NBA

3 Teams with the Toughest Potential Paths to the Finals

May 15, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) puts up a three point shot against the Miami Heat n the fourth quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports
Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-2021 regular season has finally come to a close. The postseason this year is shaping up to be a great one. Several teams in both conferences are contenders this year, and anything can happen. However, some paths to the finals are going to be tougher than others. So, today we’ll take a look at the teams with the toughest potential path to the finals.

Utah Jazz

Mar 14, 2021; San Francisco, California, USA; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) scores ahead of Golden State Warriors forward-guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (12) during the fourth quarter at Chase Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

With the best record in the NBA this year, Utah looks like a force in the West. But they may have to face some powerful teams to get out of the West.

Firstly, they’ll have to play the Warriors if the play-in seeding doesn’t change. Steph Curry is red-hot this year, and he could easily cause Utah trouble. In general, he is a challenging player to contain for any defense. Also, Utah is a relatively inexperienced first seed, so they could fall short.

This season against the Jazz, Curry has averaged 30.7/7.3/5.3. Additionally, the Warriors are 2-1 against Utah. We’ve already seen the length Steph Curry will go to win games for his team in the regular season. In the playoffs, the level of his play could become even more unstoppable.

In the second round, Utah will likely go against the Clippers. The Clippers are a contender-worthy team that will give them trouble. The Clippers are an even better team than they were last year, despite being the fourth seed. They acquired a strong leader and playmaker in Rondo, as well as a solid big in Ibaka. Los Angeles has something to prove to the rest of the league, and they will be playing with more urgency than before.

This series could indeed go either way. The Clippers will give Utah a run in the second round.

Utah could face several strong teams in the Conference Finals. The Lakers, Suns, and even the Nuggets are all possible opponents. All three of these teams are very well-rounded and will be hard for Utah to stop.

It will be interesting to see if Utah could win the West with this adversity.

Milwaukee Bucks

May 4, 2021; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Brooklyn Nets' Kyrie Irving (11) reaches for the loose ball between Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and forward P.J. Tucker (17) during the third quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The Bucks are another team with one of the toughest potential paths to the finals. They will play some powerful teams during their playoff journey this year.

Firstly, the Bucks will have to play the sixth seed Heat in the first round. Not only are they the reigning East champions, but they defeated the Bucks 4-1 in the second round last year.

Although the Bucks are a better team than they were last year, they will still face problems. The Heat defense is more than able to contain Giannis. Antetokounmpo is averaging just 16.7/9.3/6.7 on 48.7/27.3/60 shooting splits against the Heat this season. Additionally, Jimmy Butler can drastically elevate his game during the playoffs, which may cause the Bucks problems.

Following the Heat, the Bucks will play the Nets likely. The big three of Harden, Durant, and Irving are finally healthy and nearly impossible to contain. This season, they’re averaging 34/12/6, 34.7/9.3/4.7, and 29/5.5/5 against the Bucks, respectively. They are arguably the favorites to win it all and have unmatched offensive firepower.

The offensive depth of the Nets will be challenging for the Bucks to stop.

As if this weren’t enough, their next matchup would likely be the first seed 76ers. Philadelphia is a solid team on both ends of the floor. Additionally, they have the best record in the East, and Embiid has dominated this season. The 76ers will give Giannis and the Bucks a callous time this year should they match up in the ECF.

In short, the Bucks will have a tough time winning the East this year. We will see how things play out and whether or not Giannis can get the job done.

Phoenix Suns

May 9, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) fouls Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) on a shot attempt during the second half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Finally, the Suns have one of the toughest potential paths to win the West.

Should the play-in seeding remain as it is, the Suns will face the Lakers in round one.

The Suns are an inexperienced team, aside from Paul. Having to play the reigning NBA champions and one of the favorites to win it all in the first round will be tough. Right away, they will face one of the toughest teams in the West, led by LeBron and Davis.

Additionally, Phoenix has shown they have a hard time stopping the duo. Both James and Davis have played one game each against the Suns this year and scored 38 and 42, respectively.

The Lakers will undoubtedly give Phoenix a hard time in the first round.

Following the Lakers, the Suns will likely have to play the probable MVP in Jokic. Even without Murray, Jokic and the Nuggets are an extremely well-rounded team. They are a sleeper to win the West this season. Phoenix’s relative inexperience could easily fall short to the Nuggets if they get past LA.

Jokic averaged 25.7/13.7/8.3 against the Suns this year. He and Denver will give the Suns a challenge come playoff time.

In the Conference Finals, Denver will likely play the Jazz or the Clippers. For the third time in the row, they’ll be playing a contender-worthy team. Both of these teams could easily defeat the Suns.

To summarize, the Suns will have to play three of the best teams in the West consecutively. It will be interesting to see if they can get the job done.

All three of these teams will have some of the toughest potential paths to the finals. This year, anything can happen, and it will be fun to see how things shape out.

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