The race for the succession of the Milwaukee Bucks begins early Saturday evening. Back to the posters that will animate the first round of the play-offs.
Boston-Brooklyn with a duel Jayson Tatum-Kevin Durant, Milwaukee-Chicago and the opposition Giannis Antetokounmpo-DeMar DeRozan, Philadelphia-Toronto and the clash between Cameroonians Joel Embiid-Pascal Siakam, Golden State-Denver animated by the confrontation Stephen Curry- Nikola Jokic, are the most enticing posters of the 1st round of the NBA play-offs.
Eastern Conference: Miami–Atlanta
A somewhat unexpected finalist in 2020, the Heat did not hide this time, showing impressive collective strength to finish on top, despite the recurring absences of their best players (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry, Tyler Herro.. .).
Combative as hell, Floridians know the formula to go far. And Atlanta, much if not too much of which depends on Trae Young alone, doesn’t seem to be able to upset them.
By snatching 2nd place, the Boston Celtics exposed themselves to a trap barrage. Because the Nets, long decimated and disappointing, are doing much better, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, capable of winning matches on their own, are finally fully operational.
But Boston has some backing with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, for a lot in the stunning journey of the team back from 9th place at Christmas.
The ability to defend well over time will be crucial and, in this regard, the Celtics seem better equipped. They also have a more balanced and complete team, less dependent on their two best gunners than Brooklyn on theirs.
Carried by his 2019 and 2020 MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, still imperial (29.9 pts, 11.6 rebounds, 5.8 assists on average), the defending champion is the favorite against the resurgent Chicago Bulls, reinforced by DeMar DeRozan, Alex Caruso and Lonzo Ball, but who failed to keep their promises after an excellent start to the championship.
The confidence and the automatisms of a stabilized workforce, with Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday and Brook Lopez, recovered from a back injury, as well as the experience of spring games plead in favor of Milwaukee.
Attention, trap series for Philadelphia. Guided by Joel Embiid, author of his best season (top scorer with 30.6 pts, 11.7 rebounds per game) and reinforced by James Harden, even if he has not yet given the full measure of his talent, the Sixers have the edge on paper.
But opposite, Toronto ended the season with a bang and its defensive abnegation, the basis of the title gleaned in 2019, is no longer to be demonstrated, like Pascal Siakam who will give Embiid a hard time.
Western Conference: Phoenix – New Orleans
Best team of the regular season (64-18, new franchise record), Phoenix is the favorite to return to the final. Beaten last year by Milwaukee, Monty Williams’ team improved further in the wake of Devin Booker and Chris Paul, showing no weak points.
We do not see how New Orleans, certainly equipped with CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram, could worry the Suns on a series.
Dauhpin surprised by the Suns, Memphis will now have to assume his status and Ja Morant that of new star, king of the Top 10 with his trampoline dunks. The Grizzlies aren’t dependent on him, however, as they’ve won 16 of the 18 games he’s missed for a knee.
The key will be experience and their ability to handle pressure. Against Minnesota, in the play-offs for the second time in 18 years, the first parameter will be in their favor. The second remains an unknown because Wolves are not lacking in talent, with Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards, or grinta with Patrick Beverley.
The resurrection of the “splash brothers” – Stephen Curry, crowned all-time leading three-point scorer, and Klay Thompson, performing after two and a half years of serious injuries – well surrounded by the soul of the team, Draymond Green, and talented young people, can mark the return to the forefront of Golden State.
A first major test awaits the Californians against reigning MVP Nikola Jokic, still at the top of his game (27.1 pts, 13.8 rebounds, 7.9 assists average), but a little alone offensively, in the absence of Jamal Murray.
Will Luka Doncic be restored? The question worries Texan fans because the Slovenian prodigy is treating a pulled calf. Without him, Dallas’ chances of advancing will be slim.
It’s up to Utah to possibly take advantage of it, to finally turn a corner. This campaign seems to be a last chance given to Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell to prove that they can live up to their ambitions.