A series-by-series look at the first round of the Western Conference playoffs:
No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
Can anyone contain Stephen Curry? For the entire regular season, the answer was no. But the Warriors, clearly, are more than just their dynamic shooter and passer. Klay Thompson is a fantastic second banana, while Draymond Green, Maureese Speights, Harrison Barnes and others understand their roles and occasionally stand out themselves. Overall, Steve Kerr’s first season as an NBA coach has been a smash hit. Hard to see his team losing in a seven-game series.
Meanwhile, Anthony Davis is the heartbeat of the Pelicans and perhaps a future league MVP. This is a team that plays hard and smart, and could make several of the games in this series highly entertaining evenings. But as far as getting an actual win, well, that seems considerably more like a long shot. Prediction: Warriors in four.
No. 2 Houston Rockets vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
James Harden may not be the best player alive, but it’s not for a lack of thinking so. That type of confidence, coupled with the Rockets’ ability to score tons of baskets in a matter of moments, makes you think they could do something special. A lot will depend on how Dwight Howard performs in an offense that’s thrived by moving further and further from the basket.
On the other hand, the Mavericks have been a disappointment after obtaining Rajon Rondo in a midseason trade. Rondo has been subpar and the Mavs as a whole haven’t meshed despite all the talent. On the bright side, with the likes of Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Chandler Parsons and others, when the Mavs are hot, they can overwhelm you. But they’d better heat up, like, yesterday. Prediction: Rockets in six.
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 San Antonio Spurs
Just the Clippers’ luck. They peak at the right time and suddenly look like a real contender — then draw the defending champions in the first round. But when you take into account the way Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and the rest have played lately, it’s easy to believe this is the year the Clippers become something beyond just hype. That said, one slip-up against the Spurs and they’re likely toast.
The Spurs, of course, weren’t too shabby themselves near the end, winning 11 straight before losing the season-finale to the Pelicans. It was no ordinary loss, though — as the Spurs plummeted from the second to sixth seed. So it will be an uphill climb for Tim Duncan and friends, as the 1994-95 Rockets are the only team to win a title when starting at No. 6. But if anyone is capable of matching such a feat, it’s these Spurs. Frankly, this series should be up in the air until the very end. Prediction: Clippers in seven.
No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
This is one of those strange series where the lower seed has the home-court advantage. Still, the Blazers possess youth, springy legs and two real stars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. It worked well in last year’s first round vs. the Rockets. The big question is whether those two will get enough consistent help (especially on the road) against a highly disciplined opponent.