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The One Team Every Projected 2014 NBA Playoff Team Wants to Avoid

Bryan ToporekFeatured ColumnistJanuary 18, 2017

The One Team Every Projected 2014 NBA Playoff Team Wants to Avoid

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    Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies could prove problematic for the Los Angeles Clippers.
    Zach Randolph and the Memphis Grizzlies could prove problematic for the Los Angeles Clippers.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

    Which teams are going to survive the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs? It's all going to come down to matchups.

    Think the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers are coasting through their respective first-round series? Not if the Memphis Grizzlies, Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns or Golden State Warriors have anything to say about it.

    In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat would likely make mincemeat of the Atlanta Hawks or New York Knicks, but the other three matchups could go either way. The Charlotte Bobcats won't be an easy out for the freefalling Indiana Pacers, while the battle among the third-through-sixth-seeded teams likely won't be settled until the final days of the regular season.

    If every team had its choice to avoid one squad in the first round of the playoffs, which would it be? Based on head-to-head records, projected player matchups and statistical strengths and weaknesses, let's take a look.

     

    Note: These matchups only apply to the first round of the playoffs. Team records and playoff standings are current through games played on Wednesday, April 2; team statistics are current through games played on Tuesday, April 1.

No. 8 East: New York Knicks

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Miami Heat

     

    With two weeks left in the regular season, the New York Knicks are not locks to even make the playoffs. They're tied with the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 8 seed, and the charging Cleveland Cavaliers are only two games back.

    If the Knicks do end up making the playoffs, they should pray like hell that the slumping Indiana Pacers overtake the Miami Heat for the East's top seed.

    On the year, New York is 1-2 against both teams, with one matchup against Miami remaining on April 6. The Knicks just knocked off the Pacers, 92-86, on March 19, while their 102-92 win against the Heat came on Jan. 9.

    Indiana's recent slump is reason enough for the Knicks to hope for a first-round matchup with the Pacers. Here's another: Miami has the league's most efficient offense, averaging 109.5 points per 100 possessions.

    Since defense isn't exactly a strong suit for New York—the squad ranks 25th in defensive rating, allowing 106.7 points per 100 possessions—LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and co. would be licking their chops at the prospect of this matchup. The Knicks have the firepower to match wits with Miami offensively, but the Heat's defense is far stingier than New York's, reducing the likelihood of an upset over a seven-game series.

    Unless Carmelo Anthony goes supernova, J.R. Smith keeps his head on straight and Tyson Chandler gets his defensive groove back, the Knicks would have virtually no chance of knocking off the Heat. A first-round series against the Pacers, meanwhile, would allow New York to get revenge for last year's Eastern Conference semifinals.

No. 7 East: Charlotte Bobcats

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Indiana Pacers

     

    Why on Earth would the Charlotte Bobcats rather avoid the slumping Pacers than the red-hot Heat in the first round of the playoffs? It's all about individual matchups.

    If Charlotte has any chance of moving past the first round of the playoffs this season, Al Jefferson needs to put the team on his brawny shoulders. Since the All-Star break, Big Al has been especially dominant, averaging 24.5 points on 53.3 percent shooting and 10.3 rebounds per game.

    While Greg Oden and Chris Andersen have provided a welcome interior presence for Miami this season, they're no Roy Hibbert. The gargantuan 7'2" Pacers center has the ability to make life miserable for Jefferson and the Bobcats over a seven-game series.

    Despite the Pacers' offensive limitations, they remain a stout defensive team. They've ranked first in the league in defensive rating all season, allowing opponents to score only 95.9 points per 100 possessions, and also rank fifth in defensive rating since the All-Star break.

    The Bobcats, meanwhile, only rank 23rd in offensive rating, averaging 101.0 points per 100 possessions. They don't have the weaponry to punish the Pacers for their recent inability to score more than 80 points in a game.

    A matchup with Miami wouldn't be much easier, as Charlotte would struggle to shut down the Big Three, but the Bobcats are a better defensive team than they are an offensive one. That would play right into the Pacers' hands, allowing them to regain their footing before moving on to a potentially grueling second-round series.

No. 6 East: Washington Wizards

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Toronto Raptors

     

    Barring a catastrophic collapse, the Washington Wizards appear pretty locked into the East's No. 6 seed. They're two games up on the Bobcats and 1.5 games behind the Brooklyn Nets with only seven games to play.

    The race for the third seed, however, remains wide open. The Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls are knotted at 43-32, with Toronto holding the tiebreaker due to its likely Atlantic Division crown.

    If those seedings hold to form, it'd be the worst-case scenario for the Wizards, who dropped the season series to Toronto, 3-1. (Conversely, Washington has gone a combined 5-0 against Brooklyn and Chicago this season.)

    The Wizards and Raptors are somewhat mirror images of one another. Both tout slightly above-average defenses—since the All-Star break, Toronto ranks 13th in defensive rating and Washington ranks 14th—and offensively potent backcourts.

    The problem for Washington, however, is that the Raptors' backcourt will be more capable of shutting down John Wall and co. than vice versa. Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry is holding opposing point guards to a below-average player efficiency rating of 14.7 this season, per 82games.com, while swingman DeMar DeRozan is holding opposing shooting guards and small forwards to PERs of 12.6 and 12.0, respectively.

    If Nene Hilario can return from his sprained left medial collateral ligament by the playoffs, he and Marcin Gortat would make life miserable for Toronto's frontcourt. However, since the Raptors' backcourt has the potential to cancel out Washington's greatest strength, the Wizards would prefer to avoid the Raps entirely.

No. 5 East: Brooklyn Nets

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    Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Washington Wizards

     

    Since the start of 2014, no Eastern Conference team has been as hot as Brooklyn.

    According to CBSSports.com's Zach Harper, the Nets racked up 30 wins in their first 42 games of the year, better than any other team in the East and the fourth-best record in the league during that span.

    With Brooklyn trailing Toronto by 2.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead and only one game in its final eight against playoff squads, there's still time for the Nets to move up in the standings. Wherever they end up, they'll hope like hell to avoid the Wizards in the first round.

    In three games against Washington this season, Brooklyn hasn't recorded a single victory. While the Nets' combined 3-4 mark against Toronto and Chicago doesn't exactly inspire confidence, it's better than having a goose egg in the wins column.

    What makes Washington such a bad matchup for Brooklyn? Well, with Kevin Garnett sidelined, the Nets have thrived by slotting Paul Pierce at the 4 in a small-ball lineup.

    Thanks to Nene's injury, the Wizards have been forced into a similar situation, using Trevor Booker at the 4 next to Marcin Gortat. Washington's backcourt duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal will be able to go shot-for-shot with Brooklyn's Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, while Gortat holds a major advantage over rookie Nets center Mason Plumlee.

    The return of KG and Nene could easily swing this matchup either way. But for now, a first-round series against Washington looks like the Nets' most challenging route to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

No. 4 East: Chicago Bulls

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Brooklyn Nets

     

    No matter whom Chicago draws in the first round of the playoffs, it won't be easy to advance. The Bulls will likely have home-court advantage, at the very least, but Toronto, Washington and Brooklyn all represent potential landmines.

    Though Chicago has gone 0-2 against Washington and 2-2 against Toronto, it would likely choose to avoid the Nets (against whom they've gone 2-1), if possible.

    Last year, the banged-up Bulls trumped Brooklyn in a hard-fought first-round series that went the distance. Despite Luol Deng being sidelined by complications from a spinal tap and Joakim Noah hobbling his way through plantar fasciitis, Chicago went into the Barclays Center and beat the higher-seeded Nets, 99-93, in Game 7.

    That upset seemed to fuel Brooklyn's spending spree this past summer, as owner Mikhail Prokhorov refused to accept another first-round playoff knockout. Now, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the fold, the Nets have significantly more playoff experience from which to draw upon in late-game, high-pressure situations.

    With Garnett planning to return in the upcoming week, per Barbara Barker of Newsday, the Nets will be receiving some badly needed reinforcements along the front line. Being able to sic Garnett upon Noah in a seven-game series could prove catastrophic to the Bulls, who have relied upon Noah more than ever this year.

    Since Jimmy Butler can't cover both Deron Williams and Joe Johnson at once, and Luol Deng plays for Cleveland now, Chicago's perimeter defense would be constantly challenged throughout a Bulls-Nets series. With Brooklyn seemingly sorting out its early season issues and going 30-13 since Jan. 1, drawing the Nets in the first round of the playoffs would be a worst-case scenario for Chicago.

No. 3 East: Toronto Raptors

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Chicago Bulls

     

    If Raptors guard Terrence Ross had his choice, Toronto would be seeing its Atlantic Division rival Brooklyn Nets in the playoffs. He admitted as much back in mid-March during a Reddit "Ask Me Anything."

    While Ross' remark rubbed Nets big man Andray Blatche the wrong way—"S---, you better be careful what tree you bark up," he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News—it wasn't off-base. The Raptors wouldn't mind facing Brooklyn or Washington in the first round, but Chicago would be another story entirely.

    Toronto's biggest strength is its backcourt and perimeter players—namely, Ross, point guard Kyle Lowry and swingman DeMar DeRozan. Since Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento, Lowry, Ross and DeRozan have accounted for roughly 53 percent of the Raptors' offensive production, or 53.9 of Toronto's 101.8 points per game.

    The Bulls, who are tied with San Antonio for the league's stingiest defense since the All-Star break, would be well-equipped to limit the damage of the Toronto trio. Jimmy Butler, in particular, would be a nightmare for either Ross or DeRozan, as he's limiting opposing shooting guards to a PER of 11.4 and opposing small forwards to a PER of 11.2, according to 82games.com.

    While Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson have made strides this season, Toronto also lacks a defensive-minded center capable of shutting down the Bulls' prolific frontcourt players. The trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson would likely power their way through the Raptors' front line with reckless abandon.

    Toronto split the season series with Chicago, with both clubs beating each other twice on the road, so a first-round matchup with the Bulls wouldn't necessarily be a death knell for the Raptors. Given their choice of the Bulls, Nets and Wizards, however, the Raps would clearly choose to avoid Chicago.

No. 2 East: Indiana Pacers

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: New York Knicks

     

    Since the All-Star break, the Indiana Pacers can't seem to find the hoop. They rank 29th in the league in offensive rating over the past month-and-a-half, ahead of only the intentionally terrible Philadelphia 76ers.

    While the Bobcats and Hawks lack the offensive firepower to make Indy pay for its own limitations on that side of the court, the same can't be said for the Knicks.

    Carmelo Anthony has put New York on his back since the All-Star break, averaging 29.6 points on 46.7 percent shooting in 38.9 minutes per game. Anthony's offensive surge has the Knicks sitting at ninth in post-All-Star-break offensive rating, as they've averaged a scorching 107.7 points per 100 possessions since mid-February.

    With the Pacers' air-tight defense showing signs of weakness as of late—they only rank sixth in defensive rating since March 1—the Knicks could be poised to exact revenge for last year's Eastern Conference semifinals. New York's defense leaves much to be desired, but Indiana's offensive slump could let the Knicks off the hook in that regard.

    "I always thought we’d really give our ourselves a shot of making the playoffs," said center Tyson Chandler to Marc Berman of the New York Post after the Knicks' 92-83 win over Utah on Monday. "I still believe if we get in there, somebody’s going to be in trouble."

    Also, barring a LeBron James-Kevin Durant showdown in the NBA Finals, the matchup between shooting guards Lance Stephenson and J.R. Smith might be the highlight of the playoffs. Both players would continually attempt to goad each other into doing something stupid and getting ejected and/or fined by the league, and both would likely succeed over the course of a seven-game series.

    New York is making a hard charge on Atlanta for the No. 8 seed. If the Pacers don't want to risk a potential first-round knockout, they need to reclaim the No. 1 seed from Miami and steer clear of the Knicks.

No. 1 East: Miami Heat

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Charlotte Bobcats

     

    If the Knicks stay ahead of the Hawks for the East's No. 8 seed, the Miami Heat likely wouldn't be thrilled. A matchup against the Al Horford-less Hawks would be a far easier warm-up for Miami than the Carmelo Anthony-led Knickerbockers.

    Home-court advantage isn't the only reason Miami should desperately hope to cling to the East's top seed, however. If the Heat fall behind the Pacers, it means a likely first-round matchup with the bruising Bobcats.

    Al Jefferson has the potential to be a nightmare for Miami. In his three games against the Heat, Big Al has averaged 25.3 points on 57.4 percent shooting and 15.3 rebounds in 39.6 minutes per game.

    Jefferson is one of the rare back-to-the-basket centers remaining in today's NBA. Greg Oden and Chris Andersen would have their hands full against the burly Bobcat.

    Charlotte also touts the league's seventh-stingiest defense, allowing opponents to score only 101.9 points per 100 possessions. While the Heat's top-ranked offense would eventually overpower the Bobcats, it wouldn't be as easy as cutting through the paper-thin defenses of the Knicks or the Hawks.

    Ultimately, the two-time defending champions are virtual locks to win their first-round series no matter whom they face. A battle with Charlotte would get Miami ready for potential defensive slugfests against Chicago and Indiana in later rounds, but the Bobcats' physicality could render the Heat players mighty sore heading into the Eastern Conference semifinals.

No. 8 West: Memphis Grizzlies

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: San Antonio Spurs

     

    With exactly two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Grizzlies, Suns and Mavericks find themselves in a three-way dead heat for the Nos. 7 and 8 seeds in the Western Conference.

    At the moment, Dallas holds the three-way tiebreaker by virtue of having the best head-to-head record among all three, while Memphis has a 3-0 series lead on Phoenix, giving it the eighth seed. The Grizzlies have the easiest remaining schedule of the three, per Sports Illustrated's Rob Mahoney, which could help them avoid a worst-case scenario first-round matchup against San Antonio. (Phoenix and Dallas meet on April 12, while Memphis and Dallas clash on the final night of the regular season, April 16.)

    Memphis and San Antonio locked horns three times within the first two-and-a-half months of the season, and the Spurs emerged victorious on each occasion. Dating back to last year's Western Conference Finals, that marks seven straight victories for San Antonio over the Grizzlies, which doesn't bode well for Memphis if the two do meet in the playoffs.

    As difficult as it is to believe, this year's iteration of the Spurs might be even better than last year's, which was less than 30 seconds away from winning the NBA title. San Antonio is the league's only team to rank in the top five in both offensive rating (fourth) and defensive rating (third) over the course of the season.

    Making matters worse for Memphis: Since the All-Star break, no team has been stingier on defense than the Spurs, who have allowed opponents to score only 97.5 points per 100 possessions. Given the Grizzlies' glaring lack of outside shooting, they'd be forced to turn every game against San Antonio into a defensive slugfest, relying on their late-game execution to escape with four wins in seven games.

    No offense to Memphis' rookie head coach, Dave Joerger, but betting against Gregg Popovich in that scenario would be outright insane. Oklahoma City wouldn't be much easier to topple, but the Grizzlies would stand a slightly better chance pulling off the upset in a matchup with the Thunder than against San Antonio.

No. 7 West: Dallas Mavericks

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    Team to avoid: Los Angeles Clippers

     

    As strange as it might sound, the Mavericks wouldn't loathe a first-round matchup against Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Dallas holds the 2-1 series edge on OKC, with both victories having come since March 16.

    The Los Angeles Clippers, on the other hand, would be a nightmare matchup for Dirk Nowitzki and co. And with L.A. sitting only 1.5 games behind the Thunder, the West's No. 2 seed remains up for grabs. (The two will square off on April 9 in L.A.)

    To date, the Clips hold a 3-0 series edge over the Mavericks, although Dallas has a chance to steal one road victory from L.A. on April 3. Failing to do so would give the Clippers no shortage of confidence heading into their potential first-round series.

    Blake Griffin has proven particularly irksome for Dallas, averaging 22.0 points, 11.7 rebounds and 5.7 assists in 40.4 minutes through three contests. DeAndre Jordan has also caused all sorts of problems for the Mavericks, averaging 16.0 points, 15.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in 39.3 minutes per game.

    Though Nowitzki remains as dominant as ever, Dallas' defense can't say the same. This season, the Mavericks rank 22nd in the league in terms of defensive rating, allowing opponents to score 106.0 points per 100 possessions.

    Nowitzki can't single-handedly counter the three-headed monster of Griffin, Jordan and Chris Paul. The Clippers' balance—they tout the league's second-best offense and sixth-best defense—would prove Dallas' undoing in a first-round series.

No. 6 West: Golden State Warriors

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Oklahoma City Thunder

     

    The Golden State Warriors appear primed to seize the West's No. 6 seed, as they have only one playoff team (Portland) remaining in their final seven games.

    Barring a total shock, that entails a meeting with either the Thunder or Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. While L.A. wouldn't be an easy out by any means, the Thunder present even more troubling matchup problems for Golden State.

    For one, there's that Durant guy. KD, who's likely to claim his first regular-season Most Valuable Player award in the coming weeks, exploded for a career-high 54 points against the Dubs on Jan. 17, helping fuel the Thunder to a 127-121 victory.

    Even more troubling for Golden State: Andre Iguodala, the squad's presumptive defensive stopper, played 30 minutes that game. Despite limiting opposing small forwards to a PER of 12.5 this season, according to 82games.com, Iggy couldn't do anything to slow down Durant in that game.

    Assuming Reggie Jackson, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins can return to the rotation from their assorted maladies in the coming days, the Thunder have the defensive depth to limit Golden State's Splash Brothers. And if the Warriors' big men can't overcome their own injury concerns, Serge Ibaka will make them pay.

    While Golden State would prefer to avoid it, a Thunder-Warriors first-round matchup would be a must-watch series for any NBA fan. For the Dubs to advance, Stephen Curry would likely have to go supernova and outduel Durant.

No. 5 West: Portland Trail Blazers

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    Team to avoid: Houston Rockets

     

    The Portland Trail Blazers may enter the playoffs with more question marks than any team in the West. After dropping nine of their first 14 games in March—seven of which came without star forward LaMarcus Aldridge—the Blazers have righted the ship since Aldridge's return with impressive wins over Chicago and Memphis.

    With a 2.5-game lead over Golden State for the West's No. 5 seed, Portland appears guaranteed to avoid the Spurs-Thunder-Clippers trio in the first round. Instead, the Blazers seem destined for a first-round matchup with the Houston Rockets, which doesn't bode well for their chances of advancing deep into the postseason.

    The Rockets won the season series between the two squads, 3-1, including a 15-point thrashing in the first week of the season. During the teams' four games against one another, neither squad has held the other below 100 points in any contest.

    That should come as no surprise, as both teams are potent offensively. The Blazers rank fifth on the season in terms of offensive efficiency, scoring 108.3 points per 100 possessions, with the Rockets right on their tail in sixth place.

    However, unlike Portland, Houston has a semi-legitimate defense, too. The Rockets rank 12th in the league in defensive rating, allowing opponents to score 102.5 points per 100 possessions, while the Blazers sit 18th overall, allowing 104.7 points per 100 possessions.

    If Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley is limited by the torn meniscus in his right knee, it would open the door for Damian Lillard to take over. Lord knows Houston can't count on James Harden to shut down anyone in the Blazers' backcourt.

    Barring that, however, the Rockets' versatility would give them the edge over Portland in a first-round matchup, making them the team to avoid.

No. 4 West: Houston Rockets

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    Team to avoid: Golden State Warriors

     

    The Houston Rockets' 2014 title hopes took a serious blow when Patrick Beverley tore the meniscus in his right knee in mid-March. Luckily, per Sam Amick of USA Today, he does not need surgery and is expected to return for the playoffs.

    If that torn meniscus limits Beverley in any way, however, it could allow a team with a star point guard to go off. That describes the Golden State Warriors to a T.

    Five years into his NBA career, Stephen Curry has established himself as the league's most lethal sharpshooter. He's led the Association in both three-pointers made and attempted in each of the past two seasons, combining for over 500 bombs.

    As CBS Sports' Matt Moore suggested on Twitter, a hobbled Beverley "exacerbates [an] already bad GSW matchup." Since Houston can't count upon Jeremy Lin or James Harden to limit the effectiveness of Curry and his fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, Beverley could be the difference between the Rockets moving on or going home for the summer early.

    Believe it or not, Golden State touts the league's fourth-stingiest defense, with Andre Iguodala fully capable of harassing nearly any player into a poor shooting night. If the Dubs sicced Iggy on Harden for an entire series, it could be a major thorn in the side of the Houston offensive attack.

    With Andrew Bogut due back any day from a pelvis/groin contusion, per Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News, the Warriors will have a potential Dwight Howard stopper ready by the start of the playoffs. In short, Golden State has the personnel to make life miserable for Houston if the two do meet in the playoffs.

No. 3 West: Los Angeles Clippers

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    Team to avoid: Memphis Grizzlies

     

    The Los Angeles Clippers have the look of a legitimate championship contender. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan comprise the squad's Big Three, while a plethora of depth and the wisdom of coach Doc Rivers push them over the edge.

    If there's one team the Clippers hope to avoid in the first round of the playoffs, it's their recent postseason rival, Memphis.

    The Grizzlies and Clippers have waged war in each of the previous two playoffs, with each team taking one series. L.A. struck first, knocking off the higher-seeded Grizzlies in a brutal seven-game opening-round series in 2012, but Memphis returned the favor last season, knocking off the fourth-seeded Clips in six games.

    After battling to a 2-2 standstill through four games, Griffin suffered a severe ankle sprain during practice between Games 4 and 5, highly limiting his effectiveness. He could only gut out a combined 34 minutes in Games 5 and 6, scoring 13 points on 5-of-12 shooting and pulling down eight total rebounds.

    The Clippers would bring far more talent to the table if the two met again this season, but there's no need to tempt fate. They lost the season series to Memphis, 2-1, and Zach Randolph has proven particularly troublesome, averaging 19.7 points and 12.7 rebounds over the three contests.

    Rivers isn't exactly sweating the Grizzlies (or any other matchup, for that matter), as he told Paul Flannery of SB Nation:

    If you want to win it, you're going to have to beat a bad matchup. That's the way I look at us. San Antonio, I'm sure they have a couple of teams they don't match up with, we have a couple of teams. Doesn't matter, and that's what I tell our guys all the time. It doesn't matter. It really doesn't f-----g matter. You have to beat somebody that's bigger than us that we don't matchup [with] well, yup. So what? We're just going to have to beat them.

    Despite Rivers' bravado, the Clippers would much prefer moving up to the No. 2 seed and drawing Dallas in the first round. Avoiding Memphis should be the squad's top priority over the final two weeks of the regular season.

No. 2 West: Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

    Team to avoid: Dallas Mavericks

     

    If the playoffs started today, the Mavericks and Thunder would find themselves in the 2-7 series. OKC would prefer that not to be the case in two weeks' time.

    Dallas took the season series against Oklahoma City, 2-1, with both wins coming since March 16. In the latter game, a 128-119 overtime thriller in Dallas on March 25, the Mavericks overcame 43 points, six assists and five rebounds from Kevin Durant.

    On paper, the Mavs don't seem to have the advantage over OKC. Only one of Dallas' five starters has a positive plus-minus rating, with Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon and Shawn Marion all a minus-six or below.

    Additionally, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins missed each of the two Dallas wins, while Russell Westbrook also sat out the first game. That March 16 victory was the Mavericks' first win over Oklahoma City since Jan. 2, 2012, per The Associated Press.

    So, what makes Dallas a matchup to avoid in the playoffs? Unless Dirk Nowitzki retires in the next two weeks, he's one of the most terrifying players in all of the Western Conference playoffs.

    In his three games against OKC this season, the "7-Foot Schnitzel" has averaged 21.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists, shooting 46.8 percent from the field and 40.0 percent from three-point range. Durant and Serge Ibaka will take turns guarding him, but neither will be capable of fully shutting him down.

    The Mavericks tout the league's third-best offense and the best since the All-Star break, averaging 111.5 points per 100 possessions. Any team that can put up points like that isn't an ideal first-round matchup, especially if OKC must reintegrate a host of banged-up players (namely Thabo Sefolosha, Reggie Jackson and Kendrick Perkins) back into the rotation.

No. 1 West: San Antonio Spurs

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    Team to avoid: Phoenix Suns

     

    If there's any team that has little to fear from a first-round playoff matchup, it's the Spurs. Winners of 19 straight, San Antonio has silently steamrolled its way to home-court advantage throughout the postseason, as the franchise is wont to do.

    Unfortunately for the Spurs, whichever one of the three squads ends up as the No. 8 seed—be it the Mavericks, Grizzlies or Suns—it won't be a cakewalk matchup.

    San Antonio has a combined 6-0 record against Dallas and Memphis this season, so neither of those teams seems to pose a legitimate threat in terms of pulling off a first-round upset. The Suns, on the other hand, handed the Spurs their most recent loss all the way back on Feb. 21, a 19-point thrashing in Phoenix.

    Beyond the age of the Tim Duncan-Tony Parker-Manu Ginobili trio and potential health concerns, the Spurs don't have any readily apparent weakness for an opponent to exploit. They rank third in defensive rating and fourth in offensive rating, making them the only team with top-five marks in both.

    Phoenix's own balance will help counteract that. The Suns tout the league's eighth-best offense, averaging 107.0 points per 100 possessions, and the 14th-best defense, which decreases the likelihood that San Antonio will run roughshod all over them.

    Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe came together this season to form one of the most terrifying two-way backcourts in the league. Both can run the offense competently, while Bledsoe in particular can be a defensive pest.

    Throw in the Morris twins, Channing Frye, Gerald Green, P.J. Tucker and Miles Plumlee, and the Suns rotation goes eight deep without lacking a true weak spot. That depth could prove invaluable against a team like the Spurs, who often rely upon unheralded contributors making major impacts in the postseason.

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all player and team statistics are from Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com/stats.

     

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