Maybe the real magic happens later in the playoffs, when the top teams have sifted through the weaker ones and the superstars face off with everything on the line. Maybe the most memorable moments are those in which the Magic Johnsons of the world stare down the Larry Birds and the Steve Kerrs hit those memorable shots.
But hey, the first round of the playoffs this year still features some really compelling matchups. Sure, they're mostly in the Western Conference, where all of the teams are well over the .500 mark, but they're still going to be good.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the full first-round schedule and the most intriguing matchups.
|4/20||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||12 p.m.||TNT|
|4/23||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||7 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/26||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||3:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/28||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||8:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(1) Spurs vs. (8) Mavericks||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(8) Mavericks vs. (1) Spurs||TBD||TBD|
|4/19||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||9:30 p.m,||ESPN|
|4/21||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||8 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(2) Thunder vs. Grizzlies||8 p.m.||TNT|
|4/26||(2) Thunder vs. Grizzlies||9:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/29||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(2) Thunder vs. Grizzlies||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(7) Grizzlies vs. (2) Thunder||TBD||TNT|
|4/19||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/21||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||10:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/27||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(3) Clippers vs. (6) Warriors||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(6) Warriors vs. (3) Clippers||TBD||TNT|
|4/20||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/23||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/25||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||10:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/27||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(4) Rockets vs. (5) Trail Blazers||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(5) Trail Blazers vs. (4) Rockets||TBD||TBD|
|4/19||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/22||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/24||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||7 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/26||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||2 p.m.||TNT|
|4/28||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||8 p.m.||NBATV|
|5/1||(1) Pacers vs. (8) Hawks||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(8) Hawks vs. (1) Pacers||TBD||TNT|
|4/20||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||3:30 p.m.||ABC|
|4/23||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/26||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||7 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/28||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(2) Heat vs. (7) Bobcats||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(7) Bobcats vs. (2) Heat||TBD||ABC|
|4/19||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||12:30 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/22||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||8 p.m.||NBATV|
|4/25||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||7 p.m.||ESPN 2|
|4/27||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/30||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||TBD||TBD|
|5/2||(3) Raptors vs. (6) Nets||TBD||TBD|
|5/4||(6) Nets vs. (3) Raptors||TBD||TBD|
|4/20||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||7 p.m.||TNT|
|4/22||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||9:30 p.m.||TNT|
|4/25||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||8 p.m.||ESPN|
|4/27||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||1 p.m.||ABC|
|4/29||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||TBD||TBD|
|5/1||(4) Bulls vs. (5) Wizards||TBD||TBD|
|5/3||(5) Wizards vs. (4) Bulls||TBD||TBD|
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors
This is the type of series you're going to want to watch even if you aren't a basketball fan. It has everything you might want.
An exciting, gravity-defying superstar who really stepped up his game this year in Blake Griffin? Check.
A crafty, sharpshooting guard who can take over any game from beyond the arc in Steph Curry? Check.
A true genius at the point guard position who makes his opponents look like Cliff Paul on the court in Chris Paul? Check.
Two teams that aren't afraid to get out and run on the break or let it fly offensively? Check.
I'm getting excited just thinking about it, even though it would be better if Andrew Bogut could play. From Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
But Golden State can still shoot its way past most teams on any given night. And the atmosphere in its arena during the playoffs is something to see.
Of course, shooting past the top-scoring team in the league in the Clippers (107.9 points per game) will be no easy task. Golden State's proficiency from three-point range (.380 shooting percentage from beyond the arc) makes it a difficult out, though.
No other series will be more exciting. No other series has the potential to be a classic quite like this one. If you only watch one series in the first round, make sure this one is it.
Houston Rockets vs. Portland Trail Blazers
This series seems to largely favor Houston, mostly because Portland doesn't have a big man to truly challenge Dwight Howard inside, but the Trail Blazers still score 106.7 points per game, fourth in the league and just below the Rockets (107.7 points per game, second in the NBA).
Dwight Howard likes his team's chances (Duh. Of course he does.), and he provided a nice little scouting report to Sam Amick of USA Today:
We have a great squad. You look at the guys we have on our team: We have a guy in James (Harden) who can get buckets for you at any time, and then we've got Chandler (Parsons), who has been playing great all year. Not only that, you have Pat (Beverley), who is playing great defense up top. You've got Jeremy (Lin). We've got Omer (Asik). We have a lot of guys.
We have a well-balanced team. And for me at this point, it's all about sacrifice for all of us. We have to find ways to sacrifice ourselves, sacrifice our bodies for the benefit of the team. That's the biggest thing.
Howard should like his chances against Portland. While he averaged 18.4 points, 12.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game this year, he put up 25.5 points per game versus Portland.
That may not seem like a huge increase, but the Rockets hold many advantages in this series, as Matt Moore of CBSSports.com writes:
It's regular season, so that comes with caveats, but Jeremy Lin has a plus-15.5 net efficiency in four games vs. Portland this year. Lin's supposed to be the weak spot. The Blazers can score a little bit on Houston (as most teams can) but can't stop them at all. Dwight Howard averaged 25.5 points per game vs. Portland, James Harden averaged over 30. This is a nightmare matchup for Portland, at least from the outside.
That's the issue for Portland, but it's also the reason this series could be so exciting, even if it is fairly one-sided. Put simply, there should be many high-scoring games to enjoy. And don't be shocked if the Blazers make this interesting enough to cause the Rockets a worry along the way.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Memphis Grizzlies
A year ago, the Grizzlies knocked the Thunder out of the playoffs. Of course, Russell Westbrook didn't play in that series, so you can put an asterisk next to it.
What's so interesting about this matchup is the clash of styles. The Thunder will push the pace and look to make this a full series, while Memphis will look to slow the pace and win with defense and smart possessions.
The Grizzlies aren't your typical let's-just-not-get-swept seventh seed. They are a veteran team hitting their stride at exactly the right time. Since center Marc Gasol came back in January from a knee injury that sidelined him for seven weeks, Memphis is 33-13, which is a game better than OKC's record over the same span.
With Gasol and Zach Randolph banging the boards, the Grizzlies will put up a fight. But you just don't bet against the team with the two best players in a series, so the Thunder will prevail.