Time for my picks for the wild west, where the Thunder are the faves:
No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets
While this series has some good storylines, it fails in the competitiveness department. Yes, the Rockets’ James Harden is a great player, but the Thunder have two players that are better than him and also have more depth across the board. To sum it up simply, OKC is a much better team that the Rockets, who managed to find a way to lose to the Lakers the other night. Look for this to be the least competitive first round matchup.
Pick: Thunder in 4
No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 seed Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers should just be happy to be in the Playoffs because they ain’t goin’ nowhere! Kobe is out (not that it matters) and the Lakers are a mess. The Spurs are also sputtering and unhealthy. But they are still the Spurs, and won’t go down easy, let alone in the first round. Even with Tony Parker not 100% and the Spurs forced to sign Tracy Mcgrady (??? Knee-Mac… C’mon…) the Spurs are still doing better than the Lakers. I have a lot of faith in old, experienced teams in the playoffs (see Celtics pick). The Spurs are as experienced as it gets. They won’t get far, but they will escape the first round without issues.
Pick: Spurs in 5
No. 3 seed Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 seed Golden State Warriors
This is an interesting series in a lot of ways. For me it is interesting because there are no two teams in the NBA Playoffs that I have seen less of than these two. Also, these are two excellent offensive teams. When I have watched the Nugs I have seen a team that moves the ball as well as any other team. They play hard and that can be an advantage during the NBA regular season when teams can be disorganized and take nights off. In the Playoffs that advantage becomes a smaller one. I am sure that the Warriors will be ready for a fight. Led by the ultra-talented Steph Curry, GS is a team that has been turned into a winner by Mark Jackson (turns out he’s a better coach than an announcer!). They will give the Nuggets a fight, but will struggle to win at the Pepsi Center in one of the league’s best (read: most hostile) environments.
Pick: Nuggets in 5
No. 4 seed Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 seed Memphis Grizzlies
I have immense respect for Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. The fact that Grizzlies are a five seed despite giving Toronto their best player, Rudy Gay, for funsies (and by that I mean cap relief). The Grizzlies do have pieces and they have melded into a great overall team. They have a scoring big in Zach Randolph, a legit 5 in Marc Gasol, a good passing point guard in Mike Conely, and a defensive stopper at guard in Tony Allen. What they don’t have is an elite closer (sorry Zach Randolph) or a lot of star power (sorry Zach Randolph). The Clips, on the other hand, have star power in large quantities. They are led by the NBA’s best (healthy) point guard in Chris Paul and the extremely likeable dunksmith Blake Griffin. These two teams met in the first round last season and it… was…awesome. This time will be fun to, but I have to take CP3 and friends to beat the Grizzlies who may be missing Rudy.
Pick: Clippers in 6