The regular season is in the books and the play-in tournament is over, meaning it’s time for the NBA Finals in 2022. While the first round may have some heavy mismatches with some of the higher-seeded teams, there are still lots to get excited about with most of these matchups. That includes Kyrie Irving returning to Boston in a playoff atmosphere, Ja Morant vs. Anthony Edwards and James Harden’s playoff debut with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Several of these series have the potential to play the full seven games, while a few others may be four-game sweeps. With so much action to focus on, we have ranked matchups in the first round from least exciting to most.
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No matter how cool it was to see the Pelicans fight the Clippers to secure their place in the playoffs, I do not see them being able to fight much against a Suns team that could play into June. It will be exciting to see Brandon Ingram in the off-season for the first time in his career, and CJ McCollum has an ability to line up with big numbers in the playoffs, but Phoenix is simply too talented and too deep to make me believe that this series does not go very far.
I will probably regret that I put the Hawks and Heat so low, to see Trae Young burn the Cavaliers for 38 points on the way to a comeback victory over Cleveland was filled with all the drama and entertainment you want in a playoff series. But Miami is not Cleveland, and the knee injury to Clint Capela puts Atlanta down for yet another crucial starter if he is unable to play any part of this series. Young will likely present wild stats over the course of this series, but he alone will not be able to overpower a Miami team that has very few weaknesses when matched against the Hawks. As special as Young may be, I would be surprised if this series went past five matches.
This series really had the potential to be exciting, but the calf strain from Luka Doncic has really dampened it. Doncic is not expected to play in Game 1, and he may not be ready to go in the second match either, which means the Jazz should have taken over here. But do not write off Dallas just yet. Jalen Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie have the potential to win some matches for the Mavs, and if guys like Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock knock down their open looks, then Dallas has a small chance of winning without their star point guard.
But if Utah takes care of the business and plays like the top-ranked offensive they have been throughout the regular season, then it could be another disappointing exit from the first round for the Mavericks. There is also the possibility that Doncic may return at some point in this series, and if he is 100 percent healthy, then it will definitely change the narrative.
Although the Bucks have the significant advantage in this series as they have beaten the Bulls all four times they have met this season and they happen to hire Giannis Antetokounmpo, there are still some fun things to look for in this series. We get to see the postseason debut of Zach LaVine, who has often played second fiddle to DeMar DeRozan this season. DeRozan deserves all the credit for delivering a highly effective season and being the main reason the Bulls are right in the playoffs to begin with. But to see how LaVine plays when the games start to mean a little bit more will be enticing. He also happens to be on his way to a maximum contract this summer, so you know he wants to frolic now to prove he’s worth every penny Chicago will throw at him.
This matchup also has the potential to get a bit chippy, after Bucks guard Grayson Allen played a part in the injury of Alex Caruso earlier in the season. Since that happened, Allen has received a healthy amount of buh in the two times Milwaukee has played in Chicago. These two arenas are also cozy two hours apart along Lake Michigan, so there are also some rival ties between the two fan bases.
4. (4) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (5) Toronto Raptors
We get to see James Harden and Joel Embiid together for the first time in the playoffs against an underrated Raptors team that has one of the most exciting rookies in its class in Scottie Barnes. Philadelphia has a mountain of expectations after trading for the Harden with the expectation of competing for the championship this season. Will Philly give Harden Ben Simmons treatment if he does not live up to expectations? Will Doc Rivers be out of work if the Raptors surprise the Sixers and send them home in the first round?
There are several stories to look for in this series, such as the fact that Philadelphia will be without its best defender in Matisse Thybulle for road fights because he is unvaccinated, which does not comply with Canada’s COVID vaccine mandate. On the Raptors side, they have an opportunity to show everyone that they were seriously overlooked this season when Pascal Siakam confirmed himself as a player at the NBA level. Throw in the newly minted All-Star Fred VanVleet, AND Anunoby’s two-way features and this series could be close throughout.
Stephen Curry is a go for Game 1 after missing the last 12 games of the regular season with a foot injury. However, he is expected to be on a one-minute limit in the series opener. This could turn out to be a really entertaining matchup as the Warriors will have their three big Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green together again in the playoffs for the first time since the 2019 final.
On the other side of the match is the reigning league MVP, which could very well win its second prize in a row this year. Although Nikola Jokic will be without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr., he alone is enough to worry about for the Warriors. There is no other player in the league who has as much influence in all areas of the game as Jokic. The Nuggets may be outcompeting as they are not in full force, but that just means we should have some really special performances from Jokic who will try to lead his team to a rebellion against a healthier Warriors team than ever before.
Do you like rough young teams that have all the confidence in the world? Two high-flying guards in Morant and Edwards, which are human highlights? How about lots and lots of trash talking? Then this series is for you. This would be ranked No. 1 if the teams were more equal, but the Grizzlies could take care of the wolves quite easily. However, we saw how disruptive Patrick Beverley can be in Minnesota’s win over the Clippers, and he will definitely try to do the same against a young Memphis team. But the Grizzlies have their own defensive skills in Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr., who can just as easily change a game and get in the head of the opposing team. It does not matter if this series only plays four matches or a full seven, each of them will be TV series to be watched.
After a loss to the Celtics in early March, where Irving heard bub every time he touched the ball from fans inside TD Garden, the All-Star guard was compared Boston fans to a “despised ex-boyfriend who asks for an explanation as to why I left but still wants a text message back.” Safe to say that the buh Irving is going to hear when the Celtics host the Nets is going to look like nothing he has heard before. But other than that, this series is without a doubt the most exciting. Kevin Durant duking it out with Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown. Marcus Smart tries to lock Irving inside. And then there is the potential for Ben Simmons to make his long-awaited season debut. Simmons aims to return to Game 4 at the earliest, which could add a whole new wrinkle to this series.