4. San Antonio Spurs
A lot of this is colored by my own biases. Some irrational part of my brain believes that not only could the Blazers beat the Spurs four times in a seven-game series, but also that it would only take them three games. This is insane, of course, but years of watching the Spurs somehow always be at their absolute worst when they play the Blazers has conditioned me to consider them pushovers. The good news is that the Blazers match up okay against them. Tony Parker might baffle Lillard a little, but the opposite applies as well. It’s usually dominant isolation/post-up players that confound the Blazers defense, rather than the Spurs’ forte, ball movement (Portland’s not great with either, but we’re talking relatives here). I would absolutely still bet on the Spurs, but it’s a much more favorable matchup than the others. If the Spurs were to start resting the Big 3 and concede games in preparation for the playoffs, they could certainly drop the three games between them and the 4-seed. We might even see some strategic tanking in the last couple games of the season if Portland decides it wants a 3-6 matchup with San Antonio.
5. Golden State Warriors
Golden State doesn’t have a bruising, dominant scorer inside, or an athletic, slashing guard (Andre Iguodala, with his 13.6 usage rate, doesn’t count), but they do have a brilliant scorer at the point in Stephen Curry. Like Parker, he’s not a great defender, but Golden State has excellent wing defenders like Klay Thompson and Iguodala who can switch onto Lillard if need be. Neither team gets a ton of value from its bench, although the Warriors just swapped out DDR champ Kent Bazemore for Steve Blake. I’ll call it a wash. As of this writing, the two are #6 and #7 in SRS, and at this point I’d say a series between them is a tossup.
6. Phoenix Suns
Goran Dragic has turned into–no exaggeration–a top-five point guard this year. He’s a fantastic scorer and he regularly makes interior defenders look silly. This is bad news, because the Blazers’ non-Lopez interior defense often looks silly regardless of who it plays. Predictably, he’s averaging 24 and 7 against the Blazers. Eric Bledsoe also looks to be coming back soon, and he’s another slashing/finishing type that toys with Portland’s defense. Of the bottom three playoff/near playoff teams, Phoenix is the worst matchup for the Blazers. I’d take the Blazers in this series, but it would be far too close for comfort.
7/8. Dallas Mavericks
& Memphis Grizzlies
Now we get to the mediocre dregs of the Western Conference race, and–wait what? They’re both really good? Dammit. Both of these teams do have significant holes, and they’re both almost certainly worse than the Blazers. They could also both absolutely beat the Blazers if they got hot for a few games. It turns out the west is tough, guys. I’ll arbitrarily take Dirk’s Dirkiness over Memphis’ D, but I could go either way with these.
There’s really no obvious team to want to play, so the question is less “Which team is the easiest?” that it is “Which team scares you the least?” What do you think?