This is one of those years in which I really wonder why the NBA bothers to have a first round of the playoffs. They would sacrifice no drama whatsoever by allowing just four teams into the postseason - five this year. At the very least you could give the top two seeds a bye and limit the field to six teams. Oklahoma City will probably provide a few thrills in an almost certain losing effort against Houston, but Portland and Memphis are just lambs being sent to slaughter - and not even the cute kind of lambs that are easy to love. For what it's worth, here's how the first round of the Western Conference playoffs set up. Odds to win the NBA Championship are from BetOnline .
Golden State (-180) vs. Portland (+12500): If you have kids then be sure that they are in bed before any games of this series tips off. This thing is going to be a bloodbath, and kids don't have the mental strength to absorb beatings of this type without being negatively affected. Letting them watch would constitute child abuse. Portland finished the season a dismal 16-25 on the road, and now they have to go play twice (notice I didn't say at least twice - there will only be two games) in the toughest arena in the league to play in. It's not going to go well. The teams met four times this year. Golden State ran away with two games and won a third comfortably. The fourth game was close, but only because Steph Curry stayed in his Portland hotel room that night with the flu. I could go on and on but I won't waste our time - there is nothing I could say that is new here. Golden State is so superior it's silly, and it would qualify as quite stunning if they don't sweep this.
San Antonio (+700) vs. Memphis (+10000): This won't be Portland levels of carnage, but it's not going to be pretty. All that Memphis has done down the stretch is lose. They lost to the Spurs twice and Golden State once, which is inevitable if not totally acceptable. But they also lost to teams like the Lakers, Kings, Pistons and Pelicans since the last couple of weeks of March. Most impressively, they also managed to lose to Brooklyn earlier in March. At home no less. The Spurs, meanwhile, having been doing what they do - after locking up their playoff spot long ago they have focused on having their roster tuned up and rested for the playoffs. They are better at that than any team, and it has shown over the years. The Spurs have a big roster advantage, a huge edge in experience, and while David Fizdale is a respectable coach he's so outmatched in this series it's laughable. It would be far less surprising to see the Grizzlies win a game than it would be for Portland, but you would still need a lot of decimal places on your calculator to determine the chances of a series upset for Memphis.
Houston (+1600) vs. Oklahoma City (+8000): The MVP vote will be in before this series starts, but this is a perfect opportunity for voters to see, after the fact, if they got it right. Russell Westbrook should put up big numbers because he always does. So will James Harden. The difference, ultimately, is that Houston's supporting cast is deeper and better. Houston won three of four against the Thunder this year, but all four games were fairly close. That's pretty much what I expect here - a close series that should go longer than the first two series by quite a bit, but ultimately Houston will exercise their solid edge to come out on top.
L.A. Clippers (+2800) vs. Utah (+6600): This came right down to the wire - not to decide who was playing but where they would be starting the series. In the end they have the identical record, but L.A.'s 3-1 edge in the season series allows them to host. The similarities are spooky, really - not only the same record but same home and road records, same conference records, and within a rounding error of the same point differential. The Clippers are the more logical pick, and the championship odds sure give them a huge edge, but I'm going against the grain and taking Utah here. I love the Hayward-Gobert combo at the core of this team, and they come into this with much less baggage, much more positivity, and a more earnest desire to win. They are what the NBA would be like if it were a purer, gentler league, and that is attractive. And they are a whole lot of fun to watch. I'm fully braced to be wrong, and wouldn't bet my opinion heavily, but I don't regret having it, either.
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