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NBA: Knicks, Suns Seek Winning Start on Playoff Return

Madison Square Garden is all ready to rock as the New York Knicks get set to host the Atlanta Hawks for their first NBA playoff game in eight years.

Similarly, the Phoenix Suns will take part in their first playoff series in over a decade as they prepare for a marquee matchup against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Meanwhile, the two No. 1 seeds in the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz will look to get their respective postseason campaigns off to a winning start.

Read on below as SBOTOP breaks down in detail these four first-round series Game 1s.

Washington Wizards @ Philadelphia 76ers

After losing to the Celtics, the Wizards rebounded in a big way with a resounding 142-115 win over the Pacers to claim the No. 8 seed in the East play-in tournament.

It was a team effort by the Wizards, who had five players finish with 14 points or more. Bradley Beal led the way with 25 points in just 28 minutes as he continues to find ways to be effective despite a hamstring injury.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook bounced back from his rough game in Boston (20 points on 6-of-18 shooting) by recording 18 points and 15 assists and was a team-leading +30 when he was on the floor.

The Wizards will need Westbrook to be at his very best to pull off a shock win against the Sixers, who will be amply rested after having the last week off. Philadelphia went an impressive 10-2 in their last 12 regular-season games to seal the East’s No. 1 seed.

Joel Embiid had a terrific MVP-calibre season as he averaged 28.5 points and 10.6 rebounds. His presence as the Sixers’ defensive anchor will be a major deterrent against Westbrook’s drives to the basket.

Meanwhile, Ben Simmons and Danny Green are two of the best perimeter defenders in the league and will take look to keep a hobbled Beal quiet.

Los Angeles Lakers @ Phoenix Suns

LeBron James and the defending champion Lakers claimed the No. 7 seed in the West with a dramatic 103-100 win over the Warriors in the play-in tournament.

James was far from his best due to his ankle injury, but he still came up with the biggest shot of the night with his long-range 3-pointer that gave the Lakers the win. And despite the NBA 2021 news that James violated Covid protocol, he is all clear to play in Game 1.

LeBron James eyes to lead the Lakers to domination when they face the Suns in first NBA playoff game of the season
Los Angeles Lakers’ LeBron James in action during their NBA match against the Golden State Warriors last May 20, 2021

Anthony Davis also struggled mightily with his shot in the first half against Golden State but recovered to post a team-high 25 points and 12 rebounds in 42 minutes. Davis played just one game against Phoenix this season, which was just a few weeks ago, but had 42 points in a 123-110 Lakers win.

The Lakers should enjoy a significant size advantage against the Suns in nearly every position. Phoenix’s excellent defence, which was a major factor in their surprisingly successful season, has also slipped of late.

The Suns still have two top players in Devin Booker and Chris Paul, who are both capable of big scoring games. However, they will need their supporting cast to step up against a Lakers team which led the league in defence this season.

Atlanta Hawks @ New York Knicks

New York’s eight-year playoff drought is finally over, and their NBA 2021 odds to win just their second playoff series in this century are looking quite good. The Knicks swept the season series 3-0 against Atlanta as All-Star Julius Randle averaged an amazing 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 6.7 assists.

Randle has a favourable matchup against the likes of John Collins and Danilo Gallinari, who don’t quite possess the mobility to handle Randle.

However, the Hawks – who were also one of the most surprising teams in the NBA in 2021 – finally have De’Andre Hunter back, which will be key in trying to contain Randle in the series.

Meanwhile, they clearly possess better offensive talent than the Knicks. Trae Young is always capable of coming up with a huge game, while John Collins and Danilo Gallinari will give Randle problems with their offensive abilities. Bogdan Bogdanovic has also been outstanding, averaging over 20 points per game over the last two months of the season.

Memphis Grizzlies @ Utah Jazz

The Grizzlies fell short in last year’s play-in, but they succeeded in this year’s play-in tournament, beating both the Spurs and Warriors to make it back to the playoffs.

Ja Morant was sensational against Golden State, scoring 35 points in 46 minutes to lead the Grizzlies. Jonas Valanciunas was riddled with foul trouble, but rookie Xavier Tillman stepped up and played crucial minutes down the stretch.

Morant was excellent against the Jazz this season, averaging 26.7 points and 7.3 rebounds in three games. However, the Jazz still won all three games to sweep the season series.

After missing much of the latter half of the season, former Grizzlies star Mike Conley is back healthy while All-Star Donovan Mitchell is also set to return.

The Jazz showed their impressive depth by overcoming the absence of their starting guards. Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic helped carry the scoring load, and Joe Ingles assumed primary playmaking duties.