The NBA Playoffs Series Breakdown will take an in-depth look into each of the series in the Eastern Conference Playoffs First Round action. This will include: the top players to look for, which players could be the breakout stars, and a series prediction.
1. Golden State Warriors @ 8. New Orleans Pelicans
Golden State loves to push the pace and score a lot of points. They tend to play games with totals well above 200. In fact the way to beat them is to try and keep the game lower scoring. It is easier said than done with the way those shooters can catch fire. New Orleans did manage to squeak out a victory over the Warriors at home last week by a score of 103-100. They lost the first three meetings by a combined 49 points though, so this is not a great draw for the Pelicans. Golden State is talented and deep, so they have a lot of ways to hurt you. The two guys I think are in for a big series are the Splash brothers from Golden State. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are two of the best pure shooters in the game and they will be the focal point of that Warriors offense. Klay has the ability to catch fire every night and put up 30 real life points. He’s had games where he has done that in a quarter and multiple games where he has done so in a half. If he and Curry are hitting shots, this team becomes near impossible to stop. I do not think the Pelicans have an answer for either of them and that could be their downfall.
Everyone knows about Anthony Davis and he will need to play huge to keep them in this series. To me though, Tyreke Evans is the X-factor. His ability to get to the rim and his strength could present match up problems for Golden State. If Curry gets in foul trouble trying to keep him from penetrating, that could be the key to the Pelicans stealing a game or two here. Tyreke and AD are the best two players on the Pelicans roster and the guys who should see the most usage in this one. While Anthony Davis is a monster, I’m not sure he has enough help around him to make this series close.
Players to Watch
- Klay Thompson
- Steph Curry
- Tyreke Evans
- Anthony Davis
Draymond Green is the guy who should turn into this year’s version of Kawhi Leonard. His ability to contribute on both ends of the floor is almost unmatched league wide. He will be asked to guard Tyreke and Davis at various points of the game and has the ability to do both. There’s less than five guys in the league I think can pull off that feat and the others have rings and names like Lebron, Kawhi, and Giannis. His versatility and ability to contribute in every category are clutch for fantasy purposes. He will not be limited by minutes in the playoffs, so expect high minutes, usage, and fantasy scores to come from him.
New Orleans played hard to edge out the Thunder for the final spot, but they will be going home shortly in this one. Shooters can get cold from time to time, but I’d be shocked if this lasts past five games. They may steal one from the Warriors on an off night for the splash brothers, but it will not matter in the end.
2. Houston Rockets @ 7. Dallas Mavericks
The Rockets are finally healthy going into the playoffs and they have a very talented roster. The Mavericks are a little more banged up, but I think Parsons gives it a go and the rest of the guards are ready to play 30+ minutes when needed. These two teams have a lot of the same type of player at each position. Both centers are known more for their defense and rebounding. Both power forwards are long lengthy guys who prefer to play on the perimeter. Both small forwards are of the corner shooter variety. Both two guards have scorers mentalities and the only real difference in styles is at point guard where Rondo is more of an offensive threat and Beverly is known more as a defensive guy.
I think the youth and talent is on the Rockets side though in every one of those match ups. A healthy Dwight Howard is a better version of Tyson Chandler. Harden is a bigger stronger more talented Monta Ellis. Parsons is a less athletic version of Ariza with a better jump shot, but Ariza is also a better defender, so those differences should offset each other. I would love to say Dirk is head and shoulders above Smith at the power forward spot, but the way both guys have played down the stretch I even give that advantage to the Rockets. This should be a fast pace, high scoring, and very exciting series. The Rockets health is a big concern for me, but they played short handed all year with very little issue, so I can not imagine having the full squad will be detrimental.
Players to Watch
- James Harden
- Josh Smith
- Rajon Rondo
- Dirk Nowitzki
Trevor Ariza is finally on a team with a chance to make some noise and I think people will realize how important he is to this team. They let Parsons go last year to bring in a defensive stopper like Ariza for a playoff run. They know they need a guy who can slow down a Kawhi Leonard, Lebron James, Rudy Gay, or Kevin Durant and while Parsons had more offensive abilities, he was a liability on the other end. Ariza struggled earlier in the year with his shot, but lately has looked much better. If he can give them 75% of what they lost with Parsons on that end of the floor, his defense alone more than makes up for the rest of that loss for them.
The Rockets are too talented for this Mavericks team which is more a collection of players than a unit on a mission. I do think Dallas steals a game or two here, so this will not be a sweep. Barring injuries, I think the Rockets take this in 5 or 6 games.
3. Los Angeles Clippers @ 6. San Antonio Spurs
This should be a knock down drag out slugfest of a series between two teams who split the four meetings this year and each went 1-1 against the other on their home floors. Despite the conventional thinking, this Spurs team can score with anybody, so I do not think that will be a problem for them. Both teams actually enjoy the fast paced high scoring games and every game in the series should come down to the final minutes. These two are so evenly matched that they even had to wait until the final day of the season to decide who would be the 3 seed and who would be the six as both teams were basically in a four way tie with any of them having the chance to be the 3 through 6 seed depending on the outcome. The defending champs should have the advantage on the wings with guys like Kawhi and Danny Green matching up with Matt Barnes and JJ Reddick.
The point guard match up is clearly in favor of LA at this point in the careers of Chris Paul and Tony Parker. I also think the athleticism of the Clippers big men will create problems for the Spurs if they can stay out of foul trouble. The savy of a veteran like Tim Duncan could wind up putting a guy like DeAndre Jordan on the bench early and often with fouls if he falls for all the head fakes and lean ins of Duncan’s offensive arsenal. There is no more worrying about getting Popped at this stage of the game as we should see full run from all the Spurs starters as long as the games stay close. The Spurs have been there before and know how to win, while the Clippers are the young guns oozing athleticism and talent. It’s a true match up of the master vs. the promising upstart here and based on the regular season, it could go either way.
Players to Watch
- Chris Paul
- Deandre Jordan
- Tim Duncan
- Kawhi Leonard
Danny Green is as solid as they come in the NBA. He came into the league as a guy many projected to be a “3 and D” kind of player. that means his pedigree suggested he was a guy who would knock down open shots and play solid defense. While he does both of those things, he has also stepped up his game to include more scoring, slashing, and rebounding which all help his fantasy stat line. If the Spurs are going to win this one, they will need him to dominate his match ups with JJ Reddick and Jamal Crawford. I think Green is ready to show the world he is more than just another interchangeable piece in the Spurs machine.
If the game was only played with five guys on either side for the full 48 minutes, than I would think the Clippers win this one easy. Unfortunately, those guys would be dead tired by game 3 if that is how it played out. The Clippers have one of the worst benches in the league and the Spurs can go ten deep with little drop off in production along the way. NBA payoff series are like war, and in war you need all your soldiers. The Clippers first five may hand a lead to the second string, but I have little faith in the back ups keeping that lead to give back to the starters. While the Clippers may have enough energy to take a few of those games from behind, the constant chasing and playing catch up will eventually tire them out. I know the Clippers are more talented, but the Spurs can finish games with a lot of veterans who have been there.
I expect this series to turn in game five or six on a bone head play by Blake Griffin or a plethora of missed free throws down the stretch by DeAndre Jordan. If the Clippers were smart, they would just put the ball in Chris Paul’s capable hands at the end of every game and live or die with him doing his thing. I feel this one goes six with the Spurs taking a hard fought series riddled with close games.
5. Portland Trailblazers vs. 4. Memphis Grizzlies
This is another series that should come down to the wire. Memphis has been a little banged up, but should have their team at full strength for this one. That is a good sign, because they need to be at full strength to keep that defense as solid as it has been. When they have Conley out at the point or Gasol and Randolph missing down low, it’s pretty obvious how badly the defense suffers. Portland is content to play the games faster and higher scoring than Memphis would like to. They are a high powered team with a few guys capable of putting up huge numbers on any given night. Neither team is really all that deep, but both have talented starters who should see heavy minutes. It will be interesting to see how they match up in this one. Obviously the defense of Conley on the offensive minded Lilliard will play a big role in determining the outcomes.
I think Gasol will draw the assignment on Aldridge as LaMarcus would pull Randolph away from the rim and have his way with him in the short to intermediate ranges. How well the Trailblazers rebound will be a huge key to this series and whether or not the Grizzlies can find some added scoring punch will decide their fate. Memphis swept the season series and I think they match up better with the Blazers than the blazers do with them.
Players to Watch
- Damian Lilliard
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- Marc Gasol
- Zach Randolph
Nic Batum is my pick here for the breakout star. When Wes Matthews went down, he saw his minutes tick up. He also has been asked to score more and he has done that both inside and out with some long distance shooting and rebounding and put backs on the offensive end. I think he will be tough for Jeff Green to handle in a solid small forward match up I intend to watch closely. Green has exploded a few times and faded away into the background at other moments, so the winner of this match up is going to give his team a leg up in the series. I think that goes to Batum in his new increased role.
As much as I want to pick the Blazers to move on here, I think the Memphis defense will prove to be too much for them. The Grizzlies won all four match ups this year, but I would expect the blazers to take one or two in this series before ultimately falling short. The Grizzlies are my pick here in what should be a hard fought series that comes down to rebounding and staying out of foul trouble. I do not like either team’s bench, so the starters will be the main contributors to the victory or demise of both sides.