2021 NBA Western Conference Semifinals Preview

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

The Utah Jazz breezed through Round 1 as the #1-seed in the Western Conference as expected, as they downed the very exciting and young Memphis Grizzlies team in 5 games. The Phoenix Suns pulled off a historic First Round victory over LeBron & the Los Angeles Lakers, albeit injuries and whatnot, have to give credit where credit is due. The Denver Nuggets overcame Damian Lillard’s insane series to beat Portland in 6 games. The Los Angeles Clippers, after falling 0-2 down and later having their backs against the walls down 2-3 going to Dallas, pulled off the series win in 7 games and overcame the transcendent brilliance from Luka Doncic. With no LeBron James to lead the way in his conference, and the first Finals set to come without him or Stephen Curry since 2010, the NBA is seeing a new opportunity in 2021, a glimpse of what the future without the NBA’s two best players currently, could look like. Here are our predictions for the Western Conference Semifinals:

Saransh’s Predictions

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers finally look like the team we have been waiting for them to be. Since last season, this team has been very underwhelming compared to their high expectations, which, with players like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on your roster, it makes sense. This season seemed to be even worse than last, as they were staring down a First Round exit twice, but through some adjustments from Head Coach Tyronn Lue and incredible play from Kawhi and PG, the Clippers prevailed in 7 games. 

Utah, on the other hand, shut doubters up after dominating the Grizzlies in the First Round, showing their variety as a team, whether it be with their elite 3-point shooting, their stifling defense, or their incredible depth. Donovan Mitchell has been getting foreshadowed throughout these Playoffs, as people are constantly talking about Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker being the rising superstars in the NBA, but Mitchell has to be in that conversation. Donovan Mitchell was exquisite against Memphis, and he will cause major problems for the Clippers and got consistent help from Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and Rudy Gobert on both ends of the floor once he returned to action in Game 2. It was easy for the Clippers to beat the Mavericks due to Luka not having much help offensively despite his great playmaking, and yet they still struggled to finish off LAC in 7 games. Utah will be a whole different team compared to the Clippers, as Utah is the deepest team in the NBA this season. Jazz in 6.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Denver Nuggets

It took 18 seasons, at 36 years of age, for LeBron James to be eliminated in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs. It took 10 Playoff appearances in the past 11 seasons for LeBron to be halted from making the NBA Finals. That is how gritty this Suns team is, and all credit to them. Devin Booker showed he is a superstar in this league and will continue to be for years to come, Chris Paul showed his value even while playing through injury (let us not take away too much from Booker, however. He is the biggest reason they got past the Lakers, not Paul, as many think), and the rest of this young core of players, along with Head Coach Monty Williams, showed why they are a force to be reckoned with. Denver, without Jamal Murray, and a rather limited rotation, got past Portland in 6 games, and Nikola Jokic showed that he is the best Center in the NBA. This Suns team now comes into this series being the favorites and with even higher expectations. This series seems to be in their favor on paper, but despite being shorthanded, 

DeAndre Ayton, a big part of the Suns’ series win, struggled for the most part against Anthony Davis, and it does not get easier against Jokic. Not only will he have to guard Jokic in the post and on the perimeter, but he may need to have a larger scoring role to keep up with Jokic and the high-scoring Nuggets, and he has little to no chance at that. Denver presents the coaching advantage, as well as the scoring option advantages, and the CP3 injury and his erratic play at the moment have me favoring Denver. Worrying about Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, Austin Rivers, and Facu Campazzo all as consistent scoring options, and having to stop the selfless play and ball movement of this team is much different from what the Suns saw against the Lakers. For this young team, it could prove to be too much. Nuggets in 6. 

Anish’s Predictions

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

After the Clippers barely slip away and make it past the Mavericks in Game 7 despite Luka’s heroics, they will now be facing the best regular-season team in the league. The Jazz beat the Grizzlies easily, and we did not expect anything less, but how they will stack up against a good team like the Clippers will be interesting. People underrate the Jazz despite having the best record in the league because they do not have any flashy, big-name superstars. This team is led by Donovan Mitchell offensively and Rudy Gobert defensively. But what makes this team dangerous is not their star power, but their ability for any given player to score 10+ points a night. This makes it harder for opposing defenses to defend because this team does not rely on one superstar. However, when it gets down to it, Donovan Mitchell can step up to take that role. The Jazz are a very well-constructed team with one of the best defenses intimidating offenses with Gobert right in the middle of it. Even with all this, the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard who will not go down without a fight. Kawhi will get his points but I think this series is defined by who performs better between Donovan Mitchell and Paul George. Based on the recent series’, I do not have full confidence in Paul George’s playoff performances and will trust Mitchell to perform better. The series will be close but I believe the Jazz will come up top because of their depth and defense in which the Clippers rely on a big performance from Kawhi to win. This game will stretch out to a Game 7 but the well-rested Jazz team will be able to come out on top while the Clippers run out of energy after fighting past the Mavericks just recently. Jazz in 7.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Denver Nuggets

Phoenix has been fantastic in these playoffs led by Devin Booker and defeated the injury-ridden Lakers knocking LeBron out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. This Suns team will be tough to beat and matchup up against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets will be good. For the Nuggets vs. Blazers series, the Nuggets won primarily because Portland had no one on the floor who could guard Jokic without getting into foul trouble, thanks to Jusuf Nurkic. I believe Jokic will still get his 30 points a night because he is the league’s MVP. However, the Suns will be able to contain him late game much better having Ayton and can even limit MPJ with Crowder’s defense. In the end, the Suns’ offense is just too hard to stop as Devin Booker has been cooking, and if the Nuggets try to completely trap him after the first couple of games as they did to Dame, the Suns have much better support to step up and take this series. Chris Paul looks healthy again and DeAndre Ayton has been the best big man in the Lakers series so this team can be scary even aside from Booker. The Nuggets will put up a fight and even without Jamal Murray the bench players have stepped up, but in the end, the Suns are the better team and have a good shot at going to the NBA Finals. Suns in 6.

Nikhil’s Predictions

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

I think it is time we give the Jazz the respect this team deserves. Now that LeBron James and the Lakers are out of the conversation, the entire Western Conference opens up hugely for any team to take the now vacant throne. The Utah Jazz have 3 All-Stars on their roster and a deep bench that allows them to stick with pretty much any team they want. And in their last series with the Grizzlies, they handily took care of business after an off-color performance in Game 1, the only game they conceded in the series. Donovan Mitchell has fully grown into his role as a leader on this team, Rudy Gobert is a defensive force, and Mike Conley provides veteran savvy. To top it all off, the team still has 6th Man of the Year nominee Joe Ingles and 6th Man of the Year winner Jordan Clarkson. Now, all that being said, it is NOT going to be easy. The Clippers are an established team that we know the limits and potentials of, and it is very clear that Kawhi Leanord is the key to their success. If he gets shut down or at the very least slowed down during each game in the series, there is immense room for failure, given the rest of the team’s inability to make up for lack of offensive production. You have to give credit to Utah for their counter-offensive proficiency. Paul George is the hit-or-miss factor in this series as well, and him being either All-Star PG13 or Playoff P impacts the Clippers’ chances in this series. It is also worth keeping in mind that the organization barely beat the Dallas Mavericks in 7 games to a team that only had Luka Doncic doing all of the scoring for them. When matched up against a much better all-around team, I do not see the Clippers breaking their streak of disappointing finishes to seasons, and I predict the Utah Jazz moving on. Jazz in 7.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Denver Nuggets

This matchup is a rather odd one because there is no LeBron or Steph to catch the media’s eye. For Phoenix, it is clear that Devin Booker is the key piece to the puzzle, and stopping him slows down the entire Suns’ offense. But that is much easier said than done, as was proven in their 6-game series win versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Couple this with the mastermind that is Chris Paul, even with an apparent shoulder injury, and you get a team that has the pieces to contend. The issue lies outside of those two players. Deandre Ayton is a force near the basket at both ends, but he is not the Rudy Gobert-type of dominant the Suns may require. Jae Crowder is streaky and cannot be depended on for a bucket at crucial points in games. The rest of the supporting cast is young and unproven, but still, they do have the skills necessary to stick with it and stay in games as they did pretty much all season. On the flip side, Denver looks like a more complete team, even with the loss of Jamal Murray. Nikola Jokic has picked up the slack and added to his already crazy MVP case, and the rest of the team is stepping up. The mid-season addition of Aaron Gordon has proven very useful, as he provides spacing as well as energy to a now lacking Denver attack (again due to Jamal Murray’s injury). Michael Porter Jr. is very much living up to his draft hype, providing that spark whenever he is in the game. Monte Morris is putting up career numbers when they matter most, and Austin Rivers has proven to be a pivotal late-season signing as well. Denver looks like what Phoenix can be with a couple more free-agent signings and trades. The Suns are too unproven and young for me to pick them winning this series, and for that reason, I have the Nuggets in 6.

2021 NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview

By Saransh Sharma & Anish Dhondi

The Milwaukee Bucks got their revenge over the Miami Heat in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs in an emphatic fashion, sweeping the defending Eastern Conference Champions. Brooklyn and Philadelphia, the Eastern Conference favorites, both defeated the Celtics and Wizards, respectively, in 5 games. Brooklyn takes on Milwaukee in what many seem to be the Bucks’ chance to prove they are a legit contender, and Philadelphia will see themselves against the upstart Atlanta Hawks, who ousted the Knicks in 5 games. Here is our preview and our predictions for who we expect to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals:

Saransh’s Predictions

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

This entire series’ outcome depends on the health of Joel Embiid, who is currently day-to-day with a small meniscus tear, keyword being small. While Embiid will not need surgery, the 76ers have a rigorous treatment regimen in place for Embiid, making his return date unknown. This is something Atlanta can take advantage of, because Clint Capela and John Collins, the catalysts of this defense, can avoid foul trouble defensively. They can also do their thing offensively without having to worry about Joel Embiid causing problems in the paint. Trae Young will dominate and silence many Sixers fans the same way he did with Knicks fans, though he will be defended by Ben Simmons, one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. That said, the perimeter shooting from him, Bogdan Bogdanovic, DeAndre Hunter, and Kevin Huerter will have this Hawks’ offense soaring. The question is, without Embiid, without the pick-and-roll game being as effective, can the 76ers get enough paint production from Ben Simmons & Dwight Howard? Can Seth Curry, Danny Green, and the Philly shooters stay hot without Embiid? If Embiid does not come back before Game 3, Atlanta wins in 6. If he does, Philadelphia in 6. With the assumption that Embiid will not return in time, I am picking Atlanta.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Brooklyn and Milwaukee meet in a matchup that many believe will determine who will be crowned the Eastern Conference Champions. Milwaukee did a great job defending Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo and clogging the paint while dominating on the outside on offense against Miami but have to flip that gameplan to beat this incredibly talented Nets team. Miami honed in on stopping Giannis offensively, and it worked, lowering his FG% to lower than usual (45% shooting), but Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton, and Bryn Forbes stepped up and were big-time, and Giannis as a playmaker was a huge reason why.

The way the Nets defense is structured, to expect Giannis to be stopped and slowed down like Miami did from a scoring perspective is low. The question will be, can Middleton, Holiday, & Co. step up offensively again. Giannis will need to carry the load as a playmaker again, but more so as a scorer. I do not believe that Milwaukee is the team with the best chance to beat Brooklyn, and while I hope I am proven wrong, I expect Brooklyn to win in 6.

Anish’s Predictions

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

This series seems easy enough to predict, with Philadelphia on top assuming both teams are at full strength. However, for Joel Embiid’s Sixers, that might not be the case. Embiid exited the Wizards series in Game 4 and the Sixers lost their one game of the series. Embiid is a crucial factor to this team and it completely changes the prediction based on his availability. Even without Embiid, this Sixers squad is very talented with Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris, and Seth Curry carrying the scoring load. Knowing how eager superstars are to return in the Playoffs, I do not see Embiid missing more than 2 Games. If Embiid misses 2 games, I believe the Sixers split the first 2 games at home without Embiid, and then defeat the Hawks in 6 once Embiid returns. 

The Hawks’ best player and scorer, Trae Young, will be guarded by Ben Simmons, a DPOY candidate who will limit his production. Limiting Trae Young will be the deciding factor, being he is the only Hawks All-Star. The Sixers have more depth and have guys like Tobias Harris and Seth Curry who can get hot and pick up the slack with Embiid being out. They finished off the Wizards without Embiid, so I believe the Sixers will still win this series if Embiid misses just 2 games. If he misses more, the Hawks might take it. Overall my prediction is Sixers in 6, but anything can happen.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

Now this series will give us the most excitement from the Eastern Conference. The Bucks’ defense is one of the best in these Playoffs, and Jrue Holiday is a big reason why. Jrue Holiday can lock down either Harden or Kyrie, but then the other is able to score, then they also have Kevin Durant which will be the task for Giannis, who is also a great defender. The Nets, on the other hand, are stacked with veteran superstars who can take turns scoring. This series will be intense and should go to Game 7. As unstoppable as the Nets are on offense, no defender can stop Giannis’ offense. Giannis overcame Bam Adebayo in the recent series against the Heat, so I do not see the Nets doing a better job of containing him. This matchup will be offense vs. offense as both of these teams are able to score in a variety of ways, including from the 3-point line. The Nets’ stellar shooting starts with the Big 3 and continues with 3-point contest winner Joe Harris. However, the Bucks can also get hot from 3 as the Bucks currently hold the record for most 3-pointers in a single game at 29 earlier this season. We know Jrue Holiday and Middleton can get hot from three, but Bryn Forbes has taken a significant step-up in proving he can be a threat off the bench. This will be a long, high-scoring series, but in the end, the Brooklyn Nets have way too much superstar power and will be able to close their games more effectively. Nets in 7.

2021 Roland Garros Preview

By Saransh Sharma

The clay-court swing in tennis has been underway for months now, and after a few delays, it comes to a close with the clay-court major Roland Garros. The tournament has been largely dominated by Rafael Nadal and this year features him alongside Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic on the same side of his bracket. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem, Matteo Berrettini, and Alexander Zverev see themselves and other rising stars on the opposite side of the bracket. Here is all you need to know for Roland Garros:

Rafael Nadal Goes For More History

Rafael Nadal already made history with his 13th title at Roland Garros, the most ever at a single Grand Slam, but he now goes for his 21st Grand Slam, the record for most Grand Slams won by a single player. Nadal has a peculiar path, as he should go unchallenged until the Quarterfinals, where he could play Diego Schwartzman or Andrey Rublev, and then would face Novak or Roger if he advanced to the semis. The Final would feature him against one of the young stars, being Zverev, Thiem, or Tsitsipas is yet to be seen. Rafa’s 100-2 record in matches at Roland Garros makes him a near-virtual lock to win it all again, the question will be who gives him the biggest challenge.

How Will Roger Federer Perform?

Roger Federer will once again play at Roland Garros, but this year has been unlike any other. Roger has won just 2 matches out of 4 played this year and looks completely out of form since his return from a knee injury. What will be tough to gauge is if Roger is motivated enough to go far in this tournament, because while this is a way for him to get more matches under his belt, he faces tough opponents early, and Roger has said that winning Roland Garros is not a goal of his. He could get ousted as early as Round 3 by rising American Taylor Fritz or even go as deep as the semifinals again to play Rafael Nadal as he did in 2019. Whatever happens, we hope to see Roger play well.

Which Rising Star Will Step Up?

This year has been dominated by Rafael Nadal and the young stars so far, with Daniil Medvedev making it to the Australian Open Final, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev winning Masters 1000 tournament, and players like Matteo Berrettini, Jannik Sinner, and Aslan Karatsev going deep in tournaments and being in the top-10 in wins in 2021. The strongest player this season has been Stefanos Tsitsipas, as his improved clay-court game and draw could see him make a deep run. Daniil Medvedev has looked all out of sorts and has voiced his hatred towards clay many times in 2021, deeming him an early upset candidate. Rublev, Berrettini, and Zverev see themselves with tougher draws, as Rublev and Berretini could face Nadal in the Quarterfinals and Semifinals, respectively, and Zverev could face Roberto Bautista Agut, one of the most dangerous players on tour, in Round 4. If he were to advance, 2-time Roland Garros runner-up, Dominic Thiem, could await him in the Quarterfinals. These guys all have great chances to make a deep run and challenge Nadal. The question is, who is up to the task of dethroning Nadal?

2021 UCL Final Preview: Which Premier League Team Rules Europe?

By Nikhil Pradeep

The UEFA Champions League Final kicks off this Saturday at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto, Portugal, in which two Premier League heavyweights face off for Europe’s most desired trophy. Manchester City and Chelsea have had stellar seasons, although both have come from far different beginnings and gone through wildly different circumstances. In this brief overview of Saturday’s matchup, we discuss how these two football clubs got to this point and our predictions for the Final.

Manchester City came into this season with huge expectations, but that seems to be the norm surrounding the club nowadays. As seems usual, the team went into this season having signed big names in the transfer window over the summer. These include players such as Nathan Ake, Ferran Torres, and most notably, Ruben Dias for a combined sum of nearly 150 million Euros. Their season did not start the best, having lost a couple of games within the Premier League and FA Cup, causing supporters and teams to think that maybe the club had finally lost its form. City then ripped off a 15-game winning streak which saw them skyrocket to the top of the Premier League table and win the league trophy and carried this momentum through the qualifying and pre-final stages of the UCL as well. Since this streak, they’ve dropped points here and there, but all-around look unstoppable in all senses of the word. The club has relied on the ingenious tactics of Pep Guardiola, who once again shows that his rather unconventional style of play from his midfielders and full-backs gets results and gets them in dominating fashion. A prime example of this was their semi-final matchup against PSG, where Joao Cancelo, Kevin De Buyne, and Ruben Dias easily shut down the strikeforce of Neymar, Mbappe, and Di Maria, making them look completely out of sorts and nowhere near the quality they possess. This City team has been one of the standouts in their club history, worrying for any opponent.

On the opposite side of this spectrum, Chelsea Football Club has seen more highs and lows in this one season than Manchester City has in the last 10 years as a club. The campaign started with the high-profile hiring of club legend Frank Lampard as manager and big-name summer transfers like Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, and Kai Havertz. There was tons of promise for this team, and many pegged them to be challenging for the Premier League title and European tournaments. As the year went on, these signings never lived up to their expectations, and Lampard’s inexperience as a manager started to show signs of causing issues within the club. Chelsea saw themselves slip as low as 8th place in the Premier League and after more and more lackluster results, Lampard was sacked. To replace him as manager was Thomas Tuchel, former manager of Dortmund and PSG. Since Tuchel’s arrival, Chelsea has looked a completely new and improved side, with absolutely immense performances from Christian Pulisic, Eduard Mendy and improved performances from most of their summer transfers as well, namely Timo Werner. The club currently sits at 18 wins, 6 draws, and 5 losses since his arrival, a major improvement compared to their form earlier in the year. Chelsea carries a good amount of momentum into this Champions League final.

Given City’s dominant form as of late, as well as their talent as compared to Chelsea’s, I do not see them getting beat, especially during a game of this magnitude. The key to this game lies in City’s defense and Chelsea’s attack. Manchester City has spent a great deal to bolster their defense this season, and the partnership of Ruben Dias and John Stones has proven to be the toughest to break in all of Europe all season long. Chelsea’s attack consisting of Werner, Havertz, and Pulisic, along with whoever Tuchel decides to employ, need to make commanding runs into the box and convert on counter-attack opportunities to have a decent chance of winning this tournament and breaking the Manchester City hold on the match. If Chelsea prioritizes defense, they will not have enough firepower in attack to create any separation from City to get the result they need and spend the entire game on the backfoot, which again plays right into Guardiola’s hand. Thus, I predict Manchester City to win the UCL Final by a score of 3-1 and complete the season double of the Premier League and UCL Title.

Why The NBA Play-In Was So Successful, And Why It’s Here To Stay

By Anish Dhondi

The NBA Play-In Tournament was a topic that led to mixed feelings throughout the season from fans and even players, but it turned out to be a huge success. The Play-In games got excellent TV ratings, most notably Lakers-Warriors, which drew 5.6 million viewers. Bringing playoff-level intensity before the Playoffs begin, plus having players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry playing, brought in tons of fans from all around the world to watch. The Play-In tournament itself proved its worth because, in reality, it has always been necessary. Too often, we see 9th and 10th seeds in conferences miss the Playoffs due to a record tiebreaker or just a few games difference, but allowing them to get two wins in a row to make the Playoffs, and prove how good of a team they can be, is what the NBA needed to see.

For example, in the Eastern Conference this season, the Pacers and Wizards finished with the same record. In this case, the Wizards take the tiebreaker and have the 8th seed while the Pacers fall to 9th, sending the Pacers to their couches for the Playoffs, not giving them a chance to compete for the Playoffs, which some may say is unfair. The Hornets, who were the 10th-seed in the Eastern Conference, were just one game behind the Pacers, so for them to be so close yet still get the chance proved the fairness of the Play-In Tournament itself. 

Another huge incentive for all is that it prevents tanking, a topic that has been talked about for the past few seasons. The top teams in each conference have to get a top-6 seed, the 10-seed can make Playoffs, therefore lowering their Draft pick if they do make it, and only 10 teams out of the 30 in the NBA have no chance of making the Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament allows our fans to have six more high-stakes loser home games (7th vs. 8th, 9th vs. 10th, winners of those play each other, making for three games per conference). The only real flaw of the Play-In Tournament is that star players can get hurt and miss the Playoffs, yet we were fortunate enough to avoid that this season. Those unfortunate scenarios are just a part of the game that no one can avoid, as there simply is no way to avoid it.

The general NBA fanbase was in favor of the Play-In Tournament until the Warriors were knocked out by the Grizzlies in their second Play-In Game. However, NBA fans missed out on the good side of this scenario, which was that the Warriors and Grizzlies had a difference of just one win separating them in the regular season standings, but with the spotlight on them, the underdog Grizzlies fought harder and took their place and earned the 8-seed in the NBA Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament gave us some unforgettable moments with another chapter in the LeBron-Steph rivalry, a Warriors-Grizzlies Overtime thriller, and a 50-point masterpiece from Jayson Tatum to take the Celtics to the Playoffs. These games showed us that the Play-In Tournament is here to stay, giving players and fans a Game 7 Playoffs, win-or-go-home feeling, where current stars perform when it matters the most, and new stars blossom in front of our eyes. Additionally, it proved that Adam Silver’s innovation throughout last season’s NBA Bubble was incredible and should be applauded.

Where Will Julio Jones Be Traded To?

By Saransh Sharma, Rohan Krishnan, & Pranav Thiriveedhi

For the last decade, Julio Jones has been arguably the best wide receiver that we have ever seen play during that time, and for good reason. In his decade-long career so far, Julio has 12,896 receiving yards, 60 TDs, has been named an All-Pro twice, is a 7x Pro Bowler, has a Super Bowl appearance, and was named to the All-2010s Hall of Fame team. The only player with comparable stats to that is Antonio Brown, who if he had not been suspended over the past two seasons, would have better stats than him. The argument between whether Julio or AB is the better WR all-time and of the 2010s decade is a debate for another day, but with a superstar like Julio on the trading block, the speculation as to where he will end up goes through the roof. Here are our predictions of the best landing spots for Julio and where he should be traded to, now that he has officially declared that he wants out:

Saransh’s Prediction: Julio Reunites With Kyle Shanahan

The only problem the 49ers have is not that they do not have trade assets, but that they are in the NFC, and Atlanta would hate to trade Julio to a team they probably have to see once every 1-2 seasons. Then again, it is Julio Jones, and hearing out the trade would not hurt the Falcons. San Francisco is an interesting position, with $17.133M available in cap space, per Spotrac, but also able to free up cap space with a Jimmy Garoppolo trade/release, and movement of other players via trade. Julio Jones might not like the fact that he would have to play with a rookie QB in Trey Lance, but he would be surrounded by elite weapons like George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and a plethora of running backs, giving Julio a similar feel to what he had in Atlanta. He would also have the familiarity with Head Coach Kyle Shanahan, who was Julio & the Falcons’ Offensive Coordinator during the Falcons’ Super Bowl run. The 49ers have a defense that is built for a Super Bowl run and are rebuilding at QB, but the rest of the offense is just a piece away from being elite, and Julio can be that guy that helps them get back, and this time, win a Super Bowl.

Mock Trade:

Falcons Receive: 2022 2nd-Round Pick, 2022 3rd-Round Pick, FS Jimmie Ward, LB Samson Ebukam

49ers Receive: WR Julio Jones, 2022 5th-Round Pick

49ers Release: QB Jimmy Garoppolo (cap casualty)

49ers Sign: FS Tre Boston on 2-year, $10M deal (Jimmie Ward replacement)

Rohan’s Prediction: Julio Joins Henry, Brown, & Tannehill In Nashville

Tennessee has been very connected to superstar WR Julio Jones and he would be a massive upgrade to a team that desperately needs a receiver. The Titans lost 2 key offensive players this offseason: receiver Corey Davis and tight end Jonnu Smith. They added Josh Reynolds, but they need some pass-catches to fill in these holes so Julio makes a lot of sense. Also, Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown has recruited Julio Jones publicly with both of them making a pitch on Twitter, plus it seems that Julio does want to play in Nashville. The question is, can Tennessee afford Julio Jones? It is difficult but not impossible. Jones will carry a cap hit of about $23 million and the Titans have just $3.60 million remaining in cap space, so Tennessee would have to jump through a lot of hoops to make this happen. They would have to restructure contracts of their highest-paid players like quarterback Ryan Tannehill, tackle Taylor Lewan, and guard Rodger Saffold. The Titans are in win now mode and have to do whatever it takes to get a player like Julio Jones. They are right on the doorstep of being strong contenders for the title and Jones would put them over the hump. 

Mock Trade:

Falcons Receive: 2022 2nd-Round pick, 2022 3rd-Round pick

Titans Receive: Julio Jones

Titans Restructure: Ryan Tannehill, Taylor Lewan 

Pranav’s Prediction: Julio Joins Cam & Belichick in Foxborough

Julio Jones is not only a generational talent but is one of the best wide receivers to ever play in the National Football League. Aside from his national accolades, Julio is the face of Atlanta and an athlete that almost every kid looks up to. And now, the Atlanta Falcons, with the hope of becoming a younger team, have put the veteran super receiver on the trading block. It won’t be long before Julio is acquired by another team, and that team to look out for is the New England Patriots. Coach Bill Belichick is known for bringing in veteran superstar receivers into New England after an amazing playing career in their prior home. Take Randy Moss, Chad Johnson, Antonio Brown, and Josh Gordon for example. Sometimes it worked out for the Patriots, but most of the time it didn’t. So why would the Patriots want to bring in a big-name receiver, who would cost a lot, but not make much of a difference? Well, because of the Tom Brady factor. Tom Brady, who could use any wide receiver to do anything, is no longer on the team, so the Patriots and Belichick will have to rely on their two QBs: Cam Newton, a veteran with more to prove, and Mac Jones, a rookie yet to be tested. Unlike Brady, these quarterbacks would more likely than not need a lot of support on offense, so bringing in a veteran superhuman of a receiver such as Julio Jones into New England will beef up the receiving core and strengthen it, regardless of his age or healthiness. 

Currently, the Patriots receiving core consists of the wide receivers:

Nelson Agholor, a speedy threat, is coming off a great season in Las Vegas, but still has a lot of trouble from his experience in Philadelphia. Next is Kendrick Bourne, a four-year depth chart receiver who has had a steady career in San Francisco. Returning from last season are Jakobi Meyers and N’Keal Harry, who are both very young receivers who had average seasons with Cam Newton under center.

By bringing Julio Jones in, the Patriots would get a consistent receiver, mentor, and reliable target for the receiving core. But Julio Jones is a costly receiver, which is the real reason Atlanta wants to move on from him, as their cap hit would be through the roof if they were to keep the All-NFL superstar. The Patriots would not only have to make financial space for him, which would consist of a lot of restructuring and releasing but would have to give up a lot to get him in the trade.

Mock Trade:

Falcons Receive: 2022 2nd-Round Pick, 2023 2nd-Round Pick, LB Dont’a Hightower

Patriots Receive: WR Julio Jones, 2022 6th-Round Pick

2021 NBA Playoff Predictions: Opening Round

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

In the first full NBA season played in the Coronavirus pandemic, the NBA yet again outdid themselves with how they handled it and how they kept everyone safe. Adam Silver continues to show that he is an innovator off-the-court, as well as on, adding in a Play-In Tournament for the Playoffs, which proved to bring some of the most entertaining basketball we have seen in years. With the Play-In Tournament now at a close and the Playoffs fully set, here are our predictions for the Opening Round of the NBA Playoffs:

Saransh’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-0

What an epic Play-In Game we saw between the Grizzlies and Warriors, and what an incredible win it was for this young Grizzlies team. The issue is that this team is far too young and inexperienced (youngest team by average player age in the last 10 postseasons) to handle the Jazz, who have tons of experience and are as elite as they come defensively. 

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Mavericks win series 4-3

The Mavericks and Clippers series is the one series that should go to 7 games in the Opening Round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Both teams are very stout defensively and can put up points at rapid-fire paces, but what separates the two teams is the big man play, and Kristaps Porzingis, while he has had durability issues this season, has quietly averaged 20.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG. This production will be difficult for the Clippers to match, and coupled with Luka being unfazed by any sort of defensive pressure and the role players of the Mavericks always finding a way to contribute, they take it in 7.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers win series 4-2

If Denver had Jamal Murray, this would be much more of a ‘toss-up’ series but the inconsistencies of Nikola Jokic’s supporting cast this season, will ultimately be what sends Denver home, as matching Dame, CJ, and Melo will be too much for Denver. Jokic will show why he is the MVP (or at least why he is an MVP finalist), but the Blazers will show to be the better team this time around.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-1

The Suns have had a magical season, and this young team has been great, led by the ageless wonder, Chris Paul, but the Lakers, who have not been healthy most of this season, are beginning to get back to full strength, and that will be too much for this young Suns squad to handle. No one can guard LeBron James or Anthony Davis, and the inexperience of everyone on Phoenix outside of Chris Paul will be too much to overcome.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-2

Embiid and Simmons vs. Westbrook and Beal, could we ask for a more appealing matchup? In what should be a very entertaining star player battle, we see a big gap in the talent and depth of both teams, and with no one to guard Joel Embiid, the Wizards will not have a chance at the upset. They can experiment with giving Daniel Gafford more minutes, but even his freakish ability to block shots will not be enough to stop Embiid. The stars of Washington should get a game or two and slow down Ben Simmons, but slowing Embiid down and match the role players’ contributions will be the downfall for Washington.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Hawks win series 4-3

What a season for the Knicks it has been. A team built for a complete rebuild has suddenly turned into the best defensive team in the NBA and one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA thanks for Coach of the Year finalist Tom Thibodeau. Players like RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Derrick Rose have also come into their own and found their strides once again and have helped this Knicks team get to where they are today. The Hawks also had a magical season led by Head Coach Nate McMillan, who was hired midseason and has turned a team that had an awful season start into a strong playoff team, finishing the season with a 27-11 record. The concern with McMillan is his Playoff record as a coach, as he is 17-36 in his career, and 3-16 with the Pacers, his last head coaching job. But the youth of this team, the innate ability to score at ease, and the defensive anchor by Clint Capela has helped McMillan create a gameplan that works night after night to help this team succeed. This series will be more of a defensive battle than most expect, as I expect Capela to lockdown Julius Randle, and I expect the supporting cast around Trae Young to produce while he is slowed down by the elite Knicks defense. All in all, the Knicks do not have enough offense to keep up with Atlanta, but this series is as much of a toss-up as you can have.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Heat win series 4-3

Well, well, well, here we go again, yet another year where Miami underperforms and everyone sleeps on them. Jrue Holiday has been an incredible upgrade from Eric Bledsoe for Milwaukee, Khris Middleton has improved his game a ton, and Giannis had another MVP-caliber season, yet everyone seems to forget how great Miami is at stopping him. Giannis averaged just 16.7 PPG and 9.3 RPG against them this season and forced players like Middleton and Holiday to step up and take the scoring helm in the regular season, but the Playoffs are a different animal, and if Milwaukee wants any chance to win this series and avoid last year’s embarrassment, they need Giannis to be the MVP-caliber player he has played like for so many seasons. Not to mention, Milwaukee still has no answer for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Miami has also seen their 3-point shooting catch fire late season, and that was what ultimately drove the Bucks to their downfall in last year’s series. Miami gets the upset again.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

Boston, congratulations on making it to the Playoffs via the Play-In Tournament, but Jayson Tatum is not dropping 50 points every night, no matter how inconsistent the Nets’ defense may be. Not to mention, a healthy Nets’ Big 3 and Blake Griffin is a lot to ask a team to defend.

Nikhil’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-0

The Utah Jazz have proven themselves as a quality basketball organization with high hopes for the present and future this season, and by that reasoning, they are fit to take on any team when fully healthy. This team has one of the deepest rosters in the league, and the likes of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Jordan Clarkson off the bench will prove tough to handle. On the flip side, the Grizzlies are too thin and inexperienced to contend with the red-hot Jazz. Unless they can put together multiple performances akin to that shown against the Golden State Warriors, I do not see them posing any challenge to the much more complete team in the Utah Jazz.

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers win series 4-3

The Clippers and Mavericks matchup is intriguing because both teams have so much offensive firepower, that every game played in this series has the potential to be a shootout. The Clippers are the more established and deeper team, which is why I give them the nod. The likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be tested heavily by Luka Doncic and company. An important note: Rajon Rondo has been the key to the Clippers’ recent success, and if he steps up and provides that veteran savvy and knowledge, it will be hard for the relatively younger Mavs roster to keep up. Again, however, Doncic manages to find the most spectacular ways to keep himself and his team in contention, so expect this series to be a close-fought battle.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Nuggets win series 4-2

The Nuggets and Trail Blazers present a similar matchup as the Clippers-Mavs one. However, I would say there is a bit more of a defensive element for both teams. The Nuggets are down on offensive power with the injury to Jamal Murray, but MVP candidate Nikola Jokic has rallied the team, and they seem to be carrying lots of momentum into the playoffs. The Blazers have had a rocky last couple of games but managed to get enough victories to avoid the Play-In tournament. Even without Jamal Murray, the Nuggets seem to have so much offensive proficiency solely from Jokic’s MVP caliber play, and I do not see the Blazers being able to match that, even with Damian Lillard in the team.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-2

Finally, the strangest matchup in this slate, the Suns and Lakers. Phoenix has been the surprise team this year by a large margin, and it can all be attributed to the leadership of Chris Paul. The team itself is surprisingly young outside of the point god, however they manage to play like a veteran squad that has been deep in the playoffs before. That being said, they are playing LeBron James, and if history has taught us well, it is that you almost never bet against LeBron James. The only reason why the Lakers will not sweep the Suns here is because of their recent game against the Warriors, where they showed that they are vulnerable to a game-breaking player. Devin Booker of the Suns is not at that level yet, but I do seeing him posing a problem enough to where they might steal two games from the Lakers.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-2

The Washington Wizards have defied all odds from the beginning of their season to make it to the 8-seed in the playoffs, and the consensus around the league is that they are one of the most dangerous teams in this league. That being said, I find it hard for them to contend with the 76ers, who have been the epitome of excellence for most of this season. Doc Rivers in his first year with the team has taken them to the top of the Eastern Conference, and MVP caliber performances from Joel Embiid, defensive clinics from Ben Simmons, and a stellar supporting cast in the rest of the roster quite simply are too much for the Wizards to handle. Unless Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal drop insane performances for every game in the series (which is somewhat possible), I see them only taking two games of this series and losing to the 76ers.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Knicks win series 4-3

The New York Knicks are back and better than ever, and the play of Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and the old but gold coaching from Tom Thibodeau has paid off tremendously. On the other side of this matchup, the Atlanta Hawks have also come back from adversity, growing through a coaching change in the middle of the season and finding their form finely as well. Both teams are riding a lot of momentum into this series, and in my opinion, the winner will be decided by who plays better defense. Both teams are offensively proven, but the Knicks, under defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, seem to be better conditioned to come up with key stops down the stretch. It will be close, but the better all-around defensive structure of the New York Knicks team will be the deciding factor and send them through to the next round of the playoffs.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Bucks win series 4-2

The Miami Heat have more or less stayed the same from their Cinderella story run to the championship last year, and that sort of plays to their disadvantage. Jimmy Butler and co. are by no means a pushover, but if you look at the rest of the conference, nearly every team in contention has gotten better and more suited to take the crown this year. The Bucks are the prime example of this, having added Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker to the already explosive talent that is Giannis Antetokounmpo. As defensively sound Bam Adebayo is, there simply is not enough within the Miami roster to hold the offense of the Bucks down for a 7-game series. Given their expanded roster, the floor becomes stretched, and they become that much tougher to defend. I have the Bucks progressing to the next round in 6 games.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

Finally, the team that everyone has as their favorite, the Brooklyn Nets. Oddly enough, we have not seen this team run at full capacity very much this season, with KD, Kyrie, and Harden all missing time for large chunks of the season for a variety of different reasons. However, they all should be back for the playoffs and will be back during the series’ that matter most. If we are being honest, this one does not entail that. The Celtics have been on the downward trend since losing Jaylen Brown to a wrist injury, and while they handily beat the Wizards to claim the 7-seed, a team of this caliber should not be down in the Play-In tournament in the first place. Jayson Tatum simply cannot drop 50 points in every game in this series as he did against the Wizards, and when you have 3 of the biggest stars on the opposite side of the ball along with an established sub-star in Blake Griffin, it is almost certain that the Celtics make a quick exit.

Anish’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-1

Now no one expected this Grizzlies team to even be in the playoffs. Everyone was talking about a Warriors Jazz series and a potential upset there. Not to be rude or discredit any of these team’s success, but this is the most irrelevant series in the playoffs. It probably has to do with both team’s lack of star power and being small market teams. The Jazz took first seed this year yet not a single person has them winning the championship. The Jazz will take this series and I say Jazz in 5 because I believe the Grizzlies can steal a game if Ja Morant goes off again or if Donovan Mitchell is not 100% healthy.

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers win series 4-2

The Mavericks vs Clippers seems to be a repeat matchup of last year’s first round. That in which the Clippers won in 6 games. In my opinion, I see a repeat of that this year. I do not feel like the Mavericks have improved significantly in any way and Porzingis just is not using his talents like he should get them to the next level. Kawhi will take over this series, but it will come down to how Pual George plays to determine how many games it takes for the Clippers to win, so I say Clippers in 6.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers win series 4-2

Denver vs. Portland is a matchup that also occurred in 2019 in which Portland made their biggest playoff run in recent history to the WCF. The matchup was very close, in which the Blazers won in 7 games. That said, the Blazers feel like the favorites to win this series. Not only are the Nuggets missing their starting point guard in Jamal Murray, but the Blazers now have Jusuf Nurkic, who is known to be a much better defender than Enes Kanter. In 2019 the Blazers were able to defeat the Nuggets without Kanter so Nurkic will make it easier. Along with the Nuggets improving with Aaron Gordon and the emergence of Campazzo and MPJ, the Blazers also have new pieces in Robert Covington, Norman Powell, and Derrick Jones Jr., all of whom will be able to match with Denver. Portland’s backcourt is the strong suit of their team, and Denver missing Jamal Murray takes a huge hit which gives me the Blazers in 6.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-3

I feel bad for the Suns here. When looking at this, you would assume the Suns are favorites because of their high seed, but having LeBron James on the opposing roster changes the whole game. LeBron has proven to never count his team out, as he has made the NBA Finals countless times with different rosters, and with Anthony Davis alongside him, and being the defending champions, they will not go down easy. The veteran leadership of CP3 will push this series out to be very close but in the end, the Suns do not have anyone who can guard LeBron or Anthony Davis and will fall to the Lakers in 7.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-1

The Sixers have the clear edge here, as Washington was barely able to make the playoffs. They had to go on an incredible 17-6 run to end the season after starting 17-32. The Wizards have no one who can contain Joel Embiid as they rotate through 2-3 centers depending on matchups. The Sixers will dominate the game with not only their offense but their good defense too, which the Wizards lack. I give the Wizards one game because I can easily see Beal and Westbrook going off with crazy stats, the scoring running up to near 130s, and the Wizards winning a close game. But that type of play is not sustainable. Give me the Sixers in 5 games.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Knicks win series 4-3

The Knicks vs Hawks is not what you would expect to see in the NBA Playoffs, especially given these team’s recent history. The Hawks started the season not so great, and then Nate McMillan took over and coached them to a 27-11 record. On the other hand, Tom Thibodeau coached the Knicks to make the playoffs and have one of the best defenses in the league. Both these teams have their stars in Julius Randle and Trae Young so it will be an entertaining series. There is no clear favorite in this series and it will be close, but with the Knicks’ defense, I give them the slight edge and say Knicks in 7.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Bucks win series 4-3

The Bucks vs. Heat series will be interesting because the Heat is one of the few teams able to contain Giannis, especially in the playoffs. Last season when the Heat made its incredible trip to the NBA Finals, they defeated Giannis and the Bucks in 5 games. One key difference is the Bucks now have Jrue Holiday, an elite defender and scorer. Paired with Middleton and Giannis this team looks even scarier than last season. The Heat on the other hand have been battling injuries and did not make any big leaps this season. They acquired Victor Oladipo, only for him to be out for the season and not play in the playoffs. Although the Heat are good at containing Giannis, the Bucks firepower besides him still outmatch the Heat, and it will be too much for Jimmy Butler and the Heat this season. I got Bucks in 7. 

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

The Nets vs Celtics series is not going to be close. The Celtics have been dealing with bad injuries all year and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been carrying them to barely make the playoffs. Now, with Jaylen Brown out for the playoffs, it is all up to Tatum to carry this team. Kemba Walker is too inconsistent to rely on and when it comes to offensive firepower, Jayson Tatum is no match for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. For the Celtics to beat the Wizards in their Play-In Game, it took Jayson Tatum having to drop 50 points, that type of offense from Tatum is not consistent, and with the Big 3 of Brooklyn, this series feels over before it even started. If Jaylen Brown was healthy, I would give the Celtics a game or two, but he is not, leading me to pick the Nets in a sweep.

2021 NBA Play-In Preview: A More Entertaining Road to the Playoffs

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

The NBA Play-In Tournament has been hated and praised countless times throughout this season. Many like it because fewer teams will be tanking during the season, giving more teams a chance to make the Playoffs, and it gives us some incredible matchups (LeBron vs. Curry being the perfect example). At the same time, while it is not as big of an issue this season, future seasons could have 9 and 10-seeded teams that are significantly worse than 7 and 8-seeded teams, yet they could make it to the Playoffs through the Play-In. No matter whether you like it or hate it, there is more meaningful basketball before the Playoffs than ever, and here is our preview and our predictions for who gets the 7-seed and 8-seed in the East and West.

Play-In Format:

To Clinch 7-Seed: Team Must Win 7-Seed vs. 8-Seed Game

To Clinch 8-Seed: The Winner of 9-Seed vs. 10-Seed Game Plays the Loser of 7 vs. 8 Game, With Winner Clinching 8-Seed. The Loser of 9 vs. 10 Game Is Eliminated, Along With Loser of The 8-Seed Play-In Game

Saransh’s Predictions:

Western Conference:

  • #7 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Golden State Warriors: Lakers win to clinch 7-seed, play Phoenix
  • #9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #10 San Antonio Spurs: Spurs win to play against Warriors in 8-seed game
  • #8 Golden State Warriors vs. #10 San Antonio Spurs: Warriors win to clinch 8-seed, play Utah

The LeBron vs. Curry show will be the spectacle of the night and will be entertaining as always, but the talent gap between the Lakers and Warriors is too much, leading to an easy Lakers win. San Antonio gets matched up against an up-and-coming Memphis squad, but the slow pace and calm of Gregg Popovich and the experienced Spurs will be too much. That experience and slow pace will not work against Curry & the Warriors, though, whose fast-paced offense will run San Antonio out of the building and straight to their couches to watch the Playoffs. 

Eastern Conference:

  • #7 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Wizards win to clinch 7-seed, play Brooklyn
  • #9 Charlotte Hornets vs. #10 Indiana Pacers: Hornets win to play against Celtics in 8-seed game
  • #7 Boston Celtics vs. #9 Charlotte Hornets: Hornets win to clinch 8-seed, play Philadelphia

On April 5th, the Wizards were the 13th seed in Eastern Conference with a 17-32 record, looking like a team that was yet again fighting to get a higher lottery pick. They ended the season 34-38, good for 8th in the Eastern Conference, thanks to an incredible improvement from this team and historic performances from Russell Westbrook. The improvement of this team and the triple-doubles from Russ will keep coming, and the Celtics will not stand a chance. The Hornets take on a depleted Pacers squad and get past them to set up a matchup with another depleted squad in the Celtics, and again, the lack of health from Boston and the rise of the Hornets will get them the 8-seed.

Anish’s Predictions:

Western Conference:

  • #7 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Golden State Warriors: Lakers win to clinch 7-seed, play Phoenix
  • #9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #10 San Antonio Spurs: Grizzlies win to play against Warriors in 8-seed game
  • #8 Golden State Warriors vs. #9 Memphis Grizzlies: Warriors win to clinch 8-seed, play Utah

Lakers vs. Warriors play is the game we’re all waiting for. The matchup of LeBron vs. Steph has been a rivalry for a large part of the 2010s decade and now carries over into the 2020s. The Lakers have the upper hand talent-wise and are healthy at the moment. Despite Curry most likely dropping 40+, the Lakers should pull this one out. The Grizzlies vs. Spurs game is a lot less anticipated, but the Grizzlies should win this. The Spurs have been through far more playoff experience however, they’re in a rough patch going 2-8 in their last 10 games. The Grizzlies young core of Morant and Jackson can have the energy to put this game away. In the 8-Seed Game, we will see the Warriors vs Grizzlies, a rematch of the final game of the season. In this game, the Warriors came on top with Curry dropping a ridiculous 46 points, and although Curry is capable of doing that again, the game will be a lot closer than people think. In the end, I see Curry closing out the game and the Grizzlies losing as they lack the star power to finish off games like this in the playoffs.

Eastern Conference:

  • #7 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Wizards win to clinch 7-seed, play Brooklyn
  • #9 Charlotte Hornets vs. #10 Indiana Pacers: Pacers win to play against Celtics in 8-seed game
  • #7 Boston Celtics vs. #10 Indiana Pacers: Hornets win to clinch 8-seed, play Philadelphia

The Wizards are one of the hottest teams in the NBA right now, and the Celtics seem to be the exact opposite. A spectacular month it’s been for Russell Westbrook as Beal has been on and off with injuries. The Wizards will go into this game with a ton of momentum, and that should carry over into this game, resulting in a Wizards Nets first-round series. The Celtics are just in a rough patch especially losing Jaylen Brown which will hurt their chances to go far in this postseason. The Hornets vs. Pacers game face-off led by rookie LaMelo Ball and the Pacers led by All-Star Domantas Sabonis. The Pacers always seem to be one of those teams that are always slept on, and with Caris LeVert finding his stride, this team can be a real surprise. I have the Pacers winning this game easily, as the Hornets just don’t have the experience or talent to defeat the Pacers in my opinion. Now the 8-Seed Game between the Celtics and the Pacers will be close, and Malcolm Brogdon coming back will be crucial to the Pacers’ success. I have the Pacers winning this game, as they seem to have more well-rounded talent that tops the Celtics.

Nikhil’s Predictions:

Western Conference:

  • #7 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Golden State Warriors: Lakers win to clinch 7-seed, play Phoenix
  • #9 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #10 San Antonio Spurs: Spurs win to play against Warriors in 8-seed game
  • #8 Golden State Warriors vs. #10 San Antonio Spurs: Warriors win to clinch 8-seed, play Utah

As much as Steph Curry has lit up the scoring column this season, there simply is not enough depth on the Golden State roster to compete with LeBron, AD, and the rest of the Lakers team. There are a select few teams that Curry’s 32 PPG average during the regular season will not work on, and both Los Angeles teams fall into this category. In a full series, the Warriors could potentially take a couple of games, but this is the new Play-In tournament and its one-game format hurts Golden State’s chances. That being said, I see them beating the Spurs later on in the tournament to get the 8-seed. The Spurs themselves have been the classic uninspiring but somehow steady performers that we know and love, and I see them beating the relatively new and upcoming Grizzlies as well. Thus, I have the Lakers at the 7-seed and Warriors at 8-seed.

Eastern Conference:

  • #7 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Wizards win to clinch 7-seed, play Brooklyn
  • #9 Charlotte Hornets vs. #10 Indiana Pacers: Hornets win to play against Celtics in 8-seed game
  • #7 Boston Celtics vs. #9 Charlotte Hornets: Celtics win to clinch 8-seed, play Philadelphia

The Wizards have been one of the hottest teams in the league ever since Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal figured out how to coexist. Starting the season 0-5, being 17-32 in April, and finishing off the rest of the season 17-6 has been one of the best turnarounds this league has seen in a while, and that momentum is enough for me to have them over the sliding Celtics for the 7-seed. The Celtics themselves have been on the decline since Jaylen Brown’s season-ending injury, losing 5 of their last games before the end of the season. That being said, I still see them beating the Hornets for the 8-seed. The Hornets and Pacers are two teams that are on the cusp of becoming household names in the Eastern Conference, yet both are trending in different directions. The Pacers are internally combusting, with players not working with the coaching staff, and coaching staff having a hard time controlling the roster to their liking. Couple that with the rather uninspiring team, it is honestly a surprise that they’ve gotten this far. The Hornets, on the other hand, are building for the future and have a nice squad, and probably would have been higher up in the standings had Gordon Hayward not gone out with injury. The Celtics, however, are still very much the better team and way more put together, enough to propel them over the Hornets for the 8-seed.

sportsthrills 2021 NFL Mock Draft

By Saransh Sharma, Pranav Thiriveedhi, & Rohan Krishnan

The NFL Draft is just a day away and the storylines, smokescreens, rumors, and everything in between are out of control at this point. Here is our 2021 NFL Mock Draft, with trades:

Pick #1: Jacksonville Jaguars

Consensus Pick: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson

Should not be much to say here. Trevor Lawrence is probably the best QB prospect we have seen since Andrew Luck. In all of the years that the Jaguars have existed as a franchise, they have yet to have a franchise QB, and Lawrence would be the first.

Pick #2: New York Jets

Consensus Pick: Zach Wilson, QB, BYU

This is another one where there is not much to say. We have known for months about the Jets’ high interest in Wilson, and trading away former top-3 pick Sam Darnold opens the door for Wilson to be the next franchise QB for Gang Green.

Pick #3: San Francisco 49ers (Via Miami & Houston)

Consensus Pick: Mac Jones, QB, Alabama

While many believe that it is a smokescreen that the 49ers are deciding between Alabama QB Mac Jones & North Dakota State QB Trey Lance, the 49ers have raved about these two at QB. Jones would make more sense for the vision of the 49ers due to how he would play in this explosive offense and how he played with the explosive offense in Alabama. Lance would be the better QB, or better yet, Ohio State QB Justin Fields, but we expect Jones to be the pick here.

Pick #4: Philadelphia Eagles (Mock Trade Via Atlanta)

Consensus Pick: Ja’Marr Chase, WR, LSU

*Trade: Philadelphia acquires Pick 4 from Atlanta in exchange for Pick 12, TE Zach Ertz, & 2022 1st-Round Pick

Over the past few months it has become inevitable that Zach Ertz, arguably the greatest TE in Eagles history, has seen his time in Philadelphia come to an end, but recent reports, along with him still being on the team this long, suggests that Philadelphia will be using Ertz as a valuable trade asset, and for a Falcons team that is looking toward the future, taking Ertz to add to the young, up-and-coming pass-catching core, along with stacking up future draft picks, would be a great move for both sides. Ja’Marr Chase is the top WR on the board, and with Philadelphia having missed out on an elite WR option in Justin Jefferson last year, it would be hard to see them miss out on the opportunity again. Philadelphia trades up and makes a splash.

Pick #5: Cincinnati Bengals

Consensus Pick: Penei Sewell, OL, Oregon

Chase being drafted by Philadelphia gives Cincinnati the choice to do what they need to build an offensive line to keep last season’s #1 Pick in Joe Burrow healthy. Sewell is one of the best offensive linemen in recent drafts, and Cincinnati getting their franchise QB some protection. 

Pick #6: Miami Dolphins (Via Philadelphia & San Francisco)

Consensus Pick: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama

Tua Tagovailoa certainly did not have the start to his NFL career that Miami hoped for, but to write him off while he dealt with a serious hip injury is not fair to him. To reunite him with DeVonta Smith, the 2021 Heisman Trophy-winning WR & one of Tua’s favorite targets at ‘Bama, there is no reason why Miami should overlook Smith.

Pick #7: Washington Football Team (Mock Trade Via Detroit)

Consensus Pick: Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State

*Trade: Washington acquires Pick 7 from Detroit in exchange for Pick 19, DT Tim Settle, & 2022 1st-Round Pick

Washington has long talked about trading up for a QB, but only if the right QB was available at the right price. Making this trade to get Justin Fields gives Washington the perfect QB for their offense, and gives Detroit draft capital, along with the extra time, to consider who to build their future around. This experiment with an Ohio State QB should work out much better for Washington than it did when they took Dwayne Haskins just two years back, as Washington can throw Fields right into the fold, right out the gate, or even have him sit behind Ryan Fitzpatrick, an excellent mentor, for part of the season.

Pick #8: New England Patriots (Mock Trade Via Carolina)

Consensus Pick: Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State

*Trade: New England acquires Pick 8 from Carolina in exchange for Pick 15, Pick 96, TE Dalton Keene, & 2022 2nd-Round Pick

New England is another team that has talked about trading up for quite a while, given the right available QB and price, and to go big for their future is exactly what they should do here at 8. Carolina is already set on Sam Darnold at QB, and while Cam Newton could be the QB this coming season for the Patriots, he is not the long-term answer. Trey Lance gives the Patriots their best-drafted QB since Tom Brady and assuming all works out, their QB for years to come.

Pick #9: Denver Broncos

Consensus Pick: Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

With the top-5 QBs gone by Pick 9, Denver could trade back, but taking Patrick Surtain II to be the leader in their secondary on a roster with an up-and-coming defense is the right play here. Had Caleb Farley been healthy, this would be a different conversation, but Surtain II is the clear CB1 in this draft now. Putting him alongside Kyle Fuller would also be a great opportunity for him to blossom into a great NFL CB quickly.

Pick #10: Dallas Cowboys

Consensus Pick: Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida

Jerry Jones & the Cowboys have raved over the talent and ceiling of Kyle Pitts, and adding him to this already incredible offense (when healthy) would make this offense nearly unstoppable. While Dallas should go defense and address it while they can, they will certainly go all-out for the uber-talented Pitts.

Pick #11: New York Giants

Consensus Pick: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State

Micah Parsons is by far the best linebacker in this class and would be the perfect Mike linebacker to commandeer the Giants’ defense. His off-the-field issues are the reason why he could fall past this and why he will not go higher than this most likely, but he at #11 is perfect.

Pick #12: Atlanta Falcons (Mock Trade Via Philadelphia)

Consensus Pick: Rashawn Slater, OL, Northwestern

*Trade: Philadelphia acquires Pick 4 from Atlanta in exchange for Pick 12, TE Zach Ertz, along with 1st-Round Picks in 2022 & 2023

The plethora of picks that the Falcons get for the future, plus Zach Ertz, provides for an enticing future for Atlanta. Trading Julio Jones and Hayden Hurst could become major possibilities if the team decides to completely rebuild. Making the offensive line younger and improving them that way would be a great way to start in the offensive rebuild, and Rashawn Slater is that guy.

Pick #13: Los Angeles Chargers

Consensus Pick: Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina

CB Chris Harris Jr. played just 9 games due to injury last season, and with the Chargers shockingly trading away Desmond King, and letting Casey Hayward go, this secondary, especially the cornerback’s group, really needs an upgrade, and Jaycee Horn is that man. Him alongside CHJ, and with Derwin James at safety, this defense could see themselves back as a top-10 unit.

Pick #14: Minnesota Vikings

Consensus Pick: Alijah Vera-Tucker, OG, USC

Kirk Cousins was sacked 39 times, and a huge part of that was due to OGs Ezra Cleveland, who was unhealthy for a large portion of the season, and Dakota Dozier, giving up tons of pressure. Vera-Tucker is the best OG on the board, and Minnesota should not hesitate to take him.

Pick #15: Carolina Panthers (Mock Trade Via New England)

Consensus Pick: Christian Darrisaw, OT, Virginia Tech

*Trade: New England acquires Pick 8 from Carolina in exchange for Pick 15, 96, TE Dalton Keene, & 2022 2nd-Round Pick

To maximize the potential of newly-acquired QB Sam Darnold, the Panthers must protect him, something that the Jets failed to do throughout his time there. Darrisaw is another situation where if he is the best lineman on the board, you take him.

Pick #16: Arizona Cardinals

Consensus Pick: Jaylen Waddle, WR, Alabama

Either Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith could fall in this Draft, and Waddle, due to his injury history and brutal ankle injury this past season, could see his stock fall. The Cardinals want to find their true WR2 alongside DeAndre Hopkins, and Waddle is perfect for that.

Pick #17: Las Vegas Raiders

Consensus Pick: Caleb Farley, CB, Virginia Tech

This Raiders defense was historically terrible in 2020, and getting toasted in the secondary certainly did not help. CB Damon Arnette showed flashes of being good but is not a true CB1, which is what Farley would turn out to be.

Pick #18: Miami Dolphins

Consensus Pick: Kwity Paye, DE, Michigan

The Dolphins defense showed great improvement last season, but struggled on the edges, as their strongsuit was creating turnovers in the passing game. Kwity Paye is a great run-stuffer and has a knack for getting to the QB that Miami has not had since they had Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake on their defensive lines years ago.

Pick #19: Detroit Lions (Mock Trade Via Washington)

Consensus Pick: Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, LB, Notre Dame

*Trade: Washington acquires Pick 7 from Detroit in exchange for Pick 19, DT Tim Settle, & 2022 1st-Round Pick

Trading down makes sense for Detroit. You could stay at 7 and take a wide receiver, but you need a lot more than just that at this stage. Tim Settle has been part of this insanely elite Washington defensive line and can bring the heat for the Lions, and next year’s first-round pick will be a great addition (if used right) to what is expected to be a top-10 pick next year for the Lions. Having a hybrid LB/S like Owusu-Koromoah will be so valuable to Detroit, as he can be the Mike Linebacker alongside Jamie Collins Sr., and bolster this secondary to levels they have not seen. JOK & Settle will be great building blocks to begin rebuilding the defense of this team.

Pick #20: Chicago Bears

Consensus Pick: Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern

Losing Kyle Fuller was brutal, but drafting Jaylon Johnson was a steal. Putting a CB alongside him and rebuilding a once-elite secondary would be a great idea at #20, and Newsome II being the best on the board makes this decision a lot easier.

Pick #21: Indianapolis Colts

Consensus Pick: Azeez Ojulari, DE, Georgia

The Colts have long searched for the perfect edge rusher for their team, and after acquiring DT DeForest Buckner, this team needs to solidify this elite defense with an elite defensive line, and Ojulari alongside Buckner would be a nightmare for opposing offensive lines to stop.

Pick #22: Tennessee Titans

Consensus Pick: Rashod Bateman, WR, Minnesota

The Titans letting WRs Corey Davis & Adam Humphries depart was a strange move, but they have made it clear that this Draft will be the time for them to address the position. Rashod Bateman has been regarded by some as better than Jaylen Waddle, and his current talent and ceiling put him in a situation to be the perfect WR2 alongside A.J. Brown.

Pick #23: New York Jets (Via Seattle)

Consensus Pick: Teven Jenkins, OT, Oklahoma State

This is not an analysis of the Draft pick, but more so a plead to the Jets’ front office. Please protect Zach Wilson better than you protected Sam Darnold, and get him an offensive line. Teven Jenkins at #23 is a great start to doing so.

Pick #24: Pittsburgh Steelers

Consensus Pick: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

While it is hard for us to see any RB being a first-round talent, the Steelers desperately need to get their run game in order. Najee Harris is the best RB in this class and Pittsburgh should take him with no hesitation.

Pick #25: Jacksonville Jaguars (Via Los Angeles Rams)

Consensus Pick: Trevon Moehrig, S, TCU

Jacksonville is another team, like the Jets, that has a lot of holes, but mainly on their once-vaunted defense, as opposed to their defense. Trevon Moehrig is a versatile safety who, like JOK, can be a hybrid LB and be the commander of this defense.

Pick #26: Cleveland Browns

Consensus Pick: Zaven Collins, LB, Tulsa

The biggest weak point in the Cleveland defense is the linebacking core, and adding Zaven Collins to a potent pass-rush from the defensive line is an opportunity that the Browns cannot pass up.

Pick #27: Baltimore Ravens

Consensus Pick: Kadarius Toney, WR, Florida

Baltimore NEEDS to surround Lamar Jackson with receivers, and Kadarius Toney can be the speedy, big-play guy that this offense needs to be able to move down the field via the pass. Not to mention, his speed is also similar to that of Deebo Samuel, so do not be surprised if Baltimore uses him in the run-game as well.

Pick #28: New Orleans Saints

Consensus Pick: Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State

New Orleans needs a CB alongside Marshon Lattimore, and Asante Samuel Jr. can be a great addition to the squad.

Pick #29: Green Bay Packers

Consensus Pick: Terrace Marshall Jr., WR, LSU

Many will consider this a reach, but Marshall Jr. was an elite player during LSU’s down year this past season. He can come in and be the perfect slot receiver for Aaron Rodgers & Co.

Pick #30: Buffalo Bills

Consensus Pick: Christian Barmore, DT, Alabama

The Bills have a perfect secondary and near-perfect linebacking core, but this team needs pass-rush. Christian Barmore is a player who every opposing offense had to account for on every play, and he with this elite defense would solidify them even further as Super Bowl contenders.

Pick #31: Baltimore Ravens (Via Kansas City)

Consensus Pick: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas

Baltimore could get themselves another WR, but the offensive line is another huge need, and Samuel Cosmi can be a young stud they can develop to help protect Lamar.

Pick #32: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Consensus Pick: Jaelan Phillips, DE, Miami

There are not many needs for the defending champions, but defensive line depth would be a good one. Jason Pierre-Paul is getting up there in age, and having Phillips be his backup for a few seasons would help Tampa tremendously in the long-run.

The NBA All-Star Game’s Biggest Flaw

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, & Anish Dhondi

The NBA All-Star Game has a severe problem currently, but it has nothing to do with the game itself. It instead has to do with the fan & coach-controlled voting for players who get the opportunity to play in the game. Sure, some years snubbed players are understandable due to the stacked conferences and players merely being too hard to choose between, yet the past few years have been the complete opposite, with star players who have outperformed one or multiple selected All-Stars snubbed. The thing that is important to note is that every year, there are multitudes of players that are chosen to be All-Stars. With only 12 spots per conference, the selections are difficult, but some are just dumbfounded nonetheless. Here are our takes on how to improve the All-Star Game voting to have fewer snubs and avoid trolls from dominating the voting (such as Klay Thompson nearly being an All-Star despite playing 0 games):

Saransh’s Solution: Have Current Players Vote & No Conferences

Similar to the ‘NFL Top 100’ voting, the NBA should randomly select NBA players currently playing to compile their All-Star Teams, separated by starters and reserves, as well as by conference. Each player would then select 12 players per conference, and they are limited as to how many players from their team they can select to limit ‘troll voting’ by the players. As we have seen, current players such as LeBron James, CJ McCollum, Damian Lillard, and Luka Doncic all voiced their frustrations with players being snubbed. Devin Booker this season, who is an All-Star replacement for Anthony Davis, falls into this category. Also, even Luka Doncic believed that he should not have been selected as a starter, and Damian Lillard should have been instead. Many of the All-Star caliber players in the NBA have tons of respect for each other and see each other players’ games in ways that fans, and even in some cases, coaches, simply cannot. This goes for one of this season’s biggest All-Star snubs, Trae Young. Many coaches around the league have expressed that they do not believe Trae Young is a point guard or that he has the chance to be an elite NBA player because of his lack of size, his shooting and shot selection, and his defense. That should not matter for an All-Star Game as it is a game of enjoyment, but many coaches do not view it that way.

Another big emphasis that should be taken into account is realizing how much certain players impact their teams. For example, Jimmy Butler missed much of this season with COVID-19, yet when he is playing, the Heat are 14-7 (66.7% win percentage), did not make the All-Star team. DeMar DeRozan, another All-Star snub, is leading an underrated Spurs team in the Western Conference to a 16-12 record (5th in the Western Conference). While I do not believe that players on winning teams specifically should be on the All-Star team or not, fans, coaches, and the media have to realize that these players have huge impacts on their team when it comes to winning and losing games, therefore emphasizing player and team records more into choosing the All-Star rosters.

This goes hand-in-hand with the last change that the NBA needs to make for the All-Star Game, which is to have the league remove conferences for the All-Star Game, therefore getting the 24 best players into the game. This would allow a player like Devin Booker or Trae Young to get in over a player like Nikola Vucevic or Julius Randle, whom while they both had great seasons (24.4 PPG, 11.6 RPG, & 41.0% 3PT shooting for Vucevic, having career-high scoring seasons & 3PT-shooting season), he would not be selected over Devin Booker due to the removal of conferences, who is averaging 24.9 PPG on a career-high 49.7% on FGs, and leading the Suns to the 4th seed in the Western Conference (21-11), while Vooch’s Magic are 13th in the Eastern Conference (13-21).

Nikhil’s Solution: Team Central Selection & Subsequent Player-Wide Voting

The NBA’s selection criteria for the All-Star game has been inherently flawed for a while, but in fairness, it has mainly been due to the increasing amounts of player movement within teams. James Harden leaving Houston and teaming up with KD and Kyrie is not something that should be possible in a fair league and tips the balances as far as All-Star voting is concerned. All three are very clearly All-Stars, but this eats up a lot of space for other deserving players to make the rosters. This, combined with clear and rather obvious ‘snubs’ from the rosters and starting spots, such as the case of Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic for the starting guard spot in the Western Conference, makes for a speculative sort of circumstance for voting in general and is usually not representative of what the majority thinks. Thus, a credible, albeit not preferable method of choosing All-Stars could be to preliminarily pick three candidates from each team, and have another subsequent player vote among those selected.

The basic premise of the method is each team selects 3 members of the roster to be selected for All-Star eligibility, and from there a similar player-centralized vote as suggested in Saransh’s solution would be implemented to select the final rosters for each conference. The only downside to this would be the absence of the fan vote but in all honestly, the fan vote has only served to blur the credibility of the entire All-Star voting process, having selected Zaza Pachulia and an injured Klay Thompson as top ten selections in years past. By implementing these such sanctions within the process, it streamlines the eventual outcome and as a result, produces rosters that are seemingly all-inclusive and fair.

Anish’s Solution: Make Fan Vote Worth Less & Remove Conferences

The NBA’s All-Star Game is important to players as it serves as a vital accolade to their careers. That said, the players who truly deserve the spot on the teams must be named All-Stars. In the current day system, fan vote only really has a factor on All-Star starters, and they’re given the 50% for voting while the 25% goes to players and media each. What was flawed this year was between the tiebreaker in the Western Conference between Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic. For many years team success has always been a factor in deciding who’s having a better season and this season Lillard has been winning more with the injured Blazers roster. Now the problem for voting comes where fans voted Luka Doncic (50% of the vote) and Damian Lillard wins in the other 2 categories that add up to the other 50%. The NBA decided to give the tiebreaker to Luka Doncic which tells me the fan vote has too much power. Fans and social media nowadays turns everything into a meme as players like fan-favorite Alex Caruso, or even Klay Thompson, who has not and will not play a game this season due to his ACL injury. Despite that, he proceeds to receive more votes than CJ McCollum, who suffered a foot injury but was averaging 26 PPG prior. 

As much as we want to see fan input, I believe tiebreakers should be through the other 2 categories because if players (who play and know the game) and the media (whose job is to report on the game) think one guy is better than the other, how do they not win that tiebreaker? My other problem is with the conferences there’s a lack of balance all around. Currently looking at the standings in both the West and East you can see the West is much harder. Teams in the West who are barely playoff contention would be Top 5 seed in the East. With a divide shown this strong, the West has better players, but the NBA picks the same number of players from both sides. You can see the unbalance even looking at the All-Star starters as the East has 2 All-Star starters who aren’t even in playoff contention even in the East with Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum (KD replacement). While in the West we see that the Spurs hold a Top 5 seed and somehow don’t have a single All-Star… The NBA needs to do something to counteract this imbalance that has been between the conferences for years to avoid more snubs in the future.