We’ve arrived at the time of the season where potential playoff matchups start to take shape, as teams sprint to the finish line to lock down playoff seedings.
The NBA playoffs don’t start until April 16, but it’s never too early to fantasize about star matchups that could materialize in the coming weeks into must-watch TV.
Here’s a look at 10 potential and enticing star matchups for the postseason:
Joel Embiid vs. Kevin Durant
Going back to Durant’s time with the Golden State Warriors, he is 5-2 against Embiid head-to-head, including 3-1 this season. A matchup between these two in the playoffs could be epic, and we all know to expect plenty of talking back and forth between them. Durant has already endorsed Embiid for MVP, but he’d like nothing more than to knock him out of the postseason. Other moving parts only add to the drama. What if Ben Simmons is healthy enough to contribute for the Nets against his former Sixers teammates?
Jayson Tatum vs. Jimmy Butler
Tatum could enter the playoffs on fire if he continues his recent stretch of dominance. He was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second consecutive week on Monday, becoming the first player in Celtics franchise history to do so in back-to-back weeks. Butler, meanwhile, has been up and down for a Miami team that had lost four in a row going into Monday’s win over Sacramento. Butler has scored in single digits six times this season. The last time Butler and Tatum met in the postseason, the Heat eliminated Boston from the 2020 Eastern Conference finals in six games.
Kevin Durant vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Who wouldn’t take seven more games between these two after what we witnessed last season in the Eastern Conference semifinals? In Game 5 of that series, Durant put together arguably his greatest performance, playing in all 48 minutes to post his second career postseason triple-double (49 points, 17 rebounds, and 10 assists), which also marked the first 45-15-10 game in the NBA playoffs. In Game 7, Antetokounmpo poured in 40 points with 13 rebounds to best the Nets in overtime, despite Durant racking up a game-high 48 points (over 53 minutes). Remember Durant stepping on the line on what could’ve been the game-winning shot of Game 7 with one second left in regulation? More of this, please.
James Harden vs. Kyrie Irving
They’ve matched up 14 times in the regular season with Harden owning an 8-6 record against Irving. Harden faced off against Irving earlier this month in his first game against Brooklyn since the February trade, and he shot 3-of-17 for 11 points in addition to committing four turnovers in a 129-100 loss. Irving scored 22 points and went 5-of-11 from deep in the Nets victory. If these teams meet in the playoffs, perhaps Simmons is back in the mix, too.
Luka Doncic vs. Devin Booker
Named Western Conference Player of the Week on Monday, Booker hasn’t lost to Doncic and the Mavericks since 2019 and is 7-1 against the Mavs point guard all time. Both players continue to generate serious momentum in the MVP conversation. But interestingly, it’s unlikely they’d see much of each other one-on-one should this potential clash materialize. Defensive Player of the Year candidate Mikal Bridges would likely guard Doncic, while Dorian Finney-Smith – a solid stopper in his own right – would likely take on Booker. Doncic has outscored Booker in four of the previous matchups, outrebounded him in six of them and dished more dimes in five.
Nikola Jokic vs. Rudy Gobert
There’s plenty of familiarity here considering they’ve battled on 26 occasions in both the regular season and playoffs, with Gobert and the Jazz winning 15 of the matchups. Jokic remains winless this season against Gobert, who hasn’t really slowed down the Nuggets center. Jokic is averaging a triple-double (24.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 10 assists) against Gobert this season. They’ve met once in the playoffs, with Jokic and the Nuggets overcoming a 3-1 deficit to beat Utah in the first round of the 2020 postseason. Jokic would be somewhat shorthanded matching up against Gobert this year in the playoffs if Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. remain sidelined.
Luka Doncic vs. Donovan Mitchell
They’ve never met in the playoffs, and they’re 4-4 against one another in the regular season, with Doncic holding a 2-1 advantage in 2021-22. But we’re talking about a couple of teams with plenty of familiarity and a couple of stars in Doncic and Mitchell. A Doncic-Mitchell postseason series could look a lot like the epic showdown we saw in the 2020 playoffs between Mitchell and Murray of the Nuggets. Mitchell suffered an ankle injury in Sunday’s loss at Dallas as the Jazz dropped their fourth in a row to a Mavs team that is 18-4 at home since the start of the new year.
Stephen Curry vs. Ja Morant
The final Play-In Tournament game from last season matched these exhilarating floor generals, with Morant and the Grizzlies sending the Warriors home after a hard-fought 117-112 overtime thriller. Both teams have improved from last season, and the Warriors’ collective veteran savvy might make up for any overall talent deficiency against Memphis. Counting the Play-In victory, Morant is 3-2 against Curry, who has averaged 38.8 points and 7.8 assists in his last two games against the Grizzlies. “They’re a confident group. They stick to their principles,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said of the Warriors on Monday before the Grizzlies defeated them 123-95 in a game that was missing Morant, Curry, Jaren Jackson Jr., Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
Kyle Lowry vs. Fred VanVleet
Lowry mentored VanVleet for five seasons in Toronto, where they won a title together in 2019. But Lowry and VanVleet haven’t played against one another since the former left the Raptors to sign with the Miami Heat. The Raptors and Heat have met on three occasions this season (Toronto is 2-1), but Lowry has missed each of those outings. A playoff matchup between these tough, smaller guards could be fun provided both are healthy. VanVleet has been dealing with a sore knee that could linger into the postseason.
Chris Paul vs. James Harden
Call this one our pie in the sky. If this matchup comes to fruition, that means we’ve reached the NBA Finals. So, you can count on plenty of in-depth pieces detailing the relationship in Houston between Harden, Paul and Philadelphia president of basketball operations Daryl Morey, who served as general manager of the Rockets during their two seasons together there. Paul and Harden have gone head-to-head 12 times in the playoffs with the 2018 MVP’s teams winning seven of those games. But the last time we saw them match up in the postseason (2020), neither were playing on teams as loaded as the ones they currently lead. They both enter the postseason seeking another shot at their first ring.
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