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NBA playoff 2021: Breaking down other first-round matchups

The Knicks and the Nets are in the NBA playoffs in the same year for only the third time since 2000, so they obviously will garner much of the local attention when the postseason begins this weekend.

There also are several intriguing series in the first round across the league. Here is a breakdown of the six other matchups:

First round

Eastern Conference

No. 1 76ers vs. No. 8 Wizards

The Sixers rebounded from a 2020 first-round sweep by Boston with the East’s top record (49-23) behind MVP finalist Joel Embiid. Defensive POY nominee Ben Simmons will be tasked with slowing Russell Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double for the fourth time in five seasons, with a league-best 11.7 assists. Aside from Bradley Beal (31.3 ppg), there’s not much of a supporting cast in DC.

Joel Embiid and LeBron James
Joel Embiid and LeBron James
Getty Images (2)

No. 3. Bucks vs. No. 6 Heat

This rematch of Miami’s five-game upset in the second round last year will be another stern test for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, who led the NBA in scoring (120.1 ppg) with the addition of veteran point guard Jrue Holiday. The Heat withstood injuries to Jimmy Butler and others and closed with a 12-4 record to avoid the play-in tournament.

Western Conference

No.1 Jazz vs. No.8 Warriors/Grizzlies

Quin Snyder squeezed a league-best 52-20 record out of a balanced team fronted by Donovan Mitchell (26.4 ppg), Rudy Gobert and Sixth Man frontrunner Jordan Clarkson. The Jazz led the NBA in rebounding and Gobert (13.5 rpg) registered the most blocks per game (2.7).

Second-year point Ja Morant pushed Memphis past Stephen Curry and the Warriors in the play-in. Veteran big man Jonas Valanciunas is now pitted against Gobert.

No. 2 Suns vs. No. 7 Lakers

Coach Monty Williams and the Suns’ reward for posting the second-best record (51-21) is a blockbuster opening-round pairing against the defending NBA champions, who finally are healthy again after LeBron James missed 27 games and Anthony Davis missed 36 due to injuries. Chris Paul turned out to be the perfect stabilizing addition to a young Phoenix squad featuring Devin Booker (25.6 ppg) and former No. 1-overall pick Deandre Ayton.

No. 3 Nuggets vs. No. 6 Trail Blazers

Nikola Jokic is the MVP favorite after doing it all over 72 appearances, averaging 26.4 points, 10.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists for a Nuggets team that went 13-5 after guard Jamal Murray suffered a torn ACL in April. The combo of scoring guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, plus former Knicks Carmelo Anthony and Enes Kanter off the bench, will make Portland a dangerous opponent.

No. 4 Clippers vs. No. 5 Mavericks

The Clips are looking to advance deeper this year after leading the league in 3-point percentage and free-throw percentage following their disappointing second-round loss to Denver in 2020 in the first year of the Kawhi Leonard-Paul George alignment. Luka Doncic is an established superstar, but the key for the Mavs could be ex-Knick Kristaps Porzingis, who averaged 20.1 points but missed nearly 30 games with injuries.

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