NBA West Preview: Can Stephen Curry and the Warriors repeat?

The NBA playoffs begin Saturday. The Golden State Warriors will take on the Houston Rockets in a rematch of the 2015 Eastern Conference final while the San Antonio Spurs will play the Memphis Grizzlies

No. 2 seed San Antoniowill take on Memphis in 1st round

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors shoots over Clint Capela of the Houston Rockets during Game 1 of the 2015 Western Conference final. The Warriors will take on the Rockets again, only this time in the first round. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

With the NBA playoffs set to begin Saturday, we preview the Western Conference matchups.

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets

Season series: Warriors, 3-0. Golden State won at Houston twice, first by 20 in October and then by four (without Stephen Curry) on New Year's Eve, and beat the Rockets by 13 in their only regular-season trip to Oakland this season on Feb. 9.

Story line: The season was an ultimately successful quest for an all-time regular-season record 73 wins by the Warriors, and now it's a quest for 89 — that total plus the 16 wins needed to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The Warriors don't need to be told that being the best regular-season team of all time would ring hollow without a second straight title.

Key matchup: Curry versus James Harden. The two top scorers in the league this season make this an obvious pick. Curry won the scoring title averaging 30.1 points and making an absurd 402 three-pointers. Harden was right on his heels, averaging 29.0 points per game. And in a weird stat nugget, Harden finished with one more point than Curry in the regular season — 2,376 to 2,375 (the difference being Curry played three fewer games).

X-Factor: Draymond Green. Golden State's best defender will probably have to deal with Houston's Dwight Howard quite a bit down low in this series, and if he even holds his own in that matchup the Warriors shouldn't have much trouble. And on a team where leadership seems to be present in bunches anyway, Green appears like he's gotten better in that department this season — which will make the defending champs that much tougher to beat.

Prediction: Warriors in 5.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies

Season series: Spurs, 4-0. The Spurs won a pair early in the season when the Grizzlies were mostly at full strength, then won two more over a four-night span in March when both were missing players. LaMarcus Aldridge averaged 31.5 points in the latter two victories, which both came without Kawhi Leonard. Leonard averaged 23 in the two he did play in, making seven three-pointers in a 27-point performance during a 103-83 victory. The Spurs have won five straight meetings.

Story line: The Spurs couldn't catch the record-setting Warriors for the best record in the league but the consolation prize might be a better first-round matchup against a depleted Grizzlies team that might be the weakest in the post-season. Memphis held on for a while after the injuries to Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, but dropped four straight and nine of 10 to end the season, falling from the No. 5 seed to No. 7. Still, the Spurs won't overlook them after being upset by the Grizzlies as the No. 1 seed in the West five years ago.

Key matchup: Aldridge versus Zach Randolph. Different settings, same first-round matchup in the first round for these power forwards. Randolph and the Grizzlies beat Portland in five games last year, sending Aldridge into free agency and eventually back home to Texas in the Spurs' frontcourt. Randolph played only once against the Spurs this season, managing nine points.

X-Factor: Lance Stephenson and Matt Barnes. With so many of their most reliable players unavailable, the Grizzlies are forced to rely on a pair of wild cards. Either can occasionally get hot, but the problem for Memphis is they would likely be guarded by Leonard and Danny Green, two of the top players on the league's best defence.

Prediction: Spurs in 4.

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks

Season series: Thunder, 4-0. It may seem like a lopsided matchup at first blush, but two of OKC's four victories were by just three points, a 117-114 win at home in November and a 109-106 win at Dallas on Jan. 22.

Story line: The Thunder are finally back at full strength for the playoffs after missing the post-season last year thanks to a litany of injuries. With Kevin Durant back to his unstoppable self, the Thunder are trying to reclaim their spot as a Western Conference elite in a critical post-season for them ahead of Durant's free agency this summer.

Key matchup: Serge Ibaka versus Dirk Nowitzki. Ibaka has been very good against the Mavericks this season, averaging 15.8 points as the third wheel for the Thunder. His defence will be big against the Mavericks' ageless star, who remains one of the league's most reliable shot-makers.

X-Factor: Rick Carlisle. One of the league's best coaches has a history of strong performances in the post-season. He's done one of his best coaching jobs this year to help the Mavericks overcome injuries and the summer disappointment of losing DeAndre Jordan to get back to the playoffs. His game plans against rookie head coach Billy Donovan could be a difference maker.

Prediction: Thunder in 6.

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trail Blazers

Season series: Clippers, 3-1. Los Angeles won twice at home — 102-87 on Nov. 30 and 96-94 on March 24 — and once in Portland, 109-98 on Jan. 6. The Blazers won at home on Nov. 20, 102-91.

Story line: The Clippers bent over backward to convince DeAndre Jordan to change his mind and pull out of an agreement with Dallas last summer to stay in Los Angeles and keep the band together. After a tumultuous season dominated by Blake Griffin's injuries and fight with a team employee, they are back for another push against the Blazers, who came out of nowhere to get the No. 5 seed.

Key matchup: Chris Paul versus Damian Lillard. Two of the game's very best point guards will go head to head. Paul is one of the best defensive point guards in the game and will have his work cut out for him chasing around Lillard, a dynamic offensive force who has willed the Blazers into the playoffs.

X-Factor: Griffin. The Clippers played very well in the months that Griffin was out, but they need him desperately to give them an offensive centre point in the playoffs. In a twist, Portland's only win in the series came with Griffin on the court.

Prediction: Clippers in 6.


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