With the 2021 NBA Playoffs in motion, there have been plenty of headlines through the month of May. The play-in tournament saw the Golden State Warriors lose their playoff position to the Memphis Grizzlies, while the Brooklyn Nets have cruised through the Boston Celtics with their superstar talents to this point.
Here, we discuss the major headlines around the league and whether they are deemed underreactions or overreactions:
The Brooklyn Nets are the runaway favorites in the Eastern Conference
The Brooklyn Nets have only seen their odds at an NBA Championship improve over time, according to SportsBettingDime. Despite a lackluster defense, the efforts of Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, and James Harden among others has been enough to secure an early 3-1 lead over the Boston Celtics.
During the regular season, the Irving-Durant-Harden trio only participated in eight games together. The small sample size of playing time has not become apparent to this point. In the team’s 141-126 victory in Game 3 on Sunday, the three combined for 73.8 percent of Brooklyn’s points. All three made eight or more baskets from the field and combined for 25 assists.
Outside of their core, the Nets have built a roster that has plenty of depth. The shooting efforts from Joe Harris in Game 2 resulted in 25 points and a +/- of +29. The addition of Blake Griffin has provided a veteran presence as well, as he finished with 11 points and four assists in Game 2.
The abrupt ending to Jaylen Brown’s season for the Celtics does play a role in how the Nets have looked during this series, but we knew what was advertised. Until proven otherwise, Brooklyn is the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.
If the Los Angeles Clippers don’t win their series against the Dallas Mavericks, the future of Kawhi Leonard is bleak
The Los Angeles Clippers have evened their series against the Dallas Mavericks by a 2-2 margin, but still sit with their backs against the wall. Kawhi Leonard has not fallen short this postseason, however, averaging 33 points and 8.5 rebounds across the first four games of the series.
With a player option on the table for Leonard this summer, the previous expectation around the league was that he would re-sign a long-term extension with the Clippers. However, would he consider a transition back to the Eastern Conference? Rumored suitors for free agency include the Miami Heat and New York Knicks.
As one of the top two-way players in the league, Leonard is likely to be the main headline of this upcoming free agency cycle. Other players in Los Angeles that could explore free agency include Serge Ibaka (player option), Nicholas Batum, and DeMarcus Cousins. If the Clippers fail to come out on top this series, then it’s fair to say roster changes are imminent.
Verdict: Slight Underreaction
The Los Angeles Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference
The Lakers fell by a 99-90 score in Game 1 to the Phoenix Suns, but bounced back and won by 109-102 and 109-95 margins in the following two games. Phoenix evened the series with a 100-92 victory in Los Angeles on Sunday. The shoulder contusion to Chris Paul has certainly played a role in the Suns’ shortcomings at certain points this series, but Los Angeles has looked impressive when at their best.
In the team’s Game 3 win over the Suns in Los Angeles, everyone on the Lakers (with the exception of Marc Gasol) posted a positive +/-. Anthony Davis led the team with a team-high 34 points and 11 rebounds.
Still, are we sure the Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference? Injuries have been a major concern for this team, as both LeBron James and Davis missed significant time during the regular season. While other contenders such as Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz have dealt with injuries of their own, calling Los Angeles the runaway favorites as the #7 seed and in a 2-2 series might be considered a stretch at this time.
Verdict: Slight Overreaction