It is too easy to say it but also too hard not to: the west is wild this season. The top seeded Thunder are missing one of their stars, the Grizzlies continue to overachieve after trading arguably their best player mid-season, and Oracle Arena nearly burst when the Warriors upset the third seed Nuggets in the first round. Here are my picks for the semifinals in the west:
No. 1 seed Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 5 seed Memphis Grizzlies
In a small upset, the Grizzlies knocked off the LA Clippers in the first round. The Grizzlies played a great series, Mike Conley proved a formidable matchup for Chris Paul, Zach Randolph dropped 20 per game with crazy efficiency, and Tony Allen gave some offense in addition to his usual stellar ‘d’. Memphis trailed 2-0 at one point in the series, but they won the next four to storm into the second round and leave the Clippers wondering what went wrong. The Thunder also won their first round series with the Houston Rockets in six games, but it went quite differently. The Thunder rolled the Rockets in game one and survived a rally from Houston in game two–the one where Russ Westbrook tore his meniscus. The next three games weren’t particularly pretty, as the Thunder looked lost at times without Westbrook, but they won the round and KD got in rhythm in the later part of the series. Second year guard Reggie Jackson also seemed to settle in during games five and six. Let’s be perfectly clear, this is not a case of Kevin Durant vs. Memphis. The Thunder have plenty of good players from Kevin Martin to Serge Ibaka. Sure, Durant will need to be huge, but when is he not? He certainly will have help. Moving on, one of the best parts of this series in my eyes will be the chalkboard battle between Lionel Hollins and Scotty Brooks. Hollins continues to prove that he is one of the top coaches in the league. The Grizzlies play with poise and terrific defensive intensity (they were first in the NBA in points allowed per game in the regular season) and are somehow able to nullify their relative lack of quintessential scorers with great offensive sets and impressive utilization of two of the league’s top offensive bigs: Marc Gasol and Randolph. Brooks, on the other hand, has overseen the Thunder’s recent rise to relevance and is widely considered one of the top young coaches in the league. It will be interesting to see what steps he takes to slow down Gasol and Randolph as well as the Grizzlies’ shifty guards. This series is going to be a great, competitive dogfight. The Thunder will need phenomenal play from KD and reasonable production from Jackson, Ibaka, and Martin. I have faith.
Pick: Thunder in 7
No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 6 seed Golden State Warriors
Everyone is talking about the Warriors. Spirited by a reinvigorated fan base, the Warriors stole Denver’s heart in the first round by winning all three home games and stealing one on the road in game two to take the series in six games. Behind the sizzling shooting of Steph Curry, the Warriors made the Nuggets look incompetent defensively. The team they now face, the Spurs, certainly won’t be allowing any team to make them look bad on that end of the court. The Spurs roared past the shorthanded Lakers in the first round and seem to be ready to play a really good series. Tony Parker brushed off a bad month of April and looked sharp against the Lakers. The Spurs other oldies, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobli, also appeared to be clicking against the Lakers. But, the Warriors are a different animal than the mess of a team coached by Mike D’Antoni. The big question in this series is whether the Spurs will be able to keep up with the Warriors’ horses. It is worth pointing out that the Warriors are a very different team when skilled Australian center Andrew Bogut is healthy. Bogut is both healthy and playing well going into this series. Also playing well is Harrison Barnes, the Warriors’ athletic rookie wing. Barnes was absolute dynamite offensively against Denver. He will be a very tough cover for SA. Mark Jackson’s team is probably the most potent offensive squad left in the playoffs. Behind great crowds at Oracle, I expect the Warriors to win at home and also steal a road game in this series. The Warriors just have too much athletisicm for the Spurs. I’m picking the upset. (If this pick proves accurate, dbc482 wants some credit–he helped sell me on picking the Warriors.)
Pick: Warriors in 6