Playoff basketball is inherently compelling. However, not all matchups are created equal when it comes to entertainment value. Some series are simply better — or at least more enticing — than others due to a spicy backstory, rivalry reasons, individual grudges, or other factors. With that in mind, we selected five potential playoff matchups that we hope to see this postseason following what has been an eventful 2021-22 regular season.
These series obviously aren’t guaranteed to happen, but they would certainly make for some extremely intriguing basketball if they do. With playoff seeding still up in the air, it’s worth noting that these potential matchups could occur at any point during the playoffs, from the first round through the Finals.
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The Nets appear to be headed for the play-in tournament, so they have to worry about actually making the postseason first. But if they are able to advance past the play-in, a matchup with the 76ers would be extremely enticing, for a couple of reasons.
The two teams executed a blockbuster trade prior to the deadline in February, and that deal sets up several spicy potential storylines like James Harden going up against former star teammates Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Harden basically forced his way out of Brooklyn, so to it’s safe to say that he didn’t leave on the best of terms with Durant and Irving.
Then on the other side of things, there’s Ben Simmons facing his old team — and the fans in Philadelphia. After requesting a trade last summer and then refusing to play in a single game for the 76ers until his wish was granted, Simmons became public enemy No. 1 in Philadelphia, and he’s probably not the most popular person in the Sixers locker room either. It’s still not clear whether or not Simmons will even play for the Nets this season, but just his presence alone is enough to add a major layer of intrigue to this potential series.
For a good chunk of the season, the Suns and the Warriors were the top two teams in the NBA record-wise. Then, injury issues started to plague the Warriors and they fell off a bit. However, when fully healthy they’re still arguably the most dangerous team in the league, and certainly the most experienced when it comes to winning championships. If Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are all healthy, no one will want to face the Warriors in the playoffs, including the Suns.
A series between the two teams would be extremely entertaining, though, as both teams have high-powered offenses and stingy defenses. Plus, the series would serve as a showcase for two of the best point guards of all time in Chris Paul and Curry. Those two have competed against each other in the playoffs on several occasions, and it would be pretty special to get to see them do it again, especially while both are still playing at such a high level.
Last season’s Eastern Conference semifinal showdown between the Nets and Bucks was epic. The series went the distance, and even required an overtime period in the seventh game to determine the victor. Ultimately, it was the Bucks that won the series and went on to win their first championship in 50 years.
The Nets were shorthanded in that series, though, as Kyrie Irving was forced to miss the final three games because of an ankle injury. That’s not an excuse for Brooklyn, but it is a fact. Plus, had Kevin Durant’s foot been about a half inch farther back on his final attempt at the end of regulation in Game 7, it would have been Brooklyn who advanced.
To say that the series was close would be an understatement. Would a rematch series live up to the hype produced by last year’s series? There’s only one way to find out.
We could call this the “League Pass special” series. Personally, Dallas and Memphis were two of my favorite teams to watch on the NBA’s streaming service all season, thanks largely to the dynamic young guard play on each squad.
Luka Doncic and Ja Morant have both established themselves as two of the best and most exciting players in the league, and it would be sublime to watch them battle it out over the course of a seven-game series. Though both look like future MVPs, neither player has advanced out of the first round yet, so such a series would ultimately represent the first taste of playoff success for one of them. Both players are the type who rise to the moment, and a series featuring the two of them would be almost guaranteed to feature some “SportsCenter”-worthy highlights and eye-popping statistics.
Phoenix Suns vs. Milwaukee Bucks
A Finals rematch between last season’s two representatives would be great, if simply because not only has neither team regressed since the ’21 Finals, but they actually both appear to be even better than they were last year.
The Bucks struggled with some injury issues early on, but they’ve been downright dominant when they’ve had their big three of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton available, and now they have Brook Lopez back, too. They have the talent, and the know-how, and as long as they can remain healthy moving forward, the Bucks could easily make their second straight Finals appearance.
The same could be said about the Suns, who just rolled through the regular season. Phoenix recorded its first 60-win season since 2006-07, and clinched the top overall seed in the playoffs along the way. They have arguably the league’s best backcourt in Chris Paul and Devin Booker, and they might be the most complete team in the league. It will be extremely tough to topple them in a seven-game series, and if they ultimately do get a rematch with Milwaukee, it’s safe to assume that they’ll be properly motivated.