The time has come once again my NBA friends!
The NBA playoffs are about to begin, and surely this is one of the most exciting playoffs I have seen in recent years. With new-look teams like Miami and New York on the prowl, we are sure to be in for a treat almost every night.
Then there are the young rising talents such as Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant, guys who are ready to prove to the NBA world that they are ready for the big show.
And let’s not forget the usual contenders like Los Angeles, San Antonio, Boston and the many other powerful teams seeking a ring!
Yes, the time has come!
And what better way to start my favorite time of year than to write and analyze each series’ matchups, advantages, disadvantages, and who I think will ultimately take it to the next round. I previewed the Eastern Conference Playoffs earlier this week. Today, we look at each first round series in the Western Conference.
And don’t forget, to get my real-time updates as the playoffs progress, you can get at me on Twitter as well!
(1) Spurs vs (8) Grizzlies
Season Series: Tied 2-2
At the beginning of the season, this Spurs team was nearly unstoppable, going on stretches that were hard to believe and crushing each opponent by an impressive margin. Not only did this show that the San Antonio Spurs had a healthy combination of age/youth, but it showed us how great a coach Gregg Popovich is.
Just think about it: he used his skills to gather a bunch of young kids with a group of NBA vets who only want one thing, and that is the Larry O’Brien trophy. It still surprises me as to how Gregg isn’t the favorite to win the Coach of the Year Award. Much respect to Thibbs, but hey it is what it is.
It also helps when you have the game’s greatest power-forward to ever lace ’em up, and you have two other stars whom have already collected their share of rings.
Then at the other end of the spectrum are the surprising Memphis Grizzlies. Many people did not have them doing too well in the regular season, and they actually didn’t do well to start it off. But by the All-Star break, the Grizzlies were pushing hard in the hard-fought Western Conference, and they finished the season going 15-10 with great Ws against Dallas, OKC, San Antonio, and Boston.
Much of the credit can go to the highly underrated skills of one of the league’s best forwards in Zach Randolph. Dude is averaging 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. He and the Grizzlies are in much deserved contract-extension talks at the moment.
But back to the point. This Grizzlies team did a good job of locking up the 8th seed, but they did have a chance at taking the 7th spot on the last night of the NBA season. However, in disrespectful fashion, this Grizzlies team purposefully lost to the LA Clippers, just in order to avoid the LA Lakers in round one. So what does that say? It says, we want you San Antonio.
The two teams ended up tying the season series, and with good reason. San Antonio wasn’t always 100% healthy. It’s almost expected for the Spurs to begin getting frail, or for Popovich to lower the minutes of his vets, as the season comes to an end. Just ask Manu, because he’s expected to miss the series opener on Sunday due to a hyper-extended elbow.
So can this Grizzlies team pose a threat?
Well, I expect this series to be more of a chip-on-the-shoulder type for Memphis. They asked for the Spurs, and they are going to get ’em. Expect a great matchup between Randolph, and Duncan, with Zach’s energy and big-body to possibly win the matchup. But other than that, I don’t see much of an advantage the Grizzlies have. But hey, to be honest, I’d rather have the Spurs over the Lakers any day of the week.
I see the Spurs taking Memphis’ lack of play against the Clippers as a big insult, and only give up one game in the series, probably the game Manu is out.
San Antonio Spurs-Memphis Grizzlies Prediction: Spurs beat Grizzlies in 5
(2) Lakers vs (7) Hornets
Season series: Lakers won 4-0
The defending champions are back at it, and now they have a shot at a three-peat. This would be Kobe’s second and Phil’s 4th! Crazy, right? What kind of NBA playoffs would there be without the Los Angeles Lakers being in it and being one of the favorites to take the title? Well, they are, and it comes after a season of many ups and downs.
The Lakers have pretty much seen everything that can happen within an 82-game season. They have had a 6-game losing drought, they have had a 9-game win streak, and they have had the criticism. Heck, they were even facing trade-deadline talk when Carmelo was being shopped around. And as the playoffs are set to begin, you can bet the Lakers will be hit with more. I mean come on, once you win two NBA championships, and you are on pace for another, these types of things happen.
Who is going to be their first challenge to the three-peat? The New Orleans Hornets.
The Hornets started the season with a bang! They went 11-1 in the season’s first 12 games, and really looked like a team that could do some damage in the West. Well, they sure fooled me. Shortly after, New Orleans began dropping down every single Power Ranking chart, when they went from going to 11-1 to 8-13 into the start of the new year. Ever since then, New Orleans sort of moved into the neutral state.
The Hornets biggest strength is that they probably have the league’s best pick & roll game with Chris Paul and David West. CP3 nearly averaged a double-double for the season, as he finished with 15.8 points and 9.8 assists per game. As for David West, he was having one of his better seasons until his season ended with knee surgery.Once the Hornets lost West, they began losing games and their seeding continued to fall. Lucky for them, they fell in the hands of the Lakers, right?
While Chris Paul is an amazing basketball player, and he clearly holds an advantage against Derek Fisher, the Hornets don’t have the roster capable of handling the Lakers night-in and night-out. They do have have length on the defensive end with Trevor Ariza, and Emeka Okafor can handle his own against this Lakers squad, but once Andrew Bynum returns from his late-season injury, I don’t think the Hornets have the capabilities of matching up with LA on the block. This will make the series very tough for New Orleans to handle, and I expect Pau and a healthy Bynum to win this series in the paint.
Los Angeles Lakers-New Orleans Hornets Prediction: Lakers beat Hornets in 4
(3) Mavericks vs (6) Trailblazers
Season series: Tied 2-2
The Dallas Mavericks are here once again. This is their 11th consecutive playoff appearance, and what an amazing statistic that is. Not only does it show how great of a leader Dirk can be through the rigors of an 82-game season, but it shows the consistency that Mark Cuban has brought to his franchise. From Michael Finley and Steve Nash to Jason Kidd and Caron Butler, this Mavs franchise always seems to have the right pieces combined, whether it is the sharpshooters out on the perimeter, the slasher who want to take it to the rim, or the guards with the keen ability to see the floor. But it has been the leadership, and nearly unstoppable offensive-game of Dirk that has helped the Mavs continue to build off of successive seasons of success and make the playoffs.
But here’s the thing: that is usually where it ends.
The Mavs do not ever seem to have trouble making a high-seed in the playoffs. They seem to prove each season that they are an elite team in their conference and that they will be able to handle the elimination rounds. But playoff appearance after playoff appearance, Dallas continues to fail at doing what they want to do, and that is bringing home the rings.
Can Dirk and his fellow Mavs do it this season? It’ll definitely be hard, but it seems the path to the Finals is more open than ever.
As for Portland, they are a team in turmoil to this day. I gave them the “honor” of being the most disappointing team in the entire NBA this season, but don’t shoot me down yet. This had nothing to do with their lack of play, coaching, or execution, but simply because they cannot ever stay healthy. I strongly emphasize the word cannot.
The Blazer season started fairly positively. Many people had them doing great in the West, including myself. Behind the great coaching of Nate McMillan and the leadership of Brandon Roy, I saw the Blazers possibly challenging the upper-echelon of the West. And when I say that, I mean that they could even take on the Lakers…assuming the Blazers’ health was 100%. But here’s the thing: it wasn’t.
First we had word that Greg Oden was going to again shock us all with season-ending knee-surgey, then we had word that Brandon Roy had “bone-on-bone” syndrome in his knees. Never mind the numerous other injuries that occurred with this Blazers roster. Even Nate McMillan had to miss time due to injury. That’s when you know the injury bug is in love with your team!
But other than injuries, I love this Blazers team. Hard-fought, deep, and they seem to play with a passion each night, and that just speaks to me. Have you been to the Rose Garden? One of the NBA’s greatest arenas to watch ball.
Aside from injuries, Portland did make a significant move before February’s trade deadline. Portland sent Joel Pryzbilla and Dante Cunningham to Charlotte, in exchange for defensive-minded longtime Bobcat Gerald Wallace. This is a trade that indeed will help the Blazers in the playoffs. But will it be enough to help them take out the third-seeded Mavericks?
The matchup between these two teams is great for an NBA fan. I’m not hearing too much chatter about this series, but let me tell you this NBA fans: you can expect this series to be a hard fought one, and it might even get to 7 games. With the Mavericks having lost Caron for the season due to surgery, the Blazers are better equipped at the small-forward position with Wallace, who I look to help them against penetrators like Beaubois, Terry, and Marion.
As for Brandon Roy, he’s going to be the main key for Portland to have a shot at upsetting Dallas. His offensive skill set is unmatched by any guard on both rosters, and I can see his youth and explosiveness being used in a matchup against Terry and any other perimeter player on Dallas to draw the Mavs into foul trouble and cause some matchup issues for many of the Mavs older players.
But we can’t forget that Dallas has the main matchup problem this league has to offer in Dirk Nowitzki. While Portland can throw Lamarcus Aldridge and Marcus Camby at the Mavs’ 7-footer, I believe he’ll still be able to get 25+ points easily in this series.
After 6 hard-fought games, great execution, and some enjoyable basketball, I see Dallas prevailing over Portland simply due to their experience, and because of the German. Who knows, I might be wrong though. This series could possibly go seven, and we’ve all seen it before: anything can happen in a game 7.
Dallas Mavericks-Portland Trailblazers Prediction: Mavs beat Blazers in 6
(4) Thunder vs (5) Nuggets
Season Series: Oklahoma City won 3-1
Not a fan of the Celtics or the Knicks? Really not interested in that series? Well my friends, this Thunder and Nuggets series is for you! These are two teams who had a complete makeover during the February trade-deadline, and most would say both teams improved. Yes Carmelo fans, some people actually believe that. Whether I do or not, is still yet to be seen. Get back to me in a couple years on that.
Let’s start with the Thunder. OKC has made some big improvements, and when I mean big, I mean BIG! The trade that brought them Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson was a steal. To this day, I don’t see how Boston could not have at least asked for a draft pick or something else more in return. But despite that, the deal is done, and the Thunder are going to benefit from it from years on.
Perkins brings the Thunder not only a big man that can hold his own against the NBA’s elite bigs, but he also brings them championship experience that has been needed in Oklahoma City for quite some time now. You mix that with the talents of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Sergei Ibaka, James Harden, and the rest of the Thunder’s young group, and it equals a very healthy result. Could it possibly equal an NBA championship this season? Maybe not, but I can tell you that there is a good chance we will see one in the next 2-3 years.
As for the Nuggets, they also made a deadline deal that they needed to get off of their backs. The Carmelo drama was everywhere, and it would not stop haunting them. The debate on where Carmelo would end up never seemed to end, but luckily for the Nuggets, things finally settled down. And to be honest, things started looking bright for the Nuggets future as they received Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timovey Mozgov, and a few other nice additions. The Nuggets from that point on went balling, as they were on a slew of win streaks. Yes, the Nuggets were looking solid, and the future is beginning to look even better.
But where does that leave those two playoff teams? Both have the ability to advanced, but which will? Here’s my take on it.
The Thunder and Nuggets played a total of four games this season, with OKC taking 3. Not all of the games were played after the trade-deadline, so it isn’t easy to pick a team to take based on their season series. Even the matchups are going to come down to the wire whether we are talking the guard position or the center position. Heck, we even have a close matchup when it comes to the guys in the suit and ties! Karl and Brooks have both been doing an amazing job, as each has proven to be a coach that can take their teams to higher levels.
The main matchup in this entire series is going to come down to the bangers down low. Kendrick Perkins and Nene are both going to be willing their team to the finish line, and each seems to have the same drive to win. And to be honest, both play the same game: rebound, block shots, and score when the opportunity is given to them.
What about the guards? It’s going to be amazing watching Westbrook, Felton, and Lawson all on the court. When I think about it, I picture a 40-yard dash going on in my head! The speed, athleticism, and ability to make tough shots is crazy.
But with such a tough series, who am I going to take to win it, and why?
Well, I haven’t even mentioned him yet, and it’s because I am saving the best for last. Yep, that’s right: Kevin Durant.
Each team can match up great with one another, each team can play interior D, and each team has a slew of players that can change the course of the game off the bench, but not one player on the court can match what Kevin Durant brings. Much respect to Danilo, but I can’t see him stopping the league’s two-time best scorer. What I can see is Gallinari putting heaps of points, but so can KD. As a matter of fact, Durant can do that and more! His length on the wing can be a terror for some perimeter players, and it’s definitely going to bother a young player like Gallinari.
So I said it folks, the difference in this series is going to be the MVP candidate, Kevin Durant.
I expect the Nuggets to bring it each night, and George Karl to push this team to the limit. But again, Kevin Durant has grown into his own, and these playoffs we will watch Durant truly grow into a leader.
Oklahoma City Thunder-Denver Nuggets Prediction: Thunder beat Nuggets in 6
Thanks for reading NBA fans!