The NBA playoffs were held here with four first-round games taking place on Saturday and Sunday.
In the East, all eyes will turn to the Boston Celtics series against the Brooklyn Nets as Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look to upset the number two seed, who is unaffected by the injury of third Robert Williams, in what should be a competitive series.
Outside the West, injuries can dictate which teams advance. Dallas Mavericks star Luka Doncic will miss Saturday’s first game against the Utah Jazz with a left calf injury, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Tim McMahon. And Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry was listed as a possible in the first game against the Denver Nuggets after he missed the last 12 games of the regular season with a left foot injury.
Which returning player could have the biggest impact? What top seed can’t afford to lose Game 1 this weekend? Our NBA experts analyze the best first-round action streaks.
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1. What is the most competitive first round series?
Kevin Bilton: Boston and Brooklyn. As I showed in my series preview, the Nets have had a much better overall record with Kevin Durant healthy and Kyrie Irving available by his side, while the Celtics are not the same juggernaut without the injury of Robert Williams III. As a result, these teams seem surprising even for the No. 2 and No. 7 rankings.
Tim Bontemps: Many would say Nets-Celtics, given the power of the stars involved, but I’d go with another Eastern Conference series: Philadelphia-Toronto. The 76ers have the best player in the series by far in Joel Embiid. But Toronto should have a training advantage, Philadelphia Matthews will not have Matthews in all three games in Toronto, and the Raptors have the perfect lineup of longtime athletes to take advantage of Philadelphia’s lack of athleticism and make James Harden’s life very difficult. . Embiid should That would be enough to propel Philadelphia to success and victory in this series. But this should be a very tough test – one that can easily go seven games – and could send Philly home much earlier than you might expect.
Kevin Arnovitz: Dallas, Utah. Both 4-5 matches have strong potential for a seven-match run, but the Mavericks and Jazz should be really competitive. It’s been a while since Utah has consistently played dominant basketball, but the Jazz still hold the top spot in the league. Meanwhile, Dallas was one of the best stories of 2022. When it’s healthy, Luca is Luca. Spencer Dinwiddie added some much-needed juice from the periphery, and the defense – a traditional weakness – has been strong all season. Both teams have been disappointments in recent seasons… and one of them will be so again when this streak ends.
Ramona Shelburne: Even without Luka Doncic losing Game 1, I thought the Mavericks-Jazz series would be tight. I know a lot of people have been into jazz because of their failures in previous games, but I’ve always felt like they had the ability to pull it together in one of these years if they had a few breaks.
Jamal Collier: Boston Brooklyn. I don’t think a team with Durant and Irving will come out softly. This looks like a seven-game series with a chance for a lot of games to beat the wires, and these are two serious players to try to outdo in clutch offerings. In the end, it’s hard for me to see the Nets play or defend at a high enough level for four out of seven games to get this series off, but it will be fun to watch.
2. Which injured player will have the most impact on the first round?
Pelton: Doncic is back from a calf strain. Although Stephen Curry is at least as valuable to his team, Curry’s timeline is more straightforward. We have no idea right now if Doncic can return to the field for Game 2 after our fellow ESPN teammate Adrian Wojnarowski reported that he will at least miss the first game of the Mavericks series against the Jazz. The speed of his recovery would go a long way toward determining the outcome of that streak.
Lovely time: I thought Dallas was the Phoenix’s biggest threat in the Western Conference before Doncic injured his calf in the Mavericks regular season final. Now, Utah is likely to be the frontrunner, as we have no idea how much Doncic can play – or how effective he will be. What seemed like an opportunity for the young star to take a deep tour of the post-season is now over before it even begins.
Arnovitz: Doncic is the engine, fuel and torque of the Mavericks offense, and his condition is more important to his team than any player in the West. Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson can perform a high-quality selective attack, but neither of them have the creativity to turn every player on Earth into a threat. The good news for Dallas is that her defense was stingy, and given Doncic’s flaws at that end, that shouldn’t change.
Collier: Doncic. I don’t think there is a single team in the NBA whose success has to do with one player as much as the success of the Mavericks with Doncic. If he doesn’t play or doesn’t play at 100%, I don’t think Dallas can advance in this series.
Shelburne: Warriors can win some games without Curry, but they really aren’t Warriors without Curry, right? It’s going to take a few matches for it to roll, but once it does, it completely changes the dynamics of this team.
3. Who would you choose as the best player in the playoffs?
Pelton: Bruce Brown, who has been playing at a high level for the past two months. Brown averaged 14.7 PPG, 5.9 RPG, and 3.7 APG after the All-Star break, finding the perfect supporting role for Durant and Irving when attacking while serving as the Nets’ top defender. He’s flirted with doubles triples in two of Brooklyn’s past three games, and the Nets need him to play at this level to advance deep into the playoffs.
Lovely time: Garen Jackson Jr. It’s clear that when everyone thinks of the Memphis Grizzlies, the first person they think of is Ja Morant – and they deserve it. But Jackson has taken a massive leap forward this season in defensive terms, launching himself in the talks of the All-Defense and Defensive Player of the Year. With the Grizzlies getting a chance to do a deep playoff for the first time, Jackson will have the chance to show the world why he and Morant are punching in an exciting two-way punch in Memphis.
Arnovitz: For two seasons, Desmond Banny, the Memphis Grizzlies guard, has proven to be stealing the 30th spot in the 2020 Draft with 43.5% of his 3-point career. But Bane also has a ground game that gets better, and the power to influence the game from both ends. Minnesota succumbs to too many 3-point attempts and will devote a great deal of attention to Morant, giving Bane a chance to be a lethal second-side threat to the Grizzlies.
Shelburne: Does Morant count? Because I think he’d exceed everyone’s already high expectations for him and the Grizzlies. I had a CEO I trusted who told me a few months ago that Memphis could be the best team in the league. The more I thought about it, the more I started to agree with him.
Collier: Anthony Edwards. No player would benefit more from his first appearance on the national stage, both on and off the field. Even if his team can’t get over the annoyance, Edwards will be the player everyone is talking about after this series.
4. What kind of top crafter can lose at least 1 game?
Pelton: Philadelphia. The Sixers are in an unusual spot because they already know they’re going to be short on road games in Toronto due to Thybulle’s vaccination status. Losing the first game will force Philly to win at least one game down the road and put more pressure on the team’s other defensive options on the wing.
Lovely time: Philadelphia, because Thybulle won’t be available in road games and to set a good tone for the series by getting off to a good start. But that could also apply to Dallas, with Doncic’s health uncertain, and the Golden State Warriors, due to Curry’s injury status as well.
Arnovitz: Philadelphia 76ers. Anyone who’s been to the Scotiabank Arena in the spring knows that the Raptors and their crowds back home are never so kind to visitors. Those road games in Toronto would be more treacherous for Sixers without Thybulle. On top of that, the Sixers lost some depth to Deadline, while OG Anunoby of the Raptors, one of the best bi-directional threats, has just returned.
Shelburne: Philadelphia was always going to have a tough game with Toronto because of the Raptors’ length and depth. Now the Sixers have to play without Thybulle in Toronto, which makes it even more important to stay home.
Collier: Willy. Overreaction in Game 1 is a big part of the playoffs, and I don’t imagine everyone would take it a big step if the Sixers laid an egg in the house to start the series. Especially considering that they will be playing in Toronto.
5. What is your bold expectation for the first round?
Pelton: After scoring 50 points in Game Three of last year’s first round game against Brooklyn, Jason Tatum will break the Celtics’ single-game playoff franchise record held by Jon Havlicek by scoring at least 55 points against the Nets.
Lovely time: I will say the Atlanta Hawks had two games from the Miami Heat in the first round, and this series is more competitive than the usual 1-8 bloodbath (which is what the Western Conference version would be). Atlanta has had a strange season, but they are a very talented team with playoff experience from last year’s Tour and a Tra Young who has proven they can win a playoff single-handedly.
Arnovitz: Denver takes Golden State to seven games. Carrie Dictates Warriors’ Fortune – Full stop. If it is limited, whether in minutes or mobility, it will be much easier to defend. Featuring the best offensive player in the series, The Nuggets knows how to create an appearance with a high percentage on the half field, which means that the vaunted Warrior D will have to play to his full potential. Either way, it would be weak and pagan.
Shelburne: How daring is the suggestion that the second-ranked team in the East would win the elimination match in the first round? Because I think Boston will beat the star-crossed nets. I know how great Durant and Irving are, but they are being asked to do a lot, and at some point, it just wears you out. Especially against a great defensive team like Boston.
Collier: Ben Simmons will appear in his first season. The fact that there’s still smoke around a potential comeback makes me feel, after all, that there’s going to be a fire. It would be an oddity and a fitting chapter for this never-ending saga: Simmons returns to the field during the playoffs for a home game in Brooklyn, one year after playing his last game.