The NBA Playoffs are just around the corner—looking ahead to the first round, there are a few series that could end up with the lower seed coming out on top and pulling off huge upsets.
Most matchups seem completely one-sided at first, but when you look at the teams behind the records, some possible upsets appear totally possible. Of the eight first-round matchups, four appear to have major upset potential based on a handful of factors.
Without further ado, here are the four most likely upsets in the first round. Remember, I don't personally think all of these upsets will happen—merely that they have huge potential to.
The Nuggets feature a team similar to the 2004 Pistons, lots of depth and no superstar.
The post-Carmelo Nuggets have been one of the biggest surprises in the NBA, though a handful of analysts recognize that New York got the short end of the straw in that trade. They go up against the young, high-flying Thunder; a team led by two 23-year-old all stars hungry for a deep playoff run. While the Thunder have clear stars, the Nuggets have built a deep team with a plethora of solid weapons, masterfully put together by coach George Karl.
The upset factor for the Nuggets is whether or not they are able to stop Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook from completely dominating the game. If they can keep one of them off balance for 48 minutes, they have a chance to pull off some huge wins. The other key for Denver is having their second unit turn the tide of close games against the Thunder’s backups.
The Memphis Grizzlies enter the playoffs without star forward Rudy Gay, but should still have hopes of beating the Spurs
It isn’t too often that someone predicts an eight-seed to upset the team with the NBA’s second-best record, but if it’s going to happen this year the Grizzlies have the potential to do it. Despite losing Rudy Gay (their leading scorer and best player) to injury, the Grizzlies have beaten the Spurs twice in their four-game season series, including both of their March meetings.
The most surprising win, their 16-point victory on March 1, came against a Spurs team missing Tony Parker. But later on in the month, they beat a healthy Spurs team. But don’t discount the Spurs' season—they have been one of the best teams in the league by far and have the leadership and experience of four-time champion Tim Duncan, who joins Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker to form one of the league’s best triumvirates.
The only way the Grizzlies can pull this off is if they get the same stellar performances from Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Mike Conley on a consistent basis. The Spurs have huge advantages, with one of the league’s deepest benches as well as the incredible experience of Tim Duncan and Greg Popovich. One wrong move by the Spurs and the Grizzlies will be able to run all over them and pull off one of the greatest upsets in NBA playoff history.
Al Horford shooting over Dwight Howard earlier this season
Looking at records, it appears that the Magic have a large edge over the Hawks and should be able to easily dispose of them in this first-round matchup. However, the Hawks have had the Magic’s number this season, going 3-1 against them with the Magic’s only win being a four-point victory in early November.
Look for the Hawk’s relatively unknown triumvirate of Joe Johnson, Josh Smith and Al Horford to come up big against a Magic team centered around three-point shooting. The Magic live and die by the three ball, but a lot of their offense has been focused around the inside scoring prowess of center Dwight Howard. Jason Collins and Al Horford will have their hands full trying to defend Howard, but both have the defensive skills to keep Howard somewhat contained.
The upset factor here is based on whether or not the Hawks’ perimeter defenders can shut down the constant three-point shooting barrage of the Magic. If the Magic are held to a fairly low percentage, the Hawks should be able to grab the upper hand and use their diverse offensive talents to score.
The newlook Portland Trail Blazers feature ex-Bobcats forward Gerald Wallace
The Mavericks have an unfortunate playoff history, as they consistently finish the regular season among the upper echelon of teams, but fade when playoff time comes. The Trail Blazers have been a surprisingly good team this year, as many thought they were finished when Brandon Roy’s knee issues returned. That set the stage for the incredible emergence of star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
Joining Aldridge for the second half of this season has been Gerald Wallace, who has been one of the premiere defensive forwards in the league for the last two seasons. On the other side, ten-time all star Dirk Nowitzki hopes to lead his team of grizzled veterans to a championship before age catches up to him. This may also be the last chance for 38-year-old point guard Jason Kidd to add a championship to his impressive Hall of Fame-worthy resume.
This series could easily swing in favor of the younger Trail Blazers as they hope to continue the Mavericks’ streak of incredible regular seasons followed by early playoff exits. Look for Trail Blazers' wingman, Wesley Matthews, to come up big and take a lot of the scoring load off of Aldridge and Wallace. For Dallas to win, they will need Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion to step up and provide key baskets as the Mavs have struggled a bit since losing the explosive Caron Butler early in the season.