2021 NBA Playoffs

Nets-Celtics? 5 first-round matchups that would be entertaining

Which potential clashes could provide some early intrigue to the 2021 postseason?

Kyrie Irving could potentially face his former team in the first round.

We’ve already covered some of the intriguing potential Play-In Tournament matchups, but with tipoff for the NBA Playoffs just a month away, we decided to look at some of the potential clashes on tap for the opening round.

Headed into the slate of games set for Friday, just three games separated the seventh and 10th seeds in the Western Conference, while out East, one game separated Nos. 8 and 9, with just 2 1/2 more contests between seeds No. 9-12.

So, between now and the start of the postseason, quite a bit could happen to affect where the teams fall in the final regular-season standings for playoff seeding.

But here’s a few of the potential first-round matchups that could turn out to be must-watch TV:

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat: You can already hear Jimmy Butler trying to downplay the significance of facing his former team in the opening round of the playoffs. But you can also expect Butler to go extra hard in what would be just the third postseason clash between these teams since 2011. These teams played twice in the regular season with Philadelphia securing victories on both occasions, including a 137-134 win in overtime on Jan. 12. But Butler was sidelined for both of those contests. The Heat have won three of the last five meetings between these teams, and their roster is tailor made to muck up Philadelphia’s offense by disrupting the comfort level of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Luka Doncic and Devin Booker could face off in the first round of the postseason.

Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks: Phoenix took plenty of heat for drafting Deandre Ayton with the first pick of the 2018 draft over Luka Doncic. But it appears the move is finally paying off now with Ayton playing alongside dynamic guards Devin Booker and Chris Paul. This matchup provides all the offensive firepower everyone is looking for with Doncic leading the Mavs against Booker, who is averaging 25.1 ppg, heading into what would be his postseason debut. The matchup between Ayton and Kristaps Porzingis could prove to be the deciding factor in this series. The Suns are 3-0 against the Mavs in the regular season, with all three games close.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics: Given Brooklyn’s injury woes as of late, there’s definitely a chance its full roster won’t be available for the start of the postseason, which would provide Boston the perfect opportunity to pull off the upset. But you also know Kyrie Irving will be motivated to beat his former team. The Nets defeated the Celtics twice earlier this season, and Irving was the only player of Brooklyn’s “Big Three” to participate in both contests, dropping 30 points on Christmas and 40 in a March 11 win. These teams haven’t met in the playoffs since the 2003 Eastern Conference semifinals, when the Nets swept the Celtics 4-0.

The Jazz could end up playing a team that survives the Play-In Tournament.

Utah Jazz vs. Golden State Warriors: First off, it’s absolutely amazing what Stephen Curry is doing. If Curry leads Golden State to the postseason and performs the way he’s done throughout this current hot streak, could the Warriors end up pulling off an upset reminiscent of the “We Believe” team? At the time, the Warriors were just the third eighth seed in league history to upset a No. 1 seed, shocking the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the 2007 NBA Playoffs. Utah had won five straight games against Golden State dating back to 2019, but Curry broke up the streak by pouring in 32 points in March 14 win. Interestingly, the Warriors have beaten Utah in three of the last four playoff series these teams have met going back to 1987.

LA Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers: The Clippers possess all the firepower with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but you just can’t count out Damian Lillard in a playoff situation. You’ve also got to take into account the Clippers’ recent postseason woes, which includes last season, when they became the 13th team to surrender a 3-1 series lead after holding double-digit leads in two potential closeout contests. We already know about the history between Lillard and George. So, a matchup between these teams in the first round would only add to this fascinating story. Perhaps, George does the waving this time?

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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