The 2021 NBA Playoffs are set to begin on May 21, 2021. However, there will be a Play-in Tournament starting May 18, 2021, to determine the seeding of the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference respectively. While the Play-in Tournament may include some of these contenders below we will discuss 2021 NBA Top 5 Conference Championship Contenders.
It’s Late-April and we’re hardly seeing the big trio of James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving all play together. YET, here we are also discussing how the Nets are 40-20 as of today. They are STILL are the first seed in the Eastern Conference? The Nets have the MOST experience out of all teams in the Eastern Conference. Their big three has the most NBA Finals experience in the Eastern Conference based on the potential field of teams in the East’s playoffs picture. KD, Kyrie, and Harden combine for a total of 33 NBA Finals games.
The East is so YOUNG that the next players who actually have NBA Finals experience on their roster AND an All-Star player? That would be would be Miami’s Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler. Ok, I’m cheating a little bit because they were All-Stars in 2020 however, failed to become All-Stars in 2021. That being said, I am a fan of experience. Especially experience that includes three-star players all on one team in an inferior conference. Nets take the easy number one spot in the Eastern Conference as contenders.
The 76ers MAY be growing up this season. Health is WEALTH as always with this team. Last season ended in a bummer as Ben Simmons was shut down and not available for the playoffs. He returns in a year where he’s favorable for the Defensive Player of the Year Award next to Joel Embiid who is also having an MVP-like year. I have mentioned age as a factor in the NBA’s successful players. Especially at what age you typically see talent become at its prime in the NBA. Embiid fits the time frame where its a time for himself and his Sixers to turn the corner.
Philly has maintained a top-five rating in defensive efficiency this year. I’m a firm believer in defense teams making noise in the playoffs against inferior defensive teams. I hate to be cliche too but “defensive wins championships”. Now, I’m not saying the 76ers are going to win the Championship this year. There is also the factor of a better 76er team on the floor this year than ever. If there is a safe bet on them making a deep playoff run, I’d take it.
Well, where do I start here? The Bucks have been some of the biggest pretenders to me in past years. My personal bias will have you believing the Bucks could no way win the championship. I won’t go down that hole but the easiest route here is that yes, the Bucks SHOULD be considered as a top contender in the Eastern Conference. Still maintaining their efficient defending this year they sit in the top three of the conference right now. They also have sort of upgraded with Jrue Holiday who doesn’t put them into a sure lock to win the East but a more competitive opportunity.
I would say it is time for the Bucks to turn the corner as well. They shouldn’t be ignored as they’ve spent the past couple of seasons with growing pains in the playoffs. Their competition is truly Philadelphia and Brooklyn at this time who the Bucks are currently looking up to in the standings. They’ll be tough competition for either team they face in a seven-game series and still can overpower inferior teams in the playoffs.
If don’t know if you’re seeing the trend here but the Celtics are in place to also make a point they are for real. The dynamic duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have reached some elite All-Star status. Tatum arguably can be one of the best top 3 players in the Eastern Conference right now. I’d say the Celtics are the less favorable team to make any serious run this year in the East. However, I’m only trying to secretly hope Tatum takes a leap and I can brag about another Duke guy in the NBA. Coming back down this may be the only realistic chance Boston has is if their two All-Stars and Kemba Walker push this team over the size of the 76ers, Bucks, and Nets.
For the reason of lack of experience, I think the Celtics are a sleeper team we ignore for now but could surprise later. Maybe not as drastic as Miami winning the East last year when everyone picked the Bucks. Well, maybe a little worse if Brooklyn’s big three fail to seal the deal this season. Sure, it would be one of the biggest expectations of a flop for Brooklyn and making Danny Ainge look like a genius. On that note, yes a possible championship contender in the East but not the best.
The Heat are in the best place again. Count them out, believe their run in the bubble was a fraud, and forget that Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler WITH Victor Oladipo this year couldn’t be better. Lately, Oladipo hasn’t played much or traveling with the team. Could Miami just be overcautious with their injury manage to lay low until the playoffs start? I got a hunch that the Heat and Pat Riley the Godfather could be playing chess. However, Miami’s season has been a circus of injuries and no telling how good they are. Based on the type of transactions Miami put together this season they do get a better player in Oladipo than hardly used Avery Bradly.
Miami Heat at some point has to get a healthy roster. They are technically the defending Eastern Conference Champions let’s not forget that! They’re currently fighting for their lives to stay out of the Play-in Tournament between the 6th and 7th seed cut-off. Perhaps, the Play-in Tournament itself represents the hard work mentality of this team. The grind and grit of a Butler-led Heat would be up for the challenge and a deep playoff run. Don’t SLEEP ON MIAMI!
Los Angeles Lakers
What more can we say about the DEFENDING CHAMPS? The Lakers have not given us much to say besides the return of their All-Stars should help. They’ve maintained themselves well at least 5th seed in the Western Conference. The majority of the season spent without LeBron James and Anthony Davis could make a team look like they are headed for the lottery right?
Ugh, I know if you’re anything but a supporter of the purple and gold it’s heartbreaking to admit it. You don’t care for the Lakers to win again. I’m not too fond of the idea either but let’s come down to the terms of being real. The Lakers will contend and defend their championship as tough as Golden State was in the 2018 NBA Finals. There I said it take what you want from that.
The BEST team in the league with their record all season long. The Jazz has maintained health (for the most part although Donovan Mitchell is missing games now) and stayed out of trouble with COVID-19. They’ve managed to be the most consistent team coming out of last year’s bubble. Mitchell at 24 looks to turn the corner next to his All-Star big man Rudy Gobert. Now Gobert is arguably the Defensive Player of the Year with his impact the Jazz to me is the best team defensively.
The biggest question for this team this year is can they finally have a deep playoff run? Again, you’re going to get the “defense” pep talk but I’ll avoid it here. The Jazz just seems to be the team that has figured out their identity and Mitchell continues to shine in the moments Utah needs him. The little blemish from last season is that they did go up 3-1 to the Denver Nuggets in the first round only to lose the series in a dramatic fashion.
Los Angeles Clippers
Their All-Star duo is hard to bet against. Hold on, I laughed at that a bit. However, the Clippers know and hear how bad they are considered. That “B” team in LA that can’t close games. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teamed up to try and build a new legacy in red and blue. The ugly playoffs exit last year doesn’t give us much confidence this season no matter how good they are in the regular season.
I also don’t want to overhype that the Clippers are a “sneaky” contender. They’re seriously not. It takes a few moments of Kawhi and PG13 influencing momentum for the Clippers for them not to suck this bad again in the playoffs. It is also truly a toss-up as to how a series vs Phoenix would be for me at this point. So for that one of the West’s fiercest.
A dangerous team with Chris Paul at the helm. They quietly sat in the top four of the Western Conference all season. Now up to the 2nd seed currently they lick their chops to see who the Play-in Tournament settles the 7th seed. It will be a steady diet of Dallas, Memphis, Portland until the end of the season of best possibilities. I’d say at this point you have to favor Phoenix over these three and the latter of Golden State or San Antonio.
They are rated in the top 5 of the Defensive Rating in the NBA and I mean if you really don’t like stats and analytics in sports, I hate to say it. There is a pretty good correlation between the best defensively rated teams and where they reside in the standings. Point and case – the New York Knicks are in the top 5 rankings of Defensive Rating. I may not know a thing about the calculations of such rating all the way but the Suns are a top Western Conference Contender.
So this is the nerve-wracking part here for the Western Conference. Do I think that the Nuggets represent the last of a dying breed here in the West? Not at all. I know I’m going to hear, “what about Portland? Dallas?”. Quite frankly, I don’t see the Trailblazers making any noise this year yet again. Dallas has me in doubts based on their season they are having as much as I love Luka Doncic. I’ll tread lightly here and say that I wouldn’t be surprised or upset I’m wrong if the Nuggets aren’t as good as we thought right now.
Now it is my turn to vote Nikola Jokic as my favorable MVP pick. He’s been the most available all season long and the biggest impact any All-Star this year makes for his team. Currently, he is pacing to have the most assists per game in a single season among centers. For the sole reason of Mr. Jokic, the Nuggets should still rightfully be respected as the Western Conference runner-up last season.