Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: What to watch for in Sunday's four playoff games

There are four games of NBA action on Sunday with a busy slate that you will not want to miss.

The day kicks off with the Milwaukee Bucks going for the sweep against the Miami Heat. Then, the Portland Trail Blazers will look to avoid dropping three games in a row against the Denver Nuggets, trying to even the series at two games apiece. Following that, the Philadelphia 76ers will try and keep the Washington Wizards winless in the series, with the final game being a marquee Game 3 between the Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies to take a series lead.

Here's what to watch for in those games.

Game 4: Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks go for the sweep

We're just one year removed from the Heat handling the Bucks, upsetting the higher-seeded team in a quick five-game gentleman sweep in last postseason's Eastern Conference Semifinals. While the majority believed this series would be a hard-fought, down-to-Game-7 series, it has been anything but through the first three games.

Game 1 needed overtime to reward the Bucks with a victory, but Milwaukee went on to win Game 2 by 34 points and Game 3 by 29 points. It destroyed the Heat from the get-go in both of those contests, as Miami looks like a completely different team from the one that made a run to the NBA Finals last season.

Jimmy Butler has been out of rhythm, shooting just 30.6 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from 3 while failing to eclipse the 20-point mark in any of the games so far. Bam Adebayo has been far from the dominating presence he was this regular season, averaging just 14.0 points while failing to record a single double-double through the first three games.

Last year's playoff star Tyler Herro has been almost non-existent, scoring double figures just once (10 points in Game 1) while shooting 28.0 percent from the field and 33.3 percent from 3.

The Bucks are looking like the stout defensive presence we've seen in years past, with a 93.2 defensive rating in the playoffs, the best in the league by nearly 10 full points per 100 possessions.

Milwaukee is looking to pull off its first series sweep since taking care of the Detroit Pistons in four games back in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs. The Heat are trying to avoid being swept for the first time since 2007 when they fell to the Chicago Bulls in four games.

Game 4: Portland Trail Blazers vs. Denver Nuggets

Jusuf Nurkic staying out of foul trouble

The Trail Blazers took Game 1 on the road against the Nuggets but have since lost two in a row, including their first home game in Portland.

So what has changed since that first victory?

A big part of the changing tides is MVP candidate Nikola Jokic getting back to what worked for him all season long, as NBA.com's Carlan Gay detailed following Game 2's win. Jokic playing with the ball in his hands at the elbow has put more pressure on the Blazers' defence, and more specifically, centre Jusuf Nurkic.

Jokic has been in attack mode all series, attempting at least 20 shots in each game. He's averaging 23.7 field goal attempts through the first three games, placing a burden on Nurkic to defend at a high level on nearly every single possession. Nurkic has done what he can to try and contain the superstar centre, but the physicality of two 7-footers battling down low has resulted in the Blazers big man fouling out of the last two contests - both of which resulted in losses.

When Nurkic isn't on the floor, life gets very easy for Jokic.

And the numbers back that up, too - Portland looks like a completely different team with Nurkic on the bench in this series.

When the Bosnian centre is on the floor, the Blazers have an offensive rating of 126.0 and a defensive rating of 112.8, good for a net rating of 13.1.

When Nurkic is on the bench, the team's offensive rating dips to 110.7, their defensive rating skyrockets to 138.4 (!) and their net rating drops to -27.7.

That is... quite the difference.

If Portland is going to have a chance in tying up the series, Nurkic has to stay out of foul trouble.

Game 3: Washington Wizards vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Bradley Beal needs help

As one of the best scorers in the league, Beal has been doing what he does best to give the Wizards a fighting chance in each of the first two games so far. Averaging 33.0 points over the first two games, Beal is posting 20 more points per game than his next closest teammate (Russell Westbrook, 13.0 points per game).

Westbrook is joined by Rui Hachimura and Daniel Gafford - who are each averaging 11.5 points per game - as the only Wizards averaging double figures in scoring for the series so far, and those minuscule numbers aren't going to get the job done against the No. 1 seed.

Washington desperately needs an emergence of the version of Westbrook we saw from April through the end of the regular season, averaging nearly 23 points per game on .449/.302/.714 splits.

In this series, Westbrook is being held to horrendous shooting splits of .333/.000/.667.

76ers veteran wing Danny Green has been lockdown on Westbrook, holding him to just six points on 3-for-12 shooting from the field with five turnovers on 43.9 partial possessions in two games.

If the Wizards are going to even this series, Westbrook needs to snap out of this funk, get the best of Green and help out Beal.

Game 3: Memphis Grizzlies vs. Utah Jazz

Grizzlies need to get gritty on defence again

The Grizzlies stole a win over the Donovan Mitchell-less Jazz in Game 1, but with the All-Star guard back in the lineup, Utah was able to pick up one win on its home floor before heading to Memphis.

Mitchell hadn't played since April 16th before suiting up for Game 2, so there was some understandable rust to be shaken off. He was as solid as can be in his first game back, going for a team-high 25 points while shooting 8-for-19 (42.1 percent) from the field and 5-for-10 from 3.

But when you consider that Morant went off for 47 points, how did the Jazz get by with a game-high scorer of 25 points?

Rudy Gobert (21 points) and Mike Conley (20 points) both surpassed the 20-point mark, while Joe Ingles, Royce O'Neale, Jordan Clarkson and Bojan Bogdanovic all put forth 14-or-more points. With seven different players scoring double figures, Utah tallied 141 points in regulation, its second-most in a game this season.

141 points was also the second-most points the Grizzlies have allowed all season, getting away from the tough and gritty defence that got them into the playoffs in the first place. Take a look at how Memphis' defence had fared prior to Game 2's letdown.

Grizzlies defence in 2021 postseason
Game Points Allowed FG% 3P%
Play-In vs. Spurs 96 35.1 36.4
Play-In vs. Warriors 112 44.7 35.3
Game 1 vs. Jazz 109 42.0 25.5
Game 2 vs. Jazz 141 54.4 48.7

Game 2 was by far their worst defensive performance of the postseason and the Grizzlies will have to get back to their hard-nosed mentality on that end of the floor if they're going to regain the lead over the No. 1 seed in the West in Game 3.

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