The signs of spring are everywhere: buds are blooming, birds are chirping, and the two-month long saga that is the NBA playoffs is about to commence. Yesterday we broke down the Eastern Conference matchups, but considering how mediocre East as a whole has proven to be this year, that was really just an appetizer. Now it’s time for the main course.
With seven 50-win teams out West as opposed to just three in the East, the gap between conferences doesn’t seem to be closing any time soon. Granted, if were to you take the league’s top 16 teams by record, the East would possess seven of them — nearly half — so it’s not as though the playoff system is completely broken.
But if you were to then rank those teams, 1-16, the West would hold eight of the top ten slots. In other words, the West may not be much better than the East all the way through, but it’s a lot more crowded at the top. It’s a top-heavy conference, and you know what that means? A damn good playoffs. Watching these powerhouses maneuver and clash over the next couple months is going to be fascinating.
And it all starts this weekend.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8)
This matchup features two bonafide MVP candidates squaring off in Steph Curry and Anthony Davis. To be fair, almost every Western Conference matchup features that same thing, so I suppose it’s not really saying much, but it’s still worth mentioning.
Whichever of these guys can get it going sooner — and for the record, my money’s on Curry — will put their team in a good position, as they each serve as the straw which stirs their respective squad’s drink.
Curry’s drink just happens to have a lot more quality ingredients in it. While Curry and Davis can both make legit MVP cases, the Warriors are much less dependent on Curry than the Pelicans are on Davis, and that should go a long way towards ensuring a relatively easy series for Golden State.
Unless Davis can take his game to otherworldly, extraterrestrial levels — which seems unlikely since Golden State employs one of the game’s best defensive big men in Andrew Bogut — the Pelicans are going to have trouble keeping up in what is the first playoff series of most of their careers. The Warriors just have too many weapons.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
Houston Rockets (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
This series should be a lot of fun. The two other Texas teams will battle for the right to try and step out from the Spurs massive shadow. The respective cities of these franchises sit in very close proximity to one another, and, as is often the case with teams who share tight quarters, these two teams have a bit of a rivalry going on.
It’s been heating up slowly but surely over the last few seasons, but it reached new heights last summer when the Mavericks swooped in and signed former Rocket Chandler Parsons to an offer sheet that they knew the Rockets would be hard-pressed to match. Now it’s all coming to a head in this first-round playoff series — what a treat.
The Rockets closed out the season on a high-note, winning their last three games to secure the second seed and home-court advantage for this series. Dallas, meanwhile, has been slogging along for the last month or so now, resigned to their fate as the seventh seed.
Still, I think this has all the makings of a real nail-biting series, especially with Pat Beverly unavailable for the Rockets. These two teams match up well. Whatever happens, it should be pretty fun to watch, as these two teams can really score the crap outta the ball.
Prediction: Rockets in 7
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. San Antonio Spurs (6)
It’s hard to believe that one of these teams will be going home after the first round. This is undoubtedly the best series, in either conference, of the playoffs’ opening act. Only one measly game separated these teams in record, as the Clippers finished 56-26 while the Spurs clocked in at 55-27.
They both finished the season in a hell of a groove, with the Spurs winning 11 of their last 12 and the Clippers taking their final seven straight. They’re each led by a future Hall-of-Fame coach. And they’ve both got enough star power to light up a cloudy midnight, from Tim Duncan to Chris Paul to Blake Griffin to Kawhi Leoanard to Tony Parker and back again.
I really don’t know what’s going to happen in this series. I haven’t the slightest inkling. Part of me wants to give the Clippers the edge due to home-court, but their home-court advantage hasn’t been very advantageous this season. Not only that, but the Clippers have no one on their roster who can check Kawhi. So it comes down to a toss-up.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
Portland Trailblazers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
The battle of the two “forgotten” West teams. It’s fitting that these two squads should end up facing each other, as they were the two Western powers who were most often overlooked all season long. The fact that one of them will automatically get to move on and demand some national attention is well-deserved, at least in this writer’s point of view.
That being said, though, this is probably the least compelling of the West’s first round matchups, which is weird to say because it’s still a very intruiging matchup, and would probably be the most compelling series of the conference if it were in the East.
The Blazers fell down a flight of stairs into the playoffs this year, losing their last four in a row and six of their last ten to close out the season. Though they are technically the fourth seed by virtue of winning their division, Memphis will have the home-court advantage in this one after finishing with a much better record overall.
Memphis has struggled to score this year — what else is new? — even after the addition of Jeff Green, but the Blazers just seem too banged up and too discombobulated to take advantage of the Grizz’s occasional offensive droughts. Not having Wes Matthews will really hurt Portland in this series. Prediction: Grizzlies in 6