NBA playoffs: First-round match-ups in the West
Golden State Warriors (1) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8)
The Warriors finished the season with a franchise record 67 wins. Only nine teams in NBA history have won 67 or more games, and nine of them ended up hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. They are nearly unbeatable at home (39-2), and completed the season with the eighth-highest point differential of all time (six of the seven teams with superior differential became champion). In short, they are heavy favorite to win it all, despite boasting little playoff experience.
The Pelicans clinched a playoff spot on the last day of the season, and face the difficult task to stop the hot-shooting Warriors. Anthony Davis has been playing like an MVP, and played particularly well against Golden State in the two games he was available, posting averages of 29.5PPG, 12.5RPG and 3.5BLKPG.
The regular season series was won by Golden State (3-1), but in two of the losses, Davis did not play. If the Pelicans want to have a chance, they will need a lot from former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans and Eric Gordon, who has been shooting the lights out from deep (44.8%, second in the League). However, the Warriors boast the league’s best defensive rating and second-best offensive rating, and although the series will be wondrously entertaining, it will be hard for the Pelicans to steal even one game.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
Game 1: Sunday, April 19 at 5:30am AEST
Houston Rockets (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks(7)
The Houston Rockets snatched the second seed on the last day of the season and will match up against the Dallas Mavericks. Both teams lost in the first round last year, but the Rockets feel they have a legitimate chance to reach the conference finals. Dallas have been mediocre since the All-Star break, but they are a team that is built for the playoffs, loaded with veterans like Nowitzki and Chandler and a coach who know what it takes to win a series.
The Houston Rockets have had a lot of injuries during the season, but with the exception of Beverley, they start the playoffs relatively healthy. Howard is back in the line-up, and he will help spread the floor. The Mavs’ perimeter defense has been awful all season, and they will get burnt if they do not improve against a team that made more threes in a season than anyone in the history of the League.
The Rockets took the season series 3-1, but all games have been relatively close. Dallas have no real answer for James Harden, who seems to be able to go to the line at will (averaging 10.2 FTPG), defensively and Chandler Parsons is still a question mark, after his knee injury.
Prediction: Rockets in 6
Game 1: Sunday, April 19 at 11:30am AEST
Los Angeles Clippers (3) vs. San Antonio Spurs (6)
The San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers are both rolling into the playoffs, having won 13 and 14 of their last 15 games respectively. The Clippers are confident, but the Spurs are probably the only team they did not want to meet in the first round. Last time they met in the playoffs, the Clippers were sent home 4-0.
This series might be career-defining for Chris Paul, who led the League in assists (10.2 APG). Paul has never made it past the second round, and many feel that the Clippers have to make it to the conference finals. DeAndre Jordan (15.0 RPG) and Reddick (16.4 PPG) both had the best season of their careers, and the Clippers have the best offensive rating in the League.
The four games during the regular season series were split (2-2) and all except one of those games went down the wire. The Clippers’ starting five match up well against the Spurs, but their bench has been simply dreadful. The veteran Spurs know they can win on the road, and if they need to slow down the tempo of the game, Popovich has the option to go for the hack-a-Jordan. Kawhi Leonard will take on the responsibility of keeping Paul, who has had problems in the past against bigger and stronger defenders, in check.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
Game 1: Monday, April 20 at 12:30pm AEST
Portland Trailblazers (4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5)
The Portland Trailblazers have not been able to catch a break all season. They were playing exceptional basketball, even though Aldridge has been playing through injury. Then Matthews tore his left Achilles tendon and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Matthews was an important piece for Portland, as he is their best perimeter defender and a good three-point shooter who opened the floor for Lillard and Aldridge to go to work.
The Grizzlies are a brutal match-up for the Blazers. They drain the game of possessions and with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Memphis has two skilled big men that clog up the paint. Without Matthews (and the injured Wright), Portland has no three-point tread, so a lot of weight will fall on the shoulders of Damian Lillard. The regular season series does not predict a good outcome for Portland, as Memphis beat them 4-0.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 5
Game 1: Monday, April 20 at 10:00am AEST