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Which team has the best chance to pull off a first-round upset?
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Steve Aschburner: I know, I know, it’s tempting to look West to the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz or LA Clippers for this. After all, the untested Denver Nuggets -- postseason-wise, anyway -- will be facing an opponent that finishes well above .500. But I’m wondering if Miami might be an even better underdog pick against Milwaukee if they meet in the East’s No. 1-vs-No. 8 slot. The Heat are a tough out in my opinion based on their pace and their defense, especially opponents’ field-goal percentage (No. 2 in the NBA). The Bucks are coping with some injuries now, with Malcolm Brogdon possible to miss the first round and Nikola Mirotic hurting a hand Tuesday vs. the Lakers. If Giannis Antetokounmpo has to handle too much of the heavy lifting and his perimeter shooters clang through a game or two, Milwaukee – which has gotten out of the first round just once in 30 years – might see its marvelous season end prematurely. You don’t think Dwyane Wade, Marquette’s best-ever pro, would like to stir the echoes in Milwaukee before he’s done?
Shaun Powell: We haven't often seen the words "San Antonio Spurs" and "upset candidate" in the same sentence for over two decades, but this year may qualify. They'll probably finish high enough in the standings to avoid the Golden State Warriors and perhaps get the Denver Nuggets or Houston Rockets, either of whom would be a more realistic upset target. I wouldn't put it past a team that can slow the pace behind two All-Stars and an all-time great coach pulling off the unexpected.
John Schuhmann: A tough schedule going forward may keep the Thunder in the bottom half of the West playoff picture. But through Tuesday, Oklahoma City has the best record (14-10) and is tied with Golden State for the most road wins (six) in games played between the eight West playoff teams. It would be tough to pick the Spurs, because they've been so terrible on the road, where they're 1-9 (having allowed more than 120 points per 100 possessions) against the other seven playoff teams, with the only win having come against the eighth-place Clippers. Of course, with a relatively easy remaining schedule, the Spurs could move up to fourth and have home-court advantage in a No. 4-vs.-No. 5 matchup. Really, seven of the eight playoff teams (all except the Warriors) could lose in the first round and six of them (all except the Clippers and Spurs) could reach the conference finals.
Sekou Smith: Based on where they sit today, the Utah Jazz are a team that would cause a higher seed some sleepless playoff nights. They have some of my must-have components for a playoff-upset candidate: sturdy defense, a game-changing player on both ends (Rudy Gobert on defense, Donovan Mitchell on offense), a gunslinger capable of a wicked playoff run or two (Joe Ingles) and some quality postseason experience (gained in the 2018 run). The Jazz would be an intriguing matchup against the Nuggets, who still need to prove themselves in the playoffs. A tight series early would add pressure for both sides, but especially for Denver, which flirted with the West's No. 1 seed at times in 2018-19. This is supposed to be about the team that could spring the upset, and the Jazz fit the bill for me.