The Team Every NBA Playoff Squad Secretly Wants in the 1st Round
When the NBA playoffs kick off, every team is going to be hoping for a matchup against one of the league's more vulnerable postseason opponents.
A number of factors could make a particular opponent desirable to face in a seven-game series. Of course there are teams that are simply weaker than others, but there's also the matter of certain styles and tendencies being better suited for some teams to beat than others.
So in only a few cases is inclusion on this list a shot at a squad and what it does. There's a difference between being weak and being an easier draw than another strong team; that's where some of the surprises here fall.
We'll start with the teams just on the fringe of the playoff picture and make our way up to the more attractive juggernauts.
Utah Jazz/Dallas Mavericks/Portland Trail Blazers
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Teams That Want Them: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder
None of these three teams are currently on pace to make the playoffs. If any of them do, the very best teams in the Western Conference will be very grateful.
The Utah Jazz have a solid post offense and some nice young players, but they won't score enough to overcome their miserable defense. Outside of Dirk Nowitzki and O.J. Mayo, there's no reason to fear the Dallas Mavericks. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, the long season is taking its toll on their overworked starters; they'll be gassed by the playoffs.
Yet most importantly, a matchup against any of these teams means the Spurs or Thunder will avoid the surging Los Angeles Lakers. If Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol get healthy, the Lakers will be a very tough first-round matchup. One of the West's also-rans would be much more manageable.
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Teams That Want Them: Miami Heat
Athletic teams like the Milwaukee Bucks can be tricky for older and slower squads. However, that plays right into the Miami Heat's hands.
If you're one of the best transition teams in the NBA, wouldn't you want to face Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis—a lightning-quick backcourt with an aversion to tough defense—rather than a bruising team like the Boston Celtics?
Between their scoring guards and Larry Sanders' post defense, the Bucks might have what it takes to steal a game from the mighty Heat. Nevertheless, Miami would expend less energy cruising past Milwaukee in five than it would banging bodies with Boston in four.
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Teams That Want Them: Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets
It seems crazy to suggest that anyone would want to play Tom Thibodeau's Chicago Bulls in a slow, bruising affair. That's the way things go for the Bulls sans Derrick Rose.
Lucky for Thibs that he has workhorses like Luol Deng and Joakim Noah to doubly enforce Chicago's hard-nosed identity during Rose's absence. That said, they're having the same late-season endurance issues as the Blazers.
Chicago's rotation runs deeper than Portland's, but the physical demands of the defensive scheme have taken their toll on this team. The Bulls still have nights where it all works for them; expecting them to match another bullying squad for seven games is another issue entirely.
So if the Pacers or, to a lesser extent, Nets punch Chicago in the mouth, Thibodeau's team will likely hold up for a few games. But unless Rose gets back on the floor, the Bulls won't hold up long enough for four wins.
Golden State Warriors
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Teams That Want Them: San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Clippers, Denver Nuggets
Any team with a chance of finishing in the top three in the West wants a piece of the Golden State Warriors right now.
When the Dubs jumped out to a surprising start, it was because of more than the sharpshooting of Steph Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson. Mark Jackson got the traditionally porous Warriors to lock down on defense, turning a lottery mainstay into a playoff contender.
Golden State will likely pull out a postseason berth, but it might not stop the free fall. After a 30-17 start, the Warriors have gone 9-14 since, largely due to the disappearance of their defense.
Guys like David Lee, who had been passable defenders earlier in the year, reverted to their clueless ways, and this no longer looks like a playoff team. Yet they can still realistically finish as high as sixth, meaning the third Western powerhouse might get the easiest draw of them all.
New York Knicks
Teams That Want Them: Indiana Pacers, Brooklyn Nets, Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics
At full strength, the New York Knicks arguably present the most serious threat to the Heat's Eastern Conference supremacy. Full strength is too much to ask from New York, though.
The Knicks are an NBA incarnation of the walking wounded right now.
Amar'e Stoudemire won't be back until the first round is already underway, and Rasheed Wallace might not make it back at all. Kurt Thomas also has a spotty bill of health, while Carmelo Anthony has been banged up and Iman Shumpert has not been healthy at all.
Suddenly New York's frontcourt is running thin and its scoring options are limited. What was once an emerging second contender in the East now looks like easy prey.
There's no telling how the Knicks will weather the rest of the regular season, but any Eastern team with a middle seed should be hoping to face them.
San Antonio Spurs
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Teams That Want Them: Los Angeles Lakers, Houston Rockets
Let's preface this by pointing out that the San Antonio Spurs could sweep either the Lakers or the Rockets and no one would bat an eye.
The thing is, you could say basically the same thing about any of the Western elite; that's just how the balance of power has broken down this season.
Considering that these two teams will certainly end up pitted against a formidable opponent, both would have better chances of pulling off the upset against the team that relies least on athleticism or physicality.
The Clippers, Nuggets or Thunder would run the Lakers off the floor, and the Grizzlies would have their way with either team due to their toughness. Even though the Spurs play up-tempo and can defend, the Lakers have a better shot at keeping pace with their particular running style, and the Rockets have an opportunity to exploit their athletic advantage.
That's not a commentary on the Spurs' ability in reference to those other teams. With a healthy Tony Parker and Tim Duncan, they could be the favorites in the West.
However, due to the schematic tendencies of the other Western Conference postseason contenders, San Antonio might just be the most vulnerable giant as well.