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NBA playoffs 2021 – Experts’ predictions for Round 1

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The 16-team field for the 2021 NBA playoffs is set. The Boston Celtics captured the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Washington Wizards, who took advantage of their second chance and secured the No. 8 seed with a blowout win over the Indiana Pacers.

The Los Angeles Lakers picked up their No. 7 seed with a thrilling victory over the Golden State Warriors. And the Memphis Grizzlies landed the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference with an overtime win over the Warriors.

With the defending champs officially in the field of 16, how do they stack up against the Phoenix Suns? Can the Celtics build off their play-in momentum and challenge the high-powered Brooklyn Nets?

How many sweeps will there be in the first round? What about historic upsets? Our experts make their predictions for the final play-in game and every first-round matchup.

MORE: What to know for the 2021 playoffs | Full playoff schedule

Eastern Conference: Round 1

Jerry Bembry: Sixers in 5

Nick DePaula: Sixers in 6

Nick Friedell: Sixers in 5

Kirk Goldsberry: Sixers in 5

Tim Legler: Sixers in 6

Zach Lowe: Sixers in 5

Tim MacMahon: Sixers in 5

Bobby Marks: Sixers in 4

Dave McMenamin: Sixers in 6

Monica McNutt: Sixers in 6

Kevin Pelton: Sixers in 5

Omar Raja: Sixers in 5

Jorge Sedano: Sixers in 6

Ramona Shelburne: Sixers in 5

André Snellings: Sixers in 5

Marc J. Spears: Sixers in 5

Royce Young: Sixers in 6

Ohm Youngmisuk: Sixers in 6


Final tally: Sixers (18).

Jerry Bembry: Nets in 5

Nick DePaula: Nets in 5

Nick Friedell: Nets in 5

Kirk Goldsberry: Nets in 6

Tim Legler: Nets in 5

Zach Lowe: Nets in 5

Tim MacMahon: Nets in 5

Bobby Marks: Nets in 4

Dave McMenamin: Nets in 5

Monica McNutt: Nets in 5

Kevin Pelton: Nets in 5

Omar Raja: Nets in 5

Jorge Sedano: Nets in 5

Ramona Shelburne: Nets in 4

André Snellings: Nets in 5

Marc J. Spears: Nets in 6

Royce Young: Nets in 5

Ohm Youngmisuk: Nets in 6


Final tally: Nets (18).

Jerry Bembry: Heat in 6

Nick DePaula: Heat in 6

Nick Friedell: Bucks in 6

Kirk Goldsberry: Bucks in 7

Tim Legler: Heat in 7

Zach Lowe: Bucks in 7

Tim MacMahon: Bucks in 7

Bobby Marks: Bucks in 6

Dave McMenamin: Bucks in 7

Monica McNutt: Bucks in 7

Kevin Pelton: Bucks in 7

Omar Raja: Heat in 7

Jorge Sedano: Heat in 7

Ramona Shelburne: Bucks in 7

André Snellings: Bucks in 6

Marc J. Spears: Bucks in 7

Royce Young: Bucks in 6

Ohm Youngmisuk: Bucks in 7


Final tally: Bucks (13), Heat (5).

Jerry Bembry: Knicks in 6

Nick DePaula: Knicks in 6

Nick Friedell: Knicks in 6

Kirk Goldsberry: Knicks in 6

Tim Legler: Knicks in 6

Zach Lowe: Hawks in 6

Tim MacMahon: Knicks in 6

Bobby Marks: Knicks in 7

Dave McMenamin: Knicks in 6

Monica McNutt: Knicks in 6

Kevin Pelton: Knicks in 7

Omar Raja: Knicks in 7

Jorge Sedano: Knicks in 7

Ramona Shelburne: Knicks in 5

André Snellings: Hawks in 6

Marc J. Spears: Knicks in 6

Royce Young: Hawks in 7

Ohm Youngmisuk: Knicks in 7


Final tally: Knicks (15), Hawks (3).

Western Conference: Round 1

Jerry Bembry: Jazz in 5

Nick DePaula: Jazz in 6

Nick Friedell: Jazz in 5

Kirk Goldsberry: Jazz in 5

Tim Legler: Jazz in 6

Zach Lowe: Jazz in 5

Tim MacMahon: Jazz in 5

Bobby Marks: Jazz in 5

Dave McMenamin: Jazz in 5

Monica McNutt: Jazz in 6

Kevin Pelton: Jazz in 5

Omar Raja: Jazz in 6

Jorge Sedano: Jazz in 5

Ramona Shelburne: Jazz in 7

André Snellings: Jazz in 5

Marc J. Spears: Jazz in 5

Royce Young: Jazz in 5

Ohm Youngmisuk: Jazz in 6


Final tally: Jazz (18).

Jerry Bembry: Lakers in 6

Nick DePaula: Lakers in 6

Nick Friedell: Lakers in 6

Kirk Goldsberry: Lakers in 7

Tim Legler: Lakers in 6

Zach Lowe: Lakers in 6

Tim MacMahon: Lakers in 6

Bobby Marks: Suns in 6

Dave McMenamin: Lakers in 6

Monica McNutt: Lakers in 7

Kevin Pelton: Lakers in 7

Omar Raja: Lakers in 7

Jorge Sedano: Lakers in 6

Ramona Shelburne: Lakers in 6

André Snellings: Lakers in 7

Marc J. Spears: Lakers in 6

Royce Young: Lakers in 7

Ohm Youngmisuk: Lakers in 6


Final tally: Lakers (17), Suns (1).

Jerry Bembry: Nuggets in 7

Nick DePaula: Blazers in 7

Nick Friedell: Nuggets in 7

Kirk Goldsberry: Nuggets in 7

Tim Legler: Blazers in 7

Zach Lowe: Blazers in 7

Tim MacMahon: Nuggets in 6

Bobby Marks: Nuggets in 7

Dave McMenamin: Nuggets in 6

Monica McNutt: Blazers in 7

Kevin Pelton: Blazers in 6

Omar Raja: Nuggets in 6

Jorge Sedano: Blazers in 7

Ramona Shelburne: Nuggets in 7

André Snellings: Blazers in 7

Marc J. Spears: Blazers in 7

Royce Young: Blazers in 7

Ohm Youngmisuk: Nuggets in 7


Final tally: Blazers (9), Nuggets (9).

Jerry Bembry: Clippers in 6

Nick DePaula: Clippers in 6

Nick Friedell: Clippers in 6

Kirk Goldsberry: Clippers in 7

Tim Legler: Clippers in 6

Zach Lowe: Clippers in 6

Tim MacMahon: Clippers in 7

Bobby Marks: Clippers in 6

Dave McMenamin: Clippers in 5

Monica McNutt: Clippers in 6

Kevin Pelton: Clippers in 6

Omar Raja: Clippers in 7

Jorge Sedano: Clippers in 6

Ramona Shelburne: Clippers in 5

André Snellings: Clippers in 5

Marc J. Spears: Clippers in 6

Royce Young: Mavericks in 7

Ohm Youngmisuk: Clippers in 6


Final tally: Clippers (17), Mavericks (1).

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Team USA to face Spain in men’s basketball quarterfinals at Tokyo Olympics

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SAITAMA, Japan — The U.S. and Spain played for Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012, then in the semifinals in 2016.

And at the Tokyo Games, the top teams in the FIBA world rankings will meet again — just earlier than has been the norm.

The three-time reigning Olympic champion Americans will face reigning World Cup champion Spain in the quarterfinals of the men’s tournament at the Tokyo Games on Tuesday, a matchup of teams that finished second in their respective groups at the Olympics.

Spain fell outside of the seeded pool, and knew it had exposed itself to a potential matchup with the U.S., by losing the group-play finale to Slovenia on Sunday. And about an hour later, when FIBA held the Olympic draw, the matchup was set.

“If you’re going to get that gold medal, you’re going to beat everybody,” Spain center Marc Gasol said. “At that point, it doesn’t matter, the order.”

The U.S. is 16-2 against Spain in Olympic or World Cup competition — yet recent matchups haven’t exactly been runaways. The Americans won 82-76 in the 2016 Olympic semifinals, 107-100 in the 2012 gold-medal game at London, and 118-107 in the gold-medal matchup at Beijing in 2008.

“This Olympics is just going to get better as far as basketball is concerned, because the teams are all pretty passionate and very talented and have a lot of individual players that people will enjoy on TV,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said.

The other quarterfinals: Group A winner France (3-0) will face Italy (2-1, second place in Group B), Group B winner Australia (3-0) plays Argentina (1-2, third place in Group C), and Group C winner Slovenia (3-0) drew a matchup with Germany (1-2, second place in Group B).

The Italy-France winner will play the Slovenia-Germany winner in one semifinal, and the U.S.-Spain winner plays the Australia-Argentina winner in the other. The quarterfinals are win-or-go-home; a victory means teams are assured of two more games — the semifinals followed by a gold- or bronze-medal contest — before leaving Tokyo.

“Everybody knows that there are no easy opponents, especially USA, Australia, France, those kind of teams,” Slovenia guard Zoran Dragic said. “That’s why everybody wanted to be first in their group.”

The U.S., which lost to France in the Olympic opener, got into the seeded pot of the draw by finishing as the top second-place team. That meant it couldn’t face any of the group winners in the quarterfinals, but also had to play another second-place finisher — in this case, either Italy or Spain.

Once Italy was drawn to play France, the matchup was clear: The U.S. and Spain would meet again.

And in terms of the world rankings, the brackets for the Olympic quarterfinals are unusual: No. 1 plays No. 2 in the USA-Spain contest, and No. 3 Australia plays No. 4 Argentina. The other matchups, by world ranking, are No. 7 France against No. 10 Italy and No. 16 Slovenia against No. 17 Germany.

France and Italy have gone 14-14 against one another in FIBA and Olympic play. Slovenia is 4-3 against Germany and Australia and Argentina have split six previous meetings.

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Center Serge Ibaka exercises option, will return to LA Clippers for second season, sources say

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Serge Ibaka has exercised his player option and will return to the LA Clippers for his second season, sources confirmed to ESPN on Saturday.

Ibaka picked up his $9.7-million option. The veteran center was the Clippers’ biggest addition during the past offseason in free agency but Ibaka was limited to just 41 regular season games with a back injury.

Ibaka missed 30 straight games with the injury before returning for the final two games of the regular season. He played in the Clippers’ first two playoff games against the Dallas Mavericks before undergoing back surgery later in the postseason.

Ibaka averaged 11.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in more than 23 minutes per game — his lowest average in playing time in a regular season since his first year in Oklahoma City in 2009-10. Ivica Zubac emerged as the starting center during Ibaka’s absence in the regular season. But Zubac missed the last two games of the Western Conference finals with a sprained MCL.

Ibaka’s player option decision was first reported by The Athletic.

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Bobby Portis declining his option with Milwaukee Bucks, agent says

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Milwaukee Bucks forward Bobby Portis is declining his $3.8 million player option and will become a free agent, agent Mark Bartelstein told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski on Saturday.

The most the Bucks can offer Portis is a $5.9 million exception, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks.

The 26-year-old Portis was one of the more effective sixth men in the NBA, averaging 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds during the regular season while averaging 52.3% shooting from the field.

He was a major contributor during the Bucks’ run to the NBA championship, averaging 8.8 points and 5.0 rebounds during the postseason.

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