The NBA playoffs begin Saturday, and they’re always fantastic, so we ranked the series from best to worst. You ready for some late nights? The best ball is out West.
2. Houston vs. Portland – Dwight Howard and James Harden vs. LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard? An easy choice for the second best series of the 1st round. In the four regular season meetings (Houston 3-1), no team failed to crack triple digits. Scoring and more scoring? Yes, please. Sneaky good matchup: Chandler Parsons vs. Nicolas Batum. Rockets 4-2.
3. Miami vs. Charlotte: You probably haven’t noticed, but Charlotte has quietly been one of the better teams in the East since the All-Star break, going 9-7 against playoff teams. Al Jefferson, in three games against the Heat this season: 57 percent FG, 25.3 ppg, 15.3 rpg. Why is this series so high? LeBron dropped 61 on the Bobcats six weeks ago and the Bobcats have spunk. Heat 4-1.
4. Chicago vs. Washington – Nice to have you back, Wiz! The Wizards last made the playoffs in 2008, and that was the third straight year they lost in the first round to LeBron’s Cavs. (Ahhh, Memories.) I’m geeked for Bradley Beal vs. Jimmy Butler, which is probably the matchup of the series. I know what the Bulls are capable of without Derrick Rose – see last year’s series vs. the Nets – but I expect a strong series from Marcin Gortat inside and a mild upset, setting up what could be an ugly offseason for the Bulls. Wizards 4-2.
5. Oklahoma City vs. Memphis – Tough to put Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook so low, but I’ve never thought the Grizzlies played a visually-appealing brand of basketball. Yes, Memphis rolled in five games last year, but the Thunder didn’t have Westbrook. I have my concerns about OKC in these playoffs, but they won’t be apparent this round. Thunder 4-2.
6. San Antonio vs. Dallas – The Spurs swept the season series, and all anyone will say during each of these games: “Man, I wish the 48-win Suns were playing here instead.” Monta Ellis is in the playoffs for the third time in his career, and here’s an interesting postseason stat: He’s 4-for-28 shooting three-pointers in 15 games. He has nearly as many blocks (3) as made three-pointers in the playoffs. Spurs 4-0.
7. Toronto vs. Brooklyn – Remember how ugly things started for the Nets? Paul Pierce calling out the coaching staff and the Brook Lopez injury? And Toronto didn’t look like a playoff team until it traded leading scorer Rudy Gay. Three of the four regular season meetings were decided by four points or less so there’s a chance this series is exciting, if you can get fired up about heat check Joe Johnson putting up moon balls over the outstretched arms of Terrence Ross. Maybe it’s my long term allegiance to the Knicks, or that the Raptors made me look bad this year, but I fail to see the juice here. Nets 4-2.
8. Indiana vs. Atlanta – If you’ve watched the Pacers since the All-Star break, you knew this was coming. And also, sorry. Indiana is 10-13 in its last 23 games. They’re 4-11 since the All-Star break against playoff teams. The most jarring pre-All Star vs. post-All Star splits in the NBA belong to Roy Hibbert: His points, rebounds, field goal percentage and blocks fell off a cliff. (Are people really blaming his struggles on the Bynum addition and trading Danny Granger? Hope not. There’s definitely something deeper that has yet to be revealed). As hilarious as it would be if Indiana lost … I don’t see a way they blow this series, unless Paul George and Lance Stephenson(13.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.6 apg) throw down at halftime and someone breaks a wrist. Pacers, 4-1.