The NBA Playoffs are upon us! And while the first round of the last couple of years has been anything but memorable, this time around we should see great series from all over the Western Conference. Just a game seperated most of these teams just a couple of days ago, with the fourth seed Thunder not even clinching a playoff spot until the 81st game.
Here’s a look at the matchups you will be watching over the next week and a half:
Rockets vs 8. Timberwolves
Warriors vs 7. Spurs
Trail Blazers vs 6. Pelicans
Thunder vs 5. Jazz
Any of the teams from 3rd to 8th were unsure of their spot til the very last day of basketball, meaning we could be in for a wild ride in a first round that features a lot of even match ups.
Let’s take a look at the match ups and what to expect when both teams hit the floor:
Rockets (65-16) vs Timberwolves (47-35)
Well, this series may not be as fun. Minnesota is a threat to anyone else in the league, but the Timberwolves have let the Rockets get the best of them in all four meetings this season. This isn’t to say it will be easy James Harden and Chris Paul, but with two ball dominant guards, the question wasn’t how they would fare in the regular season, it was how they fare in the playoffs.
James Harden has been the man all year for Houston but late in games, Paul has proven he can be very clutch come playoff time (I.E. Spurs G7 in 2015). Harden’s last playoff performance was his worst since the 2011 Finals for the Thunder, but Harden has been better this year and so has his team, so one should expect a big first round performance from the future MVP.
Minnesota can win a game, or two, but nothing more than that against a 65 win Houston team that has beaten Minnesota by 18 in three of the four meetings.
Warriors vs Spurs
At the beginning of the year, you’d probably expect a Warriors-Spurs playoff series… in the Western Conference Finals. A Warriors-Spurs playoff series without Kawhi is not an ideal one for coach Popovich. Last year in the WCF, the Spurs took a big lead in game 1 before Kawhi was injured purposely by Zaza Pachulia. After that, the Warriors stole game 1 and coasted their way to a 4-0 series sweep. This year was no different, as the Spurs were outmanned in every single game without Leonard, losing the season series 3-1 with the lone win coming against a team without Steph, Klay, and KD.
LaMarcus Aldridge has a tall task ahead of them, but without Steph Curry in the Warrior’s lineup this series they might make it interesting. That and are the Warriors that eager to make it to the second round without their starting point guard?
Trail Blazers vs Pelicans
Portland might be the most under talked about three seed in a while. They’re not even talked about as much as the fourth seed Thunder or fifth seed Jazz all year. But Damian Lillard is averaging nearly 27 ppg and 6 assists and has the ball rolling in Portland. But they are also the youngest roster in the playoffs, with 23-year-old Jusuf Nurkic being the third head of the three-headed monster along with Lillard and McCollum.
Nurkic is averaging 14 ppg and 9 rebounds but has a tall task ahead of him in Anthony Davis, the league’s best player on a bad team (he just happens to be dominant). Demarcus Cousins would have been able to help the Pelicans advance in this one but has been out for half of the season and isn’t coming back anytime soon. Which is why I think a short handed Pelicans will have trouble against a surging Portland team.
Thunder vs Jazz
The Utah Jazz lost out on home court advantage by losing to Portland last night, which might prove costly in a series against a strong home team like the Thunder. OKC has won three in a row to finsish the season and Paul George is coming off a 40 point performance in his last outing against the D-League Grizzlies.
The Thunder are 3-0 versus the Jazz since their first loss in October. They match up well against them, but the Jazz and Rudy Gobert are a dangerous group to play against and anything can happen in a seven game series. I don’t think a road team wins a game until game 6, where the Thunder will clinch the series.