NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Bracket, Early Odds and Predictions

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IMay 17, 2021

NBA Playoff Picture 2021: Bracket, Early Odds and Predictions

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    After 72 games, the NBA regular season has concluded. Just over eight months since the Los Angeles Lakers were crowned 2019-20 champions, the playoffs are about to get underway.

    First, however, the play-in tournament.

    The NBA threw a bit of a new wrinkle into the playoff mix with the introduction of the play-in tournament, which will feature the No. 7 through No. 10 seeds in each conference. The winners of the games between No. 7 and No. 8 get the seventh seed in their respective conferences, while the losers play the winner of the Nos. 9-10 matchups.

    There is a ton of intrigue, notably the defending champion Lakers taking on scoring champion Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors in the play-in tournament. Let's take a closer look at the bracket and some of the latest odds before making some early predictions for the playoffs.  

Playoff Bracket

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Eastern Conference Play-In   

    No. 10 Charlotte Hornets vs. No. 9 Indiana Pacers   

    No. 8 Washington Wizards vs. No. 7 Boston Celtics   


    Eastern Conference Bracket   

    No. 8 seed vs. No. 1 Philadelphia 76ers

    No. 7 seed (Wizards/Celtics) vs. No. 2 Brooklyn Nets   

    No. 6 Miami Heat vs. No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks   

    No. 5 Atlanta Hawks vs. No. 4 New York Knicks   


    Western Conference Play-In   

    No. 10 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 9 Memphis Grizzlies   

    No. 8 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers   


    Western Conference Bracket   

    No. 8 seed vs. No. 1 Utah Jazz   

    No. 7 seed (Warriors/Lakers) vs. No. 2 Phoenix Suns   

    No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets   

    No. 5 Dallas Mavericks vs. No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers

Championship Odds

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Brooklyn Nets +250 (bet $100 to win $250)  

    Los Angeles Lakers +500   

    Los Angeles Clippers +600   

    Utah Jazz +600   

    Milwaukee Bucks +800   

    Philadelphia 76ers +800   

    Phoenix Suns +2400   

    Miami Heat +3000   

    Denver Nuggets +3600   

    All odds obtained via FanDuel

Early Predictions

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Lakers Go Home Early   

    Things are looking really, really scary for the defending champions.

    For starters, the Lakers were unable to avoid the play-in after the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Denver Nuggets on Sunday night. Secondly, LeBron James' ankle still appears to be giving him some issues. Not in terms of his performance, but his durability and activity. Perhaps most ominously, the Purple and Gold now have a date with the Warriors.

    The Dubs won six straight to close the regular season and eight of their last nine. Stephen Curry continues to play at a high level, and Golden State has scored at least 118 points in each of its last six games. The Lakers are stout defensively, but the Warriors also went into Sunday's game ranked fifth in defensive rating.

    Golden State also plays at a frenetic pace, which could be quite challenging to a Los Angeles squad that hardly got the whole band back together before the end of the regular season. It's certainly possible to see the Warriors taking the No. 7 seed and forcing L.A. into a do-or-die for the final playoff spot.

    Even if the Lakers survive the play-in, they face a daunting task against either the Utah Jazz or Phoenix Suns. Los Angeles was 1-2 against both teams during the regular season.

    This could be a frustrating postseason for Laker fans.   


    Knicks Win A Series   

    The New York Knicks are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season, which is also the last time they won a playoff series.

    Head coach Tom Thibodeau's group stands a good chance of getting to the conference semifinals.

    The Knicks ranked third in defensive rating heading into Sunday's action. They also shoot the three quite well despite mostly operating in the half court and hunting for points in the paint. Plus, there's some playoff experience there, notably in the form of Derrick Rose.

    The Atlanta Hawks also have some playoff experience on the roster. But, unlike the Knicks, they struggle defensively and are also dealing with some nagging injuries up and down the roster.

    New York has played excellent basketball since the All-Star break, and Thibodeau's guys could be galvanized especially considering they also have the home court advantage.   


    Suns Pull A Shocker   

    The signing of Chris Paul made the Suns a team to watch entering the season. They've since exceeded expectations.

    Phoenix is one of the most balanced and efficient teams in basketball. The Suns rank in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive rating. They can shoot it from the outside and score from inside the arc, with Paul and Devin Booker creating in the midrange and Deandre Ayton holding things down in the paint.

    The Suns have beaten the best of the best, but they've had their struggles against the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Clippers. There is also a lot of playoff inexperience.

    Still, there's a certain aura and swagger about this Suns team. This has been an unprecedented season, and Phoenix could ride it to a championship.

    The Suns might not have the same firepower or star-level talent as some other top contenders. However, they've got the balance and leadership to make a deep run.


    All stats obtained via Basketball Reference. All odds obtained via FanDuel.


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