NBA Playoffs: Free NBA Picks Today for Sunday, May 23rd, 2021

NBA Playoffs: Free NBA Picks Today for Sunday, May 23rd, 2021
Sun 23rd May 2021

After starting The Playoffs going 3-1, including picking the Blazers as underdogs, our NBA picks are ready for more winners!

The Sixers and Jazz are ready to defend their titles as the best team in each conference while the Lakers start their postseason push in an attempt to go back to back.

With four massive games scheduled across the entire day, there is action wherever you look and our NBA picks have the best game analysis, and the winner, for each of the day’s four contests.

Washington Wizards @ Philadelphia 76ers (Game 1) – 1pm ET

The Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia 76ers kick off their postseason by hosting the Washington Wizards this afternoon. Philly, under newly appointed Doc Rivers, worked hard all season to earn the top seed in the conference while Washington used a massive night over the Pacers to secure their spot in the 2021 playoffs. 

After a disappointing performance against the Celtics on Tuesday, Washington bounced back in emphatic fashion, blowing out Indiana at home on Thursday. Leading by just one point after the first, the Wizards kicked into gear, winning the middle two periods 84-54. 

Bradley Beal led the scoring once again with 25 points and Russell Westbrook had a good all around night with 18 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds, but it was the supporting cast that got them over the line. Rui Hachimura scored an efficient 18 points while Daniel Gafford had 15 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks off the bench. 

The question now is whether they can carry that performance across to today, facing a Philadelphia team that beat them on all three occasions that the sides met during the regular season. While two of the games were decided by six points or less, Philly seemed to have complete control of the matchup, shown by their 26 point win in their most recent game, which also happened to be in Washington.

While they did stumble into the postseason, losing to Indiana and Miami in the final week of the season, the Sixers have won two straight and did all they needed to in order to secure home court advantage through their side of the bracket. Joel Embiid and his 28.5 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per contest were a big reason behind that, but the team has been playing great as a whole.

Tobias Harris is having a career year, Ben Simmons is a Defensive Player of the Year finalist and both Danny Green and Seth Curry have added shooting and spacing that has allowed their three stars to shine. The Sixers were 29-7 at home during the regular season, the second best home record across the league, and are deserved favorites to win this series. It starts with a big performance this afternoon and we expect them to get the job done. 

NBA Pick – Philadelphia 76ers (-335)
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Los Angeles Lakers @ Phoenix Suns (Game 1) – 3:30pm ET

The matchup with the most suspense heading into the playoffs is finally here. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers taking on Chris Paul and the Phoenix Suns. While the injury-riddled Lakers needed the first play-in game to secure their playoff berth, the Suns were one of the best teams all season and were unlucky not to finish on top of the conference. 

The natural improvement of Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, along with the additions of Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, pushed Phoenix from a 10-seed last season to one of the best in the league this season. The now 36-year-old Chris Paul showed no signs of slowing down for his new club, averaging 16.4 points, 8.9 assists and 1.4 steals per game and earning consideration for MVP. 

It was more than just his numbers though as his leadership and guidance allowed the young, inexperienced Phoenix players to thrive and perform better than they had before. However, there were signs of fatigue during the last few weeks of the season. Phoenix showed that they are not quite the complete team just yet, losing to Atlanta, Golden State and, none other than, the Lakers over the last 11 days. 

LA’s win, with James still sidelined with his ankle issue, has to give them confidence going into this 7 v 2 matchup. The defending champions are no regular seven seed, being the first team finishing 7th or 8th to be favored to win a series over the last 30 years. Injuries to both James and Anthony Davis during the back half of the season restricted the Lakers from fulfilling their regular season aspirations, especially after finishing first last season, but their performance on Wednesday indicated that they are trending in the right direction.

In that win over the Suns just two Sundays ago, Anthony Davis exploded for 42 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, highlighting some defensive issues that Phoenix might have throughout the series. Fastforwarding a week and a half to the Lakers Play-In game against the Warriors, with James back in the lineup, and it wasn’t smooth sailing. LA found themselves down by as many as 13 in the first half, with James, Davis and Dennis Schroder struggling offensively. A 20 point second half from Davis as well as a 22 point triple double from James allowed the Lakers to get back in the game and eventually come out on top.

Both teams have shown that they are far from perfect and still have plenty of room for improvement, especially since there are championship aspirations for the two sides, but we have to side with the Suns at home. LA may have been 30-15 with James and just 12-15 without him, but their performance on Wednesday was uninspiring, despite the win. Phoenix, especially with Paul leading the way, play with a chip on their shoulder and a point to prove, and with many doubting their ability to win the series, we expect a statement performance in Game 1. 

NBA Pick – Phoenix Suns (-138)
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Atlanta Hawks @ New York Knicks (Game 1) – 7pm ET

The fan-favorite New York Knicks finished fourth in the East and will host this opening round series against the Atlanta Hawks. New York, under newly-appointed Tom Thibodeau, have been a revelation this season, allowing the fewest points per game while treating The Garden like a fortress. Atlanta on the other hand used spectacular play from Trae Young, Bogdan Bogdanovic and Clint Capela to keep afloat in the East and actually finish on the same record as the Knicks at the end of the regular season.

However, New York finished higher due to winning the season series between the two sides and the 3-0 sweep has to give the Knicks an edge, especially with home court advantage. Both sides finished 25-11 at home and 16-20 on the road during the regular season, so New York has to capitalize on their opportunities and tonight’s first game presents itself as a game where they can really set the tone for the series.

Julius Randle, the Most Improved Player frontrunner, has been a revelation for the Knicks, averaging 24 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, plus shooting 41.1% from deep as a power forward. He has been the leader of the club on both ends of the floor while Derrick Rose, their prized mid-season acquisition, has been an incredible boost off the bench, scoring and facilitating at a high rate. 

Atlanta will take some confidence from the fact that, in their most recent matchup they led by as many as 11 and were ahead by eight points late in the third quarter before Trae Young went down with an ankle injury. They ended up losing by 10 points in overtime, but Young is a massive difference maker and his time on the sidelines allowed Bogdanovic to come into his own as a force for the Hawks. 

Over his last 10 games of the season, in which Young missed three, Bogdanovic averaged 22.6 points per game, well up from his 16.4 season average. That extra scoring boost will be needed against the Knicks, who were the best scoring defense in the league. The Hawks finished the season averaging the 12th most points per game, with the eighth best offensive rating but New York finished with the fourth best defensive rating and gave up just 104.7 points per game, two better than anyone else in the league. 

Nobody expected either of these sides to be here at this stage of the season, but now there are expectations for both sides to do well here. Only one team can move on to the next round, but with tonight being the sole focus, we have to side with New York. They have lost just one of their last 11 games at home and with defense ramping up in the playoffs, the Knicks’ superior play at that end should allow them to get ahead when it matters most. 

NBA Pick – New York Knicks (-126)
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Memphis Grizzlies @ Utah Jazz (Game 1) – 9:30pm ET

The Utah Jazz, who finished the regular season with the best record in the league, should be licking their lips at this 1 v 8 matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies. While they have built up a tonne of momentum, beating the Spurs at home before the Warriors on the road to win the eight seed during the Play-In Tournament, Utah was a spectacular team all season and lost just five games at home, two less than anyone else in the league.

With Donovan Mitchell missing the last 16 and Mike Conley missing nine of the last 11 games of the season, the entire Jazz roster had to step up. Utah’s depth was put to the sword but stepped up in the face of adversity and allowed them to finish just a game ahead of Phoenix and earn themselves home court advantage throughout the entire postseason. 

Two tune up games against the lowly Thunder and Kings, winning by 16 and 22 points respectively, allowed Utah to iron out any wrinkles that they might have had and gave Conley two games to get his legs back under him before an important postseason for both him and the Jazz. Utah will be extremely disappointed about their spectacular exit from last season’s playoffs, losing to the Nuggets in seven games in just the first round. 

They will have a point to prove, but that is exactly how Memphis plays and their team first approach may give the Jazz some problems, especially with Mitchell playing his first game since the 16th of April. While playing games on both Wednesday and Friday may be seen as a negative and tired legs could become an issue later in the series, the momentum built from two hard-earnt wins could give the Grizzlies an edge. 

Coming up against Steph Curry, an MVP finalist in red-hot form, Ja Morant rose above the adversity to will his team to victory. Playing on the road against a side that had beaten them just five days earlier, Morant’s 35 points, six rebounds, six assists and four steals earnt himself man of the match honours whilst allowing his team to stay alive. 

Memphis also have a point to prove, after being eliminated from last season’s postseason in the 8 v 9 Play-In game and wanted to extend their improved performance this year. The Jazz present a completely different challenge to what they have faced in the last week. Utah were the only team to rank in the top five for both offensive (second) and defensive (third) rating across the league. While we think this should be closer than the nine point spread on offer, the largest of the day, the Jazz should be too good at home in the first game of this tantalizing series.

**Update – Donovan Mitchell has been ruled out for tonight’s clash. We are still siding with the Jazz to win game one, with slightly better odds now!**

NBA Pick – Utah Jazz (-360)
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*Odds and spreads correct at time of publication, courtesy of FanDuel

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Tim is a keen follower of all American sports, in particular the NBA and NFL. He has followed both sports for over a decade and would happily sit down and watch every game, regardless of who is playing! No matter the sport, whether it be NFL and NBA or even MLB, NHL, UFC and all sports, Tim covers it from every angle, staying in the loop to bring you the most up-to-date information and the best picks and predictions on the market.