#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
The Warriors had to fight and claw but were able to dispatch the New Orleans Pelicans in four games and will be well rested for this series. The Grizzlies got past Portland in five, but it came with a steep price as point guard Mike Conley suffered a facial injury and it is unknown when he will be back.
Conley's absence means Steph Curry will see a mix of Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih guarding him. The Grizzlies finished with the second best defense in the NBA in points allowed per game, and it will take a peak defensive effort from guys like Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to slow down the Warriors offense. The Warriors are all about getting their points with jump shots, which could be a problem for Memphis as their best defense resides more in the paint. Grizzlies SG Courtney Lee will be tasked with trying to contain Curry's fellow splash brother, Klay Thompson.
So while Golden State has the advantage at the guard position, the Grizzlies have the personnel to match up with Golden State inside. Randolph and Gasol are rebound and scoring machines, and Allen remains on of the best defenders in the NBA. Position wise Allen would be guarding Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green, but I wouldn't be surprised if Memphis puts Allen on Curry or Thompson from time to time. Bench wise, neither team is particularly deep but has some big name players, as the Grizzlies deploy Vince Carter off their bench, while the Warriors have Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston as their main reserves.
It's a shame Conley likely won't play this series because having him in the lineup makes a huge difference for Memphis. Even without him, the Grizzlies are highly talented and have a lot of veteran players that have played in these big spots. They will give the Warriors all they can handle and unlike New Orleans they will actually break through and win a couple games. However, it won't be enough as I expect the Warriors to not lose a game at home in this series and eventually finish off Memphis in six.
Prediction: Warriors over Grizzlies, 4-2
#2 Houston Rockets vs. #3 Los Angeles Clippers
Houston beating Dallas in the First Round wasn't a surprise, it was with the relative ease that they did it. The Clippers had their coming of age series victory over the defending champion San Antonio Spurs in a thrilling seven games. Chris Paul was crying and the Clippers were celebrating like they won the NBA Finals. Will they have anything left in the tank against a superb Rockets team?
The Rockets begin and end with James Harden but the key to their improved play this season is the defensive focus that coach Kevin McHale has been able to instill in them. They have also been well served by the addition of Trevor Ariza this season. Dwight Howard missed a ton of time this season, but the Rockets didn't miss a beat. Now, Howard appears to be rounding back in form, playing his usual heavy minutes and adding both offense and defense. Terrence Jones was another Rocket that missed significant time this season, but is getting healthy and adding an extra dimension to the Rockets offensive attack. Veterans Jason Terry and Cory Brewer share time at shooting guard, and Josh Smith has been an excellent in-season pick up. Starting point guard Patrick Beverley is out for the season, so the only true point guard the Rockets employ is Pablo Prigioni.
Paul is likely to have a strong series since because of the Rockets lack of options at point. He comes into the series nursing some injuries, and may miss Game 1, but once he is back he will smoothly reinsert himself into things. The more fascinating matchups will take place inside with Howard battling Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Matt Barnes is the Clippers crazier, louder version of Ariza, but the Rockets don't have a sharpshooter quite like J.J. Redick. The Clippers bench has been much maligned this season for how much depth it lacks. Jamaal Crawford is excellent and what made one of the differences in the Clippers/Spurs series was the emergence of Austin Rivers. Glen Davis gives the Clippers some decent minutes off the bench, but he always seems to be getting knicked up.
The Rockets and Warriors seem destined to meet and to me are clearly the two best teams in the West. The Clippers expended so much to get past the Spurs and the turnaround will be quick for this series, so I instantly think they start from behind. Their lack of depth will hurt them more against Houston, as the Rockets trend younger than San Antonio. Harden and Howard will lead the Rockets to the ultimate showdown with the Warriors.
Prediction: Rockets over Clippers, 4-2