The NBA playoffs might not always feature tons of upsets, but there are plenty of exciting matchups set to take place as early as Round 1.
In reality, the Indiana Pacers should have an easy time against the Atlanta Hawks, which are coming into the playoffs six games under .500. The Miami Heat also should be able to continue their recent dominance over the Charlotte Bobcats. Even the San Antonio Spurs will be able to defeat the Dallas Mavericks without dropping more than one game.
However, the rest of the opening round is exciting enough that it should be followed on a minute-by-minute basis. ESPN provided a look at the playoff bracket:
The NBA Playoffs have finally arrived. Here's a helpful guide for your next two months. pic.twitter.com/MEgJYK0aVs— ESPN (@espn) April 17, 2014
Here is a breakdown of the matchups fans should most look forward to in the coming weeks.
|Western Conference||Eastern Conference|
|No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Dallas Mavericks||No. 1 Indiana Pacers vs. No. 8 Atlanta Hawks|
|No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies||No. 2 Miami Heat vs. No. 7 Charlotte Bobcats|
|No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors||No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets|
|No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers||No. 4 Chicago Bulls vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards|
Top Matchups to Watch
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
This is a matchup between two of the most exciting teams in the NBA. The Los Angeles Clippers led the league in scoring at 107.9 points per game thanks to a pass-first point guard in Chris Paul and a number of high-flying players all over the court.
The Golden State Warriors have been just as much fun to watch this season behind Stephen Curry and a fast-paced attack. By adding Andre Iguodala in the offseason, the squad has also found a way to improve its perimeter defense.
Unfortunately, defense will still be a problem in this series due to the injury of Andrew Bogut. The center is out indefinitely with a broken rib, leaving the Warriors without one of the top interior defenders in the league.
Klay Thompson noted that it will be difficult without him:
Klay Thompson on having to play w/o Bogut: "It's gonna be tough...but we just have to do it collectively with team defense" #Warriors— 95.7 The GAME (@957thegame) April 16, 2014
Blake Griffin should be able to have a field day without Bogut patrolling the paint. The forward averaged a career-high 24.1 points per game this season and has improved his game to become a complete offensive weapon.
Curry and Thompson will be able to light up the scoreboard in this series with their ability to knock down shots from anywhere on the court, and this will be enough to win a few games. However, the Clippers' advantage down low should be enough to secure a series win.
Prediction: Clippers win in seven
No. 3 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 6 Brooklyn Nets
With four losses in their last five games, the Brooklyn Nets certainly seemed to be trying to face the Toronto Raptors. ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy believes they were, according to Neil Best of Newsday:
Were Nets angling for Raptors as their matchup down the stretch? Said ESPN's Jeff Van Gundy: "The Nets absolutely tried to get to them."— Neil Best (@sportswatch) April 17, 2014
This clearly means that the Nets have not watched enough Raptors games this season. While they certainly came out of nowhere, their success is not a fluke.
Toronto traded Rudy Gay early in the season and since then has become a much better team. DeMar DeRozan has turned into a legitimate star, while Kyle Lowry has been a leader on both ends of the court. With a very young roster, this team will be good for a long time.
However, one factor still swings this series in favor of the Nets, via Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:
Key stat in Nets-Raptors series: Pierce, Garnett, Johnson and Williams have 387 games of playoff experience to 24 for Raptors' starters.— Ben Bolch (@latbbolch) April 17, 2014
Brooklyn might have gotten off to a slow start behind rookie head coach Jason Kidd, but the team had a strong second half of the year and is ready to contend for a title. The squad will not be intimidated and will have the confidence to take on any opponent in the postseason.
This will especially help the Nets win in a key game, even on the road.
Prediction: Nets win in seven
No. 4 Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers
It will come down to if our team can be more together and if our team can push through for this series. I don't think it will come down to individuals. Obviously, Dwight will be a handful, James Harden will be a handful, Beverley will be a handful, being himself. Same thing for Chandler Parsons... we've got to be up for the challenge.
The team better play defense as a whole because those individuals on the Rockets can put up a lot of points. James Harden can win almost any one-on-one matchup, while most players on the roster are capable of hitting an open shot from the outside.
If Portland wants to advance, it must remain focused at all times and not allow players to get open shots.
Of course, Houston has had its own problems defensively, especially on the perimeter. This is good news for the Trail Blazers, who have some of the quickest guards in the league. Adding in LaMarcus Aldridge—who is one of the only players capable of consistently scoring against Dwight Howard—and the squad should be able to pull out a bunch of wins.
As long as it can find a way to get one victory on the road, Portland should be able to pull off the upset.
Prediction: Trail Blazers win in six
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