With New Orleans topping San Antonio and the Nets beating the Magic Wednesday, the NBA Playoffs are finally set. While, this year’s postseason will be without traditional powers Oklahoma City and Miami, the playoffs rarely disappoint.
In case any fair-weather fans start to tire of the 82-game regular season (like myself), that starts all the way back in October, the playoffs are where the action is. Memories are made here. Stars are born.
The playoffs are where Michael Jordan became a legend with his 63-point masterpiece against Boston, his unforgettable buzzer-beater to beat Cleveland, and then his run of six titles in the ’90s.
The playoffs are where the Lakers and Kings met three straight seasons from 2000 to 2002 with the finale being an instant seven-game classic (unless you were rooting for the Kings. Or liked fair refereeing.)
The playoffs are where Chicago and Boston combined for seven overtime periods in their opening-round series in 2009, including a 3OT classic in Game 6.
Finally, the playoffs are where Miami and San Antonio met in back-to-back finals the last two summers, with the the Heat pulling out a miracle win in Game 6 in 2013 (en route to winning the series) and then the Spurs getting revenge last year.
This year’s opening matchups promise to have plenty of intrigue as well. Here are two of the best:
San Antonio Spurs/Los Angeles Clippers
Doc Rivers had previously voiced his displeasure about the playoff seeding, which guarantees a division winner a top-four seed—despite its record—but this may not have been what he really wanted. His star-studded Clips were able to sneak past division-winning Portland, which got a four-seed despite having the sixth-best record, but now they have the defending champs waiting for them.
Rivers’s Clippers are top-heavy with stars Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, though center DeAndre Jordan is one of the best defensive players in the game, ranking first in rebounds (15.0) and fourth in blocks (2.2) per game. Tim Duncan will have his hands full with him.
At point guard, Chris Paul has been an All-Defensive first-team selection three straight years and if Tony Parker has any lingering effects from his hamstring injury, he’ll be at a major disadvantage.
Fortunately for the Spurs, their emerging star is small forward Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers don’t have any great defenders on the wing. Expect Popovich to go to him early and often.
Dallas Mavericks/Houston Rockets
Any time a pair of Texas teams go at it in the playoffs, it usually makes for must-see-TV, as the sports-crazed Lone Star State is somehow not big enough for all three of them—especially after Dallas signed Chandler Parsons away from Houston last summer, igniting a war of words between him and his former teammates.
It’s been 10 years since these two actually hooked up in the playoffs though—Dallas won that series in seven—with the lone holdover Dirk Nowitzki averaging 21.3 points and 8.9 rebounds in the series.
Nowitzki and Dallas don’t figure to come out on top again this time though. The team messed up their chemistry back in December when the-then 19–8 Mavs traded for Rajon Rondo—a good point guard that has had trouble fitting in on offense.
Since then, Dallas has gone a disappointing 31–24, while their offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions), which was tops in the NBA at 113.6 before the deal, has been just 104.1 since. Meanwhile their once-low defensive rating of 105.1 has only been marginally better (103.0) since the arrival of the defensive-savvy Rondo.
Houston meanwhile, is led by stars James Harden and Dwight Howard. Despite losing Parsons from last year’s roster, they’ve actually improved their win total from 54 to 56 as Harden is a legit MVP candidate, though they’ll need Howard to be the rim protector to win the series.