(4) Los Angeles Clippers (53-29) vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers (44-38)
The Los Angeles Clippers come into this series having won 10 of their last 12 games. The Clippers are certainly getting hot at the right time and giving some people like Charles Barkley hope that there may be more than just two contenders in the Western Conference. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, nobody expected them to make the playoffs when the season began, so just by being here they should be feeling good about themselves.
When looking at these two teams, the biggest thing that stands out is how much deeper the Clippers are. The Trail Blazers rely on Damian Lillard (25.1 PPG) and C.J. McCollum (20.8 PPG) to do all of the heavy lifting and everybody else to chip in where they can. As for the Clippers, they have Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford to share the load. Plus, they also have added Jeff Green into the fold, which makes them even deeper. Unless Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both have a monster series the Clippers should win this series with ease.
For the Trail Blazers, the key to this series is to get other guys going so as to take the pressure off of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The problem is that nobody else on their team can be relied upon to step up in the way that they need them to. Allen Crabbe is good for 9-10 points per game, but you can't expect him to give you 15 points per game in a series. The same goes for Al-Farouq Aminu. After those two guys, it starts to get really thin for the Trail Blazers. They just don't have enough firepower.
If the Clippers want this to be a quick series, they'll need to use their depth and versatility to the best of their advantage. They have so many more weapons than the Trail Blazers and the Trail Blazers know it. If Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are holding their own down low and if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are stroking it from the perimeter with Chris Paul dishing dimes, this series is over. The only hope the Trail Blazers have of winning this series is for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to have huge games and for everyone on the Clippers to be play below average. The odds of that happening are low, which is why I don't have the Trail Blazers winning this series.
In the end, I have the Clippers winning this series rather decisively in five games. The Trail Blazers have had a great season just by getting to this point, whereas the Clippers are supposed to be here. I have tremendous respect for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but they simply don't have enough pieces around them to upset a Clippers team that is vastly superior. I hope I'm wrong because most of these first round series' appear to be pretty one-sided. If this series is also a blowout in favor of the higher seed, this could go down as one of the most boring first rounds ever.