Matchup: No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers (57-25) vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors (51-31)
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Efficiency Rankings: Los Angeles (1st offense, 8th defense), Golden State (12th offense, 3rd defense)
This could be the most entertaining of the eight first-round series. An ornery Chris Paul versus an unleashed Steph Curry. The ever-scuffling Blake Griffin versus roughly six different Warriors. NorCal versus SoCal, Staples versus the insanity of Oracle. A Lakers-free postseason, meaning all of L.A. will be watching. And blood so bad that the teams famously don't take pregame chapel together.
The Case For The Clippers
They have two of the 10 best players in the league in Griffin and Paul. DeAndre Jordan has become a defensive beast. And then there's all the wing firepower. The result is a scary-good offense that led the NBA in scoring and offensive rating and finished second in simple rating system.
Just having Paul gives the Clippers a significant advantage in any playoff series. No point guard controls the game better, or plays with more fire. He creates matchup problems for the Warriors. Because Curry is below-average defensively, Golden State will have to either deploy Andre Iguodala or Klay Thompson for stretches against Paul or load the defense to stop him. This in turn creates more space for lobs to Griffin and Jordan. And Paul is the rare NBA player who can kill teams in the mid-range area once he gets through the first line of defense.
The Case For The Warriors
The case was a lot stronger before center Andrew Bogut went down with a broken rib. Due in large part to Bogut, the Warriors were actually more effective on defense this season than offense, a strange sight in Golden State. Bogut finished second in the league in defensive rating, and Draymond Green, who can plausibly guard all five positions, finished fifth.
Without Bogut, the Warriors will have to play small ball, shifting Green and Harrison Barnes to power forward in many configurations and playing the ailing David Lee at center. Their best hope for knocking off the Clippers now resides beyond the arc. Curry needs to go into a series-long video game mode, and Thompson, Barnes, Green and Iguodala all need to shoot confidently.
Harrison Barnes. During last year's playoffs, Barnes played like an emerging star as a rookie. Athletic and versatile, he gave the Warriors a slashing finisher and another long defender on the wing. This season, however, has been a disappointment. He struggled offensively, shooting only 39.9 percent, even though he was playing with the second unit. Too often he's a ball-stopper on offense, and teams can lay off him from the perimeter.
If a small-ball lineup and the playoff stage resuscitate Barnes' game, the Clippers will have trouble matching up on the perimeter.
Clippers in six. The series should fun to watch, but in the end home-court advantage and the Warriors' shaky bench should be enough for the Clippers to prevail.