|Tony Parker will be confident of leading the San Antonio Spurs deep into the play-offs|
A total of 31 European internationals, 21 of which are playing on teams of the Western Conference, will enter the battle of the NBA play-offs at the weekend.
Jeffery Taylor of the Charlotte Bobcats should have been gearing up for his maiden participation in the play-offs and raise the number of European players in the NBA post-season to 32, but after suffering a rupture in his right Achilles tendon the Swedish small forward has long been ruled out of action.
As it happens, Taylor's absence means that the Eastern Conference series between the Bobcats (7th seed in the East) and reigning champions Miami Heat (2nd seed) is the only first round match-up that does not feature any European players.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, as many as six European players will take to the floor in three of the four first-round series in the western conference,
Even the 'least European' series in the West, the one between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors, will still see the participation of three players from our continent.
Among these 31 European players, the group that stands the best chance of going all the way this season is really not that much different to last year.
Once again, the San Antonio Spurs of EuroBasket 2013 champions Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, with the addition this year of Italian guard Marco Belinelli, are the favourites to conquer the Western title, at the very least.
The Spurs finished the regular season with the best overall record (62-20) and will therefore have the home-court advantage in a hypothetical repeat of the 2013 NBA finals against Miami Heat, or against any team that comes out of the East, for that matter.
Just how terrifying the prospect of facing San Antonio in a play-off series is right now became evident on the final day of action in the regular season.
The Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks fought tooth and nail until the last second of a tense overtime drama with Marc Gasol's team ultimately prevailing 106-105 at home.
The result means that Memphis clinched seventh spot in the West, right ahead of Dallas, at the photo finish of the regular season and handed over to the Mavericks the poisoned chalice of a first-round match-up with the Spurs.
All European players involved in the NBA first-round play-offs series:
Indiana Pacers (56-26) vs. Atlanta Hawks (38-44)
|NBA rookie Pero Antic will be hoping his rookie NBA season stretches past the first round of the play-offs|
French big man Ian Mahinmi has found his spot in the Pacers rotation and theoretically his team is the clear favourite against the Hawks of F.Y.R. of Macedonia captain Pero Antic and German youngster Dennis Schroder. However, Indiana's recent in-fighting and consequent performance drop as well as the fact that the two teams split equally their four clashes during the regular season, gives Atlanta reasons to hope they can upset the Eastern Conference regular-season winners.
Toronto Raptors (48-34) vs. Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
Lithuanian star Jonas Valanciunas will get his first taste of the NBA play-offs in only his second season in the league and will get plenty of help from French EuroBasket champion Nando De Colo who was on the Spurs side that reached the finals last season, albeit his role was marginal. The Raptors however have their work cut out against a vastly experienced Nets side that features FIBA Europe Player of the Year 2012 Andrei Kirilenko and Bosnia and Herzegovina captain Mirza Teletovic, who has finally adapted to the NBA and plays at his very best.
Chicago Bulls (48-34) vs. Washington Wizards (44-38)
Joakim Noah battling it out with Marcin Gortat makes up for a mouth-watering duel that is likely to mark the outcome of this series. Noah is the sole European left in Chicago while Polish star Gortat, whose fantastic season is largely responsible for Washington returning to the play-offs, is joined in the Wizards frontcourt by another Frenchman, Kevin Seraphin. Washington is one of the few teams that does not tremble at the thought of going up against the gritty Bulls in the play-offs, as they won two of the three games between the pair during the regular season.
San Antonio Spurs (62-20) vs. Dallas Mavericks (49-33)
Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Marco Belinelli on one side, Dirk Nowitzki, Jose Manuel Calderon and Gal Mekel on the other, transform this Texan derby into a European-flavoured clash. It will definitely be a joy to watch, but Dallas has not defeated their neighbours in the last two years and, despite Dirk's record-breaking season, the well-oiled machine of the Spurs enter this series as the hot favourites. This is the play-offs however and stranger things have happened to both the Spurs and the Mavericks in the past despite arriving at the post-season as the number one seed, as both Parker and Nowitzki will clearly remember.
Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (50-32)
|Greek international Nick Calathes makes up a part of the four-strong European delegation in Memphis|
Memphis got their wish on Wednesday and avoided the Spurs in the first round. The Grizzlies are also the team with the third-best record in the NBA since January, after a certain Marc Gasol returned to action from injury. Can the big Spaniard star though, with help from Greeks Nick Calathes, Kostas Koufos and Slovenian Beno Udrih stop the scoring machine by the name of Kevin Durant? The response might have plenty to do with the contribution to Oklahoma of Spanish international Serge Ibaka and Swiss guard Thabo Sefolosha.
Los Angeles Clippers (57-25) vs. Golden State Warriors (51-31)
Hedo Turkoglu will come off the bench and help the Clippers with his experience as he aims for another, possibly the last, deep play-offs run in his career. The Turkish international and the Los Angeles team are the favourites, but Ognjen Kuzmic could be the biggest winner in this series as starting center Andrew Bogut is out injured and the young Bosnian big man is likely to see plenty of playing time with Golden State. Another European rookie on the Warriors, Serbian international Nemanja Nedovic, will await his chance to help out in the backcourt.
Houston Rockets (54-28) vs. Portland Trail Blazers (54-28)
The two opponents finished the regular season tied in wins and the series appears to be perfectly balanced on paper. Nonetheless, Turkish center Omer Asik, Lithuanian forward/center Donatas Motiejunas and Israeli Omri Casspi are well within their right to feel that their Rockets have the edge over the Portland Trailblazers of French EuroBasket champion Nicolas Batum, Great Britain's Joel Freeland and Spain's Victor Claver. Houston not only has the home-court advantage in this series, but also prevailed in three of the four games between the two teams in the regular season.