Niall Gray completes his preview of the first round of the NBA play-offs, with a look at the Western Conference.

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans

In a much-stronger Western Conference even the best vs. worst match-up is one worth watching.

Anthony ‘The Brow’ Davis will be making his long-awaited play-off debut but sadly for him, it will probably be a short one.

The Pelicans find themselves up against the seemingly-unstoppable Golden State Warriors, led by the ‘Splash Brothers’, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

It seems like every week one of them is grabbing the headlines and you expect they will continue to do so during the play-offs.

The situation for Davis reminds me of the Bulls teams during the early days of Michael Jordan’s career.

You knew they were exciting and that they had a superstar leader who could deliver a huge performance or two, but at the same time the squad just wasn’t good enough to have any hope of winning a series.

And that’s the case here. Watch this one for big performances from Davis, but expect Curry and Thompson to have the edge, especially with Steve Kerr pulling the strings on the side-line.

(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

Rajon Rondo could be pivotal to deciding who wins this all-Texan affair, but not for the reason you might be thinking of.

The former Boston Celtic point-guard has not enjoyed his time with the Mavericks , even managing to get himself suspended at one point by his own team.

Rondo was brought in to try and put the Mavericks over the top in the talent-laden West, but until now he’s been more of a hindrance than a help.

With Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and Monta Ellis leading the way, the Mavericks have a good chance, but only if Rondo flicks the switch and plays like he did in Boston a few years ago.

Otherwise, James Harden and the Rockets might have their way in this one. Harden is an exciting player to watch any time he’s on the court, and he is one of those players capable of taking his game to the next level in the post-season.

Harden and Dwight Howard will be pivotal to the Rockets’ chances of progression. These two need to be at their best every game and also hope the likes of Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith can step up and carry some of the load.

If this series doesn’t go at least six games it will be a major disappointment.

(3) L.A. Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs

It’s going to be a very long off-season for the loser of this series, because it might signal a summer of change.

Neither of these teams deserves to be going out this early, but that’s the way it is in such a strong conference.

If the Spurs bow out, questions will once again be asked about whether their time is up, but if the Clippers are eliminated, will Doc Rivers’ job be safe?

That’s why you need to expect one of the hardest-fought series you will see this year and it will not be a surprise if there’s at least 2 or 3 wins by the road team.

Having won the championship last season, the Spurs will be fighting all the way to retain the title and they will use the inspiration of the 1996 Houston Rockets, who managed to defend the Championship despite them also being a sixth seed.

If the Clippers are for real and want to have a deep play-off run, this is their time. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are two of the most exciting players in the NBA but they won’t join the greats until they are playing in the finals.

Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have seen it all in their careers and won’t be fazed by not having home-court, even with their poor road record this season.

But the man who could be key in this one is San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, who just keeps getting better and better. If he’s on form, the Spurs will be one step closer to repeating.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

Of all the match-ups in the West, this is the one that might get overlooked a little.

That’s a shame as it could be a good series and of course there’s British interest in this one thanks to Joel Freeland.

The Blazers have a decent team which is led by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge, and has a lot of decent role players, but they are a long way from being a side who could seriously contend for a championship.

The Grizzlies on the other hand have a strong starting five and a deep bench. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are the key guys and it’s difficult to see the Blazers stopping these two during the series.

But all is not lost as both Mike Conley and Tony Allen could miss this series, leaving the Grizzlies with a big hole in the backcourt.

Therefore, Portland’s best chance in this one is try and win the series as quickly as possible as the longer it goes on, the more chance there is of Conley and Allen getting back on the court.

Memphis may be the lower seed but that is only because of the NBA’s seeding system for division winners and it’s the Grizzlies who hold home-court advantage due to a better record.

Therefore Portland will need to steal at least one on the road in the first two games if they are to take this series.

East preview

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