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NBA Playoffs 2013: Projecting Most Exciting Semifinal Matchups

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NBA Playoffs 2013: Projecting Most Exciting Semifinal Matchups
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Some series in the NBA playoffs have already wrapped up, so it's not too early to begin looking ahead to the most exciting potential conference semifinal matchups.

On Sunday, the Miami Heat completed the first sweep in the era of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh by dispatching the Milwaukee Bucks. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs advanced in the same fashion against the shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers.

Both of those that appear to be rolling through the postseason, though, have some of the most intriguing prospective showdowns on tap in the next round.

The Western Conference's top-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder are on the brink of winning in four games themselves, but are without superstar PG Russell Westbrook for the remainder of the way due to a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Below is a breakdown of the clashes that would make for some highly captivating postseason drama.

 

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

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A fateful, routine play changed the Thunder's entire postseason dynamic. OKC should handle the Houston Rockets just fine and advance in short order, but the Grizzlies are a different matter.

It's no lock that Memphis will get by the Los Angeles Clippers, but Lionel Hollins' gritty squad has dominated the past two contests by double digits to knot the series at two apiece.

Should the Grizzlies advance, they are the top defensive team in the league, anchored by Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol.

Another advantage they have is a dynamic point guard in Mike Conley Jr. who would be able to get into the lane with relative ease against Thunder backups Reggie Jackson and Derek Fisher. Conley is averaging 9.3 assists to just 1.8 turnovers in the Clippers series, matched up against Chris Paul.

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Memphis' front court of Gasol and crafty post dynamo Zach Randolph would also match up favorably with Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka on both ends of the floor.

Thus, it would fall on Kevin Durant to create his own offense—and shots for others—against the Grizzlies' stymieing, physical bunch.

Memphis emerged with a 90-89 overtime victory in the FedEx Forum in the two teams' only meeting this season, which shows that the Grizzlies can control the pace. That should be even easier with the Thunder missing Westbrook.

 

(1) Miami Heat vs. (5) Chicago Bulls

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For what it's worth, the Bulls and Heat spilt the regular season series 2-2

The defending NBA champions look pretty much unbeatable. Then again, the Bulls were supposed to be too shorthanded to do anything in the playoffs without their best player, PG Derrick Rose.

As it turns out, Chicago is playing incredible defense on the Brooklyn Nets in the opening round and has a chance to close out their superior seeded foes on Monday.

Plus, there's still the possibility that Rose could return. How epic would that be? Rose takes the hardwood in a game once again to face the reigning Larry O'Brien Trophy holders—sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie script.

Though the Bulls may not ultimately have the offensive firepower to hang with Miami sans Rose, it would be an interesting series nevertheless.

Tom Thibodeau has his bunch playing complete, team basketball, and the spark Nate Robinson has provided off the bench was never more evident than his 34-point eruption in Chicago's Game 4 triple-overtime win over Brooklyn in the United Center.

Video Credit: NBA.com

Heat SG Dwyane Wade has also battled through knee issues, and didn't even play in the team's closeout game in Milwaukee, per ESPN's Michael Wallace.

It's hard to fathom anyone beating Miami four times in seven games, but the Bulls could make things very difficult for the Heat to reach the conference finals.

 

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

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The sweep for the Spurs is absolutely critical, with star players Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili still nursing their ways back to health.

Speaking of injuries, the Warriors looked to be down and out when All-Star PF David Lee tore his hip flexor. Instead, everyone is stepping up, and Stephen Curry is playing like a man possessed to will his team forward against a deep, talented Denver Nuggets bunch.

Ray Ratto of CSNBayArea.com captured the unique essence that the Warriors have brought to the playoffs in recent years, which makes a matchup with San Antonio all the more enticing:

Golden State can play defense, especially now that Andrew Bogut is playing at a high level. It forced 13 turnovers in the first half of Sunday evening's victory.

However, Mark Jackson's team runs with the best of them, and it will be interesting to see how the Spurs handle that tempo.

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The head coaching matchup between Jackson and the legendary Gregg Popovich will be extremely fun to watch, as Popovich is one of the best ever at neutralizing opponents' strengths with methodical, fundamentally sound basketball.

Curry and the Warriors play a flashy, aggressive brand of basketball, and between him and Klay Thompson, they can almost always afford to live by the three-point shot. And with how well Jarrett Jack has played since entering the starting lineup, this Golden State team is deeper than perceived.

Though Curry is battling through an ailing ankle of his own, after only three first-half field-goal attempts in Game 4, though, he whipped out the whole arsenal, as documented by CBS' Ken Berger:

Jackson went as far to call Curry and Thompson the best shooting backcourt in the history of the league. The duo did set a regular-season record for most combined threes by teammates, but that will be put to test against San Antonio—should this matchup happen.

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