One of the best teams since the 2019-20 NBA season restarted, the Portland Trail Blazers secured their spot in this year's playoffs Saturday. Now, they will face a tough task in trying to upset the No. 1-seeded Los Angeles Lakers in the opening round of the postseason.
Since arriving at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, the Trail Blazers have won seven of nine games, which includes their 126-122 win over the Memphis Grizzlies in Saturday's Western Conference play-in game. That victory secured their position as the No. 8 seed in the playoffs.
But the Lakers, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2013, will present a tough test. This will be their first postseason with LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the roster, and they are one of the top contenders to win the NBA title.
The playoffs will get underway Monday with four Game 1 matchups, while the other four series will start Tuesday. Here's a look at this year's playoff bracket.
NBA Playoff Bracket
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Orlando Magic
No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Brooklyn Nets
No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
No. 4 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 5 Miami Heat
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland Trail Blazers
No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Utah Jazz
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder
Full playoff schedule available on NBA.com.
Are Bucks Ready to Finally Return to NBA Finals?
The Milwaukee Bucks didn't have much to play for over their eight seeding games, as they had already nearly locked up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. That showed, with Milwaukee going 3-5 and NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo playing only 10 minutes over the final three seeding games, missing one because of suspension.
Although the Bucks may not have been the most impressive team since arriving at the NBA bubble, they should still be a top contender for the NBA title. Last year, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals before falling to the Toronto Raptors in six games.
This year, Milwaukee will be focused on trying to reach the NBA finals for the first time since 1974 and win its second championship in franchise history (and first since 1971).
"We know that we haven't been playing our best basketball for all four quarters yet," Bucks forward D.J. Wilson said, according to Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I think that's a good thing, it's something we talked about, it's something that can hopefully click and I'm confident it will in this first round.
The Bucks shouldn't have trouble winning their first-round series against the Orlando Magic. But teams such as the Raptors, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and others will be looking to knock off the top seed, so Milwaukee needs to get back on track.
Will L.A. Rivals Meet in Conference Finals?
Everything could be set up for the battle of Los Angeles in this year's Western Conference Finals, as the Lakers and Clippers are the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively. But first, they will need to make it past the rest of the conference's top teams.
In the first round, the Lakers are facing the red-hot Trail Blazers, who have momentum after working their way into the postseason. Meanwhile, the Clippers are set to meet the Dallas Mavericks, led by 21-year-old star guard Luka Doncic, who will be making his first appearance in the postseason.
After that, the Lakers would face either the Houston Rockets or Oklahoma Thunder, while the Clippers would take on either the Denver Nuggets or Utah Jazz. Not one of those potential matchups would be easy, and there's the possibility that an upset prevents the All-Los Angeles conference finals.
But it would be exciting if the Lakers and Clippers do meet with an NBA Finals berth on the line. The teams have never faced off in the postseason. And during the 2019-20 regular season, the Lakers and Clippers split their series 2-2.
How Will Rockets Fare Without Westbrook?
One of the more notable injuries that could affect the first round is Russell Westbrook's strained quad muscle.
According to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, Westbrook's injury is "likely to keep him out" for the start of the Rockets' first-round series against the Thunder. Just how much time the 31-year-old point guard misses could determine Houston's postseason success.
With both Westbrook and James Harden in the backcourt, the Rockets are difficult to beat.
"I think we have two of the best players in the league in NBA history," Houston general manager Daryl Morey said, per Feigen. "Any time you have that, you have a shot."
This will be Westbrook's first postseason with Houston after he was traded from Oklahoma City last offseason. He averaged 27.2 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists in 57 games during the regular season, helping the Rockets go 44-28 and secure the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.
But the Thunder were going to be a tough opponent for the Rockets, even if Westbrook were playing. Without him, Houston will have to rely even more on Harden, who has led the Rockets past the first round of the playoffs in four of the past five seasons but never to the NBA Finals.