The NBA’s Western Conference may be the most dominant conference in the four major American sports. In no other sport is the level of talent so skewed towards one conference. As I watched the Oklahoma City Thunder-Houston Rockets tilt last Friday, I was struck by just how much more intense and downright fun Western Conference games are compared to Eastern Conference games. The talent level is higher, games are more fast-paced and the competition is hard-hitting. Every game is a dog fight.
Teams cannot take nights off since there are usually squads just as good breathing down their necks for playoff positioning. A decent team like Brooklyn can get away with the occasional clunker playing in the East. On the other hand, one of the NBA’s best teams, the Rockets, has to continue its recent domination just to ensure a first round playoff series at home. This high level of talent and effort creates some fascinating playoff matchups in the first round.
If the season ended today, the San Antonio Spurs would take on the Phoenix Suns in the conference’s one-eight matchup. While the Suns, led by point guard Goran Dragic, are one of the most fun teams to watch this year, I think the Memphis Grizzlies are going to come away with the eighth spot in the West.
Memphis and San Antonio would be a great first round matchup just for history’s sake. The two teams met in the first round in 2011 in this same scenario, resulting in a huge upset as the eighth-seed Grizzlies won their first ever playoff series. Then, in 2013, the Spurs got revenge with a dominating sweep over Memphis in the Conference Finals. This year, a matchup between these rivals would be very intriguing. The Spurs have distinguished themselves as the cream of the crop in basketball after winning 19 consecutive games. However, nobody wants to play Memphis, since it is rolling with a healthy Marc Gasol. Even though Memphis is virtually locked in a three-way tie with Phoenix and Dallas, we can always hope that the basketball gods smile upon us NBA fans who desire to witness the playoff rubber-match between the Spurs and Grizzlies.
The likely four-five matchup, Houston against Portland, is arguably the most captivating matchup the NBA playoffs have to offer. Houston has recently shown itself to be a juggernaut, dominating teams after a slow start to the season. Even after an injury to Dwight Howard, it has managed to remain afloat. Meanwhile, the Trail Blazers find themselves in the opposite situation. After surprisingly spending the majority of the season in the conference’s top half, they have struggled lately. In the Western Conference, there is absolutely no wiggle room for teams to go through a rough patch, so the once-dominant Blazers suddenly find themselves facing a first round matchup on the road. They’ll want to prove that the first half of their season was not a fluke, but it will be tough against the high-powered Rockets.
I would classify the three-six matchup between the Clippers and Warriors as the most “fun” first round matchup, in the sense that these are two teams that contain dynamic players such as Chris Paul and Stephen Curry featured on Sports Center’s top plays. Both teams thrive on offense. The Clippers boast the “Lob City” duo of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, who make a living almost solely out of alley-oops. Meanwhile, the Warriors feature the Splash Brothers in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, whom some have called the greatest shooting backcourt in NBA history. This is basically a dream matchup for the executives over in Bristol, Conn.
Finally, the two-seven matchup features another powerhouse in Oklahoma City. The high-powered duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be a force to be reckoned with if Westbrook proves to be healthy come playoff-time. As of today, the Mavericks would be the seventh seed. Dirk Nowitzki is not getting any younger and he is hungry for one more championship.
The Western Conference is so deep that even the ninth and 10th seeds could probably make a run if they played in the East. One thing is sure: The playoff matchups in the West are sure to be much more exciting and energetic than those in the East. It should be fun to watch.