#1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. #8 New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)
The Warriors waltz in with the best record in the NBA and lead the league in both Offensive (109.7) and Defensive (98.2) Ratings. Golden State leads the league in scoring unsurprisingly at 110 points per game and own the high point differential this season at +10.1. Stephen Curry is the odds on favorite to win Most Valuable Player. He has averaged 23.8 points, 7.7 assists, 2.04 steals and broke his own NBA record with 286 made threes. Klay Thompson is the second part of the “Splash Brothers” and averaged 21.7 points while hitting .439 percent of his threes. The Warriors are unselfish and lead the league in assists per game. Draymond Green does everything on the floor and is a candidate to win Defensive Player of the Year.
The Pelicans clinched a playoff appearance on the final day of the season, defeating the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. New Orleans is an extremely talented team loaded with steady players. Superstar Anthony Davis will need to carry the Pellies if they want to put a dent in the Warriors. The former Kentucky Wildcat averaged 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks in the regular season. Tyreke Evans, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and a healthy Jrue Holiday will be key to supporting Davis. The Warriors took the season series 3-1, but only Evans and role player Dante Cunningham appeared in all four games for New Orleans.
#4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)
Due to the Blazers winning their division, they will receive crucial home court advantage over the better Grizzlies. Memphis swept away the Blazers in four games this season. Portland is banged up after losing Wes Matthews (15.9 ppg) to a ruptured Achilles tendon in early March. Arron Afflalo was a mid-season pickup, but he has also dealt with injuries and has only averaged 10.6 points in 25 games with the Blazers. LaMarcus Aldridge has played with a finger and most recently foot injury but has still managed to lead the team in scoring (23.4) and rebounding (10.2). Damian Lillard showed how clutch he was last season in the playoffs and will need to dazzle again as he enters the playoffs after scoring 21 points on average in the regular season. Nicolas Batum will be the X-factor. He has struggled all season long but if healthy, the versatile wing can stuff the stat sheet.
As usual, Memphis wins with its defense. The Grizz allowed just 95.1 points per game, good for second in the league. Jeff Green has been a welcomed addition and gives Memphis a scoring small forward they haven’t seen since Rudy Gay. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph anchor the paint combining for 33.5 points and 18.3 rebounds. The steady improvement of Mike Conley has helped lift this team to the next level. The only thing holding Memphis back is their lack of outside shooting. They connected on just 423 threes this season, 29th in the NBA.
#3 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. #6 San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
The jumbled up two thru six seeds were sorted out on the final day as the Rockets and Grizzlies won and the Spurs lost, dropping the defending NBA Champions from the two-seed to the six-seed. The Clippers split the season series 2-2 against the vaunted Spurs. Chris Paul has managed to stay healthy the entire season and put together MVP-type numbers. Blake Griffin missed a month with a staph infection in his right elbow. DeAndre Jordan is a leading candidate for DPOY after leading the league with 15 rebounds per night. The Clips have won a league best seven straight heading into the playoffs. An inconsistent bench is what scares people the most from picking the Clippers to go deep.
San Antonio won 11-straight before falling to New Orleans to end the season. That loss proved costly, dropping them four spots. The usual suspects do the damage for Coach Popovich’s team. A deep, unselfish bench that whips the ball around gives opposing teams headaches as they have to run their starters back out on the floor before the game gets out of hand. Kawhi Leonard has taken the mantle as the future of the franchise. He leads the team in points (16.5) and steals (2.31). The big three of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have started to show cracks in their armor, combining to average only 38.8 points per game.
#2 Houston Rockets (56-26) vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
Despite Dwight Howard missing exactly half the season with injuries and losing Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley before the playoffs, James Harden has propelled the Rockets into the two-seed and will enjoy home court advantage. Harden had a monster year averaging 27.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 7.0 assists. He will need help in the playoffs however. Howard is not yet 100 percent. Since his return he has averaged 13.8 points and 8.9 rebounds, down from his 16.3 and 11 before injury. The Rockets won three games by double digits as they beat the Mavericks three out of the four times the two teams met.
Dallas’ experiment adding Rajon Rondo has not yielded the results Mark Cuban wanted, but he along with Coach Rick Carlisle will hope Rondo shines yet again on the big stage in the playoffs. During the regular season, Rondo has averaged just 9.3 points and 6.5 assists with Dallas along with a terrifying 45 percent from the line. Monta Ellis (18.9), Dirk Nowitzki (17.3) and former Rocket Chandler Parsons (15.7) are the big three scorers. Parsons has battled a knee injury and has missed six straight games. The Mavs are loaded with veterans, but their age might hurt them against an explosive Rockets team.