Ness Notes: 2021 NBA playoffs-Part 2

by Larry Ness

Play-In results: The Celtics beat the Wizards 118-100 (Tatum had 50 points!) on Tuesday to claim the No. 7 seed in the East, as Boston will make its seventh straight playoff appearance and its 13th in the last 14 seasons). The Lakers edged the Warriors 103-100 (LBJ won it by making a 34-foot three-pointer!) on Wednesday to grab the West's No. 7 seed, giving last year's champs a chance to defend its title. Raise your hand if you had predicted BEFORE the start of the current season that Boston and LA, the NBA's two most storied franchises with 17 NBA titles apiece, would be this season's No. 7 seeds! The Wizards recovered from their loss at Boston by crushing the Pacers 142-115 win in Washington giving them the East's No. 8 seed. The Pacers saw their run of five straight playoff appearances end (note: Indiana had lost in the first round in each of those five appearances). The last team to claim a berth in this year's postseason was Memphis, which avenged a 113-101 loss at Golden St last Sunday by beating the Warriors 1117-112 (OT) last night in San Francisco. The Grizzlies led 62-49 at the half but the Warriors sent it into OT. Curry had 39 points for the Warriors but Ja Morant scored 15 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and OT, as the Grizzlies became the youngest playoff team since the 2010-11 Oklahoma City Thunder (average age of Memphis' roster is 24.8 years old), 

The NBA's 16-team playoff field is now set and here are the eight series and the prices, courtesy of BetAnySports:

Bucks -290/Heat +260
Clippers -375/Mavs +335
Nets -1100/Celtics +900
Blazers -128/Nuggets +118
Sixers -925/Wizards +725
Lakers -150/Suns +140
Hawks -120/Knicks +110
Jazz -1100/Grizzlies +900

The NBA expanded its playoff field to 16 teams for the 1983-84 season but first round series were best-of-five with all remaining series being the best-of-seven. The first round was extended to a best-of-seven series for the 2002-03 season (and has remained in place) with the change arguably benefitting the higher seeded teams by reducing the likelihood of an upset by a lower seed. The lowest seed to reach the NBA Finals was the No. 8 NY Knicks in the 50-game strike season of 1998-99, who would lose 4-1 to the Spurs (the first of Pop's five championship teams). The lowest seed to win an NBA title was the No. 6 Houston Rockets in the 1994-95 season. Houston had won the NBA title the year before but the team's second consecutive title was an unforgettable one. Houston won all FOUR series without the home court edge and its 'victims' that postseason had a combined record of 238-90 (.726) during the regular season. No championship team, before or since, has beaten a more impressive group of challengers on its way to an NBA title.

Is there a long shot in this season's NBA playoff field? I guess it depends how one defines a long shot. Here's a quick look at a trio of first round matchups in which the lower seed could advance. The Lakers are a No. 7 seed but are also defending champs and have LBJ and A.D. Can they really be considered a long shot? That said, they are a No. 7 seed, so like Houston back in 1995, would have to win four consecutive series without the home court edge in any one. LA gets the Suns in the first round, who ended a 10-season playoff drought in 2021 by going 51-21 to grab the West's No. 2 seed plus own the West's best ATS record at 42-28-2. Phoenix is a VERY talented group but its leader is Chris Paul and for all the talk surrounding just how good he is, looms the fact that he's never  led one of his teams to a conference final (no less an NBA Finals or a championship). The irony heading into the series is that the Lakers seem healthy, while the Suns are concerned over center Ayton's (14.4 & 10.5 in playing 69 of 72 games) knee and SF Johnson's (9.6) wrist. Would anyone really be surprised if LA were to pull the 'upset?' What upset? The Lakers are a -150 favorite to win the series.

Both No. 6 seeds are also worth mentioning. The Heat are the East's No. 6 seed and will meet the Bucks, the East's No. 3 seed. As most probably know, the Bucks owned the East's (and the NBA's) No. 1 seed each of the last two seasons. Milwaukee's.639 winning percentage (46-26) this season is far off its .748 percentage of the previous two seasons (116-39). Milwaukee made the Eastern Conference finals two seasons ago but after going up 2-0 against the Raptors, lost FOUR in a row. Last season in Orlando, the Bucks fell to Miami 4-1 in the second round. The Heat would make it all the way to the NBA Finals in 2020, before losing to the Lakers. Miami was last postseason's best pointspread team at 16-5. Milwaukee is the NBA's highest scoring team (120.1 PPG) and would surely love to finally put its playoff disappointments of the last two postseasons behind them. Will that be enough or will Spoelstra's Heat surprise again? The Bucks are a sizable favorite at -290 to win the series but...

Moving back to the Western Conference, the Blazers (No. 6 seed) will take on the Nuggets (No. 3 seed). Portland's dynamic guard duo is back healthy, as McCollum (23.1) missed 25 games earlier but has been back since mid-March to join Lillard (28.8-4.2-7.5). Center Nurkic (11.5 & 9.0) missed 35 games but now gives the Blazers a two-headed center threat along with Kanter (11.2 & 11.0). Then there is 'Melo (13,4), who has revived his career with the Blazers and will face the team that made him No. 3 overall pick in the 2003 draft. Denver lost PG Murray (21.2-4.0-4.8) for teh season but MVP favorite Nikola Jokic (26.4-10.8-8.3) has kept Denver winning, as the Nuggets went 13-5 without Murray. Denver has also had injuries to backup PG Morris (10.2 & 3.2 APG) and swingman Barton (12.7-4.0-3,2) but Morris is back and Barton is expected back soon. SF Porter (19.0 & 7.3) has had a breakout year and acquiring PF Aaron Gordon (10.2 & 4.7) at the trade deadline from Orlando has been a great "fit," with the Nuggets going 19-6 in his 25 games with the team. However, Portland comes in having won 10 of 12 and like with the Lakers over the Suns, is a case where the lower seed is favored (-128).

Enjoy the NBA playoff 'ride' and I'll be back June 1 for a MLB update through Memorial Day play.

Good luck...Larry 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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