By RICK SOLEM
The real NBA season begins and the storylines are nearly endless.
There are a couple of first-round flops, but, for the most part, every matchup provides some intrigue.
Here’s a look, starting with the best … and the worst:
Milwaukee vs. Miami
No need to talk about this matchup, the sub-.500 Bucks lose in four to a team that won 27 games in a row.
Boston vs. New York
Boston has played incredible team basketball since it lost Rajon Rondo. New York has played incredibly selfish basketball with shoot-first, pass-never Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith. That said, New York still takes it in six games. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will have a little bit to say in this series, but not enough.
Golden State vs. Denver
Stephen Curry set the record for 3-pointers made in a season and has been one of the best point guards of the season. Denver has had to overcome adversity in losing leading scorer Danilo Gallinari for the season – and Kenneth Faried to a sprained ankle in the regular-season finale.
But Denver, and its 23-game home winning streak, still kept reeling off wins with Wilson Chandler taking over for Gallinari. Even if Andrew Bogut comes back, he’s been rather ineffective for the Warriors, who don’t have the defense needed in the playoffs. The Nuggets take it in six.
Memphis vs. L.A. Clippers
If you remember, this was the matchup in which Memphis looked to have in the bag last year when they opened the series with a 27-point lead, had a 21-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, and lost. Memphis then fell 3-1 in the series, before forcing a Game 7 and finally succumbing to the Clippers.
Everyone thought Memphis was packing it in when trading small forward Rudy Gay, but what it did was give the team an identity led by Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph – much like their playoff run two years ago with Gay injured and they nearly upset the Spurs to get to the Western Conference Finals.
Those two will be all that Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan can handle, but they’ll be able to handle them. Chris Paul comes to play when everything is on the line and he’ll take over when needed. Clippers in seven.
Chicago vs. Brooklyn
This is perhaps the most uninspiring series in the NBA … minus the Bucks-Heat. Everyone wondered, and still wonders, if Derrick Rose will play after tearing his left knee in Game 1 of last season’s playoffs. He won’t. Joakim Noah is also injured, but will tough out the minutes.
Meanwhile, the Nets spending frenzy finally got them into the playoffs. Deron Williams now has backcourt mate Joe Johnson, to go along with Brooke Lopez. The problem, however, the Nets don’t play enough defense. As long as Noah plays consistent minutes, Chicago wins in seven.
Atlanta vs. Indiana
This will look like old-school, 80s style NBA playoff basketball. Nobody looks pretty when going against Indiana’s defense. Atlanta is vastly underrated led by Al Horford, who missed most of last season with a torn pectoral before briefly shining in the postseason.
But Indiana has the toughest defense in the league and David West and Roy Hibbert will handle Horford and Josh Smith. This is the team that took Miami to six games last year and now it’s Paul George’s team. Pacers win in six.
L.A. Lakers vs. San Antonio
The Lakers have gotten all the attention this season for not performing. Now, finally, everyone can stop talking, because the Spurs will have zero problems with the Kobe Bryant-less Lake Show.
They would have little problem with the Bryant-led Lakers.
San Antonio is the No. 2 seed and Tim Duncan, at 36, is still a stud and still underrated, while Dwight Howard is completely overrated.
But it won’t be a Duncan-vs.-Howard showdown. The Spurs, despite losing four of five – including 91-86 to L.A. – to end the regular season put this one away in five behind Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli, who are both back and healthy.
Houston vs. Oklahoma City
This could be the most exciting playoff series before the Finals … if you like offense.
James Harden heads back to the team that drafted him in 2009, and then shockingly traded him right before this season. The Thunders’ former sixth man averaged 25.9 for Houston as a starter.
But he won’t have enough in his arsenal to upset the top seed, though he did carry Houston to a 122-119 win. In that one, Harden had 46 points, including going 7-for-8 from beyond the arc. Oklahoma easily won the other two against the Rockets by 30 and 22.
Thunder in four.