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NBA playoff predictions: Thunder over Blazers in six

The Western Conference playoffs always hold great appeal. Last season, for example, the better seed won only four of the playoff series, including two first-round upsets – Pelicans in a four-game sweep over the Blazers and Jazz in six over the Thunder.

So from where will the upsets come this postseason? Here are my predictions for the West’s first round:

Thunder vs. Blazers

Season series: OKC 4-0

Season records: Portland 53-29, OKC 49-33

Playoff history: Since winning the NBA title in 1977, the Blazers have missed the playoffs only eight times in 42 years. But Portland has won just two series since 2000. The Thunder has won 10 series since 2011, though none since 2016.

Playoff series history: 2-2, with all four series in the 20th century, when the Thunder was the Seattle SuperSonics.

Outlook: The Blazers played more consistent than did the up-and-down Thunder. But Portland lost center Jusuf Nurkic to a broken leg in March. The Blazers navigated the rest of their schedule, but Nurcik gave Portland a counter to Steven Adams. That counter now is gone.

Prediction: Thunder in six.

Warriors vs. Clippers

Season series: Golden State 3-1

Season records: Golden State 57-25, Los Angeles 48-34

Playoff history: The Warriors are in a dynasty, having won three of the last four NBA titles. But between 1994 and 2013, Golden State made the playoffs just once. And the Warriors went nine straight years, 1978-86, without making the playoffs. The Clippers before 2012 won only two playoff series in 41 years as a franchise, and one of those was as the 1976 Buffalo Braves. But the Clippers have made the playoffs seven of the last eight years and won three series.

Playoff series history: The Clippers beat the Warriors in the 2014 first round.

Outlook: The Clippers are a great story. They’ve traded Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris in separate deals over the last 20 months, all in the name of rebuilding, but have remained competitive, with a bright future. The Warriors have been bored, waiting for the playoffs.

Prediction: Warriors in four.

Nuggets vs. Spurs

Season series: 2-2

Season records: Denver 54-28, San Antonio 48-34.

Playoff history: The Nuggets haven’t made the playoffs since 2013, but before that was a postseason staple, qualifying 24 times in their first 37 years in the NBA. But Denver never has made the NBA Finals and has made the West finals only in 1978, 1985 and 2009. The Spurs, perhaps you’ve heard, are the NBA’s most consistently excellent franchise. San Antonio has won five NBA titles and has missed the playoffs only four times in its 42-year NBA history. The Spurs have won 45 series in those 42 years.

Playoff series history: The Spurs are 5-1 vs. Denver, losing only in the 1985 first round.

Outlook: Denver was among the NBA’s best teams all season before a late swoon dropped the Nuggets back to the pack. The Spurs were the Spurs. Denver is virtually void of playoff experience – Paul Millsap a notable exception – and San Antonio is loaded with playoff experience. How much will that matter?

Prediction: Nuggets in seven.

Rockets vs. Jazz

Season series: 2-2

Season records: Houston 53-29, Utah 50-32.

Playoff history: The Rockets won NBA titles in 1994 and 1995; they reached the NBA Finals in 1981 and 1986. Houston has made the playoffs 30 of the last 41 years. Utah never won the title but reached the Finals in 1997 and 1998. The Jazz has made the playoffs 28 of the last 36 years.

Playoff series history: Houston beat Utah 4-1 last season in the West semifinals. The Jazz is 6-2 vs. Houston in the playoffs; they split two memorable West finals in the ‘90s – Karl Malone vs. Hakeem Olajuwon.

Outlook: Utah had a brutal early schedule but finished strong and has a defense built for the playoffs. Houston struggled early with injuries but is 21-5 with its core players available.

Prediction: Rockets in five.

Related Photos
Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes next to Portland's Jusuf Nurkic (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Oklahoma City won 120-111. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes next to Portland's Jusuf Nurkic (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Oklahoma City won 120-111....

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-adff1c484a754fc24888e2c33c31ee50.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes next to Portland's Jusuf Nurkic (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Oklahoma City won 120-111. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman" title="Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes next to Portland's Jusuf Nurkic (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Oklahoma City won 120-111. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook (0) passes next to Portland's Jusuf Nurkic (27) in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game between the Portland Trail Blazers and the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Monday, Feb. 11, 2019. Oklahoma City won 120-111. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure>
Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›

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