Bayo Akinnagbe

The post season is the time of year when fans of the National Basketball Association get a steady diet of professional basketball games played at the highest level by some of the sport’s best- known athletes.  It should be very interesting how this year’s playoffs unfold for the next two months in the NBA.  At the beginning of the season, basketball aficionados predicted that the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs would make it back to the finals from the Western Conference.  The NBA champs might still make it to the NBA finals. 

But no one predicted that the San Francisco Bay Area, Golden State Warriors, would storm out of the gate early in the season leading all comers in the win-loss column and finishing with the best record in the league (67-15). No one predicted that the Los Angeles Clippers would finish the regular season seeded higher that the defending champion, their first round opponents this Sunday.  The Eastern Conference has the Atlanta Hawks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Chicago Bulls that can hang with the powers in the West. But the West at least has six teams that could contend for the championship.  30 teams started at the beginning of the season. 16 made the playoffs. So, without much ado, here are the intriguing matchups in the first rounds that begin this Saturday:
Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs Vs Los Angeles Clippers: This is the marquee first round matchup in the Western Conference.  Given the talent on their team, the Clippers feel they have underachieved in the last few years.  So talented players such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan want to knock off the Spurs who are trying to win a back to back title for the first time in team history.  The Clippers have home-court advantage in this series, which means if they don’t lose at home, they will advance to the second round.  But the Spurs are playing their best basketball right now, and they do have plenty of experience in the playoffs. 39-year-old Tim Duncan wants to go out with another championship if this is his last year in the league.  Another championship will give him six titles, a feat that will match the achievement of Michael Jordan in the 1990s.  With the likes of Tony Parker and one of the most versatile players in the league in Kwahi Leonard, no one should count out the champs.

 Golden State Warriors Vs New Orleans Pelicans: Fans of the Golden State Warriors in the San Francisco Bay Area  are giddy with excitement by the prospect of their beloved team winning the NBA title for the first time in almost 40 years. Until three years ago, the Warriors did not make the playoffs for 17 years. But the Warriors surprised pundits this year by finishing the regular season with the best record in the NBA.  The Warriors have the best one-two punch in Most Valuable Player candidate of the year in baby-faced assassin Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.  With energetic players such as forwards  Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and center Andrew Bogut, the Warriors cannot afford to let their guard down against a dangerous New Orleans Pelicans team that features Anthony Davis. The 22-year-old Davis is considered one of the top five players in the league right now. The Pelicans had to dig deep to make the playoffs in their last game of the season, with the super talented Davis leading the charge to beat the defending champion Spurs. Nevertheless, those in the know say the Warriors will advance to the next round.

Memphis Grizzlies Vs Portland Trail Blazers: Unlike the Eastern Conference, the Western Conference has as many as six teams that could contest and win the NBA title. The Grizzlies and Trail Blazers began the season as possible finalists. But both teams have dealt with injuries this year.  The Blazers rely on the talented duo of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard to do their damage against the opposition. But will their up-tempo style be enough against the likes of Grizzlies Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph?

Houston Rockets Vs Dallas Mavericks:  This is going to be a wild, wild West rock-them, sock them, entertaining series between two teams that don’t like each other. The Rockets get the nod in this much- anticipated showdown. In the regular season, the Rockets beat Dallas three times and lost to their state rivals once. The one player who is the locomotive powering the Rockets is James Harden, the heavily bearded guard who stepped into the leadership role for his team when Center Dwight Howard got injured in the regular season. Howard is back, but it is doubtful that he is 100 percent.  So it is up to the dude nicknamed the “The beard” to turn back the challenge of the likes of former champions Dirk Nowitzki and Rajon Rando in order to advance to the second round.
Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers Vs Boston Celtics: The Eastern Conference is not as deep and loaded with teams that could win it all as is the case in the West.  But the East has the LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers, the conference leaders Atlanta Hawks, and the gritty, never-say-die Chicago Bulls.  But the focus of the fans will be on the King James-Led Cavaliers. Give props to the Celtics for making it to the playoffs.  But they might as well not show up for this series against the Cavaliers.   Does anyone want to argue that James is indisputably not the best basketball player on the planet?  Go ahead and make your point and see if you don’t come across as uninformed when it comes to basketball. Let the record show that the Miami Heat did not make the playoffs for the first time in more than five years after King James split town at the end of last season.  Let the record also show that the Cavaliers are the best team in the East, even though the Atlanta Hawks have a better record as the number one seed. The Cavaliers did not make the playoffs for four years while James plied his trade in Miami, leading the Heat to four playoffs appearances and winning two titles.  You get the drift, people.

Chicago Bulls Vs. Milwaukee Bucks: The Milwaukee Bucks had the worst record in the NBA last year and made the playoffs this year. That speaks to the inspirational leadership of Coach Jason Kidd, who got his young charges to buy into playing tenacious defense like crazy. But the Bucks are not going to win this series against a tough, no-nonsense Chicago Bulls who are motivated and inspired by the return from injury of their electrifying All-star guard Derrick Rose. 

Toronto Raptors Vs Washington Wizards: The series has not even started and already there is bad blood between the Toronto Raptors and the Washington Wizards.  It all started when the Wizards veteran forward Paul Pierce said the Raptors did not have what he called the “it” factor as a championship caliber franchise. Last year, Pierce was with the Brooklyn Nets and blocked Toronto’s guard Kyle Lowry last seconds shot that sent Brooklyn to the second round. The pundits are saying this series will come down to the guard play of the Wizards’ John Wall and Toronto’s Lowry.

Atlanta Hawks Vs Brooklyn Nets: The Hawks have the number one seed in the East.  In the regular season, the Hawks wiped the floor with the Nets, beating them four times.  For the Nets to beat the Hawks, players such as Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez will have to play a perfect series against the number one seed in the East. Most observers of the game don’t think that is going to happen.

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