(1) Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets (8) – Sinead Leon

In a rematch from last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets are set to face the Golden State Warriors in the first round of playoffs this Saturday.

The Rockets, who have struggled all season and barely crawled their way into the festivities after a win over Sacramento, will have a tough time trying to keep up with the defending champs.

In the past two years, the Rockets have a 1-12 record against the Warriors and that is taking into consideration that the Rockets were a much better team last year than this time around. Golden State has won by an average of 12.3 points in all three meetings of this season.

On the flip side, the Warriors have had an insane season breaking almost every record out there. Earning the best start in NBA history with their 24-0 hot streak, longest home winning streak of 54 wins, no back-to-back losses in the entire season, most wins on the road with a 34-7 road record, never lost to the same team twice, and to top it off most single-season wins (73) in NBA history breaking the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls’ record!

If the Rockets want a shot at taking the Warriors down they will have to do more than simply rely on James Harden. Even though he is averaging 29 points per game and is shooting at 40 percent from the three point range, his productivity will be highly limited with Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala taking turns guarding him.

Another player bound to be shut down is Dwight Howard with Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut in the post. This would force the Rockets to shoot from the outside, which is exactly what the Warriors would want since Houston ranks 19th in the three-point shooting percentage. Meanwhile, the Warriors lead the category with a 42 three-point shooting percentage.

Houston will really have to step up their defense to even stay alive in the next couple of games, especially when their biggest threat is the reigning league MVP himself, Steph Curry. After hitting his 402nd three-pointer on Wednesday night, the 6’3 point guard broke his own record from last year by 116 more. With a 45 three-point shooting percentage it is in the Rockets best interest to find a way to knock him of his game early in the match.

The Warriors are riding on a high after an impeccable season with no signs of being stopped anytime soon, especially not by the Rockets. My predictions is an easy sweep for Golden State.

San Antonio Spurs (2) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (2) – Duncan MacPhee

The Memphis Grizzlies will travel to the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas this Sunday, April 17 to take on the San Antonio Spurs in the first game of their first round 2-7 matchup.

According to oddsshark.com, the Memphis Grizzlies are the underdogs at +9500 to win this best-of-7 series (the Spurs odds are not yet available). What might be perceived by some as a lack of respect for the Grizzlies here is partly due to the fact that the Spurs have been by far the second best team in the NBA, let alone the Western conference.

With an NBA record-tying 40 wins at home this year, the Spurs have been absolutely unstoppable on their home floor. This doesn’t bode well for any team that matches up with them in the first two rounds, where the team holds home-court advantage.

San Antonio ended the season with an extremely impressive 67-15 record, and yet they weren’t talked about much at all just because of the absolute dominance of the league by the 73-9 number one seed Warriors. The Spurs might almost prefer flying under the record here though, as they begin their quiet quest for the 2016 Larry O’Brien trophy.

For their part, the Grizzlies do not figure to be much of a problem for this stacked Spurs lineup. Memphis lost 10 of their last 11 regular season games, and have struggled with injuries and roster turmoil all year long. They have started 28 different players this season, five more than the previous record number of starters for a playoff-bound team.

The Grizz have lost their two top scorers, Marc Gasol (broken foot) and Mike Conley (Achilles tendinitis), to injury for the entirety of this postseason. As a result, Memphis fans have been forced to watch the often-cringeworthy Tony Allen and Matt Barnes show for the tail end of this regular season. And now they’ll have to sit through the same thing against the second best team in the league.

A much healthier San Antonio will look to utilize younger stars Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge this postseason while also relying on the veteran presence of the always-productive Big 3 of Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili.

Luckily for Grizz faithful, the ugliness of this series won’t last longer than the minimum number of games. Spurs in four.

Oklahoma City Thunder (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6) – Elliot Thornton 

The 2015-2016 NBA regular season has undoubtedly been one for the ages. As we say goodbye to a Laker legend in the Black Mamba and reflect on a 73-9 finish by the Golden State Warriors, a new chapter of intensified basketball arises in the 2016 NBA Playoffs. Let’s start with a scope in the Western Conference between the third seed Oklahoma City Thunder and fifth seed Dallas Mavericks.

Heading into postseason with an overall record of 55-27, the high-powered duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be key for the North West Division champions. Dallas players such as Justin Anderson, Charlie Villenueva, and Wesley Matthews will have a tough task limiting the stretch-four Durant, but the majority of its problems will be centered around the triple-double machine in Westbrook.

In discussion for this year’s MVP, the five-time All-Star has 18 triple-doubles this season, accompanying NBA legends Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain to record 18 or more in the past 50 years. The Thunder are currently ranked second in the league in terms of offensive efficiency, averaging 110.2 points per game.

Despite two of the NBA’s most elite players, a savvy college coach in Billy Donovan, and a hardnosed frontcourt in Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and Steven Adams the Dallas Mavericks have one secret ingredient which the Thunder lack: experience.

In his eighth season with the Mavericks and 115 NBA playoff wins under his belt, it is safe to say that Head Coach Rick Carlisle has been in this position plenty of times. Posting its fourth straight season with 42 wins or more, the Mavs will try and utilize this veteran experience to propel them in their first round playoff series. Similar to previous seasons, longtime shooter and Dallas captain Dirk Nowitzki will carry the load for his team.

Leading the team in scoring for the year at 18.3 points per game, the German native heads into his 14th official postseason with an average of 25.4 points per game. While the power forward’s resume does not equally match the 20-year vet Bryant on paper, he will likely try to parallel the Laker legend’s ability to perform under pressure.

The Thunder hold a 4-0 record over the Mavericks this season. While OKC does have the upper edge with Durant and Westbrook at its side, expect a tight series throughout as three of the regular season games have been decided by four or less points.

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trailblazers (5) – Jorge Mercado 

Can the Clips finally get over the hump and get out of the second round? Will Damian Lillard have to average 40 points a game just to help his team win this series? Those are the big questions marking this great first round match-up between the LA Clippers and the Portland Trailblazers.

These two teams are no strangers as the Clippers beat them three out of four games during their season series this year. In those three wins, LA won by an average of 9.3 points per game with the last win coming courtesy of a game winning three by shooting guard J.J Redick.

While this match-up has drawn much intrigue it’s not a stretch to say that the Clippers should win this series. They definitely have the better roster led by All-star PG Chris Paul who was fourth in the NBA in assists per game (10) and second in steals (2.02).

Other key players include great players such as Deandre Jordan who leads the league in field goal percentage (.702) and is second in rebounding with 13.8 per game. Redick is also a key player as he leads the league in three-point field goal percentage with a great 47 percent.

However, just because the Clippers have the better roster doesn’t mean Portland is just going to give them the series. Portland has Lillard who is one of the best perimeter scorers in the NBA, and as he is helped by the possible most improved player in the league CJ McCollum.

This season, Lillard averages 25 points per game on 42 percent shooting from the field and 38 percent from three-point range, while McCollum scores 21 a night with 45 percent from the field and 42 percent from deep. There’s no way these two will just let there team lose that easy.

The final storyline—and quite possibly the biggest—is if Blake Griffin can bounce back or not. In the five games since his return to the Clips he has averaged 10 points, seven rebounds, and four assists. Last year in the playoffs he averaged 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 6.1 assists per game. It will be interesting to see if that guy can come back.

Overall this series will be a lot of fun and definitely one you should not miss. However, i do believe the series to be a short one as I predict the Clippers win in five games.

The first game tips off at Staples Center Sunday, April 17 at 7:30 PST. The game will be televised on TNT and Prime Ticket.

 

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