shows that you typically need to be a lot better on defense than these Nets currently are, and I don’t see them improving in the playoffs. They have a head coach, Steve Nash, who was never known for his defense, and Mike D’Antoni, who is also on the staff, is notorious for his teams not playing any defense. They’re not suddenly going to get better on defense; it’s not in their DNA. The Nets would be bucking history if they won the Championship while playing defense this poorly.
So while part of me wants to fade the Nets because of the possibility they mentally implode and the fact that they don’t play good defense, the other part of me is saying, “They’re a super team and super teams win championships; don’t overthink it.”
I hate it, it’s not what I want to see; I always root against super teams. But I never pick against them.
Nets in 6.