The NBA playoffs have finally arrived. The drama, the legacies, the stars are made here in the playoffs. The first round match-ups in the Western Conference are very intriguing. All match-ups have interesting story lines and even some connections and some good history between the teams.
The Oklahoma City Thunder (1) takes on the Houston Rockets (8) and right then and there the 1st thing you think is, James Harden, well at least I do. Now this series may end relatively fast but this is James Harden’s chance to maybe steal a game or two and show OKC’s management what they’re missing. OKC won the season series 2-1, with two 20+ point wins and one 3 point win for Houston at home. As I spoke about James Harden maybe putting the Rockets on his shoulders for a game or two, nobody on Houston can stop Russell Westbrook or Kevin Durant. Jeremy Lin, a solid player, but he has no chance at staying in front of arguably the best Point Guard in the league right now. In 3 games vs. Houston, the Thunder have FIVE players averaging at least 16 points a game; Durant, Westbrook, Martin, Ibaka & Thabo Sefalosha. This Thunder team matches up well in every aspect against Houston, even with Thabo on Houston’s best player who can give Harden a headache with the type of defense he can play. There’s not much left to say other than the Rockets are going to regret not holding onto the seventh seed.
Series Prediction: 4-1 Oklahoma City Thunder.
An old rivalry comes back in the 2 vs. 7 match-up as the San Antonio Spurs (2) take on the Los Angeles Lakers (7). Both teams are a little banged up right now headed into the playoffs. The Lakers, as everyone and there mothers know, will be without the man they call Vino with a torn Achilles. Since Vino has gone down, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol & Steve Blake have stepped up very nicely. The Spurs on the other hand have been struggling ending the season going 3-7 down the stretch. But let’s not forget, that’s without Manu Ginobli those 10 games and also Parker and Duncan resting entire games down that stretch. What puts San Antonio over the edge in my eyes is having Manu Ginobli back. San Antonio was 45-15 with Manu in the rotation and in wins he shot 46% from the field as opposed to in losses, 36%. He’s also shot only 31% vs. the Lakers during the regular season so he’s going to need to step up for the Spurs to advance. The addition of T-Mac also helps give them a little depth in the back court; another veteran leader who will still be able to score the rock if given the chance. Dwight and Pau inside are the Lakers only hope. They have been playing well enough down the stretch of the regular season to make it work, but can they carry the load in a 7 game series? I don’t see it happening. Pop will make the correct moves late in games and Mike D will not and that could very well be the difference in the series.
Series Prediction: 4-2 San Antonio Spurs.
The 3 vs. 6 match-up is going to be very, very fun and I don’t see anyway around it. The Denver Nuggets, the 3 seed are matched up against the Golden State Warriors. This series will feature barely any offense and total lock down defense….said no one ever. The story lines in this series are excellent; how many points is each team going to score, how many 3’s per game are Curry and Thompson going to make, who’s going to be Denver’s go to guy at the end of games and shot clock situations, no way Denver loses at home..right? Outside of that, Denver is much better overall team 1-12. Denver has about a 9 guy lineup, even without Gallo, that can get 20+ minutes of burn a night and contribute at a very high level. It’s time for Andre Iguodala to rise to the occasion as being ‘the man’ in Denver. I understand there really isn’t a single star in Denver and they like it that way but come playoff time, you need that one player that shines above the rest to succeed and Iggy is there guy. He averaged 13/5/5 during the season and he needs to take his game to another level, not just scoring the ball, but in all fascists of the game. Now to the Warriors; who can win a game or two because of Steph and Klay single handily taking over games with there shooting but with Bogut not being healthy, I don’t think the Young Warriors stand much of a chance. Bogut’s only averaged 20 minutes per game this month and is shooting less than 30% from the field. With no inside presence next to David Lee, Denver might draw up a game plan to completely take Lee out of the game forcing Ezeli and Landry to really step up and score and I don’t think they have the offensive game to do so.
Series Prediction: 4-2 Denver Nuggets.
Finally, the last first round match-up of the Western Conference is between the 4 seeded Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies, the 5. The offensive and defensive match-ups are very intriguing in this series. LAC scores 101 points per game, 8th in the entire NBA and Memphis allowed the least amount of points per game in the entire NBA, the only team that allowed less than 90 (89.3). Memphis big key is there front court, arguably the best in the game right now with Z-Bo and Marc Gasol who averages about 30/20/5 per game. Offensively and defensively Gasol and Z-Bo can change games but the biggest key for a Grizzlies series win is Jerryd Bayless. In March he averaged almost 14 points per game and now that Rudy Gay is gone, that’s what they’re going to need from him this postseason coming off the bench as the 6th man. As for the Clippers, yeah they score a lot, yeah lob city is really fun to watch, but man do they struggle in the half court offense. It’s weird, they have the best floor general in the NBA at the helm in Chris Paul and a lot of the time they look lost on offense if they’re not on the fast break. I really like the Clippers depth and I like how they’ve already beaten Memphis in last years four versus five match-up, but Memphis defense may just be too strong if they slow the game down and keep it in the half court.
Series Prediction: 4-3 Memphis Grizzlies