NBA Playoffs 2012: Higher Seeds in Danger of First-Round Losses

Thad NovakCorrespondent IApril 26, 2012

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 17: Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics drives against J.R. Smith #8 of the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on April 17, 2012 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

Even with just one night remaining in the NBA’s regular season, only half of the opening-round playoff matchups are set. Of course, many of those uncertainties will be more or less moot, as they revolve around which team will get pounded in the opening series by heavy favorites such as the Bulls or Thunder.

Then again, some teams seeded in the top four in each conference are in for a much tougher start to their postseason, like this trio:

Boston Celtics

The Celtics’ first-round matchup with Atlanta is set, and that’s hardly a favorable situation to begin with. The fleet-footed Hawks frontcourt is well suited to pushing the tempo and forcing the aging Boston rotation to expend as much energy on defense as possible.

Even tougher for the Celtics, though, is the fact that their No. 4 seed will likely be an empty victory (as Atlantic Division champion, Boston is guaranteed no worse than No. 4). Unless they overcome nagging injuries to beat Milwaukee tonight and get some help from Dallas against the Hawks, Boston will finish with the inferior record and thus cede home-court advantage to lower-seeded Atlanta.

Los Angeles Lakers

Depth isn’t exactly the Lakers' strong suit, so Metta World Peace’s suspension was going to make life tough on Mike Brown in his first L.A. postseason, regardless of their opponent. The danger is compounded, though, by the third-seeded Lakers’ likely matchup in their first playoff series.

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers talks with Kobe Bryant #24 during a 112-91 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on April 17, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and ag
Harry How/Getty Images

Barring a fairly ludicrous upset by Minnesota, the Denver Nuggets (owners of the NBA’s top scoring offense) will be facing the Lakers in the first round. Without World Peace’s defense for the first six games, the Lakers will struggle to force the slower tempo they’d rather play at and could easily see Denver run and gun them into submission before the series even reaches a Game 7.

Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis isn’t guaranteed the No. 4 seed in the West, but they’ll claim it tonight with a win over the Dwight Howard-less Magic. Even with home-court advantage, though, they’re in for a dogfight in their playoff opener.

Memphis has drawn the L.A. Clippers, whose combination of Blake Griffin and Chris Paul gives them a fighting chance against any opponent in basketball. The Grizzlies are a skilled defensive team, but they don’t have any individual stoppers capable of containing either Clippers star, so it will take everything Memphis has to come out on top in this series.