It’s opening night of the 2021-22 NBA season, but our experts are already looking ahead to the postseason.
Last year, the playoff series between the two juggernauts came down to Kevin Durant‘s foot, and the Nets lost Game 7 to the eventual champion Bucks. Are these two teams destined for a rematch? And will a healthy Durant-James Harden duo be enough to topple the defending champions?
Are the retooled Los Angeles Lakers a lock to reach the Western Conference finals? Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook joined LeBron James out West, but will that be enough to contend in a tough conference? Will Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz finally turn a corner and reach the NBA Finals? Will Klay Thompson‘s return lift the Golden State Warriors back to the top of the West?
And which team is primed to take it all? Will James win his fifth title? Can the Nets win a championship without a third star in Kyrie Irving? Will reigning Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo defend his title? Our experts predict the matchups in the conference finals and NBA Finals.
Eastern Conference finals
Tim Bontemps: Bucks over Nets
Jamal Collier: Nets over Bucks
Nick DePaula: Nets over Bucks
Nick Friedell: Nets over Bucks
Israel Gutierrez: Bucks over Heat
Tim Legler: Bucks over Nets
Andrew Lopez: Nets over Bucks
Tim MacMahon: Nets over Bucks
Bobby Marks: Heat over Nets
Dave McMenamin: Nets over Bucks
Kevin Pelton: Bucks over Nets
Jorge Sedano: Nets over Heat
Ramona Shelburne: Nets over Bucks
André Snellings: Bucks over Nets
Marc J. Spears: Nets over Bucks
Ohm Youngmisuk: Nets over Bucks
Results (East champion): Nets 10, Bucks 5, Heat 1.
Western Conference finals
Tim Bontemps: Jazz over Suns
Jamal Collier: Suns over Lakers
Nick DePaula: Warriors over Suns
Nick Friedell: Jazz over Lakers
Israel Gutierrez: Lakers over Jazz
Tim Legler: Lakers over Suns
Andrew Lopez: Lakers over Jazz
Tim MacMahon: Nuggets over Lakers
Bobby Marks: Jazz over Lakers
Dave McMenamin: Lakers over Suns
Kevin Pelton: Lakers over Suns
Jorge Sedano: Lakers over Nuggets
Ramona Shelburne: Lakers over Jazz
André Snellings: Lakers over Nuggets
Marc J. Spears: Lakers over Warriors
Ohm Youngmisuk: Lakers over Warriors
Results (West champion): Lakers 10, Jazz 3, Nuggets 1, Suns 1, Warriors 1.
Tim Bontemps: Bucks over Jazz
Jamal Collier: Nets over Suns
Nick DePaula: Nets over Warriors
Nick Friedell: Nets over Jazz
Israel Gutierrez: Bucks over Lakers
Tim Legler: Lakers over Bucks
Andrew Lopez: Nets over Lakers
Tim MacMahon: Nets over Nuggets
Bobby Marks: Heat over Jazz
Dave McMenamin: Nets over Lakers
Kevin Pelton: Bucks over Lakers
Jorge Sedano: Lakers over Nets
Ramona Shelburne: Lakers over Nets
André Snellings: Bucks over Lakers
Marc J. Spears: Nets over Lakers
Ohm Youngmisuk: Nets over Lakers
Results (NBA champion): Nets 8, Bucks 4, Lakers 3, Heat 1.
Dallas Mavericks get Kristaps Porzingis, coach Jason Kidd back from health and safety protocols
DALLAS — Mavericks power forward/center Kristaps Porzingis has cleared the NBA’s health and safety protocols after missing the past seven games and is expected to play in Saturday night’s home game against the Orlando Magic.
Mavericks coach Jason Kidd also cleared the protocols.
Dallas won six of the seven games missed by Porzingis, who is averaging 20.6 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. The Mavs went 3-1 during Kidd’s absence, when defensive coordinator Sean Sweeney served as the acting head coach.
A source said Porzingis felt well in recent days and had been able to do individual workouts.
Porzingis’ clearance makes center Marquese Chriss ineligible to play for the Mavericks while he remains on a 10-day hardship deal that expires Thursday.
Sources said the Mavericks are considering their options to sign Chriss for the remainder of the season, which would require a move to create an open roster spot.
Chriss has played in 12 games over three 10-day deals with the Mavericks, averaging 6.8 points and 3.9 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game while shooting 63% from the floor.
Chicago Bulls star guard Zach LaVine to have MRI on injured left knee
LaVine did not travel with the team to Boston for its matchup against the Celtics on Saturday night, and instead will remain in Chicago to receive an MRI. There’s initial confidence that he hasn’t suffered a serious injury, sources told ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
LaVine appeared to begin laboring after grabbing an offensive rebound with just under nine minutes remaining in the first quarter. On the next play, he took an intentional foul on Warriors guard Stephen Curry before taking himself out of the game.
He immediately walked toward the Bulls’ locker room with a team trainer, but LaVine was able to move under his own power.
“The MRI will tell a lot more once he gets that done,” Bulls coach Billy Donovan said after the game. “I don’t want to sit here and speculate … he kind of came down a little funny, and he’s got some discomfort there right now and they want to take a look. He didn’t feel like he could return.”
LaVine is averaging 25.6 points on 49% shooting (41% from 3), 4.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 37 games for the Bulls this season.
The Warriors took over following LaVine’s injury, closing the first half on a 64-37 run. The Bulls lost by 42 points on Friday after losing by 26 points to the Nets on Wednesday. It’s the first time a conference leader has lost consecutive games by an average of 30 points since the NBA went to two conferences in 1970, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information.
“These two games should be all the motivation that we need to step up, play hard, play for one another,” Bulls star DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s just another challenge that we got to face. We can’t complain about it. Can’t whine about it. Can’t look for no extra help. It’s on us.”
Joel Embiid – ‘No urgency to change anything’ on surging Philadelphia 76ers
PHILADELPHIA — After beating the Boston Celtics to win for the ninth time in 11 games Friday night, 76ers superstar Joel Embiid said “there’s really no urgency to change anything” with his team with just under four weeks to go until the NBA’s trade deadline.
“I feel great, man,” Embiid said, after finishing with 25 points, 13 rebounds and 6 assists in Philadelphia’s comfortable 111-99 victory over its old rivals here at Wells Fargo Center.
“When I look at where we are when we got most of the team in the lineup, especially me in the lineup, then we are 21 and 9. That’s not bad. That’s up there with the best records in the NBA. So, all that tells me is that we just got to stay healthy, keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“I feel pretty good, and I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet. We still got a long way to go. We’re missing guys here and there that could really help us. There’s really no urgency to change anything. I think we got everything we need. We’re gonna keep on going and I’m happy.”
The 76ers have played this entire season with All-Star guard Ben Simmons sitting out, as his ongoing trade demand goes unfulfilled. Still, when Embiid has been on the court, Philadelphia has won 70% of its games and has outscored its opponents by 6.9 points per 100 possessions.
The possibility of a Simmons trade — and what it could get Philadelphia in return — has loomed over the 76ers all season, however, ever since Simmons refused to report to the start of training camp in September.
But Embiid said he believes the Sixers are good enough to win with the players they have available to them right now — though he admitted that it would require the 76ers to play near-perfect basketball.
“I think so,” he said. “I think we all gotta, we all gotta be our best. And when we are at our best, I think we can beat anybody. We’ve seen it a couple of times this year. So, I just think we need to, I need to keep doing what I’ve been doing and then obviously we need consistency from everybody, not just Tobias [Harris] or Tyrese [Maxey] or Seth [Curry] or Danny [Green], guys coming off the bench, getting Shake [Milton] back [healthy].
“We need consistency, and everybody coming in every single night with the goal of just doing their job and chipping in offensively and defensively and just playing together and we’ll be fine.”
Philadelphia (24-17) was more than fine against Boston (21-22) Friday night, jumping on the Celtics with a 28-2 run in the first quarter and never looking back.
For Boston, it was a quick fall back to earth after some brief sparks of life during a season-long three-game winning streak. But with Marcus Smart out due to the health and safety protocols, the Celtics got nothing from his replacement, Dennis Schroder, who missed all six shots he took in 25 minutes and was called for a flagrant foul 1 for pushing 76ers forward Matisse Thybulle in the back on a dunk attempt.
Thybulle landed very hard on his back, and while he initially stayed in the game, he later left with right shoulder soreness. Before exiting, he had five steals and two blocks for a 76ers team that created 20 turnovers and scored 31 points off them.
“This was a tough night,” said Celtics forward Jayson Tatum, who finished with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 assists but had as many made field goals (7-for-17) as turnovers (7). “I don’t think we had any nights like this where … obviously, we’ve had some nights when we’ve started slow, but most of the time, we give ourselves a chance.
“For whatever reason, it was one of those nights where we just started slow and never [recovered].”
For Philadelphia, it was an emphatic bounce-back performance from Wednesday’s loss here to the Charlotte Hornets, a defeat that snapped the 76ers’ seven-game winning streak. Embiid said that Charlotte’s ball movement gave the Sixers a lot of trouble, whereas Boston’s more isolation-heavy offense was easier to guard.
“If you compare, you know, tonight from the other night, it’s kind of easier to guard,” Embiid said. “Charlotte, they move the ball extremely well. They have shooters all over the place, and they made a bunch of jump shots. Obviously, Boston is more of an iso-heavy team. So it kind of becomes easier to kind of load up and try to stop them.”
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