Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
With a little more than three weeks until the playoffs, who’s your pick for Top 4 team (either conference) most likely to be upset in the first round?
Steve Aschburner: I’m saying Dallas for a couple of reasons. First, over the past 2 1/2 weeks, the Mavericks have lost to five playoff-bound Western Conference rivals, dropping to 4-5 since March 6. But the bigger reason is Portland, the team Dallas possibly could face. The Blazers have depth and versatility, and are the most dangerous of the lower seeds in either conference. So I guess my real answer is: Whichever team draws Portland in Round 1.
Fran Blinebury: Is it really an upset if 5 beats 4? The Thunder came into the season as everybody’s favorite flavor of the month after last year’s strong showing against the Lakers. While I still love everything they’re doing for the future, the truth is their defense has taken a step back and they still have to find a way to get more than long Kevin Durant jumpers late in games. They be playing either a Denver team that is looser than Charlie Sheen and with nothing to lose or a Portland team that has refused to roll over from more adversity and has LaMarcus Aldridge still with something to prove. Watch out, Thunder.
Scott Howard-Cooper: The Magic, in a 4-5 matchup with the Hawks. Part of that is by default. A 4-5 is almost always going to provide the best chance for a first-round upset, unless a really good team has slipped to the bottom of the playoff standings because of injury. But part is that the Hawks have done well against the Magic. Orlando’s defense and rebounding should get it out of the first round, but Atlanta has the ability to make it interesting.
Shaun Powell: Oklahoma City is prime for toppling, if the Thunder meet the Nuggets. Not sure how far Denver can go in the postseason without a true superstar, but the Nugs are playing unexpectedly well since trading Carmelo Anthony and George Karl is pushing all the right buttons. Beating the Thunder wouldn’t carry the same shock as Denver beating the Sonics in the 1994 playoffs (“Let’s get ready to Mutumbo!”), but it would be a surprise nonetheless.
John Schuhmann: As scary as Philly can be, there’s just no upset pick to be made in the East. And in the West, as long as Tim Duncan is relatively healthy come April 16, the only choices are Dallas or Oklahoma City. The Thunder will probably get the Nuggets, who are playing great right now. But for some reason, I believe in OKC more than Dallas, which isn’t as good defensively as it was at the beginning of the season. I’d still favor them in first-round series, but I think Dallas would be most likely.
Sekou Smith: The 4-5 matchup is always the best place to look for an upset victim. But the way the Hawks have played of late makes it hard to see them knocking off the Magic in the Eastern Conference. As well as the Nuggets have played sans Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, I still have a hard time seeing them knocking off the Thunder in the Western Conference. If any team should be a little nervous, it‘s the Magic. The Hawks might still be capable of turning things around in a playoff setting, especially against a team that skunked them 4-0 in the conference semifinals last season. It‘s just hard trusting a team that‘s been blown out as much as the Hawks have, especially on their home floor.