By: Mark Scarlett
The NBA comes to an end in a little bit over a month. Plenty of time for teams to make playoff pushes or jump a couple seeds. But what are the matchups that we really want to see?
The NBA has many storylines we know about. We know that OKC-GS would be fun because of Russ-KD. We know that Boston and Washington don’t like each other and are the probable 2 and 3 seeds in the East. And we almost certainly know that, as long as Durant is healthy, we will see the Warriors and Cavaliers face off in the Finals for the third straight year.
But what about the first round? Can we enjoy the first round without thinking about the fact that we know the outcome of most of the games?
Yes, yes we can. Because there are some things that all basketball fans long for. So let’s look at the matchups that we all want to see in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
Let’s start in the Eastern Conference. Despite the fact that everyone is just playing to lose to the Cavaliers in 6, there are some really fun matchups with some interesting storylines that we should be praying for.
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #8 Miami Heat
This won’t be easy for the Heat, who currently sit 1.5 games back of the 8 seed Pistons. Admittedly, I thought about the Bucks (1.5 GB), for Giannis, and the Hornets (3 GB), for Kemba, in this matchup. They would be great to watch on a national stage, plus the Giannis vs. LeBron matchup or Kemba vs. Kyrie matchup would be very entertaining.
However, this matchup has the most exciting player in the NBA, and LeBron James. We all know what LeBron brings to the table, but the main attraction here is the man, the myth, the legend: Dion Waiters.
If you don’t love everything Dion, then you may not be an avid NBA follower. Or you are taking yourself way too seriously. Because Dion is all of us. He’s just a guy that wants to ball out. And we need at least (and probably only) 4 games of Dion on national television.
I can already imagine the game that the Cavs take off. They are up 2-0 in the series and heading to Miami. LeBron doesn’t think much of going back to South Beach, I mean, Wade left too. But Dion thinks, “I’m the king here. They love me now. You’re a nobody, Bron.” And he shoots 35 shots. How many go in? No idea. Could be 0. Could be 30. Who wins? Probably Cleveland. But, who cares? Dion’s a shooter. And shooters shoot.
#2 Boston Celtics vs. #7 Chicago Bulls
This matchup is already set to happen if the playoffs were to start today. The Celtics have a clear advantage in terms of basketball, but there are some cool storylines here.
First, we have the Rajon Rondo playing his old team. I think we all know that Rajon Rondo wants nothing more than to discover a time machine, travel back to ‘08, and play with KG, Ray, and Pierce again. It’s also no secret that he hates his current team because the veteran leadership is poor, according to Rondo himself. I guess Rondo forgets that he is 31 years old and in his 11th season. Oh well, not an article about Rondo’s idiocy. Someone else can write that.
The other fun storyline is despite the fact that Butler stayed in Chicago at the trade deadline, he could very well be heading to Boston soon. Like maybe this offseason. I can’t help but think that Butler thinks about that a little bit. He is going up against the team that will be associated with his name and trade talks pretty much all summer.
#3 Washington Wizards vs. #6 Atlanta Hawks
So I copped out here. There isn’t much intriguing about this matchup. We’ll get to why I copped out later, but let’s search for something fun here.
John Wall vs. Dennis Schroder is a matchup of two athletic, pick-and-roll oriented point guards. They could be a really entertaining matchup.
Also, Paul Millsap is a really fun player to watch. He does a lot for the Hawks defensively. He’s an extremely underrated defender and he’s super versatile offensively. His game is fun.
Overall, this matchup gives us a look at two teams that don’t get much national TV time. We can see Dwight on a new look Hawks, and we get a shot to see the Wizards with Beal and Wall, who most people thought couldn’t coexist coming into this season. This is just good basketball.
#4 Toronto Raptors vs. #5 Indiana Pacers
So, the reason I copped out on the 3/6 matchup was because of this. I also don’t see the Raps pushing for the 3 spot without Lowry, so it made sense to have the Hawks fall, rather than Raptors rise.
I love this matchup. It mixes two of my favorite players to watch in the Eastern Conference: DeMar DeRozan and Paul George.
DeRozan has a crazy middle game. He’s developed a step back that is almost unguardable given his size and length. He also uses pump fakes as good as anybody in the NBA, and he uses lots of them.
Paul George can do literally everything. He can defend anyone on the perimeter. He can also score in a million different ways on offense. He has handles, so he can create for himself and either get to the rack or pull up. However, he also moves really well off screens and can slash waiting for Teague to hit him when he cuts.
These two teams played in the playoffs last year as the 2/7 matchup. The series went 7 games and was amazing. Assuming Lowry is healthy in time for the playoffs, both teams will have improved before meeting again in the playoffs. The Pacers have added Thad Young, Al Jefferson, and Jeff Teague, and Myles Turner has gotten much better. Meanwhile, Toronto added Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker at the deadline, as well as offseason acquisition Jared Sullinger. This matchup would be a battle and we need the Pacers to make a push for it to happen.
Now onto the Western Conference. The West could be interesting if Durant is held out for any time in the Playoffs. So, let’s check out some potential matchups.
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 Denver Nuggets
Alright, I feel like the reaction to this will be, “Why the fuck would we want the Nuggets? What about AD-Boogie? Or Dame-CJ?”
Well I’ll tell you about them. The Pelicans don’t have enough time to figure it out. The AD-Boogie combo is scary and interesting and I would love it if the deal had happened a little sooner, but the Pels are out of it, as interesting as it would be.
Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum are really good basketball players. But they can’t stop your local men’s league backcourt, let alone Steph and Klay. I’m not that interested in seeing CJ and Dame get torched by the Splash Brothers again. Let’s get something new in here.
That something can be unicorn Nikola Jokic. Jokic is a problem for any team’s defense. Even a defense that has Draymond Green. Especially if that team is missing KD. Plus, the Nuggets have one hell of a perimeter defense with Mudiay and Harris. Add in Gallinari and Murray, with Jokic’s unique offensive skillset, and the Nuggets sound like an interesting team.
Having talked up the Nuggets, I’d like to clarify that I think they’d lose. But, I certainly think it’s more interesting than most people will give it credit for, and we’ve never seen it. So let’s try new things and make the GS-Denver the first round matchup. It’d be loads of fun.
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies
This is somewhat of a cop out, but it does have some intrigue to it. The Spurs are the Spurs. They have Pop, the Claw, and LA. They make players like Dewayne Dedmon starters that can be really effective. That’s what they do.
The Grizzlies run through Conley and Gasol. They have for years, and it’s gotten them consistently into the playoffs. Not always very far, but they are always there. They also have a really good offense despite having the anti-Enes Kanter: Tony Allen. While that may feel like a weird comp, let me throw this out there. Allen is guard, while Kanter is a big. Allen can’t play basketball effectively on offense, but can lock down anyone on the perimeter on defense. Enes can score on most bigs in the league, but couldn’t stop me if I got the ball on the block (and not just because I boast a lethal sky-hook). Was this just a chance for me to take a shot at Enes’ defense? Sure, but it makes a lot of sense.
This series would be really good basketball, and I think the Spurs could be pushed a little bit. Kawhi Leonard is great, but he still struggles to create his own shot. He is perfect in that system and I don’t want to take anything away from him, but I’m not sold on him as a primary scorer for a team.
I think that this series would go 6 or 7 games, with the Spurs winning because that’s what they do. They are the epitome of excellence and that will prevail.
#3 Houston Rockets vs. #6 Oklahoma City Thunder
This is why the last matchup was a little bit of a cop out. I want Russ-Harden. I think we all do. If you don’t want to watch these two ball out against each other, then I question what you like about the NBA in general. Maybe you should stop watching the NBA. Get into cricket, or curling. Just stay away from the NBA.
The Thunder need to jump the Grizzlies for the 6 seed, which is doubtful, but I’m a hopeful man. They are only a game back, so it’s possible, but it all falls on Russ’ shoulders.
No matter what Mark Cuban says, this is an MVP battle. We get to see two men that do absolutely everything for their squads battling it out in a 7 game series. That’s every hoops fan’s dream.
My favorite thing about this series may be a prop bet that needs to be a thing: over/under x triple doubles in this series. I know what you’re thinking, “Wow Mark. You’re a gambling addict. You’re going to miss your kid’s birthday party.” That’s fair. It’s definitely stern, but I would say it’s fair. Regardless of my attendance at my nonexistent kid’s birthday party, I’ll be loving the triple doubles, and the bets that go with it, whatever the number may be.
#4 Utah Jazz vs #5 Los Angeles Clippers
So we are kind of stuck with this at the 4/5 matchup. Are there many storylines here? No, but we can find something to look forward to.
Gordon Hayward (my original NBA Comp that was later changed to Otto Porter) is the man for the Jazz. He was quietly an all-star and is really fun to watch. He has a little bit of everything in his game, and he has the Jazz playing some really good ball.
The Clips will go with CP3. Chris Paul isn’t getting any younger, so he has to make something happen soon if he ever wants to make a deep playoff run. That’s the most interesting storyline in this matchup, but certainly not the only fun thing about the matchup…
We have a Rudy Gobert-Deandre Jordan matchup. Two bigs that just soar through the air, block shots, and dunk.
We have Jigglin’ Joe Ingles, the Aussie. The king himself that gives the Jazz a fun spark off the bench and is money from downtown with his 43% 3-point shooting this season.
We can see Blake Griffin, who has a really interesting style of play. He’s developed a jump shot, but it’s one of the uglier things I’ve ever watched. Regardless of the aesthetics of his shot, it goes in and his game is just very interesting overall. In fact, this whole series is similar to the Hawks-Wizards matchup in the East, it’s just good basketball.
There it is. That’s what you have to pray for to the basketball gods in the last month or so of the NBA. Those standings should provide us all with some enjoyment no matter what the game is. There’s a reason to watch every single game, whether it’s for good basketball played the right way or if you just want to watch Dion Waiters chuck up shots that you wouldn’t bother shooting in a friendly game of HORSE.