NBA Playoff predictions: Western Conference first-round

NBA Playoff predictions: Western Conference first-round
April 17, 2014, 3:30 pm

It’s always en vogue to pick a first-round playoff upset or two, but this might not be the year for many of them. The opening round of the NBA postseason contains some interesting matchups, but when examining the teams playing each other, it’s hard to think the favored squad won’t come out on top. The second round may be where the real drama begins, but there will surely be some exciting games early on. Here are some quick picks for each Western Conference first-round series:

Spurs (1) vs. Mavericks (8): Spurs in five games.

San Antonio has been dominant, even late in the regular season, and more importantly, healthy, so it’s hard to see Dallas putting up much of a fight. However, Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki is still dangerous and combined with scoring combo guard Monta Ellis, winning one game against the Spurs, their old rival, seems feasible. But San Antonio’s cohesiveness doesn’t leave much room for error, so even that could be a stretch for Dallas.

[RELATED: Predicting each NBA first-round Eastern Conference playoff series]

Thunder (2) vs. Grizzlies (7): Thunder in seven games.

This might surprise some people, but the way Memphis closed out the season, as well as its physical nature, might give Oklahoma City a run for its money. The Grizzlies have gotten back to their “Grit and Grind” style of play and while they won’t be able to shut down league scoring champ Kevin Durant, they have plenty of bodies to throw at the Thunder star. Memphis’ interior duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol have a distinct advantage against Oklahoma City, and the point-guard matchup of Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley Jr. could be closer than expected. Still, the Thunder should advance, though the Grizzlies won’t make it easy on them.

Clippers (3) vs. Warriors (6): Clippers in six games.

If Andrew Bogut was healthy, this might be a different story—even with all of the turmoil Golden State endured this season—but without the injured center, the Clippers should triumph. It should still be a hotly-contested series, given the two teams’ dislike for each other, but with Doc Rivers at the helm, the Clippers now have an advantage from an experience standpoint, even though the Warriors have improved defensively, but still present matchup problems with their high-octane offense. The battle between floor generals Stephen Curry and Chris Paul will be fun to watch and it will be interesting to see how Golden State tries to frustrate Clippers’ All-Star power forward Blake Griffin. The Clippers are likely to move on, but the degree of difficulty the Warriors present will be telling.

[MORE: Bulls already mentally preparing for Wizards series]

Rockets (4) vs. Trail Blazers (5): Rockets in seven games.

This could shape up to be most exciting first-round series in either conference, as both squads are offensive-minded bunches with a penchant for jacking up threes and dominant All-Star big men inside in Rockets center Dwight Howard and Trail Blazers’ power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. The small-forward matchup between versatile wings Chandler Parsons of Houston and Nicolas Batum of Portland should also be interesting, but the key might be two defensive players: Blazers center Robin Lopez and Patrick Beverley, the Rockets point guard. Lopez will be faced with the task of defending Howard, while Beverley will be matched up with Portland’s All-Star point guard Damian Lillard, who has let the Chicago native get under his skin in the past. All-Star shooting guard James Harden will be the difference for Houston, however.