What Is The Best Destination For Damian Lillard?

By Saransh Sharma, Rohan Krishnan, Pranav Thiriveedhi, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

Damian Lillard is a superstar who has given everything to the Trail Blazers franchise and the city of Portland. Consistently playing like a top-10 NBA player for the last few seasons, being an incredible scorer, facilitator, and leader for this team, taking this team as far as the Western Conference Finals (2019), Lillard has done everything he possibly could in Portland. But like many superstars who have dedicated years to their franchises, like James Harden and Anthony Davis in recent memory, Lillard and the Blazers seem to fall short every single year. That leads to trade rumors, frustration, and more build-up, and eventually overtake a player, as the reality that their team cannot win a championship given the current state of the NBA, despite their incredible performances and leadership night-in and night-out, becomes a reality. While Damian Lillard denied that he requested a trade, to say he has not considered wanting out of Portland is ridiculous to say. Lillard, in his press conference addressing the trade request rumors, said that while he did not request it, he does not see Portland as a championship team with their current roster and coaching staff. Portland is going into a make-or-break season to get Lillard a championship, and the odds are very slim. This may be the last season for Lillard in Portland unless they win a ring or make serious championship moves, so if that is the case, here are our best-case scenarios and destinations for Lillard:

Saransh’s Best Destination For Dame: New York Knicks

There are only a few teams that have trade packages for Lillard: Philadelphia, Miami, Boston, New York, and maybe Toronto. However, the Knicks would have enough assets and also have the cap space to get a max-level player or multiple young players and role players alongside their core of Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, and Immanuel Quickley. Not to mention the possibility of keeping Derrick Rose around this season via free agency. Lillard not only gets a much better team around him than that in Portland, but he gets to be on a much younger team, be the leader, and also not just be ‘the guy’ on this team, but the true face of the franchise, something the Knicks have not had since their days with Carmelo Anthony. The fountain of youth that Lillard will be surrounded by will give the Knicks enough years for them as a franchise to build themselves into a championship team and prove to Lillard that his time leaving Portland would not go to waste. 

The fit with New York would also satisfy Portland best, giving them a solid player like RJ Barrett, who is very young and has star potential. They also would likely receive Kevin Knox, a former first-round pick for the Knicks who did not fit that team and their philosophy, but getting a fresh start in Portland will do wonders for him. On top of all that, the Knicks have a boatload of draft capital they can trade-off to Portland for Lillard for them to go all-in on contending for a championship, while Portland goes all-in on rebuilding.

Overall, a move to New York guarantees Lillard three things, the first being that he gets to extend his career with a fountain of youth around him, allowing him to play fewer minutes at times during the regular season to stay fresher in the Playoffs and compete for a championship. This move could help him even extend his prime years. Second, he will play in a defense-first system led by Head Coach Tom Thibodeau while still being around a good and balanced offense. Lillard will not need to drop as many 60-point efforts just to see his team lose, as he can rely on other guys, along with himself, to get stops as a unit. Third, he competes for a championship. Portland for years has been behind in the Western Conference, and while they have gotten to the Western Conference Finals in the past, they have never presented a threat to anyone in the West as championship contenders. New York, with an up-and-coming roster, one of the league’s best players in Lillard, and a strong presence already in the Eastern Conference, this team can be right up there with the best of them, year after year.

Rohan’s Best Destination For Dame: Philadelphia 76ers

The Philadelphia 76ers can make the most tempting offer thanks to one player: Ben Simmons. Yes, Simmons was lackluster in the 2021 postseason and was the biggest reason for Philadelphia not advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, his trade value is still high around the league as he is an excellent defender and playmaker and only 25 years old. I feel like a package of Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle/Tyrese Maxey, and 1st round picks are more valuable than what any other team can offer. By pairing up Dame with Embiid, the Sixers would be in championship contention for years to come. Damian Lillard is just entering his 4-year contract, and Joel Embiid is locked up for the next 2 years. Lillard has shown he is not afraid to shoot from anywhere and would add a lot of spacing. Also, Dame is a solid playmaker, and working the pick and roll with Embiid would be a scary sight for opposing teams. The Sixers need to keep in mind that their window is now and they have to do whatever it takes to get a superstar like Lillard on the market.

Meanwhile, Portland would be getting an infusion of young talent to stay competitive in the West. Ben Simmons would immediately improve the Blazers’ poor defense, and CJ McCollum can blossom as the 1st option. McCollum has averaged 28.1 points, 6.2 assists, and 5.0 rebounds in 33 games without Damian Lillard in his career. Portland will also be getting Tyrese Maxey or Matisse Thybulle, who both have lots of potential, as Thybulle is one of the best defenders in the league, and Maxey provided a big spark for Philly in these playoffs. 

I would be shocked if Philadelphia is not at the top of Lillard’s list. He would get to play next to MVP runner-up Joel Embiid and automatically compete for a championship. Also, the Sixers have Seth Curry and Tobias Harris, who are both solid supporting options. Damian Lillard would have less pressure on him, and he would make Joel Embiid’s life easier as well, allowing him to play more minutes. With the addition of Dame, Philly would give nightmares to teams around the league and be at the top of the Eastern Conference for at least the next couple of years. 

Pranav’s Best Destination For Dame: Boston Celtics

Over the last few years, Boston has tried many ways to get back to the Finals with a few different point guards to note. A chance with Kyrie Irving for 2 seasons, and then Kemba Walker for the next 2 seasons, yet both failed, and the championship chase is back to square one. But Dame Lillard penciled into the starting lineup with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown would provide that much-needed perimeter offense that the Celtics are in dire need of, immediately putting them with Milwaukee and Boston as East favorites.

The only problem is the offer. What would the Celtics hand over to the Trail Blazers to get the generational All-Star? If I was Brad Stevens, I would not want to break up the Tatum-Brown duo that Boston worked so hard to build around. A package of Marcus Smart, Tristian Thompson, Romeo Langford, Aaron Nesmith, or some combination of young players along with Smart and Thompson, along with first-round picks from 2022, 2024, and 2026 would do the job. A hefty price tag that undoubtedly puts Boston in championship contention. Marcus Smart and Tristan Thompson would be excellent additions defensively to the Trail Blazers, and the infusion of youth would put Portland in a great position to rebuild completely.

Anish’s Best Destination For Dame: Stay in Portland or Trade to New York Knicks

Now as a Portland Trail Blazers fan, the obvious choice would be for me to say that Dame stays with the Blazers. He is a franchise superstar like no other and is still under contract till 2025, meaning that if he traded, the return would be massive. However, the more realistic scenario I see is that CJ McCollum traded this upcoming season for someone who can fill his role not only offensively but defensively too. The Blazers have reportedly declined offers for CJ McCollum because it does not fit their timeline. The Blazers have no use for first-round picks right now if they want to keep Lillard, and their primary goal is to make the team as good as possible for next season. 

Damian Lillard is a humble guy who will speak his mind when he wants to say something rather than the entire world claiming he requested a trade. I will not believe Lillard requests a trade this season unless I hear it directly out of his mouth, but do not get me wrong, the situation in Portland right now is not pretty. The Portland Trail Blazers are the definition of being a mediocre team. They have consistently made the playoffs for the last 8 seasons, but in this time, they were only able to make it to the Western Conference Finals once (2019, swept by Golden State). That Warriors team was stacked, and Portland was not favored to win, but 2019 was the absolute breaking point. This season, Portland had no excuse for losing to a Nuggets team missing its 2nd best player, especially since that Nuggets team got swept by the Suns in the next round. Lillard gave it his all the entire series, even having a 55-point Herculean effort in a Game 5 loss, but his team absolutely sold that game, and Lillard finally decided it was time to challenge the front office and their sense of urgency. I believe he will force the front office this off-season to make a move and make this right, or he requests a trade.

Now, consider a scenario in which the front office does absolutely nothing this offseason like in previous seasons and Lillard requests a trade, only a few teams with enough assets to satisfy Lillard and Portland’s needs. These teams include the Knicks, Celtics, Sixers, Raptors, maybe Miami, and not the Lakers, despite the hype. Lillard on the Knicks seems most beneficial and appealing for him, and basketball fans like myself. This situation would fill all the holes of his past as Portland: a historically horrible defensive team, and being able to play in one of the biggest markets in the world. Now when it comes to what the Blazers get in return, a package revolving around RJ Barrett along with other assets and first-round picks could work out and make this all work. Other teams like the Celtics would not work as they have no good reason to trade Jaylen Brown as he will develop alongside Tatum and there is no reason to tinker that duo. The Sixers are also on the edge because we know Ben Simmons is on the table, but I believe McCollum is more likely to be traded for him. I would not be surprised if Dame gets traded to some team in a smaller market like Toronto or Utah, but in the end, he wants to compete and win a championship, and it is doubtful he cares about where. All I know is there is no chance Lillard forms a crazy superteam, as he has been against the idea his whole career. This would eliminate the already-unrealistic shot of the Lakers trading for him.

The ideal scenario is that the Blazers trade McCollum this offseason for Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons could fill the Draymond Green-type role, being the offense-leading point forward and being the defensive stopper Portland needs. The Blazers will re-sign Powell and run a Lillard, Powell, Covington, Simmons, and Nurkic starting 5 in this scenario. Another scenario I could see is McCollum to the Celtics for Marcus Smart and Robert Williams, which would fill Portland’s holes defensively. All I know is that the Blazers need to make a major trade if they want Lillard to stay, and there is no one besides McCollum with enough trade value.

Nikhil’s Best Destination For Dame: The Philadelphia 76ers

Objectively speaking, the Blazers and the Sixers have exactly what to offer for a perfect trade between the two teams, yet they both seem hesitant to take a risk and improve upon what they already have. From the Trail Blazers point of view, it is clear as day that their team is not going anywhere as far as young talent is concerned and if they want to rebound in the next few years without Damian Lillard, they need to either tank and draft accordingly (ex. Oklahoma City Thunder), or trade Dame for a good stash of young players and picks. An emphasis on defense and playmaking is a must this offseason and the future, and whichever route Portland chooses to go needs to revolve around this central notion. The 76ers on the other hand have an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid, and a rather perfect supporting cast containing the likes of Tobias Harris, Danny Green, Seth Curry, and the most pivotal of all, Ben Simmons. Philadelphia came off a strong but still underwhelming playoff performance this season and is obviously in win-now mode given the prime of Joel Embiid and the lack of a large number of young players. Simmons, as we all know, has been lackluster as of late and simply can not shoot the ball consistently to warrant his All-Star persona. Again, both teams have issues that both teams can solve using the tools each other possesses.

Simmons’ defense and his point-forward playstyle fit Portland beautifully and fix some of the problems this franchise has had for years on end now. Couple him with a few young players that the Sixers have to offer like Matisse Thybulle and Tyrese Maxey (Thybulle being an excellent defender & Maxey being a great scoring guard), this trade could do wonders for Portland. If Portland wants to fully immerse into rebuild mode, they can easily move CJ McCollum to get even more picks/talent and position themselves perfectly for the future. Given the caliber of Damian Lillard, picks can be added or swapped in place of players to sweeten the deal as well, and in my opinion, Philadelphia is willing to do anything to improve their team and offload Ben Simmons.

The Sixers receive quite possibly the best clutch player in our league today in Damian Lillard, and once paired with Joel Embiid, seems to form one of the deadliest duos this league would see today. Once placed into an already free-shooting offense containing Danny Green and Seth Curry, you inadvertently form an offense that rivals, and in my opinion beats that of Brooklyn when healthy. This trade, if successful, immediately propels Philadelphia into championship contention and solves a lot of their offensive production issues.

In many ways, Philadelphia seems like the best trade suitor for Damian Lillard, especially given the unwillingness of Boston to deal Jaylen Brown and Miami to deal anyone on their roster and the comparative lack of assets from New York and any other team in the league. If Dame truly wants out of Portland, Philadelphia looks to be the best possible place to win that elusive ring.

2021 NBA Finals: Who Saw This Coming?

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

If you told any of us that the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns would be the teams in the NBA Finals this season, we would have thought you were crazy. For starters, the Lakers were the defending champions, and if they stayed healthy, they looked like the team to be in the Western Conference, and then the Eastern Conference was a different story. The Miami Heat were the defending Eastern Conference Champions, but Brooklyn had the duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, and later added James Harden. While Milwaukee was viewed as a contender, teams like Philadelphia were more trusted, as Milwaukee’s disappointment of previous seasons in the Playoffs was concerning. Both teams defied all odds, as Milwaukee managed to knock out Miami, Brooklyn, and a rising Atlanta team. Phoenix, a team with 6 players under the age of 24 and little to no Playoff experience, knocked out the Lakers, Nuggets, and Clippers to get here. Injuries, COVID, obstacles like this are crazy but adversity happens every season, and both of these teams also dealt with them and preserved, and now have made the Finals as a result. Here are our predictions for which of these two teams will take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy:

2021 NBA Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Milwaukee Bucks

  • Saransh’s Prediction:

I believed in Phoenix coming into this season. Not Finals-potential believed, but I believed they could be a top-5 Western Conference team and make lots of noise in the Playoffs, but still, not a Finals contender, and for that, I was wrong. Going into the postseason, despite their tough matchup with the Lakers and their youth, I admitted that they truly were contenders, but doubted them due to their inexperience. As for Milwaukee, if you told me Mike Budenholzer would have been their Head Coach again going into this season, and they would win the Eastern Conference, I would have thought that you were insane. Budenholzer had not shown anything to indicate that he was a Finals-level coach, and I did not see him getting much better. While he was very questionable all regular season and most postseason, his adjustments digging Milwaukee out of an 0-2 hole against Brooklyn to win that series, plus making the Finals with the plethora of talent Milwaukee has, may have just saved his job.

This series comes down to the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Giannis had a scary knee injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Hawks, and while there luckily was no structural damage to his knee, he did not return for the series. Rumors had it that he would have played had there been a Game 7 in that series, but we do not know how close to 100% he would have been, as he is now Doubtful for Game 1 (as of July 5th). With Giannis, these teams are very even, providing for an incredible series. While Phoenix can slow down Giannis with their ‘wall’ of Ayton and Crowder, Khris Middleton became a problem in the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta. Middleton showed why Milwaukee was the better regardless of Giannis’ health, as he dominated Games 5 and 6 to put Atlanta away. Middleton presents a tricky test for Mikal Bridges, as he may see Middleton go off as he did against Atlanta, or he may be able to clamp Middleton the way Durant and the Nets did in Games 1 and 2 of that series. Middleton’s hot/cold tendencies game-to-game, along with that of Jrue Holiday, will be what determines if Milwaukee has any chance of making this a series once Giannis comes back. Milwaukee will do everything in their power to make life troublesome for Phoenix, as Chris Paul and Devin Booker will see themselves matched up against Holiday and Middleton quite often, but that will not be enough to keep Milwaukee in this series without Giannis. Not to mention, Phoenix with DeAndre Ayton provides Milwaukee with a challenge they have yet to encounter, which is playing a scoring-oriented center, and Ayton & CP3 in the pick-and-roll game will feast on Brook Lopez & Co.

This series is the perfect series of offensive vs. defensive-minded teams, with great depth on both ends. This series is about health, youth, and consistency, and Phoenix has that edge over Milwaukee. Additionally, they have a much more reliable coach, who can win and put away games in the clutch, manage rotations, and make adjustments much better. Milwaukee will put on a show once Giannis is back and take this series the distance, but it may be too little, too late. Your NBA Champion will be the Phoenix Suns in 7 games.

  • Anish’s Prediction:

At the beginning of the playoffs, no one expected these 2 teams to be in the NBA Finals. Everyone expected a Lakers-Nets Finals, but both Phoenix and Milwaukee shocked the world and overcame the odds. Many will argue that these teams only made it because of injuries to notable stars, including Anthony Davis and Kyrie Irving, which made this path to the NBA Finals easier than others. While it is an unfortunate season in which injuries have taken over much of the game, it is not fair to discredit these teams. 

Now for my prediction, this series will heavily rely on if Giannis can stay healthy. With Giannis doubtful for Game 1, I believe he will not play Game 1 and then rush back for Game 2, hindering his team and forcing Milwaukee to claw their way back into this series. Even fully healthy, I believe the Suns are the better fit team to win the NBA Championship, further setting my prediction. The Suns have the edge over the Bucks in coaching and depth and are close in star power. Devin Booker, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Ayton have been phenomenal in the postseason, while Middleton and Holiday have been on and off. That, along with Giannis’ injury and Phoenix’s momentum, I got the Suns in 5.

  • Nikhil’s Prediction:

In my opinion, the outcome of this series is fully dependent on the health of Giannis Antetokounmpo, and this should not come as any real surprise. The Milwaukee Bucks rallied without their franchise star player to beat the Atlanta Hawks in 6 games, but in all honesty, could have wrapped it up earlier with Antetokounmpo present. All due respect goes out to the Hawks organization, Trae Young, Nate McMillan, etc., but the Bucks were the better team even without Giannis present. As of July 5, he is listed as doubtful for Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, which serves as faint optimism that Antetokounmpo’s injury is small enough to recover from and play through. Hyperextensions with severe sprains typically take longer to recover. However, the nature of this injury is all about pain tolerance, and if one can take it, it is theoretically possible to play through the pain. The Bucks without Giannis lose this series in 4-5 games without any question, as they do not have the instant explosive offense needed to cut through this Phoenix Suns defense. But with Giannis on the court, their chances rise exponentially, and in my opinion, make them the better team. Being the better team is only half the story, however.

The Phoenix Suns are one of the feel-good stories of this injury-battered NBA season, and many regard their unlikely rise to the top as the product of heavy injuries to star players on the teams they beat along the way. However, going from a multi-year long Playoff drought to the 2-seed and a Finals berth is not something that can be justified by such a weak explanation. Quite simply, this is the result of hard work and the chemistry of team members centralized around Monty Williams and Chris Paul, two ‘old heads’ of the game. The work ethic, the drive to win, and above all else, the unwillingness to quit from these two individuals is insanely infectious. Also, when you have the likes of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, and Mikal Bridges, all budding young stars in this league ready to soak it all in, it is a recipe for success. This team carries so much momentum, and a bit of magic, given that many did not expect to see them at this stage. This chip on the shoulder-type mentality can be compared to the Miami Heat of the 2020 NBA Finals, and hopefully, Phoenix fares better. Realistically, Phoenix’s weakness is production outside of Booker and Paul, and if the Bucks manage to play good enough defense on them, the chances of winning increase for the Bucks. Defense is also a slight issue, given that the Bucks are a shooting team, and the inevitable matchup between Ayton and some Bucks shooter will cause a hole in the Phoenix defense. The biggest question mark, however, is the ability to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in the open court, and the ability to keep his matchups, like Ayton and Crowder, out of foul trouble. As long as the Suns have answers to these key points, they place themselves in great contention to win their first franchise NBA Championship.

Given that the injury to Antetokounmpo seems like it will keep him out for at least 2-3 games, I do not see the Bucks being able to keep up or even pose a comeback threat if Giannis returns to play. The Phoenix Suns are too complete of a team for that to be an option, however, they do go a bit blind to their issues on defense, so thus I have them conceding games and drawing the Bucks out to 7 games. Suns in 7.

2021 NBA Conference Finals: The Passing of Torches

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, & Anish Dhondi

*NOTE: Western Conference Finals Predictions were made BEFORE Game 1 on Sunday, June 20th

Devin Booker, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Trae Young. Those are the 4 superstars leading our current Conference Finals teams, and one of these young talents is going to get themselves their 1st ring. To see guys like Booker and Young be able to compete for a championship at such an early stage in their careers, and for guys like Paul George and Giannis, also young but with more experience under their belts, to go this far, is astonishing, and something many of us did not expect coming into this season. Put all the narratives about injuries, COVID, etc. aside, and let us appreciate the passing of torches. There is a chance for a new champion to be crowned after years of waiting (only the Bucks have won a championship of these 4 teams), and a glimpse into the future of the NBA.

Saransh’s Predictions

  • Western Conference Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

The Phoenix Suns seemed like they were going to have a good season for the first time in Devin Booker’s career after last year’s 8-0 bubble run, and then they acquired Chris Paul to make themselves even more dangerous. While many believed they were too young to be contenders, they were a dark-horse contender. While people can debate all they want about the health of the Lakers and Nuggets, the Suns were not fully healthy either in these Playoffs, much like every other team.

The Clippers came into this season as major contenders and after going down 0-2 in both of their Playoff series so far and losing Kawhi Leonard due to a knee injury, there are concerns, but this team has persevered and they are in the Western Conference Finals for the 1st time in franchise history.

Both teams come into this series without a star player of theirs, but both teams also come in with one of their two star players, as the Suns have Devin Booker, and the Clippers have Paul George. Booker has been nothing short of superb, showing he is among the best-of-the-best as a scorer, and an underrated playmaker. George has bounced back and finally lived up to his ‘Playoff P’ moniker after years of disappointment in the Playoffs. Both teams are very deep and have made several adjustments to their rotations and gameplans to get to this stage, but at the end of the day, while the Suns can manage without CP3, the Clippers cannot manage without Kawhi, whose status is too uncertain right now. The Clippers will keep it close, but their incredible season will come to an end here. Suns in 6.

  • Eastern Conference Finals: #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

What is crazier than the deep run in these Playoffs by the Suns has to be that of the Atlanta Hawks. A team that many viewed as an improving yet non-Playoff team has now shocked the world as the 5-seed in the East. They have overcome two of the best teams in the East, and two of the best defenses in the East in the Knicks and 76ers. Trae Young has ascended himself into one of the best playmakers, scorers, and leaders in the NBA, and is surrounded by one of the deepest and most exciting supporting casts in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee has been on a mission, getting revenge against Miami in the First Round, and then eliminating the title-favorite Nets in the Conference Semifinals in a thrilling 7-game series (yes, the Nets were injured, but they were still heavy favorites). Giannis Antetokounmpo has also silenced all of his doubters who said he could not be an elite Playoff performer and leader. 

This series comes down to coaching, star power, and depth. Milwaukee has Mike Budenholzer, who despite this deep Playoff run the Bucks are on, is a terrible coach who got bailed out by his star players coming out and performing. Atlanta has Nate McMillan, who despite his struggles in Indiana has proven that those struggles were not on him but more on that roster that he had to work with, as in Atlanta he is proving he can win and adjust. Advantage: Atlanta. 

As for the star power, Atlanta has just Trae Young, and as good as the Hawks’ supporting cast is, you never know from whom or when you will get big production. Milwaukee, however, has Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday, who all can perform at a high level and get big buckets. Advantage: Milwaukee.

Now, the depth. As said previously, you never know from whom or when you will get big production from the supporting cast, but the supporting cast consistently shows up, and it is everyone, from John Collins and Clint Capela in the paint to Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kevin Huerter on the perimeter, not just one guy. That depth is something Milwaukee cannot match. Advantage: Atlanta.

Despite the heavy star power advantage, Trae Young proved that even when he has bad shooting nights, he is tough to stop with his playmaking, and with Atlanta having even heavier advantages in coaching and depth, I have them continuing their Cinderella run. Hawks in 7.

Nikhil’s Predictions

  • Western Conference Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

The Phoenix Suns have looked dominant over the last few weeks, pretty much dismantling the Denver Nuggets in 4 games, and having their way on offense. The team has risen to pretty much any task expected of them, and even some that most experts around the league didn’t expect either. Devin Booker has solidified himself as a bonafide All-NBA player, and someone that has outgrown his stardom in Phoenix and is now performing brilliantly at the national level. Chris Paul has asserted his veteran savvy from day one within the Suns organization, and it can be easily stated that his contributions at point guard are one of the driving reasons why this team has propelled itself forward so well. Couple this with solid surrounding cast performances from Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges, and you have an insanely robust team, one that in all honesty, is completely shattering my previous predictions and is very hard to bet against at this point in the season.



On the other side of this matchup, we have the bruised and battered Los Angeles Clippers, who have had to WORK their way to the franchise’s first-ever conference final appearance. Having had to struggle to win in seven games against both the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, this team has taken a beating just to be where they are, and there is no question that it will take a toll on them continuing onwards, especially given the potentially season-ending injury to their best player Kawhi Leonard. Immense pressure and hopes now rely on the shoulders of Paul George, who needs to regain the All-Star performances of his Pacers past to continue in these wild playoffs. But what is arguably more important is the play of the surrounding cast, which on paper looks better than that of the Suns. The Clippers need big performances from Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Pat Beverley, and desperately need the shooting of Marcus Morris and Nic Batum, otherwise, their season will end in the usual disappointment that fans are used to.

Given the momentum the Suns carry into this matchup, it’s hard to bet against them. Both teams carry injuries to their respective star players, however, Chris Paul is expected back soon due to the nature of his outage (Covid protocols). Kawhi Leonard looks to be out for a longer duration, and thus leaves the Clippers much more vulnerable in my eyes. The emergence of a very solid supporting cast around Devin Booker in Phoenix is enough for me to give them the edge in this series, and in all honesty, I don’t see the Clippers being able to overcome the loss of their workhorse to put up a decent fight. Suns in 6.

  • Eastern Conference Finals: #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

Now, this is by far the most unexpected matchup anyone could have expected in the Eastern Conference. Sure, the Bucks are good and have the pieces to win, but the Hawks are a complete surprise and one that is by all means welcome. Looking at both teams’ path to the conference finals up until this point, we see that both have defied some sort of odds just to be here, however it must be noted that Atlanta’s upsets carry a lot more weight and meaning given their comparatively lesser expectations and roster. Milwaukee, having just knocked off the presumed favorite Brooklyn Nets, are all in on Giannis Antetokounmpo and seem to have finally put it together and make a deep playoff push. The acquisition of PJ Tucker proved huge in their series against the Nets, and although Kevin Durant still put up otherworldly numbers, the fact that the Bucks won the series still serves as a testament to his quality of play. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have proved to be a very solid backcourt pairing, and although they underperformed most of Game 7 against Brooklyn, they showed up when it mattered and allowed some pressure to be taken off Giannis. Some argument will be made about the Nets’ injury woes and lack of bench production, but in the end, a win is a win, and it is no easy feat to pull that off against a blazing-hot Kevin Durant.

Compare this to the Atlanta Hawks, and the differences are staggering. The Hawks looked the more dominant side against the New York Knicks, but their series win against the 76ers was more so to the lack of production from Philadelphia rather than the production of Atlanta. The media is one big wrecking ball aimed at Ben Simmons’ career as of late, and for good reason, he is one of the reasons (along with injuries) that the Sixers lost this series. Still, Trae Young is proving to be an up-and-coming superstar in this league, and his ability to make shots and create chances for his teammates is starting to become a genuine problem for offenses to figure out. The rest of the team shows up too, and most notably when Young has off-shooting nights. However, this team is too unproven and to be frank, too small to match up against the Bucks. Young is a liability on defense, but they more or less got away with it due to the horrible play of Simmons during the 76ers series. However, even when not directly matched up against Antetokounmpo defensively, the Bucks offense is so potent to where his defense is bound to cause problems. And when the Hawks are on offense, they will be met by a stagnant defense, one that is arguably better than the 76ers, and most notably something Trae Young can’t dribble out of. I see this matchup ending rather quickly, Bucks in 5.

Anish’s Predictions

  • Western Conference Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

This series between the Suns and Clippers is an interesting one because there are some things to consider. Suns Guard Chris Paul is currently out on health and safety protocols, while Clippers Forward Kawhi Leonard is out with a knee injury. Both of these players are considered by many as the best players on their respective teams. Their health is crucial for whether or not their team can advance to the NBA Finals. Due to these main guys being out, I believe this series will come down to Booker vs. George on whoever performs better. I give the edge to Booker as he has been nothing short of spectacular in these playoffs. However, credit is due to Playoff P as he reclaimed his confidence in the playoffs following last year’s shutdown and has been putting up good numbers. Now, when it comes to the teams as a whole (not considering the All-Stars), the Suns have a better system in which their players work very well together. DeAndre Ayton has been a great big man in the playoffs so far, and the rest of their roster with Crowder and Bridges gives the Suns great support. 

The Clippers do have a good roster, but they are far less consistent. The emergence of the sophomore Terrance Mann who dropped 39 points in the Clippers’ Game 6 against Utah was a huge factor for them making it to the WCF. The Clippers have guys like Mann and Reggie Jackson who can get hot quickly but without these bursts of scoring the team can fall behind as the rest of the roster is too inconsistent scoring-wise. Terrance Mann and Reggie Jackson will not put up big numbers every night, so the Clippers are going to have to spread their scoring out better like the Suns. Assuming that CP3 and Kawhi will both come back for Game 3, my prediction is Suns in 6.

  • Eastern Conference Finals: #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

Now, this matchup is intriguing as both teams we see here dramatically upset their opponents. The Bucks drew the Nets out to Game 7 in an OT thrilling game where Kevin Durant’s big scoring night was not enough to defeat them. The Hawks also took the Sixers to Game 7, in which Trae Young did not even have a very efficient night, but Kevin Huerter dropped 27 points, and the Sixers fell to pieces as all fingers pointed to Ben Simmons unwillingness to be aggressive in crunch time. Now both these teams come off a Game 7 pulling off an upset, so momentum-wise, no one has the advantage. One crucial thing about this series that makes my decision is Jrue Holiday’s defense. 

So far, Trae Young has been putting up 30 and 10 in these playoffs like it is nothing. First defeating the Wizards, no good perimeter defenders, then they defeated the Sixers, they ran through multiple rotations trying to guard him, including Ben Simmons, but it failed. Now all eyes go on Jrue Holiday to guard Trae Young. Jrue Holiday is an elite defender, and in the last possession of Game 7 against the Nets, he forced an airball by Kevin Durant, a much taller player. With Trae Young’s usage so high, being able to even slow him down a little will disrupt Atlanta’s offense and change the outcome of the game. I am not saying Trae Young will be clamped but I believe he will get his share of points and assists as usual, but the Milwaukee defense will throw him off. Giannis’ drives will be limited by Capela’s inside presence, so Middleton and Holiday offensively will have to be the X-Factors. This Bucks team has multiple good scorers, while this Hawks team is led by one bonafide scorer in Trae Young and a good roster as a whole around him. The Hawks dominate in the depth category so it comes down to the All-Stars in Giannis, Middleton, and Holiday to score when it matters. Trae Young’s pick and roll game will be hard to stop and he will get his points which is why I have this series going to 7. Had Jrue Holiday not been on this team, I would have Atlanta winning. However, with him guarding Trae Young, my prediction stands at another very close series in Bucks in 7.

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.