Western Conference Playoff Preview

Last night, the Lakers blew a 20 point lead, before finally putting away the pesky Sacramento (Anaheim?) Kings in overtime to secure the second seed in the west, solidifying the western conference matchups. On Tuesday I previewed the Eastern conference playoff matchups. Now that the dust has finally settled on the 2010-2011 NBA regular season, we go out west, where the road to the Finals is nearly impossible to navigate.

1. San Antonio Spurs Vs. 8. Memphis Grizzlies
2. Los Angeles Lakers Vs. 7. New Orleans Hornets
3. Dallas Mavericks Vs. 6. Portland Trailblazers
4. Oklahoma City Thunder Vs. 5. Denver Nuggets

Let’s preview!

San Antonio Spurs Vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Regular season H2H: 2-2

Last week, I preposterously predicted  the Memphis Grizzlies would take down the San Antonio Spurs in seven games to become only the fourth 8 seed in NBA history to win a first round series.

Why would I do such a thing when every ESPN analyst from Tim Legler to Marc Stein has the Spurs winning in 5 or 6 games. Am I an idiot? Sure. Am I wrong? Probably. Will the Spurs simply storm through the Grizz on their way to the second round? Nope.

The Grizzlies tanked… er rested their starters… for the last two games of the regular season, just so they can play the Spurs. Why are they so confident? Teams don’t just a pull a Wild Thing in Major League II and say “I want Parkman.” No, they want to beat who they can beat. The Grizzlies can beat the Spurs 4 out 7 times.

The Grizz matchup particularly well with the Spurs. The big front line of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will likely have their way on the glass against Tim Duncan and DuJuan Blair. Duncan averaged only 11.2 points and 8.6 rebounds against the Grizz in 3 regular season games. Look for those numbers to rise as Popovich will shorten his playoff rotation and finally let the Big Fundamental eat.

The Grizzlies and Spurs each have firepower off the bench, with O.J. Mayo and George Hill respectively. Despite the Grizzlies deadline acquisition of Shane Battier, the bench advantage has to go to the Spurs due to the sharp shooting of the red rocket, Matt Bonner and the undrafted rookie out of UMass, Gary Neal. These guys, along with Manu and Richard Jefferson spread the floor, allowing Tony Parker to get to the paint. Due to their surplus of athletic wings, the Grizz have the luxury of throwing different guys at Manu Ginobili, which may help disrupt Manu’s herky-jerky offensive style. The Grizz could assign Tony Allen to Manu and hope he plays lockdown D, freeing up other defenders for the Grizz and perhaps stopping Tony Parker’s easy path to the basket.

Last night, Manu Ginobili went down with an elbow injury against the Suns. While it didn’t appear to be
serious, he will have an MRI today anyway. It’s probably nothing, but it could be something. I’m just saying.

UPDATE: Manu Ginobili was listed as doubtful for Game 1. I guess the elbow was something.

Look, I am probably way off here. But if I’m right, I’m calling myself a genius.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7

Los Angeles Lakers Vs. New Orleans Hornets
Reg. Season H2H: Lakers 4-0
The Hornets battled Chris Paul trade rumors early in the season and David West’s torn ACL late in the season, and still managed to grab the 7 seed in the West thanks to the calming influence of first year head coach Monty Williams. Still, this series has a 1 vs. 8 feel to it. Let’s do a Hornets good news/bad news!
Good news for the Hornets: Former Laker bench warmer and current Hornet bench warmer, D.J. Mbenga is back in LA!
Bad news for the Hornets: Hornets undersized center Emeka Okafor is really an undersized power forward and undersized power forward Carl Landry is really an oversized small forward. What I’m saying is that the Hornets are really small.
Prediction: Sweep

Dallas Mavericks Vs. Portland Trailblazers
Reg. Season H2H: 2-2

The Dallas Mavericks were 24-5 when Dirk Nowitizki went down with a right knee injury. Three games later, Caron Butler was lost for the season with his own knee injury.The Mavericks could only summon two victories out of the nine games Dirk missed, but regrouped to earn a 3 seed and their 11th straight 50-plus win season.

Despite the annual success, Mark Cuban’s Mavericks have yet to win a ring and seem to be missing something. Cubes may have constructed his greatest Mavericks squad to date (minus Brandon Haywood’s insane contract). Unfortunately injuries, old age and young talent underperforming (I’m looking at you Roddy Beaubois) have once again derailed any hopes of a Larry O’Brien trophy.

Speaking of teams who know a thing or two about dealing with injuries, the Portland Trailblazers come into the playoffs on a hot streak. Since March 28, the Blazers have beaten each of the top 4 seeds in the west. When Brandon Roy opted for surgery on both of his knees, the Blazers decided to run their offense through LaMarcus Aldridge. That decision, along with the All-star snub, fueled Aldridge and he has earned his way into the All-NBA second team discussion, despite not being an All-star.

Portland GM Rich Cho should garner strong consideration for executive of the year for his off-season signing of Wesley Matthews, who filled in nicely when Roy was out, as well as for the deadline deal that brought Gerald Wallace to the pacific northwest (which I intitially knocked. Real smart, this one). Both deals, and the consistent play of guard Andre Miller, helped the Blazers withstand the annual Greg Oden Season Ending before the Season Even Began Surgery as well as a multitude of injuries and games missed from other key players. Although Roy is back and playing again (albeit not at his All-star level), LaMarcus Aldridge has assumed the leadership responsibilities for the Blazers and will be their go to guy in crunch time during the playoffs.

While the Mavericks have the pedigree and a fantastic road record (28-13), I am going with the Blazers here because they have dealt with adversity all season while the Mavs seem to be mentally fragile. Fragile doesn’t win in the playoffs.
Prediction: Blazers in 6

Oklahoma City Vs. Denver Nuggets
Reg. Season H2H: 3-1
This series will be centered around the mid-season acquisitions of both teams. You know them by now: Denver receiving Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari, Raymond Felton, Timofey Mozgov, picks and cash. Oklahoma city trading for Kendrick Perkins, Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed. Both teams made gutsy mid-season moves and both seemed to be pleased with the results.

9 questions:

  1. Who is the Denver Nuggets go to guy in crunch time?
  2. Do the Nuggets need one?
  3. Will Kendrick Perkins’ knees hold up throughout the playoffs?
  4. Can either team hold their opponent to under 100 pts/gm
  5. Are Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari playoff ready?
  6. Will James Harden thrive in his expanded role as third scorer in this year’s playoffs?
  7. Can Oklahoma City shoot 40% from the 3 pt line?
  8. Can the Nuggets bigs handle the twin towers of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka?
  9. Will George Karl shorten his rotation?

4 X-Factors

  1. James Harden – Needs to establish himself as a consistent third scorer. It’s one thing to score 20 off the bench in February against the Kings, but can he do it in the playoffs? Although Harden comes off the bench for Ok. City, he will likely face starter quality defenders when he is in the game thanks to Nuggets deep roster.
  2. Daquan Cook – We know the Nuggets’ J.R. Smith can gun it from anywhere on the right side of half-court. Cook needs to be that guy for the Thunder. He will be asked to make open shots off the bench when Kevin Durant passes out of the double team or when Westbrook drives to the basket.
  3. Ty Lawson– Denver’s defense has improved dramatically since the ‘Melo trade. Lawson, not particularly known for his defense, will be asked to stay in front of the speedy Russell Westbrook during fast breaks and mad crashes to the hoop. Lawson is probably the only guy in the NBA who can actually do it.
  4. Kenyon Martin – Kendrick Perkins gives Ok. City that nastiness that was missing in last year’s playoffs. The Nuggets already have that in spades with Kenyon Martin, who will need to assume the role of aggravator in the paint. 

5 Predictions

  1. Kenyon Martin and Kendrick Perkins tussle at some point
  2. This series goes 7
  3. J.R. Smith explodes for 30 in a game
  4. The New York 3 shine
  5. Durant and co. shine a little more.

0 percent chance of being wrong playoff prediction:
Thunder in 7

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