If you guys haven’t gotten a chance to check it out the Power Rankings for the East came out Thursday night, scorching the blogosphere and unleashing a veritable tidal wave of spirited debate and blistering hot takes. And, while I may have been decidedly too low on that Atlanta-Boston tilt, I’m putting the finishing touches on this piece moments before the Cleveland series begins, which should be a smoker!
Full disclosure: Because I’m writing this on Sunday, I’ve already watched the opening games for two of these matchups; I promise I did not let that change the rankings I had before they began.
Fuller disclosure: This article was a lot easier to write than the one before it. The first round of the West is kind of a bloodbath. Hahaha yupp, pretty much.
4.) Memphis Grizzlies at San Antonio Spurs (2 v 7)
Easily my least favorite series of the entire first round and the less said about this one the better. Out of respect for an all-time great Spurs defense and the team not named the Warriors that led the league in point differential, I’m compelled to say something about this round 1 clash. Just like the series though, I will keep it mercifully brief.
Look, I don’t even enjoy watching the Grizzlies when they’re healthy. And in an absolute season from hell that saw them use a ridiculous 28 different players the roster looks like a cruel joke, with people who should have been out of the league years ago in Jordan Farmar and Vince Carter and then absolute “Who???” people like Xavier Munford and Jarell Martin. Sitting through 5 or 6 games of grit and grind would have been much more tolerable with the delightful passing of Marc Gasol and the looming free agency of Mike Conley. Oh well.
And as for the Spurs, these guys do nothing but take care of business. These won’t be the joyful blowouts that accompany a sweet-shooting Warriors’ performance, nor will there be the intrigue that comes along with a dominant Cavaliers team finding its feet and gearing itself into full-on playoff mode. These are just going to be wins. Ugly, ugly, boring wins.
Spurs in four.
3.) Dallas Mavericks at Oklahoma City Thunder (3 v 6)
Okay, even I did not expect this series to look like the completely lopsided devastation from Saturday night. This was a game in which the Thunder started on a 9-0 run, held the Mavericks to an insane 33 points at the half, and somehow turned the very solid Wesley Matthews into a -40 on the night (!!) Jesus.
When you think about it, this Thunder team might be the absolute worst matchup that Dallas could have pulled in the first round. The Spurs are the better team, sure, but there’s something about the dominant athleticism of Oklahoma City that was bound to give this elderly, smoke-and-mirrors Mavericks defense nightmares. Matthews gives up a solid 6 inches to Durant as the only credible defender on the wing, while choosing between Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, and JJ Barea to check Russell Westbrook is almost like choosing between shooting, stabbing, and slow strangulation. Hell, the Thunder even have an excellent defender in Serge Ibaka to mitigate Dallas’ only real offensive weapon.
It’s a cruel fate for any of the bottom three teams in the West to limp into the playoffs and draw an unbelievable juggernaut in the first round. Maybe it’s a testament to the sustained excellence of Dirk Nowitzki and the smart coaching of Rick Carlisle to even be on this stage, but you can’t help but feel a little bad for them. And, while Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant have been two of the league’s most exciting players to watch for the last five years, it’s hard to justify leaving them on the court when you’re up by 30.
Thunder in five. (I miiiiiiiiight have given Dallas two wins before last night’s performance.)
2.) Houston Rockets at Golden State Warriors (1 v 8)
And now for the fun blowout series!
There was a moment yesterday when Steph Curry went back to the locker room to get his ankle re-taped and I realized that Golden State would be able to crush these guys even with the MVP sitting on the bench for four games. For all the people (like me) who thought the unrelenting push for 73 might leave these guys a little drained come playoff time, these guys just know how to get up for big games. Draymond is back to taking open threes, Klay has some weird, badass scar on his right arm, and their bench mob is running all over people with one of Sean Livingston’s best seasons as a pro.
On the other side of the ball, the Rockets might end up as one of three teams in this Conference to get swept out of the first round, but they have at least have a little intrigue with the Dwight Howard free agency question and the occasional electrifying Harden performance. It’s still beyond me how this same team pulled out 56 wins last year, but if they could piece together any semblance of that speedy, hyperactive defense, they might be able to steal one at home. Or not.
Warriors in four.
1.) Portland Trailblazers at Los Angeles Clippers (4 v 5)
Here it is! My favorite matchup of the first round and an absolute letdown that this is one of those West Coast series that will be broadcast at 10:30 PM on a Sunday night and likely not end until the wee hours of the morning. Ball or Sleep, you can’t do both.
Look, kudos to video game Dame and this entire team for not only making the playoffs, but for climbing high enough to secure the only mortal matchup in the first round. The Blazers have a backcourt to rival the Clippers and might even be the deeper team, with more valuable contributors off the bench. The Moda Center is absolutely rocking, Lillard has the explosiveness to steal a game all on his own, and this series could be that after-hours nightclub that keeps the CJ McCollum coming out party rocking until 6 in the morning.
As for the Clippers, this should be an important series of games to fully re-integrate Blake Griffin back into their offense. Al Farouq-Aminu is a capable wing defender, but will lack the size to contend with Griffin in the post; he might just end up giving the mojo back to the man who absolutely TORCHED the Spurs in last year’s playoffs. You can’t hide in Detroit Aron!
These games will also be crucial if L.A. wants to hit another level of play before drawing the Warriors in the next round. While they’ve yet to really beat the Curry MVP iteration of these Dubs, almost all of their games have been close and exciting. They’re going to be massive underdogs there regardless, but if they coalesce together in Portland while the Warriors sleepwalk their way through the Houston series, the Clips might be able to open that matchup with a punch to the gut. Though, of course, you feel rough for CP3 having to check Chef Curry just two days after chasing Dame around the gym.
Clippers in six.