All Western Conference observers have one question heading into the NBA Playoffs: is this the last stand for the Golden State Warriors? With Kevin Durant’s inevitable departure looming, will this be the final run of a dynasty? Here is a preview of all four first-round matchups out West.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Golden State Warriors
Needless to say, this is a tough draw for the Los Angeles Clippers (48-34). They face the one-seed Golden State Warriors (57-25), a team that took three of four regular season meetings between the teams. The Warriors, of course, boast an All-Star lineup, including two of the west’s top-six scoring leaders, in Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. During their four-straight NBA Finals runs, Golden State lost a grand total of two first-round contests. But, perhaps, this is the most vulnerable Warriors group we’ve seen in quite some time. The Warriors’ 57 wins was their lowest total since 2013-14, a season in which they were bounced in the opening round. That loss came courtesy of… the Los Angeles Clippers. Could history repeat itself? Golden State is the biggest favorite in the NBA of all the first round matchups. FanDuel Sportsbook lists the Warriors as 13-point favorites.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Denver Nuggets
Get ready for some ugly basketball in the Mile High City. In what many consider the best coaching job of Gregg Popovich’s career, the San Antonio Spurs square with the two-seed Denver Nuggets in round one. Two of the best defensive teams in basketball will go toe-to-toe in what could be one of the lengthier seven versus two matchups in years. Denver’s rise to the Western Conference elite surprised many, and they held onto the top spot for a decent chunk of the season, eventually surrendering supremacy to the Warriors. Points will be hard to come by in this series. The Spurs and Nuggets ranked 17th and 19th in scoring offense this season, respectively. Can DeMar DeRozan exercise the demons of postseason’s past with a standout performance in round one?
Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Thanks to a late surge up the standings, the Oklahoma City Thunder (+124) have landed with a more favorable matchup as the six-seed. Five-straight wins to end the regular season helped Paul George and company avoid difficult matchups with either the Warriors or Nuggets. That’s not to say the Portland Trail Blazers (-146) aren’t a tough opponent, though. In fact, Portland’s 53 wins were the most for the franchise since the 2013-14 season. They made a late-season charge as well, winning their final three games to hop the Houston Rockets in the standings. For Portland, the goal is simple this postseason. This team has lost in the first round the last two seasons, and has yet to even record a playoff win in that span. Can the Trail Blazers get past their first-round speedbump with a win over the Thunder?
Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets
This isn’t exactly the matchup James Harden and the Houston Rockets were hoping for. Instead of facing the Thunder, the Rockets get the defensively stingy Utah Jazz, a squad that ranks inside the top-five in NBA scoring defense. Meanwhile, Houston’s defensive and offensive play cooled off a bit compared to last season’s blistering pace. Per usual, if Houston moves on it will be because of Harden’s dominance. The league’s scoring leader (by a mile) will have his hands full with Utah’s defense, but has enough postseason experience to get Houston into the second round. Oddsmakers expect a tight game one matchup, with the Rockets receiving a 5.5-point edge (-110).