Photo Courtesy: USA Today

NBA Playoff Preview- West

April 13, 2018 - 11:33 am

By Austin Medina

It went down to the final game. The playoff bracket is now officially set.

A game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets turned out to be a play-in game. The Timberwolves pulled out a gritty win, moving into the eight seed and sending the Nuggets back home without a playoff bid.

All four matchups are intriguing which is a rarity in the first round.

#1 Rockets vs. #8 Timberwolves

The Rockets have been the best team all season, winning 65 games and having both MVP candidate James Harden and future Hall of Famer Chris Paul leading the way. The Rockets are the clear favorites, but an argument could be made that they didn’t want to face off with Minnesota first. The T’wolves have a legitimate big man in Karl-Anthony Towns. Jimmy Butler is a two-way guard who will surely give Harden a run for his money. The T’wolves need production out of Andrew Wiggins, who is a former first overall pick. Being Wiggins first playoff appearance, that’s a high expectation to ask of him.

Rockets in Five

#2 Warriors vs. #7 Spurs

If only the Spurs had Kawhi Leonard at their exposure.

The two-time defensive player of the year has barely played all season with a leg injury that has lingered. Many question if Leonard will ever play for San Antonio again, which is devastating for them short term and long term. The Warriors struggled down the stretch and played really poor basketball without Stephen Curry. It would have been interesting seeing what Kevin Durant could do without Curry in a series with a healthy Spurs. Without Leonard, the Spurs will play tough due to coaching but ultimately fall.

Warriors in Six

#3 Trail Blazers vs. #6 Pelicans

Photo Courtesy: USA Today

The strangest matchup sees a guard heavy Portland squaring off with New Orleans, who relies heavily on big man Anthony Davis. Davis is one of the best players in the world and after losing Demarcus Cousins, it’s surprising that New Orleans made it. This series will be a test of which team can stop the other from playing their style. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum may be too much for New Orleans to handle and it will up to Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday to stop them. I see the guards in Portland willing their team to the Western Semifinals.

Trail Blazers in Six

#4 Thunder vs. #5 Jazz

The most balanced series (in either conference) is between Utah and Oklahoma City. The Jazz are well coached and play terrific defense. Rudy Gobert has emerged as the rim protector Utah needed. The offense relies heavily on rookie Donavan Mitchell, who averaged nearly 21 points per game. That said, the talent overflow should overwhelm Utah. Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony could drop 30 any given night. Steven Adams has played amazing this season and should neutralize Gobert. The Thunder also have home-court advantage which is pivotal if the series goes seven games.

Thunder in Six