Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
The thing about the NBA playoffs is that they are not like the NCAA tournament. Upsets rarely happen due to the fact that it is a best-of-seven series rather than a single-game elimination where one bad outing by the top team in the league could result in a first-round exit.
However, maybe this year more than any other year, first-round upsets certainly look possible.
Let's start in the Eastern Conference, where the fourth-seeded Bulls will play favorites to the fifth-seeded Wizards (I'm not even going to mention the sixth-seeded Nets potentially beating the third-seeded Raptors because that really wouldn't be much of an upset).
Would it really surprise anyone if Washington came out on top in this series?
The Wizards can actually top Chicago's size up front with the likes of Marcin Gortat and Nene in the starting lineup and Drew Gooden, Kevin Seraphin and Trevor Booker off the bench. That's what you call frontcourt depth. Plus, as we discussed earlier, they are a very good defensive team and are considerably better offensively than the Bulls.
All season long, you've had to wonder about Chicago's ceiling in the playoffs. Sure, it plays with a ton of intensity and an irrepressible heart, but grit can only take you so far in the postseason. Eventually, talent and execution will win out, and it's no secret that the Bulls lack weapons offensively.
Washington, on the other hand, has good low-post scorers, great outside shooting (it ranked fifth in three-point percentage this year) and a dangerous backcourt duo in the form of John Wall and Bradley Beal.
Seems like a recipe for a potential upset, does it not?
Then you take a look out West. You see the Thunder, and you see that they are matched up with the Memphis Grizzlies in Round 1.
A cakewalk for Oklahoma City? No, sir.
The Grizzlies absolutely have the necessary ingredients to give Durant, Westbrook and those boys fits.
Memphis bounced the Thunder in five games during the second round of last season's playoffs. Of course, Westbrook was out, but the Grizzlies contained Durant, holding him to 42.1 percent shooting. Westbrook's absence certainly allowed Memphis to focus more on KD, but let's not forget that OKC did have Kevin Martin, so it's not like Durant was the only gunner that the Grizz had to worry about.
Yes, Westbrook is ready to go this time around, but you know what? Memphis is better than it was last year.
Don't let its inferior record compared to last season fool you. Marc Gasol missed 23 games this year, and early on, the Grizzlies were still adjusting to new head coach Dave Joerger.
Memphis has better shooters than last season (Courtney Lee and Mike Miller), a vastly improved point guard in Mike Conley, and the lethal frontcourt tandem of Gasol and Zach Randolph still remains.
The Grizzlies have multiple defenders they can throw at Durant, namely Tayshaun Prince, the revitalized James Johnson and, of course, a pitbull in Tony Allen. They also have two very good perimeter defenders who can spend time on Westbrook in Conley and Lee, and that could end up being the most imperative aspect of this series.
If Memphis is able to beat Oklahoma City up inside again and take away Westbrook, not to mention frustrate Durant, it is going to have a very realistic shot at beating the Thunder.
"Playing Grizzlies' basketball going into the postseason was key," Allen told Teresa M. Walker of the Star Tribune after the Grizzlies' Wednesday night win over the Dallas Mavericks, which clinched the No. 7 seed for Memphis. "And we wanted to try to keep that momentum going."
A scary thought for the Thunder, indeed.
The Grizzlies have won 14 straight home games heading into the playoffs, so Oklahoma City best avoid any slip-ups in Games 1 and 2 in OKC.