With exciting first-round encounters, the NBA playoffs kick off

With exciting first-round encounters, the NBA playoffs kick off ...

The NBA playoffs are wide open this year and will start with a bang on Saturday as 16 teams begin their quest to hold the Larry O'Brien trophy in June.

The Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns are the champions in the defending championships from last year, but a lot of other teams have the resources to reach the goal.

This year's first round, which is often a snooze, is filled with excitement.

The Eastern Conference begins with a must-watch first round matchup between the seventh-seeded Brooklyn Nets and the second-seeded Boston Celtics.

The star-studded Brooklyn squad entered the season with high expectations, but was unable to take the COVID-19 vaccination, and James Harden was traded to Philadelphia for Ben Simmons.

While Irving has returned to work full-time, the Nets have a top-ten offense and defense, and Irving and Kevin Durant wrote a message to the league when they won the play-in tournament.

Simmons is expected to make his debut with the team at some point in the series, which would further enhance their defense.

When they face Durant, the Nets will have a deep, defensive-minded Celtics squad led by Jayson Tatum, who has the chance to demonstrate that he is truly among the NBA's elites.

When they play before their rabid fans at the TD Garden, the Celtics will also look to take advantage of their home court advantage.

The Philadelphia 76ers, led by Joel Embiid, will face off against the fifth-seeded Toronto Raptors in the second-most likely first-round match in the East, who have seen Pascal Siakam rise to new heights this season.

The first installment of the series might be based on how former MVP Harden, who applied for the contract with Philadelphia in February, performs against Toronto's able defense.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the third-seeded Bucks are expected to make a quick work of a Chicago Bulls team that will be without injured point guard Lonzo Ball.

The Miami Heat, an experienced and top-seeded player, has a deep bench and should extend past their first-round opponent, either the Cavaliers or the Atlanta Hawks, who compete in their playoff play-in game on Friday.

CONFERENCE IN DURING WESTERN

The Western Conference's first-round matchup will dwindle the third-seeded Golden State Warriors against the sixth-seeded Denver Nuggets.

On Thursday, Warriors fans expressed their condolences over the fact that Stephen Curry, a two-time MVP, will be back from a foot injury in time for the tip-off in San Francisco.

The league won the first five regular-season matches, finishing 1-7 ahead of the third seed.

Even with Curry's scoring, the Warriors defense will have the tough task of trying to derail the likely back-to-back league MVP Nikola Jokic.

Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will be unavailable for the Nuggets, thus Jokic will need to be dominant for Denver to defeat a Warriors team that boasts sharp-shooting players Curry, Klay Thompson, and breakout star Jordan Poole.

The Dallas Mavericks lost a significant setback in the dangerous final game of the regular season, when Luka Doncic threw his calf.

Doncic is expected to compete in Game One, but it is unclear when the team's most crucial player will be back. If he can not return or is not at full strength, the Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert-led Jazz should run away with the series.

The second-seeded Memphis Grizzlies and their dazzling point guard Ja Morant will face Patrick Beverley and a fired-up Minnesota Timberwolves team in their play-in victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

So here are the Suns, who scored a league-best 64-18 record during the regular season, and are expected to win it all once more after coming two games short of that goal last season.

In the first round, the well-oiled squad should cruise past either the New Orleans Pelicans or the Clippers, but with injury issues, they will continue to be the team to challenge as they prepare to take the franchise's first Larry O'Brien trophy to the desert.

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