NBA Giant Killers: Who the Elite Need To Avoid in the First Round

Ryan CardarellaCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2009

MIAMI - DECEMBER 12:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat scores against the Atlanta Hawks at American Airlines Arena on December 12, 2008 in Miami, Florida. 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 Doug Benc/Getty Images)

For most top-tier teams, the company line is always that it doesn't matter who you play. Great teams need such a mentality, the belief that if they execute to their capabilities, they will emerge victorious.

But just as styles make fights in the pugilistic world, matchups are key come playoff time, and even the league's elite have teams near the bottom of the playoff bracket that they should be leery of.

Everyone remembers how well Golden State matched up with Dallas in the 2007 playoffs, and the Warriors blew the shell-shocked Mavs right off the floor. While another epic upset on that order is unlikely, a long, grueling first-round series can often catch up to the big dogs in later rounds.

While the league seems to be unusually top-heavy this season, with four teams currently within sniffing distance of 60 wins, here are a few matchups that the NBA heavyweights should be hoping to avoid.

Los Angeles-Portland

These traditional west coast rivals have never liked each other much, and with the flagrant foul committed by Trevor Ariza that put Blazers swingman Rudy Fernandez on a stretcher re-igniting that hatred, there will be no love lost if these two teams meet in the first round.

Though the Lakers have taken two of three from the Blazers thus far this season, superstar guard Brandon Roy was injured and did not play in one of the losses.

In their latest matchup, Portland dismantled the Lakers at home 111-94, winning their seventh consecutive contest at the Rose Garden against L.A. Portland is a sparkling 28-6 at home this season, one of the best marks in the league.

The Blazers are young, hungry, deep, and can lean on a legitimate late-game assassin in Roy to carry them to victory.

Portland does lack playoff experience, but pitted against a team they seem to dislike and really get up for, expect a hotly-contested round of ball.

A recent hot streak has the Blazers up to the sixth seed, but if they happen to fall back into a matchup with the Lakers, it will be a tough series for L.A. to put away.

This series goes at least six.

San Antonio-Dallas

Dallas has been unfairly dismissed as an aging pretender in the Western Conference this season, with most hoops junkies expecting a meek first-round exit for Dirk and the Digglers.

What most have failed to realize is that, following a sluggish 2-7 start, Dallas has quietly posted one of the best records in the league since.

Jason Kidd may have lost a step (or two,) but this team still has an abundance of playoff-tested talent. While they no longer matchup well with athletic teams that push the ball, they do play the Spurs well.

San Antonio really has no answer for Dirk Nowitzki, and while Tony Parker can now run circles around his counterpart Kidd, the Mavs have enough veteran experience to make this a tight series.

The teams split their regular season meetings 2-2, with one of the Spurs' wins coming in overtime.

I like San Antonio to prevail in this one, but don't sleep on the Mavs. Their greatest series victory came against San Antonio en route to the Finals a few years back, and Dallas still has enough talent to take Duncan and the Spurs to the limit.


Another aging power that has been largely written off this year is the Pistons. Participants in the last six Eastern Conference Finals, Detroit has taken a step backwards this season as they stagger into the playoffs under .500.

Their early season trade of steady point guard and former Finals MVP Chauncey Billups for Allen Iverson has turned Detroit into a team struggling to find its identity, and the team has struggled all year to fit A.I. together with Rip Hamilton and Rodney Stuckey in the backcourt.

Perhaps I'm being seduced by the past, but facing off against 'Sheed, Iverson, Hamilton, and Prince has to be a sobering thought for the young Magic, who were knocked out by the Pistons last season in five games.

Despite boasting one of the league's best records, as well as one of its most dominant players in center Dwight Howard, the Magic still appear a bit vulnerable.

They lack experience and are a bit unstable at point guard, with Rafer Alston taking over for the injured Jameer Nelson, who was having a career-year.

Detroit hasn't been able to put it together all season, but this proud group of veterans will find a way to make some noise one last time in this series.

If they draw Orlando in the first round, Detroit will knock the upstarts out in a first-round upset before giving Cleveland or Boston a tough series in the semis.


Do you seriously want to match up with Dwyane Wade in the first round at this point?

Wade has been playing out of his mind since the all-star break, willing the Heat to the fifth spot in the east with his all-around brilliance.

Finally healthy, Wade has led the Heat from the ashes of a 15-win campaign of a year ago to their current position as the team no one wants any part of in the east.

His steal and three-point shot to beat Chicago was a regular season highlight for the ages, and Wade has the ability to single-handedly swing a series against anyone.

The Shawn Marion experiment may not have worked out in South Beach, but Jermaine O'Neal gives them a solid presence down-low, and they have some nice complementary pieces in Udonis Haslem and surprisingly efficient rookie point guard Mario Chalmers.

But let's not kid ourselves. Wade is the guy that makes Miami extremely dangerous because of his ability to take over a game in a way that only Kobe and LeBron can dream about these days.

While a deep playoff run is unlikely, considering his unspectacular supporting cast, no one should want any part of the Heat come playoff time. Right now they could be slotted anywhere from the fifth to seventh seed, so fans of the Magic, Hawks, and Celtics ought to keep their fingers crossed.

Or hope that some crazy 40, eight, and eight line from Wade isn't quite enough to send them home.