The first round of the 2019 NBA playoffs features a bevy of intriguing, star-studded matchups.
Thanks to some late-season luck, the Denver Nuggets escaped with the Western Conference’s No. 2 overall seed, which allows them to dodge both the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets until the conference finals. But before looking that far ahead, they must first concern themselves with Gregg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs, who will look to exploit their lack of playoff experience in a potential first-round upset.
Spurs-over-Nuggets may be the trendy upset pick for the first round, but the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers will enter their series against the sixth-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder as outright underdogs. Jusuf Nurkic’s season-ending compound leg fractures raised doubts about Portland’s ability to go on a deep playoff run, but don’t rule out the likelihood of crunch-time heroics from four-time All-Star Damian Lillard.
In the East, injuries likewise sapped some appeal from the Boston Celtics-Indiana Pacers first-round matchup, as Indiana may not have the offensive firepower to keep up with Boston sans Victor Oladipo. However, the expected series-long absence of Celtics guard Marcus Smart opens the door for a potential Pacers upset if Bojan Bogdanovic and Co. catch fire for a few games.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors are likely to roll through their respective first-round opponents, but the other five series appear somewhat close on paper. Here, we’ll rank each of the first-round matchups based on their expected competitiveness, aesthetic appeal and potential significance.