NBA Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

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Editor's note: Any views or opinions expressed in this story is solely of the author.

(CNN Philippines) — After six months of NBA action, the regular season is finally done. But as they say, the playoffs is when the real season begins. Let's now take a look at the 16 teams left in the running for the much coveted Larry O'Brien trophy.

How will conference top seeds Toronto and Houston fare in postseason? Can the Golden State Warriors defend their crown? Which team is the dark horse in this year's playoffs?

Let's look at each of the first round matchups and see the storylines that could help us determine which among the teams have the advantage to go into the next round.

Here's my preview of the Western Conference:

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves

The Rockets have comfortably been in the playoffs for a while and had pretty much locked up the #1 seed a while back, while the Wolves fought for their lives and had to win a very tough game on the last day of the season just to snap their extended playoff drought. On paper, the Wolves have the pieces - Towns, Wiggins, Butler, Teague, Gibson and even Jamal Crawford off the bench, - to matchup with the Rockets and make this a competitive series. The Rockets have played at a high level all season long and it would be a big disappointment for them to lose. I think this series is closer than most people think but I expect home court advantage to be a factor, and the Rockets will find a way to win. A criticism of Mike D'antoni is that his teams are built for the regular season but come playoffs time when opponents really defend, scheme and prepare, his teams have a hard time. We shall find out.

(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs

Golden State will be playing without their MVP - Steph Curry while the Spurs will be playing without their best player - Kawhi Leonard. The only difference is that the Warriors still have 3 All-Stars in Kevin Durant (also an MVP level player), Draymond Gren and Klay Thompson while the Spurs only have Lamarcus Aldridge, an aging Ginobili, Gasol and Parker, plus a couple of younger ones in Murray, Patty Mills, Kyle Anderson and etc. I don't think the Spurs will have enough firepower to pull off an upset against the Warriors, but hey if there's one guy who can find a way to get his team to do it - it would be Popovich. Still..

(3) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans

The Blazers went on a hot streak sometime in February to help them end up with the #3 seed. The Pelicans thought their season was doomed when Demarcus Cousins hurt his Achilles. Terry Stotts has done a terrific job with the Blazers. He has two star guards running his team while big man Jusuf Nurkic has done a really good job as a rim protector. The big challenge will be stopping Anthony Davis. The Pelicans also have their own solid backcourt of Rondo and Holiday. Rondo's chemistry with Davis has been improving so much. The late addition of Nikola Mirotic has also been huge for the Pelicans. He could be a wildcard for them if he continues to play at a high level. Still, if the Pelicans were to have any chance in this series, it would fall on the shoulders of Davis. The true mark of a SUPERSTAR (Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Steph, Westbrook) would be if they could carry their team to a playoff series win. Let's see how Davis will fare. I think this will be a tough series though.

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz

The Thunder have been very confusing and inconsistent. They play well against the top teams but struggle and play down to the level of the weaker teams. Still, they probably would have the edge in this series because they have the two best players in the series - Westbrook and George. Steven Adams is a very solid big man and they still have Carmelo Anthony - although to me, it's not a big 3 anymore but rather a dynamic duo. The Utah Jazz on the other hand have been one of the overachievers this year. They lost Gordon Hayward and had Gobert out for 26 games and still they made the playoffs. Ricky Rubio has been solid together with another international star in Joe Ingles (very underrated) but it's been rookie Donovan Mitchell who's really carried them with his scoring. Utah is a team that is very disciplined and also plays very hard and executes as a team. This will be another grind it out series but the lack of a bonafide star or a go-to-guy down the stretch would probably hurt the Jazz (they do have guys who can do it but not at the level of Westbrook and George).

READ: Who are the players likely to win the regular season awards?

What are your thoughts on the first round pairings in the Western Conference, and which four teams will advance in the semis? Let me know your thoughts via Twitter by tagging me @charlestiu and @sportsdeskph! You can also check out my Eastern Conference preview here.

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