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As we draw near to the close of the NBA regular season — the end being a mere fortnight away…fortnight being an overly complicated way of saying “two weeks” — it has occurred to us here at 3 Shades of Blue that we should take a look at the Western Conference playoff matchups that the NBA wishes to see.

Now, that’s not to say that we’re going to look at the matchups that will happen or even should happen according to us fans, but rather, we’re going to look at the matchups that the NBA’s front office and (most importantly) TV people would prefer to see. *This semi-satirical statement is not meant to directly imply that the NBA would do anything underhanded or untoward in determining the playoff matchups of the 2010-2011 postseason….at least, as far as we know.*

First off, forget what the standings are right now. We know that the Spurs are the #1 seed and the Grizzlies are the #8 seed, but who thinks that situation is going to remain static over the next 7 or 8 games? Not us, that’s for sure! Every spot is fluid — within reason — and we’re going treat it thusly.

Next, we’re going to be frank about a few things. Namely, while the NBA might not want to see the Memphis Grizzlies even make the playoffs — and we doubt that they do — they surely would rather see them in there than the Yao Ming-less Houston Rockets or Deron Williams-less Utah Jazz, so we’re going to include scenarios that see the Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns and the New Orleans Hornets all part of the playoffs, as well as sitting on the sidelines come mid-April.

Finally, if there’s one other team that the NBA would prefer to see at home when the regular season ends, but can do virtually nothing to make it happen, it is the star-less Denver Nuggets who continue to defy the odds by continuing to win despite the trade that was supposed to leave them grasping for straws the remainder of the season. Either George Karl is a much better coach than we’ve been led to believe or the Nuggets are getting all of the instant karma they can handle for putting up with Carmelo Anthony’s song-and-dance since last season and it is paying immediate dividends for them. All that being said, the Nuggets are making the postseason, but there’s not a whole lot we can say about them to make them interesting, so I suggest you go over to [insert TrueHoopNetwork Nuggets blog here] if you want to hear about the boys in the Mile High City.

Let’s get to the matchups with Scenario #1 aka The Scenario That The NBA Most Wants To See:

(2) Los Angeles vs. (7) New Orleans:

Despite the loss of PF David West for the remainder of the season, the NBA is determined to continue to bolster the Hornets as part of their “post-Katrina good deed program”. (In case you were wondering, that’s why Chris Paul won’t be allowed to leave…ever.) So, we’ll get to see one of the most exciting players in the league (CP3) against another big star (Kobe “Bean” Bryant) who happens to play for the league’s biggest draw, which will give tons of exposure to a New Orleans team that would probably have been better off by missing the postseason.

(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Phoenix:
Yeah, they are two teams whose stars have gotten older, but if you saw them battle for Western Conference supremacy a few years ago, you know that you want to see them go head-to-head one more time. Guess what — the NBA knows that you want your dose of Steve Nash doing Steve Nash things, too, so they are gonna do their best to give it to you.

(3) Dallas vs. (6) Portland: If Caron Butler hadn’t gotten injured, this would be the “must-see” matchup of the first round as he would be facing the unstoppable force that is Gerald “Crash” Wallace, the one-man wrecking crew responsible for keeping the Blazers in the playoff hunt since the trade that brought him there from Charlotte. Don’t sleep on the Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge matchup either, since it’ll be a face-off of power forwards who both seem to despise the low-post, but dominate from everywhere else on the floor.
(4) Oklahoma City vs. (5) Denver: The most tantalizingly exciting young team in the league (the Thunder) take on the most surprisingly enigmatic team (the Nuggets) in an intra-divisional matchup that will have everyone in the NBA’s front office rooting for the Thunder like a degenerate gambler rooting for the last game on a 10-team teaser. (Remember kids, gambling is bad and it’s illegal in America…allegedly.)

Then, there is Scenario #2 aka The Scenario That The NBA Would Not Be Mad About:

(2) Los Angeles vs. (7) Phoenix:
Again, fans want Steve Nash, they need Steve Nash, they yearn for more Steve Nash…so the NBA will give them Steve Nash in a matchup that will let him do glorious Steve Nash things, even though the Suns will probably get swept as a result, which is unfortunate given the playoff history of these two teams over the past several years.

(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Portland:
Hey look! It’s the old guys against the new guys…or at least the guys who were the new guys before the Thunder showed up. The NBA would love to bill this as an eventual “changing of the guard” pairing, but the fact is that cannot be true when Brandon Roy’s knees are more shot than Tim Duncan’s despite that fact that Tim Duncan has about 2 millions miles on his already. Still, it’s a good matchup from top-to-bottom that should provide some high quality play on both ends of the floor.

(3) Dallas vs. (6) Denver:
Ummm….yeah. I don’t know anyone outside of Texas or Colorado that would want to watch this either, but I’ve already told you: Denver is going to make the playoffs, so just go ahead and accept it, and then move on.

(4) Oklahoma City vs. (5) Memphis:
Before you start with the “You went from the Grizzlies being out of the playoffs to the #5 seed?!?!”, let me remind you that they are only 3 games out of that spot right now and the NBA can do whatever they darn well please when they decide to (hypothetically, of course) arrange the matchups. Since that’s out of the way, who wouldn’t want to watch the league’s two youngest teams battle it out? You sir, in the back, why is your hand up? You’re a Kings fan, you say? Well, God hates your team, so your opinion doesn’t matter.

Finally, there is Scenario #3 aka The Scenario That The NBA Is Marginally OK With:

(2) Los Angeles vs. (7) Memphis:
Hey, let’s revisit the Pau Gasol trade for the 3 millionth time. Oh, and we’ve got him playing against his brother, too! And…Kobe usually scores well against them, so that’s good for ratings, too. Yeah, the NBA would be fine with this first round pairing.

(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Denver:
Let’s just move on, shall we?

(3) Dallas vs. (6) Phoenix:
Beyond the “Nash Factor”, which includes the fact that he used to play in Dallas in this case, this would be a matchup of teams with entertaining styles of play, lots of creative ball movement and offensive wizardry, and nobody would get hit with a Flagrant Foul 4: Death by Dismemberment. I’d watch these two play in a “Best of 21″ if that was an option.

(4) Oklahoma City vs. (5) Portland:
Both teams are considerd “up-and-coming” squads filled with young, talented players. You’d get a phenomenal on-court pairing of Kevin “Kid Delicious” Durant, the NBA’s back-to-back scoring champ, going against Gerald “Crash” Wallace, the NBA’s player voted “Most Likely to Retire With an Injury You Thought Only X-Games Participants Could Suffer From”. If I’d watch Suns-Mavs in a race to 11 wins, can you imagine how many games I’d go through with these guys? The sky is the limit.

And that, ladies and gents, is how it all shakes out. In all likelihood, we’re still going to get Lakers-Thunder and Spurs-Mavs in the next round anyways, but that’s no reason to only focus on that Miami-New York first round matchup that will be going on in the other conference. Let’s face it, those two teams have had enough coverage this season to last them for another decade.

Oh look, another Heat update just flashed across the screen!

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