Golden State Warriors vs Portland Trail Blazers
Kevin Durant’s knee injury, which kept him out for the majority of the season after the All-Star Break, turned out to be a blessing for Golden State, because Durant will have fresh legs in the playoffs. His team was able to deal with his absence, winning 17 of its last 18 games of the season.
Durant will have the opportunity to showcase his talent against a team that struggles to defend on the wing.
The Trail Blazers had the steal of the season when they acquired Jusuf Nurkic from the Denver Nuggets. Since moving to Rip City, Nurkic has averaged 15.2 points per game, 10.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. His contribution helped the team make the playoffs with a .500 record; a remarkable turnaround from 23-32 at the time of the trade. Trail Blazers’ fans are hoping for the Bosnian’s full recovery from a fractured fibula, which has sidelined him since March 30.
Prediction: Golden State 4, Portland 0
San Antonio Spurs vs Memphis Grizzlies
Although the teams are separated by five positions in the standings, San Antonio can’t be too complacent in this tricky matchup. Memphis split the season series against the top three teams in the Western Conference this season. In addition, the Grizzlies handed the Spurs two blow-out losses and narrowly lost the other two.
Kawhi Leonard has shown his reputation as the best defender in the league, but the Spurs’ ability to protect the rim has been questioned throughout the season. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies need to be more productive on the offensive end. Their average of 100.6 points per game is second-worst in the league, ahead of the Dallas Mavericks. Memphis will need veterans Vince Carter and Zach Randolph to bring a spark off the bench. The longer the series goes, the more Memphis benefits against the Spurs’ aging lineup.
Prediction: Memphis 4, San Antonio 3
Houston Rockets vs Oklahoma City Thunder
It’s likely the MVP will play in this series, though it may be a lopsided one.
James Harden and Russell Westbrook are fortunate to be the main men in their systems, which is key to their astonishing performance this season. However, while Harden enjoys his teammates’ support, Westbrook always finds himself in a one-man show.
The last game between the sides might be an indication of this series. Harden’s teammates Lou Williams and Eric Gordon picked up the slack, scoring a combined 53 points to hand a blow-out loss to Oklahoma City despite Westbrook’s 39-point triple double.
Harden led the MVP race for most of the season, but Westbrook caught up thanks to a late-season resurgence.
Prediction: Houston 4, Oklahoma City 1
Los Angeles Clippers vs Utah Jazz
Staying fit has always been the Clippers’ shortcoming as they missed their two biggest stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin a combined 44 games this season. Coach Doc Rivers understands he can’t afford to lose any more players, but he won’t have his son, Austin, for the series because of a hamstring injury.
The key matchup will be down to the wing, where Gordon Hayward will go against Luc Mbah a Moute. Hayward is having a career season, averaging 22 points per game. Although Mbah a Moute might not be a prolific scorer, his defensive skill will be needed to shut down Utah’s best player.
Both Paul and Griffin’s contracts will expire this summer, and the Clippers need a deep playoff run to keep their superstars at Staples Center.
Prediction: Los Angeles 4, Utah 2