Since I've already previewed Spurs vs. Grizzlies, that just leaves seven more matchups to examine. Here's a quick take on all of them.
As perfect an opponent as the Grizzlies are for the Spurs, the Rockets are just as fitting for the Warriors. There is no love lost between these two organizations and playing Houston will enable them to lock back in for the playoffs now that the euphoria of winning 73 games in the regular season is behind them. Houston, with their "Morey-ball" attack, supposedly specialize in shooting threes, yet they're 19th in the league in accuracy as a team, making just 34.7 percent of them. The Warriors, by contrast, sink 41.6 percent of theirs. When you factor in that Andrew Bogut resides in a rent-free condo inside Howard's head and that James Harden insists on being the NBA's answer to David Ortiz, the Rockets seem rather ill-equipped to give the Dubs much trouble. I mean, we're talking about a squad that needed to sign Michael Beasley to save them from the embarrassment of not even making the playoffs. Maybe they'll clown around enough to provoke the Warriors into some bad habits on both ends.
Warriors in four.
I'd love for this series to be suspenseful, but I have my doubts. The Thunder went 4-0 vs. Dallas in the regular season, though a couple of the games were close. OKC scored at least 108 in each of the games, didn't even need Kevin Durant to play to win one of them and crushed them on the glass by over 10 per game. The one match-up in their favor is Rick Carlisle matching wits against Billy Donovan, but gee whiz even Dion Waiters played well against the Mavs head-to-head. There's no one on Dallas' roster capable of slowing down Durant or Russell Westbrook, while on the other end Serge Ibaka can give Dirk Nowitzki some problems. Dallas' only chance is to find a way to make the games close enough in the fourth quarter for the Thunder to gag them away. Also, the longer the series goes, the more reps Carlisle gets at them to out-scheme Donovan, so anything short of a clean sweep gets dicey.
Thunder in five.
4) Clippers vs. 5) Blazers
There's a tendency to want to pick at least one upset, and the Clippers seem the obvious candidate. Not only are they emotionally vulnerable, but they're facing the best opponent of the top seeds. But really, don't overthink this. The Blazers lack experience, their frontcourt is thin and the Clips still have four of the best five players in the series. Even if Blake Griffin is not back to form quite yet, he shouldn't have trouble against Ed Davis, Noah Vonleh, or Al-Farouq Aminu. Conversely, the Blazers don't have the personnel to make Griffin work much defensively. It'll be a fun up-and-down series, and eyebrows will be raised if Portland takes one of the first two in L.A. early on, but the frontcourt mismatch is just too much for me to ignore. I'd have given the Blazers more of a shot against OKC.
Clippers in six.
I've only seen Andre Drummond play a handful of times and maybe it's a coincidence but he never impresses me much. He's got help up front with Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris, but none of those guys are seasoned enough and they figure to pay for their inexperience here. Reggie Jackson is a streaky scorer, but he's gonna be playing through a strained abdominal, which will slow him down. The Pistons just don't have enough outside shooting to hang. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is a very good perimeter defender, but he shot just 31 percent from outside this year. Stanley Johnson didn't have a very good rookie year and there isn't much on the bench. LeBron James has been playing his best basketball of the season and even though he can't expect consistent performances from any of his running mates, all he needs is one or two other guys to show up per night to get past the Pistons. Like Thunder-Mavericks, there is a gigantic coaching mismatch in the underdogs' favor, but it won't make up for the lopsided talent disparity.
Cavs in five.
The Raps are finally healthy with DeMarre Carroll returning to the lineup for three games after being out since Jan. 5th after arthroscopic knee surgery. If he can give them anything in terms of being able to slow down Paul George, that's a huge bonus. T-Dot went 3-1 head-to-head vs. the Pacers including a win in their most recent meeting in which both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were out. Rookie two-guard Norman Powell has been a revelation for them of late, coming on really strong these past two months, and their bench edge over Indiana is enormous. Dwane Casey can mix and match with Carroll, Terrence Ross, Patrick Patterson, James Johnson, Cory Joseph, Luis Scola, Bismack Biyombo and Jason Thompson depending on who's hot to complement his All-Star backcourt and Jonas Valanciunas up front. For the Pacers to have any chance they'll have to dominate the boards and really take care of the ball, but I don't think they have enough shooting or the talent inside to take this to seven.
Raptors in six.
Just gotta go with the healthier team here. Al Jefferson should be savvy enough to score inside against Hassan Whiteside and won't be punished for his inability to play defense in space as much as he would be if Chris Bosh were healthy. The Hornets have just enough outside shooting from their bigs whether it's Cody Zeller, Frank Kaminsky or Spencer Hawes, to stretch Miami's half-court defense. Kemba Walker is playing better than anyone in this match-up right now. Will Erik Spoelstra try guarding him with Justise Winslow? That's the chess match I'll be looking for. It should be a low-scoring series, but the Hornets just have more shooters with Jeremy Lin, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams, Courtney Lee and Troy Daniels, in addition to Walker and their bigs. Dwyane Wade is not a three-point threat and neither is Winslow. Luol Deng, Goran Dragic and Gerald Green have all had off years in that regard and only rookie Josh Richardson and the calcifying Joe Johnson qualify as threats from behind the line these days, and even they've been slumping.
Hornets in six.
Finally this should be the most competitive first-round series and the best coaching match-up as well. It may also be the lowest-scoring one, unfortunately, with some 85-82 rock fights. The Celtics have more defensive tenacity and playmaking, with Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder, and I like their bench a lot more. The Hawks have the two best guys in Paul Millsap and Al Horford, but neither are prolific enough to be huge difference-makers in a small sample and I don't know if they'll be efficient enough against Stevens' scheming. Bottom line, I just think the Celtics are the hungrier team, the one with a better home-court advantage and the one more capable of pulling out close games with Isaiah Thomas.
Celtics in seven.