Here are The Game Day’s 2021 NBA Round 1 Playoffs predictions and picks with previews for each first-round 2021 NBA Playoffs series. Gio Annatelli breaks down 2021 NBA East Round 1, and Tyler Maher covers the 2021 NBA West Round 1.
2021 NBA Round 1 Playoffs Picks & Predictions
NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Round 1 Predictions
(1) Philadelphia 76ers vs Winner of Play-In Game (Indiana Pacers/Washington Wizards)
The 9-seed Indiana Pacers take on the 8-seed Washington Wizards on Thursday, so we don’t have exact odds for this series just yet. What we can tell you is the 76ers have the fourth-best odds at winning the 2021 NBA Championship at +750, according to BetMGM.
Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Ben Simmons have led Philly’s charge to the top seed in a conference that also includes the Brooklyn Nets. It would be a major fail of a season if the 76ers get bounced this early.
2021 NBA East Round 1 Prediction: TBD
(2) Brooklyn Nets vs (7) Boston Celtics
This series was going to be exciting no matter who won the Play-In game. Jayson Tatum proved he won’t back down without a fight, putting up 50 points against the Wizards. But, at full strength, there’s virtually no one competing with the Nets. They have arguably one of the best trios in NBA history in Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving.
Pair that with a deep (and I mean really deep) supporting cast, it’s going to be difficult to get past them. However, the Achilles heel of the Nets is their defensive play and if their Big 3 can stay healthy.
Nets vs Celtics Prediction: Brooklyn Nets over Boston Celtics 4-1
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(3) Milwaukee Bucks vs (6) Miami Heat
The series will play out a little differently than last year, but the outcome will still be the same. The Bucks lead the league in points per game (120.1) and were top 5 in rebounds (48.1), three-point percentage (38.9%), and field goal percentage (48.7%).
While not top in the league in scoring, Miami was 5th in points allowed, holding opponents to 108 points per game. Both teams enter the series hot as they each finished with an 8-2 record in their last 10 games. Miami has a deeper roster, and they have a chip on their shoulder to prove last year’s run wasn’t a fluke. Never a good idea to bet against Jimmy Butler and his will to win.
Bucks vs Heat Prediction: Miami Heat over Milwaukee Bucks 4-2
(4) New York Knicks vs (5) Atlanta Hawks
The Knicks have exceeded all expectations this season and are officially back. Offensively, the Knicks sit toward the bottom of the league in most categories. Defensively, however, New York is one of the top teams in the NBA. Like most Tom Thibodeau-led teams, this Knicks team will outwork and out-hustle their opponent.
Both sides are relatively young and inexperienced in the playoffs, but New York has the Hawks’ number, winning all three games in the season series. Atlanta won’t be able to keep up with the Knicks.
Knicks vs Hawks Prediction: New York Knicks over Atlanta Hawks 4-1
NBA Playoffs Western Conference Round 1 Predictions
(1) Utah Jazz vs Winner of Play-In Game (Golden State Warriors/Memphis Grizzlies)
The 8-seed Warriors take on the 9-seed Grizzlies on Friday, so we don’t have exact odds for this series just yet. But regardless of who wins the West’s final play-in game, they’ll be hard-pressed to make it past the Jazz.
Led by Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Mike Conley Jr., Utah finished with the NBA’s best record this year (52-20) and was a top-five team in both Offensive Rating (third) and Defensive Rating (fourth), per Basketball Reference. Armed with a deep, talented roster, Utah is primed for a long playoff run and should at least make it out of the first round.
2021 NBA West Round 1 Prediction: TBD
(2) Phoenix Suns vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers
After barely surviving the Warriors in the play-in tournament, the Lakers will face a well-rested and dangerous Suns squad featuring Devin Booker and Chris Paul. Phoenix was just one win away from having the best record in basketball this year, ranking among the top 10 in both Offensive Rating (fifth) and Defensive Rating (ninth).
The Suns also recovered from an 8-8 start to go 43-13 (.768 winning percentage) the rest of the way, whereas the Lakers stumbled to the finish line after losing LeBron James to an ankle injury for most of the second half. James may not be at 100 percent, which could give Phoenix an opening to squeak by Los Angeles in a hard-fought series.
Suns vs Lakers Prediction: Phoenix Suns over Los Angeles Lakers 4-3
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(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Portland Trail Blazers
Despite losing one of their best players in Jamal Murray (torn ACL), the Nuggets still have the MVP frontrunner in Nikola Jokić, who has the potential to take over this series. The Trail Blazers have their own MVP candidate in Damian Lillard, of course, as well as the NBA’s second-highest scoring team this year.
Portland’s defense could its fatal flaw, however, after finishing with the second-worst Defensive Rating in the NBA. Denver’s defense ranked 12th by that metric, which could be the deciding factor in an otherwise close matchup.
Nuggets vs Trail Blazers Prediction: Denver Nuggets over Portland Trail Blazers 4-2
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Dallas Mavericks
These teams met in the first round last year, and the Clippers prevailed in six despite Luka Dončić‘s heroics. Dallas only had Kristaps Porziņģis available for three of those games, however, so having him for the full series could produce a different outcome this time around.
Los Angeles is still the better team, though, ranking in the top 10 for both Offensive Rating (fourth) and Defensive Rating (eighth). Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are tough to overcome, and Serge Ibaka gives the Clippers an elite post defender that they didn’t have last season. The Mavs will make this interesting, but ultimately I’m predicting the same outcome as last year.
Clippers vs Mavericks: Los Angeles Clippers over Dallas Mavericks 4-2