Yesterday, we presented our picks for the second round in the Eastern Conference. Today, we shift our attention to the West, where four excellent teams remain.
No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 5 seed Portland Trail Blazers
You may have heard that Damian Lillard was clutch prior to Friday night, but he provided yet another example when he hit a game-winning trey with 0.9 seconds left in Game Six of Portland’s first round series to send the Blazers to the Conference Semifinals. Most players on Portland played outstanding basketball against the talented Houston Rockets, but the team’s two All-Stars really shined. Lillard hit the aforementioned shot to seal the series victory, but it was LaMarcus Aldridge who powered Portland initially, with consecutive games of 46 and 43 points to open up the round. Dame and LA will need to show up strong once again in order to take down the top seeded Spurs. Coach Pop’s squad struggled more than expected against Dirk Nowitzki and the crafty Mavericks in their opening round matchup, but Tony Parker’s 32 point Game Seven performance brought the Spurs into the second round. This has the potential to be a fantastic series. The teams matchup intriguingly at several spots on the floor: all-time great Tim Duncan against Aldridge, Lillard against Parker, Nicolas Batum against Kawhi Leonard, even Robin Lopez against Tiago Splitter. It’s possible that the Spurs’ experience could be enough to power them into the conference finals, but we’re taking the youthful Trail Blazers. The Warriors of last year gave the Spurs a second round scare, gashing San Antonio’s defense with their long ranging gunning. Terry Stotts’ Portland squad is more skilled and better defensively than that Golden State team and should have enough in the tank to take down the perpetual powerhouse Spurs.
Pick: Trail Blazers in 6
No. 2 seed Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 3 seed Los Angeles Clippers
The Thunder played a remarkable first round series against the Memphis Grizzlies, as Memphis pushed the Thunder to the limit. The Grizz took a 3-2 series lead on OKC, winning all their games in overtime fashion, and Kevin Durant looked vexed and out of sync for most of the series, faced with the stifling defense of Tony Allen. Fortunately for the Thunder, Durant came up huge in each of the final two games, and a Zach Randolph suspension in Game Seven didn’t hurt either. The Thunder are beyond talented, with the league’s most gifted scorer (Durant), most explosive guard (Russell Westbrook), a tremendous spark plug sixth man (Reggie Jackson), and a dynamic power forward (Serge Ibaka). Still, they struggled in the opening round, turning the ball over far too often and scuffling late in games. The uneven play led to murmurs about coach Scott Brooks’ job security, which likely will persist throughout the playoffs. But the Thunder did turn on the jets late in the Memphis series, and they remain a more than viable title contender. As for the Clippers, their on-court play has been a bit overshadowed by off-court drama regarding owner Donald Sterling. On the hardwood, though, LA played a helluva first round series against Golden State. It took them seven games to do it, but the Clips were able to dispatch the Dubs, scoring 126 points in the closing game of the series. Coach Doc Rivers came to the west coast with a title in mind, and Blake Griffin is a monster (when he avoids foul trouble). The combination of Griffin, Chris Paul, and role players like Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick allowed the Clippers to field the best scoring offense in the NBA during the regular season. This series should be superb, with two extremely talented squads going at it. The Thunder are the more balanced team, and if they can maintain an offensive rhythm and avoid turnovers, they should take it.
Pick: Thunder in 7