Portland vs Houston
Offense will be at a premium when the Houston Rockets take on the Portland Trail Blazers in the quarterfinals of the Western Conference playoffs.
The Rockets are the NBA’s second-ranked offense at 107.7 ppg, followed by the Trail Blazers, who are fourth with 106.9 ppg.
Houston secured the home-court advantage with a win on Monday against the NBA’s best, the San Antonio Spurs.
“We fought hard for it. It took a little longer than I hoped but we knew we had to get 54 wins and we got there with one to spare,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale.
The matchup between the two squads has been decidedly in Houston’s favor over the last few seasons. The Rockets have won nine of the last 12 meetings, including three of four this season.
For Houston, Dwight Howard was impactful, but the main star in the Rockets’ offensive explosion has been James Harden. The best two-guard in the game averaged 25.4 ppg.
These two teams met in the first round back in 2009, but oh how different they both are just five years later. Houston has no players on the roster from that team, which was led by Yao Ming, while only LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum remain for the Blazers.
Brooklyn vs Toronto
Playoff basketball is back in the great white north and the Toronto Raptors look to make the most of it in their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
The Raptors were able to fend off the Nets for an Atlantic Division title and captured the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They battled the Chicago Bulls for the No. 3 spot and had the tiebreaker between the teams.
Toronto set a franchise record for wins with 48 and ended the season with nine wins in the last 12 games.
The Nets were the only team the two-time defending champion Miami Heat couldn’t beat once and lost in seven games to the Chicago Bulls in last year’s conference quarterfinals. They are relying on more veteran leadership, coupled with the solid play of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams moves them further along in the postseason.
Golden State vs Los Angeles Clippers
If there are two bloodsport rivals in the Western Conference, it has to be the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, powers of the Pacific Division.
Actually, three of the four regular-season meetings in 2013-14 featured some sort of physical altercation.
“Not to hype it up at all, but there is no love lost between these two teams,” Warriors forward David Lee said after a Golden State loss to the Clippers on March 12.
The Clippers finished first in scoring this season, with the Warriors 10th. Golden State was also 10th in opponents’ scoring and LA came in 14th in that category.
Chris Paul is a top-five player in the league. He missed time with a shoulder injury, but his play was, as always, dynamic.
The Warriors enjoyed watching the sensational Stephen Curry take his game to another level this season. The first-time All-Star averaged career-bests with 24.0 ppg and 8.5 apg.
But it might be all about the physical play. Perhaps the biggest single factor in this series is how the Clippers handle the Warriors’ physicality, or even worse, the Warriors’ “theatrics.”
Atlanta vs Indiana
The Indiana Pacers figured they could contend with the Miami Heat this season and dethrone the two-time defending NBA champions for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
The Pacers will be matched up again with the No. 8 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round and split four meetings with them in the regular season. Luckily, the Pacers have homecourt advantage because they have struggled mightily in Atlanta, losing 14 of their last 16 games there.
Atlanta, which is in the playoffs for a second time since 2007-08 without even reaching 40 wins, lost six in a row in late March and started to feel the heat. However, the Hawks won six of the next eight games to get back on track and a 98-85 win over the Heat on April 12 sealed the eighth spot.
Memphis vs Oklahoma
It was just last season the Oklahoma City Thunder were unceremoniously bounced from the second round of the playoffs by the Memphis Grizzlies.
They will have their chance for vengeance in the first round one year later.
“It’s going to be a tough but fun series,” OKC star Kevin Durant said. “We have a lot of history with these guys. We’re looking forward to getting the opportunity to play for a championship.”
The Thunder earned the second-best record in not only the Western Conference, but the whole NBA. Along the way, they had to deal with injuries to All-Star guard Russell Westbrook, who missed last season’s series versus the Grizz with a knee problem, and veteran starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins.
Durant more than handled the load. He will most assuredly win the MVP this season, supplanting LeBron James as Durant won yet another scoring title.
Once the reigning Defensive Player of the Year returned to the lineup, the Grizzlies clicked. The Grizzlies went 33-13 in games he played after the injury.
It will be a classic offense versus defense matchup. The Thunder were the fifth-best offensive team this season, while the Grizzlies ranked third in opponents’ scoring.
Charlotte vs Miami
The No .2 Miami Heat hope so when the two-time defending champions enter the playoffs for a sixth straight season with a first-round matchup against the Southeast Division-rival and seventh-seeded Charlotte Bobcats.
Miami has made the playoffs 10 times in the last 11 years and earned the second seed in the Eastern Conference with a 54-28 record. Miami has won four straight Southeast titles and is trying to become the first three-time champion since the Los Angeles Lakers from 1999-00 to 2001-02.
LeBron James rested the last two games and averaged 27.1 points this season, good enough for third in the NBA. In four games against the Bobcats, James posted an average of 37.8 ppg.
The Bobcats surprised the NBA world with just the second record .500 or better in team lore at 43-39, one season after going 21-61 and compiling only 28 wins in the previous two years. What was the difference this season? That would be the offseason addition of Jefferson.
Jefferson averaged 21.8 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Bobcats, who were 20-9 after the All-Star break and ended with 14 wins in the last 19 games of the regular season.
Washington vs Chicago
The Chicago Bulls have experience and the ability to succeed when it comes to overcoming the odds.
The odds are actually in the Bulls’ favor when they match up with the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Bulls grabbed the fourth seed after losing out on the No. 3 spot to the Toronto Raptors, while the Wizards squared away the fifth seed in the East.
Chicago is in the postseason for a sixth straight year and for the second time without point guard Derrick Rose because of lingering knee issues. The Bulls got by without Rose in the first round last season, using a full seven-game series to dispose of the Brooklyn Nets, but the eventual two-time NBA champion Miami Heat bounced the Bulls in five games in the East semifinals.
Chicago won an Eastern Conference-best 36 games (36-16) since Jan. 1 and won seven in a row before closing out the season with two losses in three tries. It finished tops in the NBA in opponents’ scoring (93.7 ppg) and shooting percentage (43.2). The Bulls have ranked no lower than third in opponents’ scoring in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s four seasons at the helm.
Dallas vs San Antonio
For the sixth time since 2001, the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks will square off in the playoffs.
For the 17th consecutive season, the Spurs will be in the postseason. Think of it this way, if a child was born when Tim Duncan joined San Antonio, that child would probably be making college visits this summer.
“We had an unbelievable regular season, we put ourselves in a great situation to be No. 1 overall,” said Manu Ginobili. “We’re going for it, like every year.”
The Mavericks are back in the playoffs after a one-year absence, meaning Dallas has been in the postseason 13 of the last 14 years. They earned the eighth seed after a gritty overtime loss on Wednesday to the Grizzlies in Memphis.