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NBA PLAYOFFS PREVIEW

Overview of Western Conference playoffs

Dwight Howard, Houston’s defensive anchor, is going to need some help on that end against Portland.

GERALD HERBERT/AP

Dwight Howard, Houston’s defensive anchor, is going to need some help on that end against Portland.

1. San Antonio Spurs (62-20) vs. 8. Dallas Mavericks (49-33)

This should be one of the more entertaining first-round series because of the teams’ familiarity. The Mavericks — who would be the third seed in the Eastern Conference — are formidable with Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis, Shawn Marion, and Jose Calderon. But they lost all four meetings with San Antonio during the regular season and the games weren’t all that close. The Spurs are masters of execution and should win this series without having to exert too much energy because they know how to beat the Mavericks. Tim Duncan and Tony Parker received the proper rest during the latter stages of the season, and once again the Spurs appear primed for a title run. The rivalry will be entertaining but the Spurs will have enough to prevail because Dallas will have to depend too much on Nowitzki.

Prediction: Spurs in five

SCHEDULE

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Sun., Apr. 20 at San Antonio1

Wed., Apr. 23 at San Antonio8

Sat., Apr. 26 at Dallas4:30

Mon., Apr. 28 at Dallas9:30

(if necessary)

Wed., Apr. 30 at San AntonioTBA

Fri., May 2 at DallasTBA

Sun., May 4 at San AntonioTBA

4. Houston Rockets (54-28) vs. 5. Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)

Houston is an NBA Finals dark horse because it has one of the best defensive centers in Dwight Howard along with a frantic offense that leads the league in 3-point attempts and ramps up the pace. But the Rockets need to have the other four guys on the court besides Howard play defense in order to advance. The Trail Blazers were one of the league’s hottest teams and biggest surprises in the first half but cooled off down the stretch. They still have players who can win games in Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge. The issues with Portland are a total lack of bench scoring and no scoring in the paint. Aldridge is a finesse player while Robin Lopez is more of an energy player. The Rockets are inconsistent enough to lose one of the first two games at home, and that could make this a competitive series that goes the limit. James Harden and his ability to score against Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews will be the key to the series. The Rockets won’t look impressive in the process, but they will prevail.

Prediction: Rockets in six

SCHEDULE

Sun., Apr. 20 at Houston9:30

Wed., Apr. 23 at Houston9:30

Fri., Apr. 25 at Portland10:30

Sun., Apr. 27 at Portland9:30

(if necessary)

Wed., Apr. 30 at HoustonTBA

Fri., May 2 at PortlandTBA

Sun., May 4 at HoustonTBA

2. Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23) vs. 7. Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)

The seeds should be erased in this series because the Grizzlies are fully convinced they can knock off the Thunder, as they did last season. With Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies have the beef to control the paint against Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Memphis wants Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to do all the scoring and limit OKC’s other options. The Thunder will have to show they are more than a two-man team, meaning players such as former Boston College standout Reggie Jackson, ex-UConn swingman Jeremy Lamb, and veteran Caron Butler will have to contribute. If the Thunder are looking ahead to a potential second-round matchup with the Clippers, they will get beat. Durant, who is expected to win his first MVP award, will carry Oklahoma City to a victory in this series but the Thunder may not have much left to continue forward.

Prediction: Thunder in seven

SCHEDULE

Sat., Apr. 19 at Oklahoma City9:30

Mon., Apr. 21 at Oklahoma City8

Thu., Apr. 24 at Memphis8

Sat., Apr. 26 at Memphis9:30

(if necessary)

Tue., Apr. 29 at Oklahoma CityTBA

Thu., May 1 at MemphisTBA

Sat., May 3 at Oklahoma CityTBA

3. Los Angeles Clippers (57-25) vs. 6. Golden State Warriors (51-31)

It’s the most intriguing of the first-round series because both teams are trying to overtake the Lakers as California’s team and they are in each other’s path to that goal. The Clippers, led by first-year coach Doc Rivers, won the Pacific Division despite being without Chris Paul for a period because of a shoulder injury. The improvements made by Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan were apparent under Rivers and Los Angeles has enough talent to reach the NBA Finals. The Warriors have perhaps the best shooting backcourt of this generation with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and a staunch defender in Andre Iguodala, but they have been disturbingly inconsistent this season and critics have challenged the coaching of former NBA point guard Mark Jackson, who has fired two assistants in the last month. The Warriors are a difficult opponent when they are shooting well with an uptempo pace, and Oracle Arena is one of the more difficult places for a road team. Because they lack a big man (Andrew Bogut is out with a broken rib), the Warriors won’t have enough to win the series but this will be a classic heavyweight fight.

Prediction: Clippers in seven

SCHEDULE

Sat., Apr. 19 at LA Clippers3:30

Mon., Apr. 21 at LA Clippers10:30

Thu., Apr. 24 at Golden State10:30

Sun., Apr. 27 at Golden State3:30

(if necessary)

Tue., Apr. 29 at LA ClippersTBA

Thu., May 1 at Golden StateTBA

Sat., May 3 at LA ClippersTBA

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.
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