Most NBA players will tell you that it doesn’t matter who they face during a run through the postseason, but we know better than that. The matchups are extremely important, and can often dictate which teams are capable of advancing before the ball is tipped in a seven-game series. Just ask the Hawks; they’re 0-12 all time in the playoffs against the Cavaliers.
Here’s a look at one team each NBA playoff contender doesn't want to see in the postseason — the contenders being the 16 teams that would be in the playoffs if they started today, ordered from worst to first in the league-wide standings.
Initially, it may seem like any team will be too much for Miami in the playoffs, considering the Heat are two games under .500 on the season and are struggling just to sneak in. But since Jan. 17, Miami is 22-5, with wins over the Rockets, Warriors and Cavaliers during that span.
The Heat are 0-3 against the Celtics on the season, however, and Isaiah Thomas lit them up for 52 points in their last meeting on Dec. 30. A first-round matchup with Boston would be a disaster.
If the Nuggets hang onto the eighth seed in the West, they'd better hope for a first-round date with the Spurs. Denver ranks 29th in the league in defensive efficiency, so a matchup with a Warriors, a team that has the league's top offense, would quickly spell doom in what would undoubtedly be a four-game series.
The Bucks are 0-3 against the Hawks this year, and with good reason. Atlanta has a more mature version of Milwaukee's key players -- Paul Millsap is more versatile than Giannis Antetokounmpo, Dwight Howard is better defensively than Greg Monroe, and Dennis Schroder is a craftier point guard than Malcolm Brogdon or Matthew Dellavedova.
The good news for the Bucks is that a first-round postseason meeting with the Hawks is unlikely; Atlanta is currently seeded fifth, while Milwaukee sits at seventh.
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The Pacers are 0-3 against the Bucks this season, but since a playoff matchup with them is unlikely given the seedings, let's turn our attention elsewhere.
Indiana has yet to face the Raptors, but statistically, that would appear to be an unfavorable matchup. The Pacers rank 26th in the league in rebounding, while Toronto has the fourth-best mark in that category in the East. The Raptors also have a top-four offense, which should be able to go to work unbothered against Indiana's middle-of-the-pack defense.
This one's easy: The Cavaliers are 12-0 against the Hawks in the playoffs, which is the best record by one team over another in the history of the NBA's postseason.
Cleveland also set the NBA record for most 3-pointers made in a regular-season game (25) in a win over Atlanta on March 3.
The Grizzlies want no part of the Spurs in a playoff series. San Antonio may be vulnerable to teams with above-average athletes at every position who play at a faster pace, but Memphis is essentially the opposite of that. The Spurs have the league's top-ranked defense, while the Grizzlies have a below-average offense that's ranked just 17th. Stylistically, there is no worse matchup for Memphis.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Warriors have taken great pride in crushing Russell Westbrook's one-man show this season, and things would be no different should we be blessed with a playoff matchup between these two squads.
Not only has Golden State posted victories by 16, 21 and 26 points in the three meetings, but Kevin Durant has had some of his highest-scoring and best-shooting nights of the season against his former team.
The Raptors are probably in trouble against anyone if Kyle Lowry can't make it back to 100 percent by the time the postseason begins, but even if both he and fellow All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan are healthy, it's difficult to see Toronto hanging with the Cavaliers.
Cleveland has won all three regular-season meetings and ranks third in the league in offensive efficiency behind only the Rockets and the Warriors. The Raptors' defense is tied with two others for a league-average ranking of 15th, and that alone will be enough to doom them if they face the Cavs in the playoffs for a second straight season.
A first-round date with the Jazz is what L.A. would be looking at if the playoffs began today, and thanks to that aforementioned regular-season malaise, the Clippers wouldn't have home-court advantage. Rudy Gobert negates the advantage DeAndre Jordan has over most inside, Gordon Hayward can be relied upon to handle the bulk of the scoring, and George Hill can at least hang with Chris Paul. This could be a nasty matchup for the Clips.
The Wizards will in all likelihood finish with a top-three seed in their conference thanks to a strong surge over the last couple of months, so we need to compare them to the East's elite.
Washington has a 2-1 record against the Celtics, and the Raptors are a step below thanks to Lowry's injury situation. That leaves the Cavaliers, and Washington's overtime home loss to them on Feb. 6 tells us all we need to know.
J.R. Smith was out with an injury, and the Cavs hadn't yet fortified their reserves by adding Deron Williams and Larry Sanders to the roster. Despite the fact that LeBron James fouled out, Kyrie Irving took over and found a way to finish things off.
The Wizards (and their 17th-ranked defense) will be no match for the fully-loaded Cavaliers.
Utah will obviously have its hands full with teams like the Rockets, Warriors and Spurs, but in the event the Jazz somehow meet up with the Grizzlies, they could be in trouble. Memphis owns a 3-1 record over Utah this season.
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All Raptors mentions include the qualifier that Kyle Lowry must be back in order for the scenario to work, but Boston is 1-3 against the Raptors this season, and Toronto has the guard play to make Isaiah Thomas have to work at both ends of the floor. Add in the fact that the Celtics rank just 27th in rebounding, and that could spell trouble in a seven-game series.
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The Cavs are clearly the class of the East, but if someone can push them to six or seven games, it's probably the Celtics. Boston's two losses to Cleveland this season came by just six points each, and the Celtics scored a win over the Cavaliers back on March 1.
When Isaiah Thomas is rolling and the role players on his team are all in sync, Boston can be dangerous. Dangerous enough to take down the Cavs? Probably not, but they have the best chance out of anyone in the East of making it an interesting series.
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The Spurs lead the league in defensive efficiency and have the game's best one-on-one defender in Kawhi Leonard, who can give James Harden fits. That should be more than enough to slow Houston's potent offensive attack.
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San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are built to destroy teams in the regular season, and they've been literally doing exactly that for going on 20 straight years. Things are different in the playoffs, however, when opponents have the time to focus and prepare for how to take San Antonio down.
Athleticism, 3-point shooting and playing at a lightning-fast pace are the ways to overcome the Spurs' strong defense, and no team combines those qualities any better than the Warriors.
Golden State Warriors
The Spurs might be capable of dethroning the two-time defending Western Conference champs, but the Rockets pose the biggest threat to Golden State's quest to make it to a third straight Finals.
Houston thrives playing at the Warriors' pace and is more in love with the 3-point shot this season than Golden State has ever been. (The Rockets attempted an NBA-record 61 3s in a December game against the Pelicans.)
They're the only team that can stand toe-to-toe with the Warriors in the West, while matching them shot for shot.