The 2011 NBA Western Conference Playoffs will begin Saturday, April 16, when the Dallas Mavericks host the Portland Trail Blazers. On Sunday, April 17, the Memphis Grizzlies will visit the San Antonio Spurs. Later that afternoon, the Los Angeles Lakers will host the New Orleans Hornets, and that evening, the Denver Nuggets will face the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Here is a brief preview, along with predictions, of each Western Conference first-round series:
#1 San Antonio Spurs (61-21) versus #8 Memphis Grizzlies (46-36)
Regular season series: Tied 2-2
Manu Ginobili is doubtful for Game 1 after spraining his right elbow in the Spurs’ final regular-season game. If Ginobili misses Game 1, George Hill will likely be his replacement in the starting lineup.
In order for the Grizzlies to pull off the upset they will have to win a game at the AT&T Center. Game 1, especially if Ginobili is unable to play, will probably be their best opportunity to wrest home-court advantage from the Spurs.
The play of Memphis guard Mike Conley will be critical in this series. If he can stay in front of Tony Parker and keep him out of the paint, the Grizzlies might have a chance at upsetting the Spurs. But if Parker is allowed to break down Memphis’ defense, get to the rim and distribute the ball to open three-point shooters, San Antonio will move on to the second round.
Prediction: Spurs 4-2
#2 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) versus #7 New Orleans Hornets (46-36)
Regular season series: Lakers 4-0
Los Angeles secured the second seed in the Western Conference Playoffs with an overtime victory over the Sacramento Kings in the final game of the NBA regular season. If the Lakers had lost that game, they would have dropped to the third spot and found themselves in a matchup with a Portland Trail Blazers team that seems to be getting healthier by the day.
Instead, the Lakers will face a New Orleans team that will be missing their leading scorer David West. Without West, who recently underwent knee surgery, Chris Paul and the Hornets just don’t have enough to compete with the two-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Prediction: Lakers 4-0
#3 Dallas Mavericks (57-25) versus #6 Portland Trail Blazers (48-34)
Regular season series: Tied 2-2
Last season, both of these teams were ousted from the playoffs after just six games. This year, either the Mavericks or the Trail Blazers will make it to the second round and their prize will be a date with the Los Angeles Lakers.
This is probably the most evenly matched first-round series of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. If any first-round series goes the full seven games this will likely be the one. In addition to having home-court advantage, the Mavericks also have better point, rebound and efficiency differentials than the Trail Blazers. These advantages will earn Dallas a second-round date with the Lakers.
Prediction: Mavericks 4-2
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) versus #5 Denver Nuggets (50-32)
Regular season series: Thunder 3-1
The Nuggets were a solid 18-7 after the Carmelo Anthony trade. Six of those seven losses occurred on the road and the seventh one was a home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
During the regular season, Denver won 33 games at the Pepsi Center, but they also dropped 24 games on the road. If a team ever needed home-court advantage in a playoff series, it’s the Nuggets in this one. But they don’t have it, and without it they won’t win it.
Prediction: Thunder 4-2
More 2011 NBA Playoff Previews
Preview and Predictions for NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs
2011 NBA Playoff Power Rankings
Information from ESPN’s NBA Schedule, 2010-2011 NBA Regular Season Conference Standings, San Antonio Spurs’ Manu Ginobili doubtful for Game 1 after elbow sprain, Dallas Mavericks 2010 Schedule, Portland Trail Blazers 2010 Schedule, 2010-11 Regular Season NBA Team Stats, Hollinger’s NBA Team Stats and Denver Nuggets 2011 Schedule was used for this article.