Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Trail Blazers or Grizzlies (8)
If the Blazers hang onto the eighth seed they recently snagged from the Grizzlies, this series has some potential.
Damian Lillard is on an absolute tear in the bubble. If he’s anywhere near this level in the playoffs—and the Lakers won’t have Avery Bradley to bother him—Portland may steal some games.
Gary Trent Jr. and Carmelo Anthony are feeling it too. CJ McCollum has experience taking over big games. And Jusuf Nurkic is back. Everything is coming together at the exact right time for the Blazers.
But LeBron James is still LeBron James. And Portland doesn’t have anyone to check him. The Lakers would likely win this series, but we’ve reached a point where a Blazers upset wouldn’t be shocking.
As for the Grizzlies, they have plenty of intriguing young talent, but they seem less ready to challenge The King on the game’s biggest stage.
Los Angeles Clippers (2) over Dallas Mavericks (7)
This series has the potential to be a blast. Like Lillard, Luka Doncic has been unreal in Orlando. In fact, he’s the only player with at least 100 minutes and a better box plus/minus in August. And the way he engineers an offense when surrounded by shooting is electrifying.
But this Clippers roster is just too loaded. They can throw Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Marcus Morris or even Patrick Beverley at Doncic. They may not be able to stop him, but that’s a group that will most certainly make things difficult.
On the other end, Kawhi, PG and Lou Williams will pick apart a defense that ranks 18th this season (and 19th in the bubble).
Denver Nuggets (3) over Utah Jazz (6)
When these two teams played Aug. 8, it took two overtimes for the Nuggets to come out on top. Even without their second-leading scorer, Bojan Bogdanovic, the Jazz aren’t going down without a fight.
Rudy Gobert remains one of the game’s most impactful players, and he’s held Nikola Jokic well below his typical production in head-to-head matchups. Donovan Mitchell may be prone to wild swings in efficiency (he’s shooting 38.2 percent in Orlando), but he can go off at a moment’s notice.
The Nuggets should have plenty of answers, though. With Jokic orchestrating from the middle of the floor or low post and Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. (averaging 22.0 points in the bubble) flying around him, Utah’s defense (15th in the bubble) will be overwhelmed.
Oklahoma City Thunder (4) over Houston Rockets (5)
The tachometers on take machines around the internet will redline if Chris Paul knocks the Rockets out of the playoffs.
Last summer, Houston traded him and a load of picks to the Thunder for Russell Westbrook, who may miss a decent chunk of this series.
And while Houston is banged up, the Thunder are at full strength. On the season, OKC is plus-7.4 when CP3 shares the floor with Danilo Gallinari. Both should play more in the playoffs.
Steven Adams may be the biggest problem for the Rockets, though. Against the micro-ball philosophy, he should feast on the boards and get plenty of open looks from Paul, Dennis Schroder and rising star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
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