Yesterday, we looked at the first round in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Today, it is time move on to the stellar Western Conference, where you need to, ya know, finish above .500 to make the playoffs. As always, if you disagree with any of the picks, let me know in the comments section! Enjoy.
No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 seed Dallas Mavericks
With a high-tempo offense and a typically stout defense, the Spurs had an outstanding season, finishing with their highest win total since ’06. San Antonio is a balanced, well-oiled machine. Gregg Popovich has continued to successfully mix his old guard (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan) with younger pieces (Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green). They’re deep, move the ball as well as any team in the Association, and don’t seem to have any glaring weaknesses going into postseason play. The team they’ll be facing in round one, the Dallas Mavericks, is no pushover. Dirk Nowitzki is still an offensive machine and point guard Monta Ellis had a bounce back year after coming to Dallas in the off-season. This battle of Texas titans should be enjoyable, featuring an unusually tough eight seed. But the cagey Spurs should be up to the challenge.
Pick: Spurs in 6
No. 2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 seed Memphis Grizzlies
The Thunder were humming along last year. They won 60 regular season games and looked like the class of the Western Conference. Then Russell Westbook hurt his knee in the first round of the playoffs and OKC’s season went up in smoke. This time, Westbrook is back. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant is playing the best basketball of his career (that’s pretty high level hoop), Serge Ibaka has continued his development, and Reggie Jackson has blossomed into a stud guard. Everything’s good in Loud City, and the Thunder look like they might just be poised to finally bring a title to their incredible fans. In the first round they get what appears to be a relatively favorable matchup. The Grizzlies are still a gritty team; Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are tough on opponents, and the Grizzlies are hot going into the playoffs. But Memphis’ inability to stretch teams from long-range (they hit less than five threes per game during the regular season) could pose a problem against the tremendous Thunder*.
Pick: Thunder in 5
No. 3 seed Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 seed Golden State Warriors
This could get chippy. The feisty Christmas battle between these two teams was arguably the game of the regular season–Blake Griffin got tossed before the Warriors pulled out a 105-103 win. Doc Rivers has the Clippers in a good place going into the playoffs. CP3 is still doing his dance, Blake Griffin had a monster regular season, and the Clips are beyond potent offensively. The Dubs suffered a major blow when Andrew Bogut hurt his ribs last weekend. They still know how to talk the talk, and they’ve done plenty of chirping in preparation for this series. Between Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, there’s a lot of potential for hot Golden State shooting but the Clippers are looking sharp at the moment. Expect a strong first round showing from LA.
Pick: Clippers in 6
No. 4 seed Houston Rockets vs. No. 5 seed Portland Trail Blazers
If you like offense then you’re going to love this series. Led by offensive dynamo James Harden and a finally happy, healthy Dwight Howard, the Rockets score with ease and from all over the court. They’re a sub-par defensive squad, even with Howard roaming the paint, but their offensive abilities more than make up for it most nights. Back on April 8th, they dropped 145 on the hapless Lakers. The Rockets also don’t lack for depth—they have two quality point guards in Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly and two legit centers (Howard and Omer Asik). Portland isn’t as deep, but their starting lineup is incredible. Dynamic star forward LaMarcus Aldridge, who is coming off the best regular season of his career, teams up with sensational sophomore point guard Damian Lillard, two-way demon Nicolas Batum, deadly marksman Wesley Matthews, and gritty center Robin Lopez. Coach Terry Stotts’ team runs beautiful offensive sets and snipes from deep. Like Houston, their weakness lies on the defensive end. Both teams play fast and both crash the boards hard. The Rockets are slight favorites in this one, but I like the Blazers. They’re surging into the postseason, having won nine of their last ten.
Pick: Trail Blazers in 7
*Fun random stat: the Thunder led the NBA with 99 technical fouls this year. The Utah Jazz had the least, finishing with 17.