Western Conference First Round Preview By Raul Vazquez

The college basketball season is over, so now the basketball world has turned over to the NBA with the playoffs getting underway this weekend. The two biggest storylines coming in are, whether or not the Warriors will be able to complete a three peat and win four championships in five years and which team will come out of the East. For now, we will preview the first round matchups, specifically in the Western conference.

1 Golden State Warriors vs 8 Los Angeles Clippers

The Warriors are undoubtedly the favorites coming into the postseason and face a familiar team in the first round. The Clippers are also in the Pacific division and as a result played the Warriors four times in the regular season. The Warriors dominated the regular season series, winning three of four matchups and the lone Clippers win coming in overtime in November. All that being said, the Warriors come into the series banged up. Iguodala is recently coming off an injury, while two time MVP Steph Curry comes into the matchup having rolled his ankle this past Tuesday against the Pelicans. Such a scene is familiar as he has been banged up in previous playoff runs and veteran Livingston will have no problem filling in for the superstar as he has done so a ton of times in the past. The Warriors also added Cousins this past offseason, who was injured at the time, to help make one more playoff run at another title. The Clippers are a solid all around team led by Lou Williams and a cast of solid players who knew their role like Gallinari, Harrell, shooter Landry Shamet, nice rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, big Zubac and stud defenders in Beverly and Bradley. The cast of really good pieces should be able to steal one at home but the Warriors are just too good and should win in five games.

Pick: Warriors in 5

2 Denver Nuggets vs 7 San Antonio Spurs

The Denver Nuggets were a surprise team all year and played really well, holding down the top spot in the tough Western conference for much of the year. Denver ended up only three games back of Golden State which shocked many but wound up with a tough draw and will face the Spurs led by Popovich who has, of course, been here before. The Spurs will be a tough opening test for the new top team in the west, Denver. The two teams split the regular season series two games a piece, with the home team winning each game.The Spurs have made the playoffs the last 22 seasons and are two years removed from a western conference finals appearance. The Spurs have depth led by Demar Derozan, and Lamarcus Aldridge with support from guys like Bryn Forbes, Derrick White and Patty Mills. There is doubt the Spurs should test the Nuggets but the Nuggets are no fluke. They were led by MVP candidate Nikola Jokic while having free agent signing Paul Millsap for a full season and with a really good supporting cast of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Will Barton, Monte Morris and Malik Beasley. The inexperience and new feeling of being favored will prove costly against a veteran coach and the series can very well go six games, but the Nuggets will advance.

Pick: Nuggets in 6

3 Portland Trail Blazers vs 6 Oklahoma City Thunder

This should be a really fun series. The Thunder come into the playoffs as a six seed but in no way look the part of a six seed. If the Thunder were to have a higher seed, Paul George would be a very serious candidate for MVP as he has been fantastic on both ends of the floor averaging 28 PPG, 8 RPG, 4 APG, and over 2 steals a game. Paul George is one part of a one-two punch with Russell Westbrook who for the third straight season managed to average a triple double which is mind boggling to think about. Portland on the other hand has become a perennial presence in the playoffs, having a top five seed in five of the last six years led by the duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum who are constantly overlooked in the conversation of best guards. The season series was completely lopsided with the Thunder sweeping the series, but needed overtime in one matchup and only won by two in another matchup. The Thunder have not fared well in the first round, losing the last two years in the first round, but they seem ready to make the jump this year. The Trail Blazers are also come off a disappointing postseason losing in the first round, but will be outmatched by the stars of Paul George, Westbrook and Steven Adams. The Thunder will bounce back and beat the Blazers in 5.

Pick: Thunder in 5

4 Houston Rockets vs 5 Utah Jazz

With all due respect to the Jazz this may just be a precursor to a Rockets-Warriors rematch from the conference finals of a year ago that many would look forward to. The Warriors found a way to come back from down 3-2 but with an asterisk as Chris Paul went down with in an injury in game 5 where the Rockets took a commanding 3-2 lead. The Rockets are looking to make up for that loss. The Jazz and Rockets did split the season series and have the tools to compete in the matchup. They have a star in  Donovan Mitchell to go head to head with stud scorer Harden, with Crowder matching up defensively while reigning defensive player of the year Rudy Gobert mans the paint. The tough task for coach Quin Snyder will be to come up with a formula to contain offensive juggernaut James Harden because you cannot stop him, but you have to try to force him into tough shots and make other guys like Eric Gordon or PJ Tucker beat you. Both teams come into the matchup with virtually the same core as they did from last season in which the Rockets easily beat the Jazz in 5 after they surprisingly beat the Thunder. The four games they won they did so in convincing fashion, winning each by double digits. With a healthy Chris Paul and seemingly unstoppable James Harden who is poised to win MVP the Rockets should put on a repeat performance with Mitchell propelling the Jazz to a win.

Pick: Rockets in 5