While the first round of the NBA playoffs featured some exciting matchups, the next round should be even better.
Teams that were simply dead weight (sorry, Milwaukee) are now out of the postseason, leaving only squads that could legitimately contend for an NBA title.
As a result, the conference semifinals will feature some exciting basketball. These series will not only be close, but they should each go all seven games before they are decided.
Memphis Grizzlies vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
If Russell Westbrook was healthy, Oklahoma City would have been a solid favorite in this series. Unfortunately, the point guard will remain out for the playoffs due to a knee injury.
This will continue to put a lot of pressure on Kevin Durant, who is already averaging 35.5 points per game in four contests since Westbrook went down. Kevin Martin and Reggie Jackson have also looked good, although things will be tougher in the next series.
While the Houston Rockets were one of the worst defensive teams in the league, the Memphis Grizzlies are the best. The team led the league by giving up only 89.3 points per game during the regular season.
Memphis will make every shot difficult for the Thunder and have the advantage inside. This will make things close, although it is important to never count out Oklahoma City with the amount of talent on its roster.
Indiana Pacers vs. New York Knicks
People were paying a lot more attention to the series between the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics than they were to the one between the Indiana Pacers and Atlanta Hawks, but the latter was just as good.
After splitting the first four games, the Pacers turned it on with back-to-back wins to win the series in six games. They showed solid defense and great efficiency on offense to give the Hawks no chance at competing.
This is a very different approach compared to that of the Knicks, who often lack efficiency but can simply outscore any opponent. Carmelo Anthony has slowed down a bit in recent games, but he is one of the toughest players in the league to defend when he is in his zone.
These two teams will create a physical, low-scoring series that will feed off the home crowds in every game. Do not be surprised if either side struggles to win a single game on the road in this one.
Golden State Warriors vs. San Antonio Spurs
These two teams are very different in terms of playoff experience. The Spurs have not missed the playoffs since Tim Duncan joined the team in 1997 and are always competing for a title.
Meanwhile, the Warriors are in the postseason for only the second time since 1994. This is a young team that is competing mostly on emotion, but the good news is that the momentum is there to compete at a high level next series.
Golden State can shoot the lights out and has enough quickness to give its opponent serious trouble. San Antonio is very disciplined, but playing the banged-up Los Angeles Lakers will not prepare for the Warriors.
Then again, the Spurs know how to advance in the playoffs and are well rested. They should be able to do enough to defeat the No. 6 seed in the West. Still, it will be a close matchup from beginning to end.