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What's next: Breaking down the NBA conference semifinal matchups

By Tim Reynolds

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, May 4 2014 7:00 p.m. MDT

Season series: Tied, 2-2. Both teams won once on the other's home floor. The Trail Blazers won the first two matchups of the season, and one of the Spurs' wins came with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard all sitting out a game at Portland.

Story line: It's the veterans against the up-and-comers. San Antonio held things together perfectly after losing in last season's NBA Finals, finishing this season with the league's best record. The Spurs got taken to the limit by Dallas in the first round, while Portland got a buzzer-beater from Damian Lillard to oust Houston in six games — and the Blazers surely won't be feeling any pressure now.

Key matchup I: Tony Parker vs. Lillard. The guard play in this series could be phenomenal, and it starts with these two. Game 1 of this series will be Parker's 180th postseason game. Lillard hasn't appeared in that many games — regular-season and postseason combined — in his career.

Key matchup II: Tim Duncan vs. LaMarcus Aldridge. There might have been no better player in the first round of the postseason than Aldridge, who averaged 29.8 points and 11.2 rebounds in the six games against Houston. Duncan, though, is still widely considered the gold standard when it comes to post play, especially in the playoffs.

X-factor: Danny Green. The San Antonio sharpshooter was enormous for the Spurs in last season's NBA Finals, his 3-point barrages giving Miami fits. If he gets remotely close to that hot again, Portland will have to take attention away from Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili — which plays right into San Antonio's hands.

Prediction: Spurs in 6.

No. 2 OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER (59-23, 4-3) vs. No. 3 LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS (57-25, 4-3)

Season series: Tied, 2-2. How close was it? Combined score: Thunder 432, Clippers 428. Oklahoma City won once in Los Angeles, the Clippers won once on the Thunder's home floor. They've met only once since Feb. 23, and that was the Thunder winning on the road 107-101 in a game that helped Oklahoma City lock up No. 2 in the West.

Story line: For the Clippers, maybe this series will have some sort of sense of normalcy. After the unbelievable roller-coaster of Round 1 — a fierce series with Golden State, the lifetime ban of the team's owner over racist comments — dealing with the widely presumed MVP in Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant might actually seem like a welcome change of pace.

Key matchup I: Russell Westbrook vs. Chris Paul. Westbrook is as explosive as can be, and Paul is physically banged up with who-knows-how-many injuries along with a certain emotional toll over the Donald Sterling mess. When these guys go 1-on-1 in this series, the highlight reels will fill quickly. It's also worth mentioning that Paul has never been to a conference finals, and it's a safe bet that's weighing at least somewhat on his mind.

Key matchup II: Durant vs. Everybody. No one person can successfully guard Durant, and Clippers coach Doc Rivers won't disagree. It's going to take a collective effort, of course, but this is why Rivers went to the Clippers — to find a way to take championship-caliber parts and turn them into a championship team.

X-factor: Jamal Crawford. He scored 36 points in a win at Oklahoma City back in February, and comes in riding high after scoring 22 points in the Clippers' Game 7 victory over Golden State.

Prediction: Thunder in 7.

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