The regular season is over, the matchups have been decided and the first games of the NBA Playoffs are just days away. From LeBron’s playoff return to Boston to the playoff debut of Anthony Davis, there are certainly a number of interesting storylines to follow. While the higher seeds have mostly earned their spots, there is always potential for an upset. In fact, you have to go back to the 2008 playoffs to find a year when no lower-seeded teams made it out of the first round. In every year after 2008, at least two teams seeded five, through eight have upset the odds and made it out of the first round. The East looks fairly predictable, as the lower seeds will have a tough time against the superior high seeds, but the wild West was unpredictable in the regular season, and will continue to be in the playoffs. With that in mind, here are some of the matchups that feature the possibility of an upset:
5 Memphis vs 4 Portland: Portland was the only team that didn’t earn their seed based on having the fourth-best record in the Western Conference. The Blazers captured the four seed weeks ago, having won the Northwest Division over the Oklahoma City Thunder, who admittedly had a down year. So while they get home court thanks to the NBA’s archaic division system, the Grizzlies (and the six-seed Spurs) actually had a better record. That said, Memphis has one of the best frontcourt pairings in the league in veteran Zach Randolph and versatile center Marc Gasol. Portland, on the other hand, limped into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak, and needing to rest several key contributors due to various injuries. LaMarcus Aldridge especially has been plagued by injuries late in the season, highlighted by a broken thumb that he has decided to play through and, more recently, a foot injury that has cost him games late in the season. Memphis is the better team and the healthier team, and that should carry them into the second round.
6 San Antonio vs 3 Los Angeles: Heading into the final game of the season, the Spurs knew they had to win to secure a high seed. The way the west played out this year, four teams had nearly identical records, and all of them had a chance of finishing somewhere between second and sixth. The way it played out, the Spurs would get the two-seed if they won and the six seed if they lost. Unfortunately, they met up with a New Orleans team that had even more on the line – their first playoff berth since 2011. But despite their low seed, the Spurs played like the best team in the league at times. They fought through injuries, they fought through a slow start to the season, they fought through aging superstars, and still they’re in a position to compete for the Western Conference title. Thanks to the stellar play of Kawhi Leonard, the ever-steady contributions of Tim Duncan and the brilliant coaching of Gregg Popovich, the Spurs will certainly be no easy task for a Clippers team stung with injuries and depth issues. This will be a very competitive series, but the Spurs have enough to come out on top.
7 Dallas vs 2 Houston: One of the biggest knocks on the Rockets this year is their depth. With Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley injured, Houston is thin at the power forward and point guard positions. Coupling that with a less-than-100 percent Dwight Howard and already-thin small forward position, the Rockets could have some serious fatigue issues if the series goes to six or seven games. While Beverley could return sometime during the playoffs, he will certainly miss the first round. The lack of depth will allow the Mavericks to focus more on MVP-candidate James Harden and try to contain his innate scoring ability.
Another thing going for the Mavs is the potential their roster holds. When they acquired point guard Rajon Rondo from the Celtics, their roster looked like one of the best in the league on paper. While they still haven’t quite looked as formidable as once thought, this team will still pose a threat. Rondo’s playoff numbers are insane, posing a triple-double threat every night. Dirk Nowitzki has been here before, in 2011, when nobody gave the Mavs a chance to really make some noise. But this team certainly has that capability, starting with a first-round victory over the Rockets.