Wednesday 13 December 2017 / 08:49 AM

WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST-ROUND PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

It’s the best time of the year for sports: the NBA playoffs. They kick start this weekend, and everyone is ready to get things rolling. So who’s in and who’s out, and what series should you be watching? Let’s get you ready, with the Western Conference next on the docket.

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

The Warriors are coming into the playoffs rolling, going on an absolute tear during Durant’s absence, and playing even better in his return. Steph Curry is still battling a slight ailment, but the general feeling around the Bay is that he’s fine. If so, the Warriors are head and shoulders the best team in the NBA, and the playoffs for them will largely be about maintaining, and that will be what everyone watching these Warriors game will be watching. Everyone would love to see these guys on upset alert.

The Blazers turned in a nice end to the year after a rough start. There was a time the team was in the tank through much of November through January, but the trade for Jusuf Nurkic vaulted them past the Nuggets and into a roll. They are rolling as of late, and could be dealing behind a resurgent Damian Lillard. They’ve got their hands full with the Warriors, but if Nurkic can play, this could get interesting.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

The Spurs won sixty to the surprise of many, which still baffles me. The loss of Duncan meant the rest would step up even greater, with Kawhi Leonard making the jump to superstar. Every Spur does their job, and they look like the clear challenger to the Warriors yet again. They’re still relatively slow on offense, but that defense is smothering behind Kawhi. Without the Warriors, they’d be the title favorites.

The grit-and-grind Grizzlies keep getting into the postseason despite their older roster. Mike Conley has had his best season after getting that massive payday, and Marc Gasol isn’t slowing down at all. The loss of Chandler Parsons also may have helped the team, and they always give the Spurs trouble. This series will be a defensive dogfight, just like every time these guys matchup.

(3) Houston Rockets vs. (6) Oklahoma City Thunder

Pencil this in as the can’t miss series of the first round. The Rockets stunned almost everyone by how well they’ve all played together, with James Harden having a season for the record books. Each player on this Houston teams fills a role and does what they’re supposed to do, and they stroke the three point shot better than almost any team in the NBA. The offense is blitzing, and it’s a big reason why they overshot their preseason expectations by a big margin.

The Thunder have been the darling, though. Russ Westbrook has been on a war path in his first year sans-Durant. He’s broken the NBA record for triple doubles, averaged over 30 points per game, and drug his team in every way. But don’t think they are a one-man show: each player on this team does their job, and they are deep enough to pound you on the glass. What contrasting styles in the first round.

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Utah Jazz

The Clippers sort of struggled in expectations this year, but still found themselves hosting a first round playoff series even with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin missing extended time. That’s notable because of this: the Clippers are finally healthy, and that window is closing on competing. This roster has a lot of questions heading into the offseason, and they need a run now more than ever.

The Jazz are the opposite of that spectrum, as a team that’s young and experiencing their first real trip. The Jazz have seen career years out of Gordon Hayward, who’s turned into a star, and Rudy Gobert, who’s one of my favorite players in the league to watch when he’s cooking. These two teams matchup well with each other, and want to do the same things. This could be an extremely close first round series.

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About the author

Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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