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NBA playoffs: Western Conference preview and predictions

Clippers aren’t interested in waiting to make playoff push
Guards Stephen Curry of Golden State and Patrick Beverley of the Clippers will be matched up beginning Saturday.
(Randy Vazquez / Bay Area News Group)

A series-by-series look at the Western Conference’s first-round playoff matchups:

1. GOLDEN STATE

57-25 (Home 30-11; Road 27-14)

8. CLIPPERS

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48-34 (Home 26-15; Road 22-19)

Season series: Warriors, 3-1.

Key stats: No team made more shots this season (3,612 field goals) or made them at a better rate (49.1%) than the Warriors. The Clippers were the last Western Conference team to beat the Warriors in a series (Round 1, 2014). No players remain from that team.

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Outlook: The Warriors have lost only two first-round games during their four straight trips to the NBA Finals, and an overachieving Clippers team shouldn’t be much of a speed bump. While the Clippers have some toughness and length — things you need to hypothetically slow down the Warriors — the talent gap is just too great. Stephen Curry (27.3 points, 43.7% three-pointers), Kevin Durant (26.0 points, 6.4 rebounds, 5.9 assists) and Klay Thompson (21.5 points, 40.2% three-pointers) could all be on All-NBA teams. The Clippers don’t have a current or former All-Star on the roster. Lou Williams (20.0 points) will need to have a monster series if the Clippers want to extend their surprise season past four games.

Prediction: Warriors in four.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Saturday at Golden State 5 p.m., ABC, Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Game 2 Monday at Golden State 7:30 p.m., TNT, Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Game 3 Thursday at CLIPPERS, 7:30 p.m., TNT

Game 4 April 21 at CLIPPERS, 12:30 p.m. ABC, Fox Sports Prime Ticket

Game 5 April 24 at Golden State, TBD

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Game 6 April 26 at CLIPPERS, TBD

Game 7 April 28, TBD

::

2. DENVER

54-28 (Home 34-7; Road 20-21)

7. SAN ANTONIO

48-34 (Home 32-9; Road 16-25)

Season series: Even, 2-2

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Key stats: Denver won 54 games, its second most since the NBA/ABA merger. The most, 57 games, came in 2013 when the Nuggets were upset in the first round. The last time the Spurs missed the playoffs, Denver center Nikola Jokic was 2 years old.

Outlook: The Nuggets making the playoffs wasn’t a surprise in NBA circles. The Nuggets remaining near the very top the entire season was a surprise. Center Nikola Jokic (20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists) is a generational offensive talent to go along with a team full of depth and offensive balance (seven players average at least 10.4 points). The Spurs, a candidate to fall out of the postseason after dealing Kawhi Leonard, got their footing after an 11-14 start, thanks to some of their signature player development coupled with strong years from LaMarcus Aldridge (21.3 points) and DeMar DeRozan (21.2 points). The Spurs, a team full of playoff experience, could be a challenge for a Denver team making its first trip.

Prediction: Nuggets in six.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Saturday at Denver, 7:30 p.m., ESPN

Game 2 Tuesday at Denver, 6 p.m., NBATV

Game 3 Thursday at San Antonio, 6 p.m., NBATV

Game 4 April 20 at San Antonio, 2:30 p.m., TNT

Game 5 April 23 at Denver, TBD

Game 6 April 25 at San Antonio, TBD

Game 7 April 27 at Denver, TBD

::

3. PORTLAND

53-29 (Home 32-9, Road 21-20)

6. OKLAHOMA CITY

49-33 (Home 27-14, Road 22-19)

Season series: Thunder, 4-0

Key stats: Oscar Robertson averaged a triple-double once in his Hall of Fame career. Russell Westbrook has now done it each of the last three seasons. Portland guard Damian Lillard has never had a triple-double in his career.

Outlook: Portland entered the season with tons of questions after getting swept by New Orleans in 2018 in the first round in this very 3-6 first-round matchup. The team answered them for most of the season, but losing Jusuf Nurkic to an injury will be a big factor against the Thunder’s frontcourt. Westbrook is a force, but for everything he adds there are big questions about how much those numbers matter. Both Lillard (25.8 points) and Paul George (28.0 points) should be on MVP ballots, and whoever plays better in the series could decide it.

Prediction: Oklahoma City in six.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Sunday at Portland, 12:30 p.m., Ch. 7

Game 2 Tuesday at Portland, 7:30 p.m, TNT

Game 3 Friday at Oklahoma City, 6:30 p.m. ESPN

Game 4 April 21 at Oklahoma City, 6:30 p.m. TNT

Game 5 April 23 at Portland, TBD

Game 6 April 25 at Oklahoma City, TBD

Game 7 April 27 at Portland, TNT

::

4. HOUSTON

53-29 (Home 31-10, Road 22-19)

5. UTAH

50-32 (Home 29-12, Road 21-20)

Season series: Tied, 2-2

Key stats: Utah led the NBA this season by allowing only 27.7 three-point attempts per game. But no team is more willing to launch from deep than the Rockets, who take (45.4) and make (16.1) more three-point shots than anyone else.

Outlook: Probably the best first-round series in both conferences, the Rockets’ last-second loss to Oklahoma City put them in the firing line, first with a meeting against Utah and, if they survive, a rematch against the Warriors before the conference finals. The Jazz have the NBA’s most unique defensive weapon in Rudy Gobert, who is to their defense what James Harden is to the Rockets’ offense. Harden traditionally has slowed down as the postseason has gone on, and Utah will have to find ways to wear him down.

Prediction: Rockets in seven.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 Sunday at Houston, 6:30 p.m. TNT

Game 2 Wednesday at Houston, 6:30 p.m. TNT

Game 3 April 20 at Utah, 7:30 p.m. ESPN

Game 4 April 22 at Utah, 7:30 p.m. TNT

Game 5 April 24 at Houston, TBD

Game 6 April 26 at Utah, TBD

Game 7 April 28 at Houston, TBD

dan.woike@latimes.com

Twitter: @DanWoikeSports


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