Will the Clippers' playoff opponent please stand up?

Will the Clippers' playoff opponent please stand up?
Clippers Coach Doc Rivers instructs his players during a win over the Phoenix Suns on March 10. Rivers says its difficult to prepare for the Clippers' first-round playoff opponent since there are several possible teams they could face. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It's the time of the year when Doc Rivers assigns his advance scouts to home in on whomever his team will play in the first round of the playoffs.

This season, that might require the scouts splitting into six parts, so varied are the Clippers' playoff possibilities.


"The problem is, we may not have enough guys because there's so many teams you could play," said Rivers, the Clippers' coach, who added he would probably hire out-of-work former NBA coaches to help with the process.

If the playoffs started Sunday, the Clippers would receive the No. 3 seeding in the Western Conference and play the sixth-seeded Golden State Warriors. But check back daily. The Clippers aren't locked into the No. 3 position, and only three games separate the four teams vying for the final three playoff spots.

Other potential matchups for the Clippers include the Portland Trail Blazers, Phoenix Suns, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Memphis Grizzlies.

Rivers said he didn't have a preference.

Fortunately, we are here to help. Here's a primer on the matchups that would most benefit the Clippers and those best to avoid:

Best-case matchups

Portland would be suddenly known as R.I.P. City: The Trail Blazers are backsliding faster than the Greek economy, having played sub-.500 basketball since late January.

Some of that has been attributable to a back injury to All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge that kept him out seven games, but Portland still has questionable depth that would have trouble matching the Clippers' fortified second unit.

The Trail Blazers also haven't been to the playoffs since 2011, meaning they will need an adjustment period. By the time they got comfortable, the Clippers would have moved on to the next round.

Houston, you have a problem, and thy name is Clippers: Admittedly, this is the least likely scenario. It would entail the Clippers falling into the No. 4 seeding and the Rockets dipping to No. 5.

The Clippers certainly wouldn't mind. They hold a 3-0 lead in the season series and have easily looked like the superior team. They have an answer for Dwight Howard in the vastly improved DeAndre Jordan, who is averaging more blocks and rebounds per game than his Rockets counterpart and could be the league's defensive player of the year.

Plus, the uncertainty over point guard Patrick Beverley's knee injury means the Rockets might have to turn to Jeremy Lin in the playoffs. Game, set, series, Chris Paul.

Dallas would live up to its nickname as the Big D — as in Defeat: You have to give the Mavericks credit. Newcomer Monta Ellis has been reasonably efficient, Dirk Nowitzki has been completely rejuvenated and Jose Calderon has continued to shoot GPS-guided three-pointers.

But Samuel Dalembert? What was Dallas thinking giving a starting spot to a center whose upside is a slightly more productive Kendrick Perkins?


NBC once aired a game show that addressed this phenomenon. It was called "The Weakest Link."

Worst-case matchups

Golden State would have more than a prayer: The Clippers and Warriors hate each other so much that they refused to attend chapel together earlier this season before games.

In some ways, though, they're a lot alike. They're both young and athletic with dynamic big men. This matchup would probably create the best theater of any first-round matchup between Paul and Golden State's Stephen Curry trying to one-up each another and the Warriors continually testing the league's top three-point defense.

There's a reason these teams have split their four games this season. One potential downer for the Warriors: Andre Iguodala could be slowed by a painful knee throughout the playoffs.

It's never fun to wrestle with a Grizzly: There would be flagrant fouls, technical fouls and ejections. Then the second quarter of Game 1 would start.

Though the Clippers could beat Memphis — they've certainly been the better team this season — the rivals' hatred for each other could prompt the Clippers to do dumb things. Like throwing an elbow to the head of nemesis Zach Randolph.

Rivers surely would prefer his team properly execute inbounds plays instead of uppercuts. Avoiding a playoff series against the Grizzlies for a third consecutive season ensures that happens.

Eric Bledsoe can get as hot as a Sun spot: Phoenix is 24-10 this season when its new point guard has played, his return from a knee injury this month triggering a playoff push for a team that was expected to be among the worst in the NBA.

Instead, the tandem of Bledsoe and Goran Dragic has created all sorts of matchup problems for opposing defenses, and youngsters Miles Plumlee and Markieff and Marcus Morris have come of age more quickly than envisioned.

There's also that thing known as the revenge factor for someone traded by the Clippers. Of course, they may have been doing Bledsoe a favor.

Twitter: @latbbolch