NBA Playoff Schedule 2021: 1st Round TV Info and Predictions

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistMay 14, 2021

NBA Playoff Schedule 2021: 1st Round TV Info and Predictions

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The NBA's 2020-21 season has been a thrill ride.

    Just imagine how good it can get once the postseason tips.

    Your imagination won't be needed for long. After the campaign closes Sunday, the play-in tournament tips Tuesday. The first round then gets underway May 22.

    The path to the championship podium is quickly taking shape, and hoop junkies will be there every step of the way. Let's break out the crystal ball to make a first-round prediction for each conference after laying out the latest schedule and broadcast information.

1st-Round Schedule and TV Info

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The basketball world will be plenty busy over the upcoming week.

    The play-in tournament will be held Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, with the games airing on TNT and ESPN. The playoffs turn around and tip May 22.

    While the schedule hasn't been cemented and the teams are unknown at this time, SportsMediaWatch has the following scheduling information for the first round:

    • Saturday, May 22: Games at 1 p.m., 3:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on ESPN and ABC
    • Sunday, May 23: 3:30 p.m. game on ABC
    • Friday, May 28: Games at 7:30 p.m., 8:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on ESPN and ABC
    • Saturday, May 29: Games at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. on ESPN
    • Sunday, May 30: Games a 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on ABC
    • Friday, June 4: Games at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on ESPN and ESPN2
    • Sunday, June 6: Games at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on ABC

    The first round will also feature games on TNT and NBATV, with times and teams to be determined.

East Prediction: 76ers, Nets Will Sweep

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    The Eastern Conference hasn't quite caught up to the West in terms of depth, but it's beginning to rival its peer in terms of championship-level talent at the top.

    Between the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Milwaukee Bucks, the East boasts three juggernauts that would surprise exactly no one by winning it all.

    The Sixers have a strong MVP candidate in superstar center Joel Embiid, an elite defense and better-fitting support pieces than they have had in years. The Nets have the NBA's top trio in James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, plus the top-ranked offense you would expect from that collection of net-shredders. The Bucks have the two-time reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a pair of two-way sidekicks in Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.

    Two of these teams—most likely Philadelphia and Brooklyn—will face play-in tournament outfits in the first round. Assuming a clean bill of health, the pair will swiftly sweep the opposition out of the opening round.

    The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Indiana Pacers and Washington Wizards—all of whom but the Wizards have punched their play-in tournament ticket—are a combined 15-25 over their past 40 games. Considering they would all face a steep talent gap against whichever top seed they draw, there's too much working against them to even stumble into a single victory.

West Prediction: A Play-In Participant Will Advance to 2nd Round

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    The play-in tournament has succeeded in enhancing the significance of the regular season's closing stretch.

    Considering the caliber of clubs who could participate in the Western Conference's version, though, it has a real opportunity to extend its influence into the postseason.

    The Golden State Warriors are already locked into the event. Yes, the same Warriors who roster Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and are riding a four-game winning streak containing triumphs over the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz, the top two seeds in the conference.

    The other spot could go one of three directions.

    It might be the Los Angeles Lakers, who are the defending champs and employ both LeBron James and Anthony Davis. It could be the Portland Trail Blazers, who are two seasons removed from a conference finals trip and have one of the Association's top clutch performers in Damian Lillard. Or it will be the Dallas Mavericks and their 22-year-old superstar Luka Doncic.

    There's enough horsepower here for one to pick off a front-runner. The Utah Jazz haven't had Donovan Mitchell (ankle) in more than a month and have been without Mike Conley (hamstring) since April 26. The Phoenix Suns are woefully short on experience with the team returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2010.

    With some vulnerability at the top and strong depth at the bottom, a major upset could be in the works.