(1) Oklahoma City Thunder (60-22) vs (8) Houston Rockets (45-37)
An interesting series , considering the story of James Harden going to Houston in a blockbuster trade during the start of the season. If their regular season matchup is any indication of things to come: two 20-point blowout wins for OKC and a 3-point squeeker by the Rockets (Harden and Jeremy Lin gunning for 70 points combined), expect this battle to be a fierce shootout. Whoever gets shut-out the opponent defensively may determine the winner in the contest.
After all the hot shooting and gut-wrenching fast breaks highlighting the matchup. Harden alone wouldn’t be enough to take on the onslaught of Westbrook and Durant. So unless the Rockets get really hot or Omer Asik dominates the paint offensively, expect this series to end quickly.
Prediction: Thunder in 5
(2) San Antonio Spurs (58-24) vs (7) Los Angeles Lakers (45-37)
This match up would easily be an instant classic if both teams were in full health. Now, there would be no Kobe Bryant in the spotlight, an ailing Manu Ginobili, plus a less-than-100% versions of Steve Nash and Tony Parker. Expect both teams to have a huge help from their bench and role players, as that may be a huge factor in the overall outcome of the series.
Howard and Gasol’s newly-found chemistry near the end of the regular season (especially when Kobe was injured) will be tested against a seemingly ageless San Antonio that performs with clockwork-like precision. This one can get as close as you might imagine, but without their main man Kobe, the Lakers lack an end-game closer, a go-to-guy during the 4th quarter, especially when the game is on the line.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
(3) Denver Nuggets (57-25) vs (6) Golden State Warriors(47-35)
Probably the most exciting series to watch out for, expect some high octane exchanges as two of the top shootings teams in the NBA take the court in this Denver-Golden State matchup.
Too bad we won’t be treated to a Gallo-Curry shootout but it’s interesting to see how Denver’s oftentimes overlooked defense matches up against probably one of the better shooting teams in the NBA. I won’t be surprised to see Iguodala guarding Curry or Klay Thompson, as that might be the match up that would spell the difference in the series.
With only three teams beating the Nuggets in their home court during the regular season, the Warriors must hold fort in the Oracle arena for this series to last, as I don’t see Golden State stealing a game up in the Pepsi Center.
Prediction: Denver in 6
(4) Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
The slugfest between the Clippers and the Grizzlies would be like an MMA match between a world class striker and a ferocious ground for pound heavyweight. A tale of two cities, as teams with contrasting styles exchange blows in this 4th vs 5th seed match-up. The Clippers’ pulsating attack anchored on Chris Paul goes up against a hard-nosed defense that boasts of a premier wing defender in Tony Allen and Defensive Player of the Year Candidate Marc Gasol.
With Chris Paul playing superbly as a master conductor orchestrating LA’s offense, fast and dynamic may get the upper hand against brute force. The Grizzlies’ back court should get their hands full, as Mike Conley and Jerryd Bayles must step-up defensively for Memphis to make this a close one. Who knows, we might see a classic performance from Tayshaun Prince, working out his defensive magic against the Lob City.
Prediction: Clippers in 7