James vs. Anthony one of 5 key NBA playoff battles

Basketball may be a team sport, but there are five key individual matchups to watch in the first round of the National Basketball Association playoffs.
Atlanta Hawks forward Josh Smith, left, and Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, right, have been going at it a long time now, such as here in the 2008 playoffs. They are still key cogs as they clubs meet again. (Greg Smith/Associated Press files)

Sure, basketball is a team sport, but NBA games are often won and lost by individual matchups. Here are five to watch in the first round of the playoffs.

LeBron James vs. Carmelo Anthony

Anthony averaged 29.8 points in April for the New York Knicks, but that was largely against power forwards he had quickness advantages on. Now he has to deal with James, his longtime friend and Olympic teammate who held him to only two baskets in the fourth quarter of the Miami Heat's 93-85 victory at Madison Square Garden on April 15.

What they're saying: "Carmelo Anthony is the best scorer in the NBA, but LeBron James is arguably the best defender in the NBA. (James) can shut (Anthony) down to where he won't be getting 30 or 40 a game against LeBron." — TNT analyst Charles Barkley.

Kevin Garnett vs. Josh Smith

Garnett is now playing centre for the Boston Celtics, so technically Brandon Bass would line up against Smith. But Garnett is still one of the NBA's elite defenders and will need to take his turns on the versatile Atlanta Hawks standout who really like no other forward in the NBA.

A more mature Smith is playing some of the best basketball of his career.

What they're saying: "He is one of the few guys in this league who has the ability to impact both ends of the floor." — Hawks coach Larry Drew on Smith.   

Kobe Bryant vs. Arron Afflalo

Afflalo and the Denver Nuggets have defended Bryant well.

The Los Angeles Lakers' All-Star shot only 27.5 per cent against Denver this season, his lowest against any team. Bryant missed seven of the last eight regular season games with a sore shin, but is expected to come out firing against the Nuggets.

What they're saying: "He'll be ready when the playoffs start." —Spurs guard Tony Parker on Bryant.

Zach Randolph vs. Blake Griffin   

Randolph is a double-double machine for Memphis and was the star of the Grizzlies' post-season run last year. But he was never known to be very nimble and has lost some quickness after a knee injury.

That could spell trouble against the explosive Griffin.   

What they're saying: "I can't wait to see that matchup, Zach Randolph going up against Blake Griffin. That's going to be one of the marquee series in the first round." — TNT's Greg Anthony. 

Russell Westbrook vs. Jason Kidd

The young, athletic Westbrook is as fast as they come, certainly faster that 39-year-old Kidd. But count on the crafty Kidd and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks to try and force Oklahoma City's shoot-first point guard into one of those 3-for-16 nights that make Thunder fans cringe.   

What they're saying: "He's a big part of our heart and soul. When we're without him, we can win some games but we're not the same team." — Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle on Kidd.