With 25 games, give or take, left for most teams, potential playoff matchups are starting to line up. However, we’re also far enough out that enough movement is possible to line up all sorts of different things. Today the staff of Hardwood Paroxysm is laying out our fantasy playoff matchups, the first round contests we’d most like to see.
A Blazing hot first round: Portland vs Oklahoma City
By Zach Oliver (@ZachOliverNBA) — Friendly Bounce
I’m going to start off by saying any matchup that we get in the Western Conference is going to be a lot of fun. I think all eight teams that make it bring something unique to every potential matchup.
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Portland and Oklahoma City won’t end up getting matched in the first round, unless something really bizarre happens. But, it’s a matchup that, at least on paper, would be highly intriguing.
Portland has put together a phenomenal season, and has done so dealing with a rash of injuries to key players. Nicolas Batum has not been himself all season; Robin Lopez missed a good chunk of time; LaMarcus Aldridge is playing with a freaking ligament tear in his thumb!
Now, while the Blazers have had their fair share of injuries, the Thunder have been depleted multiple times this season, and have hung tough through it all. First the MVP goes down with a foot injury. Then Russell Westbrook hurts his knee, then not even a week into the season, the team was playing with eight players, five of which were big men. They were able to tread enough water, however, and hang close enough to make a push once they got healthy.
Yet, whenever they got healthy, another domino would fall. Westbrook went down again. Then Durant. Now, once again, both Durant and Westbrook are out. The fact they’re still in the hunt with all of those injuries is nothing short of a miracle.
Looking past the rash of injuries both teams have suffered through, this matchup has some very interesting possibilities. Westbrook vs Lillard; Durant vs Batum; Aldridge vs Serge Ibaka. The list seemingly goes on and on.
The two conference foes bring forth resumes that matchup well together. Portland currently sits 10th in offensive rating and tied for fourth in defensive rating, with the Thunder coming in tied for 14th and 10th respectfully.
We saw the two sides get a little chippy late in their last matchup as well, with Ibaka and Aldridge going face to face after Ibaka committed a foul on Batum. We’ve seen the last few years what a matchup with some chippiness can bring — Hello Warriors and Clippers — so that would just add yet another dynamic to it.
We saw them play an entertaining game on Friday night, and that was without Durant. Imagine what we could see in a seven game series with everyone fully healthy. Absolute pure mayhem!
Next: Team of the Year vs. Player of the Year
Team of the Year vs. Player of the Year: Warriors vs Pelicans
By Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) — Friendly Bounce
The Western Conference playoffs is setting up more like a horse race than your typical seeded tournament. Any of the eight teams could win the gallop to the NBA Finals but you could certainly pick out a few thoroughbreds. Two of which–the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder–are projected to meet in the first round based on the current standings.
That opening round series could very well determine the winner of the West. Smart arguments can be, and have been, made explaining why either of those teams could make it to the Finals. Beyond what’s at stake, that series will pin Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant against Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, two deep rosters and teams that play fast and furious. Aesthetically and consequentially, no first round series has ever had more potential.
But with the Thunder clicking with a month and a half left of regular season to go, they could sneak up the standings and avoid a first-round matchup with the Dubs.
If that happens, the Pelicans getting in as the eighth seed is the next best thing.
I don’t know how you or most people define their MVP, but Anthony Davis has been the best player over the course of the season. He’s blossomed from one of the best defensive players in the league to challenging LeBron and Durant for the throne.
He’ll likely finish the year averaging better than 23 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game while shooting at least 54 percent. Only Shaquille O’Neal, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, David Robinson, Bob McAdoo and Patrick Ewing have had comparable single seasons.
In the face of LeBron’s return to Cleveland, Westbrook’s threat to unseat his own teammate for best player on the court any given night and James Harden’s play molding of the modern NBA player, it’s been The Year of the Brow.
Then we have the Warriors, the most exciting team to watch from start to finish. A team that features the best shooting back court in league history and, yet, a second round pick is the emotional, and often, vocal leader on the court. Steve Kerr went from the booth to the bench and woke up a sleeping giant.
This team has talent and, because of the questions following the Mark Jackson firing and the Kevin Love-for-Klay trade that never happened, this team also has an edge about them.
A first-round matchup featuring The Brow against the Warriors–a throwback player merged with modern efficiency against the best team, top to bottom, in the league–would be the Player of the Year against the Team of the Year. A chance for the next juggernaut to emerge.
Next: Grit and Grind meets Thunder and Lightning
Grit and Grind Meets Thunder and Lightning: OKC vs. Memphis
By Bryan Toporek (@btoporek) — Mid-Level Exceptional
If the Oklahoma City Thunder wind up making the playoffs, they’ll almost certainly do so as the No. 8 seed, earning a date with the Golden State Warriors as their first-round matchup. If a 14-second UFC fight can be on pay-per-view, there’s no reason a seven-game clash between the Splash Brothers and the Russell Westbrook-Kevin Durant duo doesn’t deserve to be, too.
Though a Dubs-Thunder series would leave no viewer unsatisfied, OKC has a blood feud to settle first. That’s right: We need Round 4 between the Thunder and the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening round of the 2015 playoffs, even if it may be the death of our Editor Emeritus.
These two franchises can’t seem to avoid each other in recent postseasons, having locked horns three times in the past four years. OKC took the upper hand with a seven-game victory in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, but Memphis struck back two years later by knocking out the Thunder in five games during their semifinals rematch. (That was the year Westbrook tore his meniscus against Houston in OKC’s first-round series. Thanks again for that, Patrick Beverley.)
Last year’s first-round rubber match may have been the best series between the two yet. Reggie Jackson spared OKC from going down 3-1 by erupting in Game 4 to the tune of 32 points—on a night in which Durant went 5-of-21 and Westbrook finished 6-of-24—only to see Memphis eke out a one-point victory in Game 5. With the Grizzlies going home for Game 6 needing just one win to end the Thunder’s season for the second straight year, Durant’s long-overdue explosion surfaced, as the soon-to-be MVP went off for 36 points to stake OKC to a 20-point victory.
Tempers boiled over during the fourth quarter of Game 6, as Zach Randolph punched rookie center Steven Adams in the jaw, earning an ill-timed one-game suspension. With no Z-Bo to worry about, the Thunder dropped a series-high 120 points on the Grizzlies in Game 7, escaping to the second round by the skin of their teeth.
If the two teams cross paths again in this year’s postseason, Memphis will be out for blood. Z-Bo will likely make it his personal mission to erase Adams from existence, while Tony Allen will happily reprise his role as KD stopper once more. Pitting the ever-explosive Westbrook against Memphis’ top-10 defense is always a treat, and this year’s matchup would come with an added bonus: Jeff Green!
Yes, that’s the same Jeff Green who OKC (then-Seattle) drafted fifth overall in 2007, pairing him with Durant as the first building blocks of the terrifying Thunder dynamo you see today. Green, Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka all played together for one-and-a-half years before OKC flipped Green to Boston at the trade deadline for Kendrick Perkins. If you don’t think we’d get hammered over the head with that narrative during a Grizzlies-Thunder series, you don’t know local basketball media. (Maybe we’d even see a reprise of the Broingtons?)
A Memphis-OKC first-round series would be the NBA’s version of Thunderdome. Two teams will enter; only one team will live. And that’s meant literally, not figuratively. Get your Pepto Whiskey ready, Mr. Moore.
Next: Lillard vs. Paul
Lillard vs. Paul: Trail Blazers vs. Clippers
By Daniel Leroux (@DannyLeroux) — Mid-Level Exceptional
Damian Lillard’s playoff performance last season brought him a new level of fame with good reason: his swagger, immense talent and flair for the dramatic make him special even at a position chock-full of quality players.
Chris Paul has been the best Point Guard in the NBA for a vast majority of the last decade and could end his career as one of the best players in league history to never win a Most Valuable Player award. Some may point to his lack of playoff success but I see someone who never had all of the pieces in the right place to get close to a championship. Regardless of how you feel about CP3, he has made a career out of making opposing Point Guards miserable and ratchets that up a few notches in the playoffs. As someone who covered last season’s Warriors/Clippers seven game series, Chris Paul’s play proved to be the difference as he frequently made Stephen Curry work substantially harder for worse results while forcing an uncreative coach to try to concoct new ways to win.
During these playoffs, Chris Paul will turn 30 and with his injury history none of us can know how long he can stay close to his prime. Basketball fans have already experienced CP3 duel with Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Tony Parker and Mike Conley in recent seasons. Lillard stands as the last Western Conference Point Guard for Paul to battle and the series would also feature quality players all over the floor from LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin trying to establish themselves as the best Power Forward in the conference to the cavalcade of fun swingmen including recent addition and LA native Arron Afflalo.
NBA fans deserve to see Lillard vs. Paul and there is no time like the present.
Next: LeBron's New Team Against Revitalized Old Team
LeBron’s New Team Against Revitalized Old Team: Cavs vs. Heat
By Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) — Nylon Calculus
How much of an explanation is really necessary for this one? LeBron James, the 30-year-old likely to be one of the few greatest players in the history of game, has played for two NBA franchises in his career. We all know that. There also is a fairly decent shot they meet in the first round of the playoffs in his first year back in Ohio.
The Cavs are a different team than the one that started 19-20. Since then, they’ve won 18 of 22. Overall, they’re now 33-12 when Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and James all play together. That’d be a 60-win pace, assuming perfect health. Perfect health never usually happens though, and one can expect a few more games off from the Big Three by the end of the season. A No. 2 seed is in reach, but the three-spot is more likely if more rest is in the picture..
And this isn’t what we expected the Miami Heat to look like after LeBron left town. The expectation was a fringe playoff team led by Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and who knew what else. They signed Luol Deng. The young center Hassan Whiteside emerged as a star. They traded for Goran Dragic. And then Bosh went down with his scary blood clot situation. All things considered, they’re looking pretty good in the sadsack East at 25-33 and have a couple of tough close losses of late. They’re a highly probable fit for the No. 7 spot.
As odd as it seems for how good the Cavs and Heat both were in the mid-2000s, Wade and James have never played against each other in the playoffs. The storylines would be perfect for this year’s showdown, the two franchises battling for respect in very different circumstances than the past. Without Bosh, it’s uncertain how scary this Miami team might be to any team. But the hungry crowds in both towns would ensure as feisty a non-4 vs. 5 matchup as possible in the East.
Next: The Mentor and Student
The Mentor and Student: San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors
By Andy Liu (@AndyKHLiu) – Hardwood Paroxysm
Last time the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors faced off in the postseason, Manu Ginobili hit a game-tying 3 to send the game into overtime. Stephen Curry dropped 44 in that same game. Klay Thompson went nuclear in the next to tie it back up. Only a Curry ankle injury would send a sure classic series into another relentless Spurs 4-2 series win. If all key players are healthy, this has the makings of a true epic.
The Warriors are a couple of years more mature and the Spurs the defending champions. To add onto the intrigue, Steve Kerr has stolen much of Gregg Popovich’s ideals, calling for constant movement and the near-socialist theory of sharing the ball. It’s worked to Spurs-ian success as the Warriors have run through the regular season like the Spurs of the past couple years.
What’s even more fascinating is that this could immediately become the most hyped 1-8 matchup of all time. For the Spurs, vanquishing their little brother, a team they’ve forever owned, in the first round would portend to another Finals run. For the Warriors, finally rising above their dreaded nightmare in the first round would give them enough confidence to beat just about anyone. If you’re going to have to go through the best, you might as well do it first, right?
Next: The Shoe Block Series
The Shoe Block Series
By Daniel Lewis (@minutemandan), Hardwood Paroxysm
So far the Mavericks have managed to avoid a first-round matchup against the team that knocked them out of the playoffs in 2007. With a six-game lead on the Thunder, who are the 8-seed, the odds aren’t great that these two teams would meet up – but if they did, oh boy, would that be something else.
The Mavericks haven’t been able to beat the best team in the Western Conference this year, losing in Dallas and Oakland. Steph Curry rallied the Warriors from a 22-point deficit to win their second game, dropping 51 points to help his team pick up the win.
But when they played in Dallas – Tyson Chandler was doing everything he could to win. Everything.
The stories in this series would be savory. It’s a rematch of the classic 2007 series, where a scrappy group of players knocked off Dirk Nowitzki, who won league MVP that year as he tried to take his team back to the Finals after losing to Dwyane Wade and the Heat. That Warriors team had a young scoring guard who was still learning the game, named Monta Ellis, who has grown now into the Mavericks most important player. Who will throw the highest number of shoes into the stands, Tyson Chandler or Andrew Bogut? Which style will win, Draymond Green’s trash-talking or Chandler Parsons model face?
You have to think that the Mavericks acquired Rajon Rondo knowing that there was the possibility of having to play the Warriors at some point in the playoffs. J.J. Barea, bless his heart, can’t be responsible for helping guard Klay Thompson and Steph Curry for 28 minutes a game.
Imagine a series where Curry and Ellis are going at each other for 40 minutes a game, with Steph’s lethal jumpbacks awing the crowd, while Ellis dazzles on drives to the hoop. Tyson Chandler takes over a game, grabbing 20 rebounds and keeping the Warriors from scoring in the paint. Klay Thompson steps up after being called out by Steve Kerr, dropping 40 points in the second half to help rally his team from a 15-point halftime deficit. Dirk takes Draymond Green back to college, jabbing, driving, and scoring like a man 10 years younger.
Draymond responds by tipping in the game-winning offensive rebound in overtime to send the series to a seventh game. Rajon Rondo on national television happens, and his 20 points, 20 assist, and 20 rebound game impregnates the Twitterverse, but the game comes down to the final possession, with the Mavericks down by one point, as Dirk Nowitzki catches the ball on the left elbow as the clock ticks down from 10 seconds and into history.
Who wouldn’t want to watch that? That’s a matchup that the world wants – no, the world needs. Could that series bring world peace? I’m not saying that it wouldn’t.
Next: Bestbrook tries to prove a point
Bestbrook tries to prove a point: Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
by Matt Cianfrone (@Matt_Cianfrone)- Hardwood Paroxysm
There is a good chance that Stephen Curry is the NBA’s MVP this season, especially if the Warriors finish with the best record in the NBA. Curry has lit just about everything on fire this season with his shooting and passing and the Warriors have been a juggernaut because of it.
Russell Westbrook meanwhile has been in and out of the lineup due to injuries, but when he has been on the floor he has been as good as any player in the league.
So if Westbrook helps the Thunder sneak into the playoffs this season and gets to go up against the potential MVP and the top seeded Warriors things may break. It would be amazing to watch Westbrook try to lead the Thunder to an upset victory and prove something to the rest of the league.
Combine that with Kevin Durant trying to free himself from the clutches of Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green and the fight that will surely ensue between Andrew Bogut and Steven Adams and we have the potential for an all-time great 1 vs. 8 matchup.
So let’s do this before Russell Westbrook hurts someone or something.