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NBA Western Conference Playoffs Preview

The Western Conference will see evenly contested match-ups over the next few weeks

Drastic changes in the playoff picture

The furore of the regular season has died down. This is the time when the NBA finally gets down to business, when teams come out of regular season hibernation and start taking things seriously. A time when the pace of the games reduces almost to a crawl and things start getting chippy.

It has been a delight watching the Western Conference for the past few years. It has always been stronger than the Eastern Conference, but the disparity keeps growing larger and larger. How else would you explain the fact that Oklahoma City Thunder, which at 45-37 missed the playoffs in the Western Conference would be playing as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference?

The bloodbath in the West this year has been unprecedented. With the possible exception of the Golden State Warriors, who have been the runaway league leaders since almost the beginning of the season, the rest of the playoff seeds in the West from second to seventh have a difference of six games between them.

A single loss made the San Antonio Spurs, the defending champions this year, fall from the second seed to the sixth seed in the playoff picture. But the things that give nightmares to head coaches is probably the best thing that can happen to basketball fans. How else do you explain the matchup of the Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, which quite frankly can easily be a Western Conference Finals encounter, occurring in the first round?

Spare a thought for Russell Westbrook

You obviously feel a pang for the Thunder who in spite of the Russell Westbrook storm could not make the playoffs. But if you stop and think about it, it might be a blessing in disguise. Carrying a team day in and day out takes a toll, and no other player has carried his team more than Westbrook this season. He literally morphed into a basketball Greek god since Durant's injury and that sort of wear and tear puts an insubordinate amount of pressure on one's body.

He needs rest, even though he will never accept it. It is better to sit out the playoffs than tear your Achilles trying to get one win against the juggernaut that is the Warriors. With all this in mind, let us examine the matchups that form the correctly hyped super competitive first round of this years' playoffs. This first round might well turn out to be the best we've ever seen.

4. Portland Trailblazers vs Memphis Grizzlies

LaMarcus Aldridge against Z-Bo

This matchup might probably be the least heralded one of this years’ first round. Both teams have struggled to get to their last season form, with a string of injuries to either side. The untimely Achilles tear to Wes Matthews of the Trailblazers came as a major blow to their playoff hopes and lingering injuries to LaMarcus Aldridge haven’t helped.

The trade getting Aaron Afflalo as a backup to Matthews may have fallen flat on its back since he got pushed into a starter role almost immediately upon arrival. Had it not been for the Blazers winning their division and garnering an automatic fourth seed, they would have been languishing at number 6 facing the prospect of facing the Clippers. But as luck would have it, they face Memphis instead.

It will be a battle of the front court between these two teams, with Robin Lopez and Aldridge having a go at Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. It would be safe to assume that this series will have its fair share of technical fouls and it won’t come as a surprise if the team that prevails comes out more bruised than usual.

3. Houston Rockets vs Dallas Mavericks

The Rockets will be looking to advance past the first round

Call it karma or give it any other name you prefer, but you can be sure that Daryl Morey and the Rockets never thought they would be facing Chandler Parsons with so much on the line so soon. This right here is the Battle of Texas.

The Mavs and the Rockets already have a bit of bad blood between them, with Mark Cuban, the owner of the Mavs taking pot shots at Morey over the handling of the Parson’s free agency and the Dwight Howard signing. The details could very much be the subject of a different article, but to be concise, this is a battle of front offices, more than the battle of two teams.

Cuban and Morey legitimately hate each other with both completely disagreeing on every decision the other person makes. On the court, however, the Mavs and the Rockets seem to be evenly matched, with Houston perhaps having a slight edge. Parsons will be itching to prove his value to Houston, who for some reason chose not to match the offer sheet the Mavs put before him citing the team was in a “better place” without him.

This series can very well go either way, down to the wire or a blowout. Howard is not getting any younger and it is time for Harden to make the proverbial leap and get to the conference finals. The Mavs have had issues of their own this season with the Rondo trade not going exactly to plan and chemistry issues throughout the roster.

It will be fun to see Parsons and Harden have a go at each other, both trying to prove a point. And then of course there is Dirk Nowitzki. There is no telling what he might conjure from his old bag of tricks.

2. Golden State Warriors vs New Orleans Pelicans

Pelicans Anthony Davis defending Warriors Klay Thompson on a fastbreak

Anthony Davis in the last game of the season against the Spurs played like a man on a mission. His mission was to get the Pelicans into the playoffs, and he achieved it, in style. The final stat line read Davis 31 points, 13 rebounds, NOP 108-103 SAS. It is safe to assume that Davis is the next superstar of the NBA. If and when LeBron James and, to an extent, Kevin Durant choose to pass the baton of the best players in the league to someone, they won’t have to look much further than Anthony Davis.

He is a legitimate joy to watch on court and if you ever wanted to look up the definition of “stuffing the stat sheet” with respect to basketball, then all you would have to do is search for a marginally good game by Davis. Sure the Pelicans are almost sure to lose this series, but it won’t be wrong to expect at least one monster game from Davis.

A 40-point, 20-rebound game? Achievable. A game with Davis tallying something close to a Quadruple Double? Not outside the realms of possibility. This unpredictability is what will make this series a joy to watch.

This series is not evenly matched, on one hand there is Steve Kerr who is having perhaps the best season a rookie coach has ever had. On the other, there is Monty Williams who is just figuring out the ropes of coaching a team that has two ball-dominant guards in its roster, all the while trying to keep Davis happy with his touches.

But it is the coming out party of Davis and regardless of the result of this series, it will always be judged based on that unshakable fact. This will provide a blueprint of what to expect from the Pelicans in the future, and give Davis a taste of the playoffs, something he hasn’t had the opportunity to get so far.

The Warriors would like to dispatch the Pelicans as quickly as they can to get some much needed rest ahead of the second round. But they will have to go through Anthony Davis first.

1. Los Angeles Clippers vs San Antonio Spurs

The most intriguing matchup in this years’ playoffs comes loaded with questions for both the teams

No other first round matchup exemplifies the meaning of narrative more than the Clippers vs Spurs. It is safe to assume that both teams would have rather avoided each other till the stakes were higher, probably playing each other for a place in the NBA Finals. But such is the nature of the game that they have to go head to head just to get to the second round.

There are so many story lines in this matchup that it is hard to get a head count on all of them. The Spurs are looking for a repeat of last year, trying to win a championship back to back, something they have never done in the history of their esteemed franchise. The Clippers are trying to justify their elite status by trying to get to the conference finals for the first time. Something they have not managed to do ever since Chris Paul was acquired in a trade from the then New Orleans Hornets.

This series features two of the best point guards in the game, two of the best power forwards in the game and two of the best minds in basketball going head to head against one another. Will Chris Paul get bundled out again in a playoff series? Will the Spurs continue their impressive push through the first round on their way to basketball immortality? Will this be the last playoff series to feature the Hall of Fame duo of Tim Duncan and Greg Poppovich? This matchup is ripe with tantalizing questions.

But it means more to Chris Paul than anyone else. For someone who has been given the title of “Point God” by the basketball fraternity to falter again and again at the biggest stage of them all, it means more than just a first round matchup. Inadvertently every loss Paul incurs in the playoffs is tarnishing his legacy. And for someone who is as rabidly competitive as Chris Paul, this is enough to give him sleepless nights.

Paul is getting older and the Clippers’ championship window is shrinking. Pretty soon, no thanks to Doc River’s shameless lobbying of DeAndre Jordan as the Defensive Player of the Year, Jordan will command a max contract from atleast three different teams once his contract is up, which means that the core of Paul, Griffin and Jordan will not remain intact.

The Clippers need to win, and they need to win now. The irony? Instead of luck being on their side this year, they face the team any franchise would shudder to face in the first round.

Bring on the Playoffs!

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Edited by Staff Editor
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