AND now the wild, wild West.
1. Los Angeles Lakers (52-19) vs. 8. Portland Trailblazers (35-39).
With LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers were clearly the most dominant in the West with a 52-19 record during the pandemic-disrupted season.
And before pandemic struck, the Lakers' superstar duo of James and Davis have shown what they can do on the floor together in their back-to-back wins over the Bucks and the Clippers.
James is focused on winning his fourth ring with his third team, while Davis is determined to win his first after seven years of frustrations in New Orleans.
The two superstars should be a matchup nightmare for most teams in the playoffs, especially against a Blazers team, which barely made it there.
The presence of a good supporting cast in Kyle Kuzma, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Alex Caruso, Javalee McGee, JR Smith and Dion Waiters should also help a lot in the playoffs.
The Lakers have also beaten the Blazers twice already this season -- 136-113 and 128-120.
The Blazers averted a shutout with a 127-119 victory that came a few days after Kobe Bryant’s death.
But it could not be easy as most No. 1 vs No. 1 playoff matchups.
Lillard’s MVP-like performance in the bubble in Orlando makes the series a lot more interesting.
Lillard’s four-game scoring rampage of 51 points (against Philadelphia), 61 (against Dallas), 42 (against Brooklyn) and 31 (against Memphis) was also enough to activate
“Dame Time” in the playoffs and earned him MVP honor in the restart.
But can Lillard do it all alone against the Lakers?
Carmelo Anthony, CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic can provide the answers.
2 Los Angeles Clippers (49-23) vs 7. Dallas Mavericks (43-32). Much of the focus will be the battle between the power duos of Kawhi Leonard (27.1ppg, 7.1 rpg) and Paul George (21.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg) of LAC and Luca Doncic ( 28.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 8.8 apg) and Kristaps Porzingis (20.4 ppg, 9.5 rpg) of Dallas.
The Clippers swept all three games against the Mavs -- 114-99, 110-107 and 126-111. But both the Clippers and the Mavs know the first-round series is all that matters now if they want to advance to the next phase.. Advantage: Clippers
3. Denver Nuggets(46-27) vs 6. Utah Jazz (44-28). The first-round matchup between Northwest Division rivals Denver and Utah will pit two of the league’s more exciting scorers in Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell. Murray (18.55 ppg, 4.8apg) will lead Denver’s high-powered offense that include Nicola Jokic (19.8 ppg,9.7 rpg), Will Barton (15.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 3.7 apg), Jerami Grant (12.0 ppg), Paul Milsap (11.6 ppg, 5.7 rpg), and Gary Harris )10.4 ppg). Utah will rely on Mitchell (24.0ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.3 apg)), Bojan Bogdanovic (20.2ppg) andn Jordan Clarkson (15.6), Rudy Gobert (15.1 ppg, 13.5 rpg), Mike Conley (14.4 ppg, 4.4 apg) and Joe Ingles ( 9.8 ppg,5.2 apg).
The Jazz reached the Western Conference semifinals the previous two playoffs and Murray hopes to make it three time lucky.
Denver defeated Utah in all three regular season games -- 106-100, 98-95and 134-132. But the Nuggets’ 3.6 average winning margin over the Jazz points to a close, suspense-filled series.
4. Houston Rockets (44-28) vs. 5 Oklahoma City Thunder (44-28).
Houston and Oklahoma finished with the same 44-28 win-loss record, and it will still be a lot even since there will be no homecourt advantage in the playoffs this time. It could also be the closest, if NBA experts are to be believed.
The leading men in the series -- James Harden (34.3 ppg, 7.5 apg) and Russell Westbrook (27.2ppg, 7.9 rpg, 7.0 apg) of Houston and Chris Paul (17.6 apg, 5.0rpg, 6.7 apg) and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.0 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 3.3apg) -- are expected to dominate.
Harden, the third player to win three consecutive scoring titles since Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant in 1979, could be unstoppable as tomorrow.
But the Paul-led Thunder have clearly over-achieved this season.
An added color to thematchup is the rivalry between Paul and Westbrook, who have been traded to each other last summer.
With the help of a line-up that include Danilo Galinari and “Sixth Man” candidate Dennis Schroder, Paul will now have a chance to show the Rockets what they traded away last summer.
Still, the Rockets should get this one.
NOTES -- Happy 26th wedding anniversary to my sister Mary Grace and husband Ramon Ypil, who celebrated last Aug. 17. The couple’s four grown-up boys -- John Francis, Ralph Angelo, Mark Benedict and Jude Dominic -- are all around to celebrate the special day at the family residence in Cubao.
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