The “Wild Wild West” is back and loaded with great teams. It wasn’t until the last game of the season for the seeding to become set in stone, causing middle of the pack teams to switch. Unlike the Eastern Conference only having one team with upset potential, the Western Conference could have multiple. Injuries and inexperience for the higher seeds is what will play into possible upsets.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 Los Angeles Clippers (Warriors 4-0 sweep)
This is a unanimous pick. The Clippers deserve a round of applause for making the playoffs due to their roster blowup. No Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, and trading Tobias Harris, yet they still found a way to sneak into the playoffs. But, they drew the unfortunate hand and have to face the favored and two-time reigning champion Warriors. There isn’t much to discuss in this series, except to see how Stephen Curry’s new contacts continue to improve his shooting.
#2 Denver Nuggets vs. #7 San Antonio Spurs (Spurs win 4-3)
Here comes the first upset. The Nuggets have been stellar all year, lead by future superstar Nikola Jokic and a great supporting cast with Jamal Murray and veteran All-Star Paul Millsap. With a top six defense and an incredible 34-7 home record, they are worthy of the two seed. However, the Nuggets fatal flaw: experience. The Spurs have the greatest upper advantage with Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest coaches of all-time. They also have a great scorer in DeMar Derozan and the consistent LaMarcus Aldridge, both averaging over 21 PPG. Also, as a team, the Spurs shot .392 percent from the three-point range, whereas the Nuggets shot .351 percent. Both teams match up perfectly, but experience will advance the Spurs.
#3 Portland Trailblazers vs. #6 Oklahoma City Thunder (OKC wins 4-3)
This series will be the most exciting and entertaining to watch. Every game will be a shootout, coming down to the wire between OKC’s superstars, Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and Portland’s superstar Damian Lillard and star C.J. McCollum. Both teams are rolling into the playoff with win streaks and victories over dominant teams: Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Denver Nuggets. OKC will come out on top for a couple reasons. First, the series would lean in favor of Portland if Jusuf Nurkic was playing, their best rebound asset and third highest scorer on the team. Nurkic was the backbone of the team during his near All-Star season at center before his season-ending injury March 25. Secondly, OKC is 4-0 against Portland this year and even though Portland will be playing with a chip on their shoulder, OKC has the team figured out. This series will go seven and proven as the best first round match-up.
#4 Houston Rockets vs. #5 Utah Jazz (Houston wins 4-2)
The best center match-up of the first round: Houston’s Clint Capela vs. Utah’s reigning and front runner for Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert. Capela is going into the series at full health, Gobert has been at full health all season, and those two will battle it out in the post. But, looking past that match-up, the Rockets win at near every other aspect. James Harden is a better player than Donovan Mitchell (Mitchell is a stud though, not undermining his talent), Chris Paul can take care of Ricky Rubio (as long as Paul stays healthy), and a stronger bench led by Eric Gordon if he doesn’t start at small forward. Last year, the Rockets took the Warriors seven games and were up 3-2 until Paul was injured. This team has too much experience for a younger Jazz team to defeat.
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