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The 2021-22 NBA Marathon is over.
Now the sprint to championship happiness begins.
Twenty teams made the initial cut, although only 16 will advance to the actual playoffs. The first eliminations will take place this week, as the eight teams that participated in the tournament will play for the four playoff spots up for grabs.
Once the tournament tips play-in, it will set off a mad dash to the finish line.
Before the clubs step out of the starting blocks, however, let’s lay out all the relevant information on the schedule and broadcast, and then preview each side of the post-season bracket.
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Every hour AND
April 12 | Game 1 | Cleveland Cavaliers at Brooklyn Nets | 7 p.m. on TNT (Live broadcast: watch TNT)
April 12 | Game 2 | Los Angeles Clippers vs. Minnesota Timberwolves | 9:30 p.m. on TNT (Live broadcast: watch TNT)
April 13 | Game 3 | Charlotte Hornets vs. Atlanta Hawks | 7 p.m. on ESPN (Live Stream: Watch ESPN)
April 13 | Game 4 | San Antonio Spurs vs. New Orleans Pelicans | 9:30 p.m. on ESPN (Live Stream: Watch ESPN)
April 15 | Game 5 | Winner of game 3 against loser of game 1 | TBD on ESPN (live stream: watch ESPN)
April 15 | Game 6 | Winner of match 4 against loser of match 2 | To be determined on TNT (Live broadcast: watch TNT)
First round, game 1
saturday april 16
Utah Jazz at Dallas Mavericks | 1 p.m. on ESPN (Live Stream: Watch ESPN)
West No. 7 at Memphis Grizzlies | 3:30 p.m. on ESPN (Live Stream: Watch ESPN)
Toronto Raptors vs. Philadelphia 76ers | 6 p.m. on ESPN (Live Stream: Watch ESPN)
Denver Nuggets at Golden State Warriors | 8:30 p.m. on ABC (Live stream: Watch ESPN)
sunday april 17
Is No. 7 at the Boston Celtics | To be determined To be determined
East No. 8 in Miami Heat | To be determined To be determined
Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks | To be determined To be determined
West No. 8 at the Phoenix Suns | To be determined To be determined
June 2: Game 1 on ABC (live stream: watch ESPN)
June 5: Game 2 on ABC (live stream: watch ESPN)
June 8: Game 3 on ABC (live stream: watch ESPN)
June 10: Game 4 on ABC (Live stream: Watch ESPN)
June 13: Game 5 on ABC (Live Stream: Watch ESPN) (if necessary)
June 16: Game 6 on ABC (Live Stream: Watch ESPN) (if necessary)
June 19: Game 7 on ABC (Live Stream: Watch ESPN) (if necessary)
2 out of 3
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Defending champion Bucks only got the No. 3 seed, but they still enjoy “team to beat” status until proven otherwise.
This is one of the benefits of adding a championship ring to the jewelry collection. That’s also the reality of any list featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo, who has once again positioned himself high in the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year discussions.
But who could dethrone the champions? Well, potentially a lot of teams.
The top-seeded Heat have a strong core of stingy defenders, and Jimmy Butler has reached superstardom under the bright lights before. The Celtics, the second seed, were the players of the Association best team (by a mile) after the All-Star break, and the talented wing tandem of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown is about as good as it gets.
The fourth-seeded 76ers paired MVP contender Joel Embiid with 2018 winner James Harden and are as scary as it sounds. The fifth-seeded Raptors have been flying high for the past month and more, and they’re getting an All-NBA-caliber game from Pascal Siakam.
The sixth-seeded Bulls and eighth-seeded Cavaliers (so far) finished on a tough streak, but they spent long portions of the season ranking among the NBA’s elite. The seventh-seeded Nets finally have a mighty two-pronged punch in the form of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving and cannot be taken lightly despite what their seeding may suggest.
3 out of 3
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The Suns punctuated their season with the league’s best marks in winning percentage (.780, a franchise record) and net save rating (plus-7.5). So go ahead and enter them in the final, right?
Perhaps. Devin Booker scored, whistled and snuck his way into the MVP race, and Chris Paul might have been in contention had he stayed healthy all season.
But also, maybe not.
The West is heavy on star power, and if those stars get big contributions from their supporting cast, several could knock out the Suns and escape the conference.
The second-seeded Grizzlies got a stellar campaign from Ja Morant and were stellar without him as well (20-5). The third-seeded Warriors have seen Klay Thompson catch fire late (more than 33 points in four of his last six outings), making them a team to watch closely if Stephen Curry can put his sprained left foot behind him.
The fourth-seeded Mavs and sixth-seeded Nuggets have their own MVP candidates in Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic, respectively. The fifth-seeded Jazz struggled in the streak but still displayed the NBA third highest net rating.
In other words, while Phoenix has earned the right to be considered the favorite going into the big dance, a second straight trip to the Finals is far from a formality.