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5 storylines to watch during the NBA Finals

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Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul dribbles against Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo during the second half of an NBA game.

FILE - Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul dribbles against Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Milwaukee. Both All-Star players will play big roles in the NBA Finals when the Suns and Bucks meet.

Aaron Gash, Associated Press

A new NBA champion will be crowned in the next couple weeks, with the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns meeting in the NBA Finals. 

What are the best storylines to watch for in the series, which tips off Tuesday night with Game 1? 

How much will Giannis Antetokounmpo play?

The Bucks’ megastar is ailing, and he is questionable for Game 1 of the NBA Finals with a knee injury that caused him missing the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals. Just how much Antetokounmpo can play with a hyperextended left knee with hover over the series in a postseason full of injuries to All-Star players. In his absence during the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals, Bobby Portis started the last two playoff games for Milwaukee, averaging 17.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but Antetokounmpo gives Milwaukee its best chance to take home the crown. 

NBA Finals schedule

NBA Finals schedule

All games will be televised on ABC

Game 1: Milwaukee at Phoenix, July 6, 7 p.m. MDT

Game 2: Milwaukee at Phoenix, July 8, 7 p.m.

Game 3: Phoenix at Milwaukee, July 11, 6 p.m.

Game 4: Phoenix at Milwaukee, July 14, 7 p.m.

*Game 5: Milwaukee at Phoenix, July 17, 7 p.m.

*Game 6: Phoenix at Milwaukee, July 20, 7 p.m.

*Game 7: Milweaukee at Phoenix, July 22, 7 p.m.

*If necessary

Will Chris Paul get his trophy?

The 36-year-old point guard has been in the NBA since 2005, but he is finally making his first appearance in the NBA Finals in the 1,214th game of his career. Paul, an 11-time NBA All-Star, has played for five different organizations and was an MVP candidate in his first season in Phoenix. His age hasn’t stopped him from leading the Suns, as Paul has averaged 18.1 points, 8.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game this postseason. 

A long championship drought will end no matter what

There is one total NBA championship between the two teams. The Bucks won the NBA title in 1971 and are making their third appearance in the NBA Finals — they lost to Boston in seven games in 1974. The Suns are also making their third NBA Finals appearance, though Phoenix came up short in their previous two trips (1976 and 1993) and are seeking their first NBA championship. 

Utah ties in the 2021 NBA Finals

There will be a bit of a Utah flavor in the NBA Finals, even with the Utah Jazz eliminated earlier in the playoffs. Former BYU Cougar Elijah Bryant and former Utah State Aggie Sam Merrill are on the Milwaukee roster and played sparingly in the Eastern Conference finals, though don’t expect them to contribute much during the NBA Finals. Phoenix, meanwhile, has former Jazzman Jae Crowder, who started 42 games during the regular season in his first year with the Suns and is averaging 10.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 assists during the playoffs. 

Who’s the favorite? Experts share their picks

Antetokounmpo’s health — and how much he could be available in the series — played a major role in how national experts made their picks for how the NBA Finals will play out.

  • ESPN: The Suns are picked to win by 13 writers — eight have Phoenix winning the series in seven games — while four pick the Bucks. Seven writers have Paul being named the NBA Finals MVP.
  • Sports Illustrated: 9 of 10 writers pick the Suns to win.
  • CBS Sports: Four writers pick the Suns to win, three pick the Bucks. Writes Bill Reiter, who has Phoenix winning in six games, “To the healthy team this season, and not necessarily the best, will go the spoils. And that appears to be the Suns right now. With Giannis’ status so uncertain, and the Suns excellence beyond doubt, Phoenix finds a way to get it done.”
  • Bleacher Report: 7 of 8 writers pick the Suns to win, with Paul picked as NBA Finals MVP by five.
  • FiveThirtyEight: The Suns have a 68% chance of winning the NBA Finals, per its projections.
  • The Ringer: The Suns are favored to win in its latest projections, with a 61% chance of winning and the most likely outcome being Phoenix in five games.