Now that the Western Conference playoff seeding has finally been decided, after the very last game, we can finally take a look into the playoffs. Let’s break down each series and make some predictions as to who may find themselves in the second round and on their way to the 2011 NBA Finals.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Memphis Grizzlies
The San Antonio Spurs raced through the regular season before hitting a couple roadblocks late. After a loss to Phoenix during their last regular season game, they have given up the #1 overall seed to the Chicago Bulls. As any Spurs fan knows, this is the very last thing that Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are worrying about. Even though they are taking on the 8th seeded Grizzlies, this is no cakewalk. The Grizzlies seemingly wanted to be seeded against the Spurs after resting their starters for the last couple games. The regular season series was highly competitive between these two teams and was split, 2 games going to each team. Zach Ranpolph has caused the Spurs all kinds of problems, averaging well over 20 points per game. On the other side of the ball, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have gutted the Grizzlies, driving into the paint over and over. But how healthy will Ginobili be after his hyper-extended elbow? This has been the exact reason why the Spurs have not gotten deeper into the playoffs in recent years. If Manu is ready to play by the weekend the Spurs will take the series, although it won’t be a quick one. Now that it appears that Rudy Gay will not be returning for any of the playoffs, the Spurs just have too much offensive firepower for the Grizzles to keep up. The series is stretched past game 5 only because Zach Randolph will have his way with the undersized Spurs; but in the end Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili (if healthy) will be too much to overcome.
Verdict: Spurs win 4-2
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs (7) New Orleans Hornets
The Lakers really lucked out in getting seeded against the Hornets. Marc Gasol, of the Grizzlies, gives his brother all kinds of trouble and the Blazers tend to give the Lakers a little bit of a headache at times. Even though the Lakers are limping into the playoffs, they are completely fine with not having the #1 seed and having to go through Memphis and then a Denver or Oklahoma City team. L.A. swept the regular season series against the Hornets 4-0 and now that David West has been lost for the season there is really nothing holding back the Lakers from sweeping the playoff series. Assuming that Andrew Bynum’s hyper-extended knee is not serious, the Lakers are much bigger than the Hornets and it will show through the course of the series. The only hope the Hornets have is if Chris Paul starts playing some of the best basketball of his career while Trevor Ariza and Marco Belinili step up their game, big time. Don’t be surprised if this series ends very quickly and the Lakers get some well needed rest before a tough series with Dallas or maybe even an upset Portland team.
Verdict: Lakers win 4-0
(3) Dallas Mavericks vs (6) Portland Trailblazers
This series may produce more fireworks than you expect. Dallas struggled through the season series against the Trail Blazers which ended being split 2-2. The highest margin of victory was a 8 point win by the Blazers back on April 3rd. Dallas is not a very strong defensive team so LaMarcus Aldridge will have a strong playoff performance and perhaps even lead his team to an upset of the third seeded Mavericks, especially after he averaged almost 28 points a game during the regular season series. The key to this matchup will not be LaMarcus Aldridge or Dirk Nowitzki, they will get their points, but it will be the next scoring options. Whatever team has better production out of the role players will win this series, which means it could be stretched all the way to game 7. For the Mavericks, Jason Terry and Shawn Marion will have to play consistently well and will still need help from Peja Stojakovic and J.J Barea. For the Blazers, Wesley Matthews, Andre Miller, and Gerald Wallace will have to play very well to support Aldridge. It wouldn’t hurt for Portland to get some help Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez off the bench either. Like I said, this series could very easily reach the 7th game but the fact that Dallas has home court advantage may be the deciding factor. During the regular season the winner was always the home team so I have to lean towards Dallas taking this highly competitive series. I think the Mavs will steal game 6 on the road to end the series before they have to come back to Dallas.
Verdict: Mavericks win 4-2
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (5) Denver Nuggets
This will undoubtedly be the most anticipated series. Strangely enough, the Nuggets have been playing better basketball without star Carmelo Anthony. Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton have been a large part of this improvement. Now that Carmelo has taken all the off-court drama with him, the Denver Nuggets finally look like they are playing “team” basketball, on both sides of the ball. If the Nuggets want to send home the Thunder they must find a way to stop Russel Westbrook. Kevin Durant will get his points, since usually over half of them come from the free throw line anyways; but if Denver can force Durant to carry the team they will have a shot at the upset. Easier said than done. This is a much improved team from last year which took the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of a game 7. Oklahoma City is more talented on the offensive side, so the Nuggets must rely on defense to emerge. We had two previews of this series on April 5th and 8th which the Thunder both won comfortably. Many people are predicting this series to easily reach a game 7 but I just don’t see that happening. With the addition of Kendick Perkins to beef up the defense, the Oklahoma City Thunder are a better team, period, and a better team wins a 7 game series 9 times out of 10.
Verdict: Thunder win 4-2
Make sure you check out the Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions and come back for the second round! I will have all the NBA Playoff coverage you can handle!