NBA Playoff Predictions 2014: Projecting Winners in Each 1st-Round Matchup

Donald WoodFeatured ColumnistApril 18, 2014

HOUSTON, TX - APRIL 4: James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets looks on during the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 4, 2014 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The end of the 2014 NBA regular season has many basketball fans distraught, but several high-profile first-round matchups ensure this year’s playoffs will have even those without a horse in this race excited about the action.

Of all the exciting first-round battles, few are better than the matchup between the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trail Blazers.

With both teams holding a definitive edge over the other in certain aspects of the game, these teams finished the season with the exact same record and will now do battle with the right to advance to the second round on the line.

Here are the first-round postseason matchups, the predicted winner in each series and a preview of Houston vs. Portland.

 

First-Round Matchups and Predictions
Eastern Conference
Home Team Record Away Team RecordPredicted Winner
No. 1 Indiana Pacers 56-26vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks 38-44Indiana
No. 2 Miami Heat 54-28vs. No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats 43-39Miami
No. 3 Toronto Raptors 48-34vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets44-38Brooklyn
No. 4 Chicago Bulls 48-34vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards44-38Chicago
Western Conference
Home Team Record Away Team RecordPredicted Winner
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs 62-20vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks49-33San Antonio
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder 59-23vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies50-32Oklahoma City
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers 57-25vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors 51-31Los Angeles
No. 4 Houston Rockets 54-28vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers 54-28Houston
Source: NBA.com

 

Most Interesting First-Round Matchup: Houston vs. Portland

While Houston and Portland finished the season with the exact same record (54-28), it was the Rockets that dominated the season series, winning three of the four games by amassing 116, 126 and 118 points, respectively.

If the Trail Blazers want to win this series, the team must step up in the defensive zone.

The success of Portland will stem from the play of LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez in the low post against Houston’s Dwight Howard. Howard is arguably the best center in the NBA, but he can be forced into poor decisions by stingy defense.

The dedication to defense will result in physical play all over the court. Fans should expect as much contact at the point guard position as they would at the center position due to the war of words between Portland’s Damian Lillard and Houston’s Patrick Beverley.

Lillard told Chris Haynes of Comcast SportsNet Northwest about his matchup with Beverley after the Rockets guard made comments on a radio show about him:

Yeah, I want to win the matchup. I think my team has a better chance if I’m able to play well against him. But I’m not going in thinking I have to outplay him. I have to go out there and be myself. That’s it. He’s one of the toughest defender out there. It’ll be fun.

If there wasn’t animosity before, the ferocity between the two primary playmakers will set the tone for the series and cause serious tension. Over the course of seven games, the battles will only intensify.

The road won’t get any easier for the winner of these series, though, as Mike Tokito of The Oregonian shares which teams could be waiting in the second round:

There will be several other matchups on the court in this series that are just as intriguing as the battle at point guard and center as well. With Houston’s James Harden likely to square off against the hard-nosed style of Wesley Matthews, how the Rockets’ top scorer responds will determine whether his team can win the series.

Add in the potential bench battle between the enigmatic Jeremy Lin and the Trail Blazers’ Mo Williams, and the two teams match up well. With Houston ranked second in the NBA with 107.7 points per game and Portland ranked fourth (106.7), basketball fans are in for an offensive war.

With the Rockets possessing just a bit more firepower throughout the depth chart, Houston should steal the series victory in the most interesting first-round matchup of 2014.

Series Prediction: Houston wins 4-3

 

*All stats courtesy of NBA.com.