The 2021 NBA playoffs are underway and feature a number of intriguing matchups in both the Eastern Conference and Western Conference brackets. But what if the conference factor was taken completely out of play and the 16 teams were placed in one NCAA Tournament-style bracket? This is something many people have wanted to see for years but actually making it happen would likely prove to be quite difficult as Eastern Conference owners would likely take issue with the league creating a tougher path to the NBA Finals as the West has clearly been the more dominant conference as of late.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun with the teams in this year’s NBA playoffs. As fun as the play-in tournament was, we’re not including that here as we’re only including the 16 teams that officially made it into the postseason. Seeds were determined using regular-season records and while the West holds seven of the top 10 seeds, both conferences have two teams in the top four.
And just wait until you see the 7-10 matchup.
(1)Utah Jazz vs. (16)Washington Wizards
With a 52-20 record in the abbreviated regular season, the Utah Jazz would be the No. 1 seed in our fictional NBA playoffs bracket and would take on the 16th-seeded Washington Wizards. One would think Utah would be the clear favorite in this series but the Wizards actually won both matchups between the two teams this season with a 131-122 victory in Washington on March 18 and a 125-121 win in Salt Lake City on April 12.
(8)Dallas Mavericks vs. (9)Portland Trail Blazers
The Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers finished the 2020-2021 campaign with the exact same 42-30 record. But as the Mavs were given the higher seed in the actual Western Conference bracket due to being a division winner, they’ve got the No. 8 seed in our NBA playoffs bracket. Had the Lakers not created a three-team tiebreaker with the same 42-30 mark, however, the Blazers would have been the higher seed as a two-team tiebreaker uses head-to-head record, which Portland would have won as they beat Dallas in two of three matchups this season. Either way, Luka Doncic vs. Damian Lillard in the playoffs would be must-see television.
(4)Brooklyn Nets vs. (13)Miami Heat
How’s this for a first-round NBA playoffs matchup? Last year’s Eastern Conference representative in the NBA Finals, the Miami Heat, versus the team many think will represent the East this year, the Brooklyn Nets. There’s a lot of star power in this series with the three-headed monster of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden taking on the trio of Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, and Tyler Herro. Brooklyn took two of three from Miami this season and this series could become a reality if each can win their respective first-round matchups in the actual Eastern Conference bracket.
(5)Denver Nuggets vs. (12)Atlanta Hawks
Trae Young has already proven that he’s not scared of the pressure of the NBA playoffs but he and the Atlanta Hawks would face a big first-round challenge in our bracket as they’d square off with MVP candidate Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets. However, the two teams did split their two head-to-head battles this year as the Hawks took a 123-115 victory in Atlanta on February 21 while the Nuggets held serve at home on March 28 with a 126-102 blowout win.
(3)Philadelphia 76ers vs. (14)Memphis Grizzlies
The Memphis Grizzlies were the final team into the actual Western Conference bracket but as they had a better regular-season record than both the Celtics and Wizards, they earn the No. 14 seed here and would face the highest-seeded team in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers. But this is another interesting scenario as the Grizzlies actually took both games from the Sixers this season, first with a 106-104 victory in Memphis on January 16, followed by a 116-100 win in Philly on April 4. It should be noted, however, that Joel Embiid didn’t play in either game.
(6)Los Angeles Clippers vs. (11)New York Knicks
The 6-11 matchup in our fictional NBA playoffs bracket is certainly one of the more interesting ones as the Los Angeles Clippers would battle the New York Knicks, who are back in the postseason for the first time in eight years. The Clippers would obviously be the clear favorites here but it’s an intriguing matchup nonetheless as it would be very interesting to see how New York would respond to such a challenge. The teams split their two games this season with each winning on the road.
(7)Milwaukee Bucks vs. (10)Los Angeles Lakers
Remember that 7-10 matchup we discussed at the start? Well, here it is. In what truly could be the matchup in the NBA Finals, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and the Milwaukee Bucks would square off with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round of our fantasy NBA playoffs bracket. Do we really need to say anything else?
(2)Phoenix Suns vs. (15)Boston Celtics
The 2-15 matchup in our bracket would see the second-best team from the West, the Phoenix Suns, take on the second-worst team from the East, the Boston Celtics. There would be a lot of young talent in this series with the likes of Devin Booker and Jayson Tatum, among others, and would obviously also include a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul, who is still trying to reach his first NBA Finals in his 16th season. The teams split their two games this year with each team winning at home.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference