It has been a foregone conclusion this season that the Warriors will win the West. But their path to the NBA Finals got a little bit tougher as they face the possibility of a second-round matchup with the Rockets, who took them to seven games in the Western Conference Finals last season.
That alone gives these playoffs some intrigue, and when you consider the Nuggets and Clippers are getting shots again against teams that present interesting matchups on paper, there could be some very good first-round series.
The NBA Western Conference playoffs tip off Saturday when the Clippers take on the Warriors at 8 p.m. ET (ABC).
Here’s the first-round Western Conference preview:
No. 1 Warriors vs. No. 8 Clippers
Players to watch: Patrick Beverley is possibly the most annoying player on the floor at all times in the NBA. He’ll pester Stephen Curry, who is coming off of a minor ankle injury, every second he is on the floor. Beverley could be the great equalizer in a series in which Golden State has far more talent.
Stat to know: The Clippers run the pick-and-roll more than any other team in the NBA (22.8 percent of all plays), and DeMarcus Cousins has struggled at times defending the play. Doc Rivers will probably try to go at the center as much as he can, and if the big man struggles it could keep him off the floor, which at least limits the Warriors somewhat.
Hidden storyline: The Clippers clearly have the best second unit in the league. They average 53.2 bench points, which is the most of any NBA team since 1996-97.
Odds: Warriors (-10000), Clippers (+1600)
Prediction: Warriors in five
No. 2 Nuggets vs. No. 7 Spurs
Players to watch: DeMar DeRozan could change the narrative about him in this series. He struggled in his playoff career with the Raptors, shooting 41 percent from the floor in five seasons, while he has made more than 45 percent of his shots in his career. If the Spurs win this series, he will be a big reason. Denver’s Jamal Murray truly came into his own this season. He will likely have to get his points in this series as the Spurs will want to lock down Nikola Jokic as much as possible.
Stat to know: These are two of the best home-court teams in the league. The Nuggets went 34-7 in Denver, and the Spurs went 32-9 in San Antonio. The challenge here, though, is the altitude in Denver. The first two games are in Colorado, which could set the tone for the rest of the series. San Antonio could be gassed when it gets home, minimizing its advantage in Texas.
Hidden storyline: Both teams take care of the ball, as they are in the top 10 for fewest turnovers per game but neither forces all that many turnovers either. This is going to be a game won in the half-court, not on the run, but if the Spurs do get sped up in Denver, it could cost them as they are not used to playing that type of game.
Odds: Nuggets (-213), Spurs (+171)
Prediction: Nuggets in seven
No. 3 Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 Thunder
Players to watch: CJ McCollum is coming off of a knee injury that he was particularly concerned about. If he can’t score, that will put a lot of responsibility on Damian Lillard’s shoulders, and it’s not good to have one player a defense can focus on. Steven Adams can absolutely dominate teams inside and on the glass, while Enes Kanter struggles to guard him. Adams’ dominance of Kanter could be the difference in this series.
Stat to know: The Thunder force more turnovers per game (16) than any team in the NBA. The Trail Blazers turn it over a good amount and if McCollum isn’t 100 percent, that number could be even worse.
Storyline: The Trail Blazers lost a key member of their inside presence in Jusuf Nurkic. Adams could have a field day in his absence, and that could free up Russell Westbrook and Paul George. In fact, it most likely will.
Odds: Trail Blazers (-118), Thunder (-106)
Prediction: Thunder in six
No. 4 Rockets vs. No. 5 Jazz
Players to watch: Chris Paul gives the Rockets a second playmaker most other teams can’t match. If he stays healthy, Houston has a chance to not only win this series, but also possibly upset the Warriors. Utah’s Donovan Mitchell took over last year’s first-round matchup with the Thunder, but his production went way down against Houston. He scored 28.5 points per game against OKC and 19.4 against the Rockets. Utah needs Mitchell to win this series.
Stat to know: The Rockets make more 3-pointers per game (16.1) than any team in the NBA. The Jazz allow opponents to make fewer 3-pointers than all but one team (9.8). Something’s got to give.
Hidden Storyline: The Jazz go to the line at the third highest rate in the NBA, but they also sit in 26th in free-throw percentage. There will likely be a lot of fouls in this series, so Utah will need to take advantage of their chances when they get them.
Odds: Rockets (-278), Jazz (+221)
Prediction: Rockets in six
Odds via The Action Network