Well, it took a while, but we're finally here, on the verge of the 2013 NBA Playoffs. Thirty teams have been whittled down to 16, eight from each conference, set to square off in eight opening-round series for the right to advance to the conference semifinals and take one step closer to hoisting the good ol' Larry O'Brien Trophy this summer.
The two eight-team brackets weren't totally locked in until the wee hours of Thursday morning, but now that we know who's playing who, when and where each series will start, and where we can watch — and if you're not sure about any of that, please consult our handy 2013 NBA playoff schedule — the question is this:
Which first-round playoff matchup is best?
In the interest of providing guidance to BDL's readership in a trying time, I submit to a trusting public a new installment of Dan Devine's Inarguable Power Rankings, my ongoing attempt to identify which items in a group of things are most powerful. In this episode: Dan Devine's Inarguable First-Round Playoff Matchup Power Rankings.
Click the jump to dig in and weigh in with your thoughts on which opening-round series will be the best in the comments. And please remember, as always, that the list is the list.
8. Indiana Pacers vs. Atlanta Hawks
The Pacers play choke-you-out defense and tough-to-watch-unless-Paul-George-or-Gerald-Green-are-dunking offense, a combination that's pretty hard to watch. (Notable exception: Any time David West is bullying someone. That's pretty good, too.) The Hawks play less-aggressive-but-still-top-10-caliber defense (which should be good enough to disrupt Indiana) and an offense whose most common public citations revolve around the jumper-forcing demon inside Josh Smith, the woefully unappreciated mastery of Al Horford's every sainted step and Kyle Korver running around a bunch, stopping only occasionally to hit a 3. Precious few highlights now emanate from Atlanta's "Highlight Factory," Philips Arena; Indiana's gym is about that Bankers Life. The most exciting thing about this series will be Tyler Hansbrough's hustle/struggleface, and that's not going to generate too much excitement. This series tips off on TNT, but it's got NBA TV written aaaaaaaaall over it. The least powerful Round 1 matchup, clearly.
7. Miami Heat vs. Milwaukee Bucks
This series will not feature very many games, or very competitive games; it will be over very quickly and painlessly (well, unless you root for the Milwaukee Bucks). This series will, however, feature at least a handful of exciting individual plays — most likely featuring LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade passing to each other stylishly, or Monta Ellis doing some sort of explosive spin (spinsplosion?) through three defenders — that will be up on YouTube before the next commercial break, then repackaged with relevant context and goofs on sites like this for your consuming pleasure. It could also feature a Larry Sanders outburst (Sandersplosion?) that fires up the Milwaukee faithful and reminds us why we love (but get a little bit worried about) the Bucks' paint-patrolling marvel. That gives it the nod over Pacers/Hawks.
In conclusion: Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelsplosion.
6. Brooklyn Nets vs. Chicago Bulls
I was tempted to bump this one up a bit higher, because Good and Healthy Deron Williams has been awesome to watch — just under 23 points and eight assists per game on 48 percent shooting and 42 percent from 3 since the All-Star break, and he can dunk again — and because it'll be interesting to see what kind of atmosphere develops for the Barclays Center's first postseason series.
But Nate Robinson game-winners (and Nate Robinson antics) aside, we're talking about a series that's missing the excitement of a Williams-Derrick Rose showdown, that features a not-yet-100-percent Joakim Noah, that pits two of the four slowest-paced teams in the league against one another and that matches squads whose bread-and-butter styles — Brooklyn's drawn-out, Brook Lopez-targeted offensive actions and Chicago's strong-side-overloading, shut-off-corner-3s-and-penetration defensive riddle — seem destined to provide a sluggish chess match long on craft but short on style.
The outcome figures to feel sort of reminiscent of Guillermo Rigondeaux's recent unanimous decision victory over Nonito Donaire — sure, we can appreciate the tactical touches and ring generalship, but we'd much rather see some fireworks, please.
5. San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Lakers
If each side was in full health, I'd slide this one up the list a bit, because the dual-lions-in-winter prospect and all the history that would be occupying the court would be almost too much to handle. Instead, we've got no Kobe Bryant, likely diminished versions of Manu Ginobili and Steve Nash, and a possibly less-than-100-percent edition of Tony Parker. (Plus, no Cap'n Jack, which continues to bum me out.)
The burgeoning high-low chemistry between Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard has been fun to watch, and it's been fun to remember why those two guys — so roundly vilified for most of this season — were considered so valuable in the first place. And Tim Duncan, of course, is as awesome as he's been in years. But that doesn't necessarily scream fun ... at least, not in the same way that these other matchups do.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Houston Rockets
The Rockets played at the NBA's fastest pace this year; the Thunder played at the NBA's 10th-fastest. When they played during the regular season, they played fast enough to leave Houston's league-leading speed in the dust. This regular-season series produced two mammoth 20-plus-point OKC wins and an instant classic Houston win in which James Harden dropped 46 on 19 shots, Jeremy Lin had 29 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, Kevin Durant had a 16-12-11 triple-double, Russell Westbrook put up 28-10-8 and Thabo Sefolosha — Thabo Sefolosha — popped for 28 on 6-for-10 shooting from 3.
This series will have points and more points and then more points on top of that, and it will be fun as all get out. I just can't shake the feeling that it'll be too short to be any higher than this.
3. New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics
A postseason rivalry that stretches back more than 60 years, with the Celtics having won eight of the 13 playoff series the two franchises have played, including the most recent edition, a 4-0 first-round sweep back in 2011. A chance for the Knicks to punctuate the changing of the guard undertaken this regular season by winning the season series with the Celtics for the first time since 2003-04 and ending Boston's five-year run atop the Atlantic Division.
A potential resumption of unpleasantries between Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Garnett. J.R. Smith unleashed and Jordan Crawford wondering if he sees his future. Jeff Green trying to prove he's this guy all the time. Tyson Chandler trying to plug all those perimeter gaps while still reserving enough energy to run the high screen-and-roll. Jason Kidd hoping he's got one more trick that none of these other guys have seen, and Paul Pierce saying, "Not so fast, my friend," with a smile. Mike Woodson's swing-it-and-fire offense and Doc Rivers' "don't let it come down to the last possession" mystique.
An upset predicated almost entirely predicated on pride or the opportunity to find out how an exorcism really feels. I can't wait.
2. Los Angeles Clippers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
I love that it's a rematch of last year's best opening-round series. I love that both teams are even better this year. I love that the futures of coaches Vinny Del Negro and Lionel Hollins, neither of whom will be under contract once their season ends, may well hang in the balance.
I love the stylistic contrasts up and down the rosters — Lob City vs. The Grindhouse, L.A.'s high-flying bigs vs. Memphis' earthbound worldbreakers, L.A.'s venerated superstar point guard vs. Memphis' perennially underrated triggerman, L.A.'s impossibly slick and flashy Sixth Man of the Year candidate and Memphis' not-flashy-in-the-least (well, except on the mic) Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and so on. I love that the three games they played this season resulted in one comfortable win apiece and one late-season slugfest decided in the final few minutes (the Clippers won).
I love pretty much everything about this. I just love this other one a little bit more.
1. Denver Nuggets vs. Golden State Warriors
George Karl told anyone who would listen that the Nuggets would become a top-four team by running faster and more determinedly than ever before, and man, he was right. His team goes a legit 10-deep with havoc-wreaking monsters, and this time, they play defense, keyed by Andre Iguodala's master-class work on the wing. Their arms are everywhere, in your face, in your way, in your passing lanes and they're gone the other way and they're dunking and it's your turn to take the ball out now by the way you're losing by a lot.
Not having Danilo Gallinari sucks, sure, but everywhere you look, Denver has someone fun for you to watch and cheer — from wise old Andre Miller to explosive young Ty Lawson, from solid everyman Kosta Koufos to reined-in-and-yet-somehow-still-ridiculous JaVale McGee, from hyperkinetic Kenneth Faried to perhaps-even-more-hyperkinetic Corey Brewer, from French rookie "More Champagne" Evan Fournier to forever-on-the-verge-of-breaking-out (but for real this time!) Anthony Randolph ... the list's endless.
And they might not even be the most fun thing in this series. I mean, have you seen Stephen Curry shoot?
For as long as this lasts, this will be as fun a series as the first round can muster, a celebration of fast running and high jumping and ferocious slamming and impossible shooting. Let's all watch together, shall we?
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