NBA Playoffs: How the first round stacks up

April 18, 2014 

This year's NBA playoffs offer a mix of the usual contenders and a few surprises. The Eastern Conference is significantly weaker than the Western Conference, as has been the case all season. For example, the Washington Wizards, who are the No. 5 seed in the East, won 10 fewer games than the Portland Trail Blazers, the No. 5 seed in the West. The Atlanta Hawks, who snuck in as the eighth seed, are six games below .500.

The Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are the class of the East, and seem to be on a collision course in the conference finals. Any one of the top four seeds in the West thinks it realistically has a shot at getting to the Finals. The combination of the two scenarios will make for an exciting two months of basketball.

Here is a look at the first-round matchups.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

PACERS vs. HAWKS

Regular-season records: No. 1 Indiana 56-26; No. 8 Atlanta 38-44

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Fun fact: In the last meeting, on April 6, the Hawks held the Pacers to a franchise-low 23 points in the first half.

Key stat: Even with its epic late-season slide, Indiana still ranked second in the league by giving up only 92.3 points per game.

Three things to know

■ The Pacers went only 15-13 after acquiring Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen from the Philadelphia 76ers, after starting the season 41-13.

■ This is the seventh straight playoff appearance for the Hawks, the longest stretch of consecutive playoff appearances in the Eastern Conference.

■ The Hawks lost 14 of 15 games in a span of February and March, but still managed to beat out the New York Knicks for the last playoff spot.

Prediction: Pacers in five

Let's not get too carried away just because Indiana stumbled into the playoffs. The Pacers are still vastly superior to a sub-.500 team, even if they were one themselves in recent weeks.

BULLS vs. WIZARDS

Regular-season records: No. 4 Chicago 48-34; No. 5 Washington 44-38

Season series: Wizards, 2-1

Fun fact: The only two teams Michael Jordan played for were the Wizards and Bulls. In fact, he was on the 1997 Bulls team that knocked the then-Washington Bullets out of the playoffs.

Key stat: Chicago's defense is again the best in the NBA, giving up only 91.8 points per game.

Three things to know

■ Since the beginning of the year, Chicago owns the best record in the East, with a mark of 36-16.

■ The Wizards won 44 games this season, their highest total since 2007-08, the last time they made the playoffs.

■ Chicago is 41-4 this season when leading going into the fourth quarter.

Prediction: Bulls in six

Chicago Coach Tom Thibodeau's shrewd in-game adjustments will be among the factors that X out the Wizards.

HEAT vs. BOBCATS

Regular-season records: No. 2 Miami 54-28; No. 7 Charlotte 43-39

Season series: Heat, 4-0

Fun fact: The Bobcats are the only NBA team without a win in the postseason.

Key stat: The Heat ranked fifth in the league in offensive efficiency, scoring 110.9 points per 100 possessions, despite ranking 12th in points per game (102.2), largely because it made a league-leading 50.1 percent of its shots.

Three things to know

■ Miami lost only seven games this season when it held opponents under 100 points.

■ The Heat are looking to become the first team to win three straight NBA Finals since the Lakers from 2000-02.

■ The Bobcats' 43 wins more than doubled their win total from last season (21).

Prediction: Heat in four

Miami's three-peat bid gets off to a start that's as easy as one, two, three, four.

RAPTORS vs. NETS

Regular-season records: No. 3 Toronto 48-34; No. 6 Brooklyn 44-38

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Fun fact: The only playoff series win the Raptors have is against the New York Knicks, in 2001.

Key stat: Brooklyn's Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have a combined 387 games of playoff experience compared with 24 for the Raptors' starters.

Three things to know

■ The Nets have a record of 34-17 since the start of 2014, giving them the second-best record in the East since Jan. 1.

■ The Nets are only the third team in the past 40 years to qualify for the playoffs after beginning the new year at least 10 games below .500.

■ Toronto set a franchise record this season by making 713 shots from beyond the arc, with Kyle Lowry setting a team single-season record by making 190 of them.

Prediction: Nets in six

The Nets' veterans have been there and won too many times to let the Raptors upstage them.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

SPURS vs. MAVERICKS

Regular-season records: No. 1 San Antonio 62-20; No. 8 Dallas 49-33

Season series: Spurs, 4-0

Fun fact: The teams last met in the playoffs in 2010, also in the first round. The Spurs came out on top, 4-2.

Key stat: The Spurs' legendary ball movement can be seen in their league-leading 25.1 assists per game.

Three things to know

■ San Antonio is the first team since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976 to not have a player averaging over 30 minutes a game.

■ The Spurs went on a 19-game winning streak this season that is tied for the sixth longest in NBA history.

■ The Mavs lost their final regular-season game to Memphis, which sealed their fate of playing the Spurs rather than the Thunder, whom they beat two out of three times this season.

Prediction: Spurs in five

This should be a relatively stress-free series for San Antonio, though Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich probably will find something to complain about.

ROCKETS vs. TRAIL BLAZERS

Regular-season records: No. 4 Houston 54-28; No. 5 Portland 54-28

Season series: Rockets, 3-1

Fun fact: The Rockets have won all three playoff series against the Blazers (1987, 1994, 2009).

Key stat: Whichever team plays a smidgen of defense will have a huge advantage. Houston ranks 23rd in points allowed (103.1 a game) and Portland is 22nd (102.8).

Three things to know

■ The Blazers' LaMarcus Aldridge is scoring 21.1 points per game in his career against Houston, which trails only Dallas as the team against which he scores the most.

■ In all but two of the last 15 meetings, the winning team eclipsed the 100-point mark.

■ The Rockets have not been to the Finals since 1994-95, when they took home the title.

Prediction: Rockets in seven

The phrase "James Harden driving layup" will appear more than any other in the play-by-play accounts of this series.

THUNDER vs. GRIZZLIES

Regular-season records: No. 2 Oklahoma City 59-23; No. 7 Memphis 50-32

Season series: Thunder, 3-1

Fun fact: This matchup will feature the top defensive player (Marc Gasol) against the top offensive player (Kevin Durant), though they probably will not guard each other at all.

Key stat: Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant never seems to have an off night, scoring at least 25 points in 46 of his last 47 games.

Three things to know

■ The Grizzlies took down the Thunder in last year's playoffs, but that was without star OKC point guard Russell Westbrook.

■ Durant led the league in scoring, at 31.7 points.

■ The Grizzlies went 33-13 after Gasol came back from a knee injury early in the season.

Prediction: Thunder in five

The Grizzlies' nice run the last few months will grit and grind its way to a quick halt.

CLIPPERS vs. WARRIORS

Regular-season records: No. 3 Los Angeles 57-25; No. 6 Golden State 51-31

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Fun fact: These two teams are not friendly. They reportedly have declined pregame chapel services together.

Key stat: The Clippers lead the NBA in three-point defense, holding teams to 33.2 percent shooting from beyond the arc. That could come in handy against the Warriors, who made 774 three-pointers, second-most in the league, and shot 38 percent from distance.

Three things to know

■ Both have great point guards, but with much different styles. Steph Curry, of the Warriors, is a lethal shooter from outside, while the Clippers' Chris Paul is a classic pass-first point guard.

■ Andrew Bogut could miss the whole series for Golden State with a fractured rib, so Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have a chance to bring Lob City to life.

■ These franchises have never met in the playoffs.

Prediction: Clippers in six

The Splash Brothers duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson won't be able to keep Golden State from going kerplunk against a deeper and hungrier team that also happens to hate the Warriors.

Lexington Herald-Leader is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service