BY GUS RIDDER and JAKE MAKEHAM
A series of seeding games were played in the Orlando bubble to finalise matchups for the first round of playoffs and to ensure all players were in game shape.
MOJO News delves into a comprehensive analysis of the first round of the western conference of the playoffs, which is still underway, to tell you what to expect and who to look out for.
All rounds of the playoffs are a best-of-seven series, with the last three games only being played if needed.
The teams who come out on top after the first round will progress to the semi finals.
Los Angeles Lakers vs Portland Trail Blazers
After missing the post-season last year for the first time since 2005, we can only expect LeBron James to be back to his unstoppable best.
This Los Angeles Lakers squad has been tipped as one of the championship favourites for a reason.
The Lakers boasts a top defensive squad for the season, primarily due to Anthony Davis’ elite presence and LeBron’s renewed energy.
On the other hand, ‘Dame Time’ is upon us.
Damian Lillard became an unstoppable scoring force in the seeding games, winning the NBA Player of the Seeding Games award.
Lillard’s backcourt partner CJ McCollum is a potent scorer despite playing through a back fracture.
Pick: Los Angeles Lakers beat Portland Trail Blazers, 4-1.
Los Angeles Clippers vs Dallas Mavericks
This may be one of the most star-studded matchups of the first round.
Considered championship favourites this season, the Los Angeles Clippers has talent galore.
In comparison, the Dallas Mavericks boasts a lineup which makes it the most efficient offense in league history.
However, this season the Clippers has been able to stop the seemingly unstoppable Mavericks from scoring.
Look for some patented Luka magic to steal a game or two away from the Clippers.
Pick: Los Angeles Clippers beat Dallas Mavericks, 4-1.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets
The Houston ‘Pocket Rockets’ brings a unique game plan to the playoffs, with a lineup featuring no traditional centre but a focus on running the floor and shooting plenty of 3s.
Look for Harden and Russell Westbrook to take over most of the Rockets’ possessions, as the two former MVPs are by far the focal point of the team’s game plan.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, on the other hand, will look to control the game by slowing it down and playing gritty defense.
Paul’s Thunder has certainly exceeded expectations this year, primarily because of the contributions of Sixth Man of the Year candidate Dennis Schröder and the rise of second-year player Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, both shifty guards who score at will.
When healthy, the star power of Harden and Westbrook would be enough to take down this tough Thunder squad.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, it will be missing Westbrook for at least the beginning of the first round with an injured quad, meaning this matchup is going to go down to the wire.
Pick: Houston Rockets beat Oklahoma City Thunder, 4-3.
Denver Nuggets vs Utah Jazz
However, Nikola Jokić and his incredible feel for the game in the centre, as well as a starting lineup with incredible scoring ability has resulted in the Nuggets being in the top-five offense teams of the league.
On the other hand, the Jazz has been a little disappointing this season, as its usually renowned defense continues to be inconsistent, pushing it to rely heavily on its offense led by Donovan Mitchell.
Unfortunately for the Jazz, one of its most reliable bucket-getters this season Bojan Bogdanović is out due to wrist surgery, leaving Australia’s sharpshooter Joe Ingles and the veteran Mike Conley to pick up the slack.
Pick: Denver Nuggets beat Utah Jazz, 4-2
You can watch the playoffs on ESPN, they are also streamed through Foxtel and Kayo.
The schedule for the matches is available here.