(3) Houston Rockets vs (6) Oklahoma City Thunder
This is easily the most interesting matchup of the first round for two reasons: James Harden and Russell Westbrook. These two players are neck-and-neck in the MVP race, and this series will ultimately reveal the best player of the two. Neither team has shiny role players around their stars, so this will inevitably be a Beard vs Brodie showdown. While Westbrook may lead the way statistically, Harden and the Rockets lead the regular season series with Oklahoma City, 3-1. In each game during the regular season, Westbrook outscored Harden.
Victor Oladipo of the Thunder will be a huge X-factor, as he will likely guard Harden, On the other side, Eric Gordon must continue fulfilling his role as one of the league’s premier sixth men. In addition, both teams feature a pair of interesting big men. Oklahoma City has Steve Adams and Enes Kanter, while Houston has Clint Capela and Ryan Anderson.
These matchups aren’t glamorous, but they are key for each team’s success. However, all eyes will be on Harden and Westbrook.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies
The fifth playoff meeting between the San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies has the potential to be a close one. The regular season series between the two teams resulted in a 2-2 split. Ultimately, this series may give flashbacks to San Antonio in the first round of 2011 playoffs, where the top-seeded Spurs fell to the Grizzlies, 4-2.
Memphis’ big two, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, will go head-to head with Pau Gasol and Lamarcus Aldridge of the Spurs. Tony Allen is one of the best defenders in the league and will likely have a matchup with MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. And as always Mike Conley and Tony Parker will go at it for old times sake.
(3) Toronto Raptors vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have returned to the playoffs for the second year in a row and are set for a series against the Raptors. This is one of the best matchups because of the young talent that each team possesses. Milwaukee has the Greek Freak, along with Malcolm Brogdon and Khris Middleton. Toronto has rising star Demar Derozan, Kyle Lowry and big man Jonas Valiaciunas. Each team has two players averaging over 20 points per game and five players averaging over 10 points per game.
The Raptors clearly have more depth than the Bucks. However, Milwaukee’s young talent can offset their depth with exceptional play.
Edited by David Bradford
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