It would be natural to expect that the results of the 1-8 and 2-7 matchups would be more predictable than the 3-6 and 4-5 matchups in the Western Conference. If the first few games showed anything though, it’s that these series will be intensely close and fiercely competitive, much closer than the seeding might suggest. Let’s take a look at what makes these series so intense.
San Antonio Spurs vs Dallas Mavericks
Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan are facing off for the sixth time in the playoffs. To say that these rivals are familiar with each other and their playing style is a gross understatement. The Spurs, like always, have built a well-refined offensive machine that not only capitalizes on the rejuvenation of the Big Three, but also on the talents of Kawhi Leonard, Patty Mills, Tiago Splitter and Danny Green. Popovich has once again put out a team that plays hard and knows how to close games, which was extremely evident in the first game between these two foes. The way the Dallas Mavericks played was no surprise either. As ridiculously and unbelievably efficient as their offense can look at times (ranked No. 2 on Hollinger offensive efficiency rankings), their glaring defensive deficiency limits their ceiling. Up by 10 points with about six points left, the Mavericks couldn’t get a stop as the Spurs switched to another gear. The lineup of Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Jae Crowder, Dirk Nowitzki, and Brandan Wright that featured a net rating of plus 26.6 per 100 possessions in the regular season will probably be something we see a lot more in upcoming games. Whatever happens, a matchup between these two rivals will always be ultra-competitive.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Memphis Grizzlies
Amidst the Spurs excellence and the Pacers ineptitude, the Oklahoma City Thunder haven’t exactly been the talk of the NBA as of late. Nevertheless, expect Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to comfortably beat the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies might have grabbed game two, but athleticism that the Thunder roster has at the PG, SF, and PF position is just too overwhelming to keep under wraps for a whole series. The Grizzlies’ penchant to play hard on defense will earn them a couple wins, but there just isn’t enough of a scoring punch to keep up with the OKC offense. Ranked 16th in offensive efficiency during the regular season, the Grizzlies need a couple role players, Courtney Lee and Mike Miller, to step up in a huge way to have a real shot in this series.
Los Angeles Clippers vs Golden State Warriors
This series is bound to have the most entertainment value in the first round of the playoffs. Sparks fly whenever these two in-state rivals play. The two high octane offenses are powered in very different ways- the Warriors through their tremendous shooting prowess and the Clippers through the penetration of Chris Paul and the athleticism of his supporting cast. Despite the Warriors victory in game one, the Clippers are bound to gain eventual control of the series due to one significant reason - the absence of Andrew Bogut. With Bogut, the Warriors have a tremendous defensive anchor capable of guarding Deandre Jordan and controlling the paint. Without him, they have a defense that can’t hold up for the duration of an entire playoff series.
Houston Rockets vs Portland Trailblazers
Dwight Howard came to Houston for one reason - to win championships. After an untimely Rocket collapse in game one, it's time for Howard to step up as the leader of the team to set a tone of urgency. The Rockets have all the talent they need to stop the Trailblazers. But, they can’t let Lamarcus Alridge go off for 45+ points and Damian Lilliard go for 30+ points and still expect to win. The recipe for the Rockets is to get the ball out of the hands of Alridge and Lilliard. In fact, the Trailblazers had the worst bench in the NBA this season. The Rockets must make the Trailblazers pay for their lack of depth.