In the previous post we looked at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference. Now we’re heading out west to tackle the four matchups in the Western Conference. If the play-in games are anything to go by we’re in for an entertaining first round. So let’s go ahead and jump into it.
#1 seed Utah Jazz vs #8 Memphis Grizzlies
The final spot in these playoffs had a bit of a surprise. The Grizzlies crashed the party and prematurely ended the Warriors season. Utah claimed the top seed in the conference surprising everyone in the league. Thanks to that the Jazz will have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. Memphis has all the momentum, but Utah is the number one seed for a reason. It should be a fantastic series.
Utah is led by their backcourt duo of Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley. Conley is the veteran presence and the calming influence the team needs. Mitchell handles the scoring load and usually does it well. Rudy Gobert handles the defensive side of the ball. This Utah squad relies on the sum of its parts to get the job done. The Jazz and their fans will be desperate to prove all the doubters wrong. In order to do that they will need contributions from everyone if they want to make a deep run.
Memphis survived a close game against the Spurs and then outlasted the Warriors in overtime. Their resilience is commendable and they will need to channel it again against the Jazz. The Grizzlies confidence must be overflowing after knocking off two traditional powerhouses. With Ja Morant leading the charge this team will be looking to topple another giant. The only question is will these extra games cause fatigue or springboard them towards greatness.
#2 seed Phoenix Suns vs #7 Los Angeles Lakers
Two old western conference rivals meet yet again in this first round battle. On one side you have the Phoenix Suns who have pleasantly surprised their fans this season. On the other side are the Lakers fresh off surviving a close game against the Warriors. Two close friends, Lebron James and Chris Paul, will battle each other for survival.
Nobody, even Phoenix fans, predicted that the Suns would end up with the number two seed in the west. Yet here they are and it is well deserved. The team finished last season winning their last 8 games and it seems that momentum carried into this season. It also helps to acquire future hall of famer Chris Paul in the offseason. He and Devin Booker form a devastating back court. Meanwhile Deandre Ayton handles business down low in the paint. Normally this team would be a safe bet to make the western conference finals.
Unfortunately, the Suns opponents are Lebron and the Lakers. While the Suns have the advantage in the back court the Lakers have a massive advantage down low. With Lebron, Anthony Davis and Andre Drummond this team has a big mismatch. LA should dominate rebounds and general play down low. The overall health of Lebron and Davis will be things to look out for as the series goes on. That being said if those two stay healthy there can only be one winner.
#3 seed Denver Nuggets vs #6 seed Portland Trail Blazers
This matchup is a particularly interesting one. On one side you have Portland who narrowly avoided being in the play-in games by winning their last game of the season. Oh and they also have superstar Damian Lillard. On the other side stands Denver who could be a sleeper pick to be Western Conference champions. Oh and they have Nikola Jokic who most likely will be this year’s MVP. Add all that up and we’re in for some thrilling games.
Denver comes into these playoffs as one of those teams that could win the title if things break their way. They aren’t quite good enough to take down everyone, but they could surprise a contender. The season ending injury to Jamal Murray is a blow to their title hopes. That being said they have gone 13-5 since the injury occurred. This team clearly has the belief and talent to overcome such a loss. The Nuggets will need Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. to step up if they want to make a deep run.
Remember when I said that Portland won their last game of the season to avoid the play-in games? Well what I failed to mention was that they beat Denver in that final game. Granted Denver had nothing to play for and thus rested their stars. But it does add a bit of a wrinkle to this matchup. Denver chose to play Portland instead of someone else which could be bulletin board material for the Blazers. Make no mistake Damian is here on a mission to shut up his haters. Him and CJ McCollum will shoulder the load with a little help from Carmelo Anthony. Blazers will go into this game confident and looking for an upset.
#4 seed Los Angeles Clippers vs #5 seed Dallas Mavericks
This series is a rematch of last year’s playoffs when these two teams met in the first round. Last time the Clippers had the last laugh winning the series 4-2. But that didn’t come without consequences. Luka Doncic had his breakout performances on center stage and put the league out on notice. It will be interesting to see what lessons he’s learned from last year. Clippers took a slight step back this season while Dallas took a step forward. That can only mean that this series is destined to go the distance.
Two years ago Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joined forces to immediately make the Clippers title contenders. The goal was to take over LA and make the Clippers the team of the city. Fast forward to the present and not only have they not won the title, they had to watch as the Lakers claim glory last season. With both players able to leave after this season its make or break time. Clipper fans will be hoping for glory otherwise the future could be bleak. However, if everything clicks this team could reach its full potential and legitimately compete for a title.
I mentioned before that Doncic made his great arrival in the playoffs last season. The impression was so great that he was the odds on favorite to become league MVP when the season began. Unfortunately for him he didn’t quite live up to those lofty expectations. He did however, lead his team to the 5th seed which is an improvement from last year. He will need help from his often injured partner Kristaps Porzingis in order to get their revenge. Dallas isn’t as deep as other teams are meaning that they will only go as far as Luka takes them.