The Milwaukee Bucks have taken care of business and flash past that intense heat in four games. The Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets and Atlanta Hawks Everyone wins by joining them in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
What happens next in the Western Conference playoffs is unclear, however.
Except for Utah Jazz vs. Memphis grizzlies Series that Jazz led 3: 1, the three remaining matchups – Phoenix suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers vs. Dallas Mavericks and Denver nuggets vs. Portland Trailblazer – are tied, with critical play 5s ahead.
What factors determine the series locked at 2-2? How many matchups are there in seven games? Can the New York Knicks send your series back to the ATL?
Our experts discuss what to expect in the first round.
1. Apart from Anthony Davis‘Health, what will most determine the Suns-Lakers winner?
Tim Bontemps: The combination of Chris PaulHealth and Deandre Ayton‘s game. I thought this was a series of tosses at first, and Paul’s shoulder problem swung the pendulum in LA’s favor in Games 2 and 3, while Anthony Davis’ groin injury helped swing it back to Phoenix in Game 4. Davis’ health will show through the rest of the series, but if Paul continues to play the way he did in Game 4 and Ayton remains a formidable player, the Suns should be preferred to close this series. Even when Davis is playing, it’s hard to imagine him 100 percent again.
Andrew Lopez: Chris Paul’s right shoulder. It has bothered him since the second quarter in Game 1 when he hurt it for the first time. Paul struggled through the rest of that win, but it clearly hampered him in the next two games. After winning Game 4, ESPN’s Paul Rachel Nichols said that Sun’s trainer Monty Williams would stop him of the game on Sunday, but he protested – and went on to score 18 points with nine assists and no ball losses.
Ramona Shelburne: Dennis Schröder. Schroder is said to be the third best player in the Lakers. In the two victories of the Lakers he was absolutely successful with an average of 22 points and 52% of the field, whereby the Lakers were plus 11 in these minutes. He was a non-factor in the two Lakers defeats, averaging 11 points at 40% shooting, with the Lakers plus-8.
Brian Windhorst: Whether the Lakers can score. These guys are elite defenders almost no matter what adversity they face. But man, it matters because your insult is just not there, many days. They rely heavily on the size of their superstars and the occasional hot 3 point streak. (They had a tremendous amount of outside shooting in last season’s bubble, and that took the strain off them Lebron James.) With Anthony Davis and Kentavious Caldwell Pope posted, it’s a big elevator. But they’ve had a lot of candid looks on this series that they missed, so the defending champions just need a better execution.
Royce Young: Paul’s right shoulder. Paul looked a lot more like himself in Game 4 and even declared “I’m back” after hitting his patented midrange leaner. But his control over the offense is critical to Phoenix’s execution, especially late in the games. Devin Booker is sensational, but Paul’s stability in the crunch time – that was him Sixth in the league this season in coupling points – the series could decide.
2. What determines the Clippers-Mavs winner most?
Bontemps: Defending the Clippers. Can they maintain their game 4 intensity for the rest of the series? Yes, the Mavericks weren’t sustained hot in the first three games of this series from 3-point range. But the Clippers also played with a different energy in Game 4, led by Nicolas Batum getting four steals and two blocks while finishing a plus 27 in 36 minutes.
Lopez: Luka Doncic’s health. He acknowledged the nerve ache he was feeling on the back of his neck, and Maverick’s trainer Rick Carlisle told reporters, “It seemed to me that he couldn’t turn left or look left.” Aside from how the Mavericks continue to adapt to the Clippers’ new starting XI with Nicolas Batum instead Ivica Zubac will be the key here too.
Shelburne: The Clippers deserve a ton of credit for how they played in Dallas after losing their first two games at home. But Luka Doncic was the best player on the court until he hurt his neck in Game 3 and that says a lot when you consider how good it is Kawhi Leonard has been. I would love to see this series with everyone at near full strength because it’s a fascinating matchup. But if Doncic isn’t healthy, it’s hard to see the Mavericks win now that the clips are rolling.
Windhorst: Can Doncic pass? His neck injury particularly affected his death. The Mavericks knocked down the Clippers defenses in their first two games, shooting an incredible 35v70 with 3 pointers. But with limited arm and neck mobility, Doncic just wasn’t as effective in preparing the offense. The Clippers are pushing hard now and the Mavs need a Doncic with full power.
Young: Doncic’s health. It clearly didn’t look right in Game 4, and the trickle-down effect has had a massive impact on the Mavs in a number of areas. Doncic puts so much pressure on a defense; So when the Clippers don’t have to worry about him that much, they can lock out the RPG players who did so well in Games 1 and 2.
3. What determines the winner of the Nuggets blazer the most?
Bontemps: The game of Michael Porter Jr. Nikola JokicBad Game 4 was clearly an outlier, and he’s sure to be great in Game 5. But the nuggets just have to get more from MPJ than they did in Game 4 when he only got three points in 23 minutes. If Porter can’t offer a great offensive game alongside Jokic, this streak may not make it back to Denver for Game 7.
Lopez: Whether Nikola Jokic gets his teammates going. Portland’s game plan for scoring Jokic has generally worked. Jokic has 12 assists in the series and averages just 7.8 potential assists per game, according to NBA.com stats. That’s behind it Facundo Campazzo (10.8) and Monte Morris (8.3). In the regular season, Jokic averaged 8.3 assists and 13.8 potential assists.
Shelburne: Norman Powell. He was great on both sides of the ball in Game 4, leading the Blazers with 29 points in 11v15 shooting and a strong defense against the much taller Michael Porter Jr. Powell held MPJ on just three shots in Game 4. Three! Portland was never known as a great defensive team, but if the Blazers keep throwing Denver different looks, they stand a chance of surprise.
Windhorst: Michael Porter Jr.’s Game He played at the All-NBA level throughout the season and then stepped up his performance Jamal Murray tore up his ACL and became something of a weapon that the Nuggets believe will one day lead to a title. But the Blazers challenged him and put pressure on Nikola Jokic and his ability to generate offense because they bet Porter won’t step up. Porter shot only 41% in the last three games and only shot three shots in game 4. If this continues, Portland will likely win.
Young: Whether Denver hold roleplayers. The Blazers have been betting since Game 1 that the Nuggets’ RPG players won’t be able to produce consistently throughout the series. They tried to make Jokic one-dimensional and turn him into a score-first center. Denver got an answer in the form of Austin Rivers in game 3, but nobody showed up in game 4. Put simply, the Nuggets need two big games from Michael Porter Jr.
Stephen A. Smith plays with the Hawks in the first round of Julius Randle during the Knicks playoff series.
4. What can the Knicks do to win Game 5?
Bontemps: A good game of Julius Randle would be a start. To expand this streak to a sixth game, the Knicks need more of the NBA’s 2021 Most Improved Player, who shot 20-on-73 off the field – including a miserable 13-on-49 on 2-point shots – through the first four games.
Lopez: Win the non-Trae Young Protocol. In their Atlanta regular season, the Knicks were plus 42 when Young was on and minus 16 when he was on the court. In Game 2 the Knicks were plus-14 when Young was on the bench and minus-5 otherwise. On the Knicks losses in Games 1, 3, and 4, the Hawks won the fight when Young was not out there, although it was even in Game 4 based on garbage time statistics. (Atlanta was plus-9 before the banks ran out at 3:05.)
Shelburne: Reggie Bullock. He’s put so much energy into defending Trae Young that it’s difficult for him to get a lot going offensively. Ordinarily the Knicks would act that way. But even if Julius Randle struggles, they must restore Bullock as a 3 point threat to make room and get Young to work defensively.
Windhorst: Take some pictures. The Knicks defend well enough to win, but their offense, largely because Julius Randle is in the middle of a gruesome slump (27.4% shooting for the series), is impractical. The Hawks have improved defensively under Nate McMillan, but the Knicks’ shooting flaws are becoming visible to the world. Only the heat that was swept was offensively worse than New York in the playoffs.
Young: Make Trae Young work. The Knicks need more from Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, but they must also find a way to slow Atlanta’s explosive offensive. It starts with wearing Young down, and not just with more traps and lightning bolts. You have to attack him on the defensive, drive him off the screens and isolate him. The Knicks must pursue Young and take advantage of the discrepancies.
5. How many first round series will there be in seven games?
Bontemps: I will get on my nerves and say nothing. The Eastern Series, which is still going on, should all end in Game 5. In the West, the teams that won Game 4 in the 2-2 series – the Suns, Blazers and Clippers – appear to be well positioned (in the case of Phoenix due to the Davis injury, the others due to successful changes in Game 4) to conclude their respective series in six games. However, I’ll be the first to say that I hope I’m wrong. I like to take a weekend full of game 7s.
Lopez: Two. I’m not sure if Knicks-Hawks will make it to seven now, so that could take care of the entire Eastern Conference. I could see for sure that the three West series, all of which are 2-2 versus seven, are seven, but I’ll pick two of them: Suns-Lakers and Blazers-Nuggets. The Phoenix-Los Angeles winner will be healthy, but it was a good run on the pitch. For Portland and Denver, the Nikola Jokic-Damian Lillard The fight just feels like it’s supposed to be going the distance.
Shelburne: Two. Lakers-Suns, Mavericks-Clippers, Knicks-Hawks, and Blazers-Nuggets all feel like series that can last seven games – due to star injuries or adjustments made by the respective coaches from game to game. I say two of the four actually walk the distance.
Windhorst: Two. Lakers-Suns and Clippers-Mavs. Injuries play a big role in this series. Uncertainty and recovery will define them and likely expand them further.
Young: Three. The Clippers and Mavs seem meant to be for seven, especially as Doncic improves physically. The Suns and Lakers are both excellent teams, and health factors open doors to expand them. And the Nuggets and Blazers appear to be contractually bound to play seven games in the playoffs. Everything else should be packed in five or six.