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Cinderella dance: NBA teams seeded lower than 4th most likely to make a Finals run in 2021 playoffs

We know the names of the heavyweight squads in the NBA playoffs, including the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Philadelphia 76ers, and the Brooklyn Nets. Those teams are seeded in the top 2 of their respective conferences, and many anticipate they will be around as the playoffs continue.

Throughout the NBA playoffs, upsets often are hard to pull off, as coaches and players can analyze film and decipher mistakes made in previous games. In addition, the perception that the better team will always prevail in a best of 7 does not always pan out, and with both the Eastern and Western Conferences possessing thoroughly solid teams, the seed for upsets is thus rooted. Before the 2020 Heat advanced to the NBA Finals as a 5 seed, no team lower than 4 had advanced to the final dance since the 1999 New York Knicks, and none had captured the title since the 1995 Houston Rockets.

With that being said, here are 4 teams that possess the talent to advance to the NBA Finals who aren’t located within the top four of their respective conferences.

1. Los Angeles Lakers, 7th seed, Western Conference- When your team features two future Hall of Famers in Lebron James and Anthony Davis, your team is going to have a shot to capture the crown. This is especially true when that team is coming off a championship that they captured just a little under one year ago; however, this Lakers team struggled throughout a tumultuous regular season. They finished at 42-30, well below last year’s record 52-19.

Injuries to both James and Davis played a huge role in the record downgrade, but the lack of a third scorer/closer (Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Talen Horton-Tucker all tried to fit that role this season) hurt them late in the season.

Despite the chemistry issues, including the sometimes awkward fit of talented yet limited Andre Drummond, the Lakers have the talent to go on a run and win the title, starting with their matchup against the number two-seeded Phoenix Suns on Sunday afternoon.

2. Portland Trail Blazers, 6th seed, Western Conference- Damian Lillard is the key to any Trail Blazers’ success in the playoffs. Plain and simple. The All-Star guard poured in 34 points and 13 assists in a Game 1 victory over the third-seeded Denver Nuggets. Throughout the season, Lillard and co-star CJ McCollum carried the Blazers at times.

Still, their supporting cast includes a playoff-tested center in Jusuf Nurkic, a former NBA champion in Norman Powell, and reliable veterans ready to step up and make plays in Robert Covington and Carmelo Anthony. Despite facing a tough task in guarding MVP candidate Nikola Jokic, the Blazers possess the depth and potential to overcome the Nuggets and continue their quest to capture their first Finals berth since 1992.  

3. The Dallas Mavericks, 5th seed, Western Conference- The Dallas Mavericks, coached by champion and long-term coach Rick Carlisle, are among the most talented yet difficult teams to gauge. For example, superstar Luka Doncic led the Mavs to a 113-103 victory over the Clippers on Saturday, recording a 31 point, 10 rebounds, 11 assist performance in a stellar game 1 performance.

The Mavs also possess a quality amount of depth to support Doncic, including co-star Kristaps Porzingis, wing player Tim Hardaway Jr., and solid role players in Jalen Brunson and Dorian Finney-Smith. Despite being surrounded by a plethora of solid teams in the Western Conference, the Mavericks have the squad and experience to make a run to the Finals despite not perhaps possessing the top-line talent of others teams in their conference.

4. Miami Heat, 6th seed, Eastern Conference- Throughout Game 1 of the opening game of the Heat’s series against the third-seeded Bucks, they hung strong with the Giannis Antetokoumpo led Milwaukee squad, as the Heat fought and scratched their way to overtime. Despite losing 109-107 to Milwaukee in Game 1, veterans Jimmy Butler, Goran Dragic, Bam Adebayo, and rising star Tyler Herro possess the grit and determination to make a repeat run to the NBA Finals last year.

The Heat dealt with chemistry issues the entire season. But they stepped up later in the season and emerged as sneaky contenders to reach the Finals. Their experience alone provides a blueprint for them advancing far into the playoffs.

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