With seven-games series and a wide divide between the best teams and the rest of the league, the NBA playoffs usually do not feature too many upsets. However, there are a few first-round matchups this year that can go to the teams without home-court advantage.
The 38-44 Atlanta Hawks are unlikely to remain alive for too much longer, even against a struggling Indiana Pacers. The Charlotte Bobcats and Dallas Mavericks will also struggle to win any games in the first round.
On the other hand, there are a number of other low-seeded teams capable of winning four games in the opening round and advancing to the conference semifinals. Although not all of them will complete the upset, here is a look at the teams with the best chance to advance in reverse order.
5. Washington Wizards (5) over Chicago Bulls (4)
As a No. 5 seed, you would think the Washington Wizards have a strong chance of advancing. John Wall and Bradley Beal represent one of the best young backcourts in the league, and Marcin Gortat has brought a great deal of balance to the roster.
However, it will be difficult for any of them to score against the smothering defense of the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls led the league in points allowed and know what it takes to win in the postseason.
Michael Wilbon of ESPN points out why the Wizards' youth will doom them in this series:
The Wizards aren't shy about their feelings toward the Bulls, that they can't score enough to get in a high-octane battle, that they can't stay in front of Wall and Beal, that the Bulls physically just aren't as good as the Wizards.
And that's just the kind of team the Bulls should eat for lunch in a seven-game playoff series, a team whose best two players haven't navigated the intensity of the playoffs, a team that thinks offense is somehow going to rule the day in the postseason.
Chicago might not have a true go-to scorer, but the games will all be low-scoring, and the Bulls will use their physicality to rule the day. This strategy has worked all year long, and it will not change in the first round of the playoffs.
Prediction: Bulls win in 5
4. Memphis Grizzlies (7) over Oklahoma City Thunder (2)
While the Thunder are absolutely a title contender this season, they will not have an easy time against the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies. The No. 7 seed won five games in a row to not only clinch a playoff spot, but avoid the top-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
Oklahoma City can be a bit inconsistent defensively, and Randolph and Gasol should be able to get plenty of easy baskets inside.
That being said, the Thunder have two of the best scorers in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. No matter how good the Grizzlies are defensively, both of these players can find ways to get the ball in the basket.
It will be a close series, but Oklahoma City will be able to pull out wins late with strong performances by this duo.
Prediction: Thunder win in 6
3. Golden State Warriors (6) over Los Angeles Clippers (3)
A few weeks ago, Golden State was a team that everyone in the Western Conference feared. Stephen Curry has become one of the best players in the league, and he and Klay Thompson can certainly light up a scoreboard.
More importantly, the Warriors improved defensively this season with Andre Iguodala and almost a full year of Andrew Bogut. Unfortunately, the latter will not be competing in the playoffs due to a broken rib, according to Tim Kawakami of Mercury News:
This makes a huge difference on the defensive end of the court, as Bogut was the best and really only interior defender. The Clippers frontcourt of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan should have an easy time getting to the rim and scoring with consistency.
These will be high-scoring games, but Los Angeles simply will not be stopped enough to prevent a series win.
Prediction: Clippers win in 7
2. Portland Trail Blazers (5) over Houston Rockets (4)
In order for the Trail Blazers to pull off the upset in this series, they will need a strong effort out of LaMarcus Aldridge in the low post. Fortunately, he seems up to the challenge, telling Jim Rome of CBS Sports (via Sean Meagher of The Oregonian):
I will have to be playing at a very high level because that team is very deadly. They have a bunch of shooters. They have James Harden, Dwight Howard, so those guys play really well together. (Chandler) Parsons does really well for them, too. I will have to have big games.
While he gives up some size, Aldridge is one of the few players capable of scoring in the paint with Dwight Howard patrolling the area. He took a big step this year and showed that he can be one of the better low-post scorers in the league.
Meanwhile, the rest of the roster has the speed and athleticism to stick with a team that takes the most three-point shots per game in the NBA.
Houston has the talent to win a championship, but it will struggle to get out of the first round against a team that won nine of its last 10 games.
Prediction: Trail Blazers win in 7
1. Brooklyn Nets (6) over Toronto Raptors (3)
This is no disrespect to the Raptors, which had an excellent season to the surprise of many. Most believed the Rudy Gay trade was simply a sign that they were ready to tank the rest of the season.
With DeMar DeRozan turning into a leader and Kyle Lowry having the best year of his career, the future is certainly bright in Toronto.
That being said, the lack of experience is going to play a big role in this series. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times noted the difference between the two teams:
Brooklyn has played well in the second half of the year, and the players clearly will not be afraid of anyone in the postseason. With immense talent on a team that is finally playing well together, the Nets have a chance to not only win this series, but make some serious noise over the next few weeks.
Prediction: Nets win in 6
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