NBA Playoffs 1st Round: Western Conference

Today, I’ll be taking a look at all of the playoff match ups, Eastern and Western Conference, giving you my take on who will win and what it will take.

Western Conference:

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Utah Jazz

Last year the aging Spurs made a surprise run heading into the playoffs, almost like they did this year, but fizzled immediately in the 1st round against the younger, more athletic Memphis Grizzlies. In fact, the Spurs have won only a single playoff series in the past three postseasons. The Spurs have been champions before, but these Spurs have not. We will see what they can bring to the table this year, to try and make one last run at the title.

The Utah Jazz have been blessed with the 8th seed and one year after trading Deron Williams, they should consider it an achievement. Al Jefferson will be the key to the Jazz competing throughout this entire series, and the entire playoffs. He has pushed them into a postseason spot, but will he be able to carry them in this series?

What I think:

This series will now be decided defensively. The Spurs and Jazz are the second- and fourth-highest scoring teams in the league, respectively, and both rank in the lower half for points allowed. The Spurs hold the most significant home-court advantage of any first-round series. They were 28-5 at home this season (tied with the Miami Heat for best in the league), and Utah couldn’t get within 10 points of them in its two games played in San Antonio. The Spurs have always been strong at home and another thing that will help them is there depth off the bench. The Spurs have eight players averaging nine points or better. That doesn’t even include valuable contributors Matt Bonner or Kawhi Leonard. In the three games the Spurs won against the Jazz this season, their reserves were plus-58, while the Jazz’s reserves were minus-90.

  • Spurs in 6

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

The Thunder have the ability to run through the playoffs if they can get past this first round matchup. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and co. have the talent and tenacity to get to the title game without a problem. But I think that the defending champion Mavericks will have something to say about that. But in my eyes, the Thunder are the only team that can beat the Thunder. They have had late game execution issues and have been saved multiple times by my MVP pick Kevin Durant.

The mavericks have undoubtedly gotten worse over the year and lost key contributors from last years championship team.They let Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea leave in free agency, then acquired and jettisoned a moping Lamar Odom. Jason Kidd is coming off his worst season in his career and Dirk is coming off his lowest shooting percentage since his rookie season (.45%).

What I think:

I honestly think that the Thunder should be able to get through this series without a problem. A real question that is never asked about the Mavericks is, Can they score enough points? The Thunder have a very stingy defense and have the league leader in blocks on their side, Serge Ibaka. The Mavericks truly don’t have what they had last year, which helped them make the run last year. I think the Thunder just have to much offensively to be stopped by the Mavs.

  • Thunder in 5 or 6

(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Denver Nuggets

The Lakers have been playing solid basketball all year and have been riding the back of Kobe Bryant, who has played the most minutes per game in his entire career this year, and they have been producing pretty well. Andrew Bynum has really come on as of late and has helped take a little of the load off of Kobe. The biggest match up in this series though is not between two players but the two coaches, George Karl and Mike Brown. Karl will be getting the checkmark in many of the matchup previews, and if Mike Brown is significantly out coached, we could see a notice looking for a new Lakers coach for next year.

The Nuggets can already claim a small victory for their way by virtue of their 38-28 record and No. 6 seed, both of which are better than the 36-30 and No. 7 seed posted by Anthony’s Knicks. If anyone has emerged as a star in Denver it is Karl, who has pulled this team together despite a tremendous turnover problem. The Nuggets swapped four players with the Knicks in the Carmelo trade then added seven players who weren’t on last season’s roster. If the Nuggets can pull it together with their turnover problem, and can slow down Kobe Bryant I believe that they will be able to compete throughout this series.

What I think:

I just think that Andrew Bynum will be to much for the Denver Nuggets to handle. The Nuggets just don’t have the personnel to defend Bynum and he might be a serious problem. Then there is the “Black Mamba” who knows that his days are slowly coming to an end and this may be his last serious year at a title. But if the Nuggets can play their up-tempo style they may be able to hurt the Lakers, who are a very methodical team. If the Nuggets turn it into an up and down game, they may have a chance.

  • Lakers in 6

(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers

It’s a team trying to live up to its trendy status versus a team trying to end a downward trend that goes back decades. The Grizzlies have become a regular in the playoffs as of late. The Grizzlies became the chic pick for Team Nobody Wants To Face In The Playoffs. They have the youth and the talent to compete with anyone in the league. In the process, the Grizzlies won as many playoff series in the 10 years they’ve been in Memphis as the Clippers have won since moving from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1984.  Rudy Gay, Z-Bo, and Mike Conley Jr. have the abilities to play and compete against anyone that they want. And that’s the only problem, they play when they want to, which could be their biggest problem against a talented, athletic Clippers team.

Has there been any franchise as desperate to shed its past as the Clippers, yet one that seems to never be able to do it? The regular-season finale was a classic example. Chris Paul has led the Clippers to their best winning percentage ever and made them a team to be reckoned with. If he had been able to play against the Knicks in the season finale, their biggest game in years, I believe they would be the ones holding home court advantage in this series. The pressure is on for the Clippers though. Their fans are expecting a lot out of this team and a first round exit would just shatter everything they had worked for.

What I think:

The Grizzlies put a premium on disrupting passing lanes and getting steals. They forced the most turnovers in the NBA. The Clippers, on the other hand, had the second-lowest turnover rate in the league, largely because Paul has the ball so often. Chris Paul is the engine to the Clippers car, everything starts with him. He had the second best assist-turnover ratio, and turnovers have never been a problem with him. But I have a feeling that if the Grizzlies are able to fluster him and get him to turn the ball over, they will be able to compete. The Grizzlies aren’t stylish. They like it grimy. The byproduct of their style is that their games are usually close. It’s tough for them to blow anyone out, and it’s tough to blow them out. The Clippers are the stylish team in these playoffs, converting more alley-oops then any other team in the league. This series may not be the prettiest, but I believe it may be the best and most competitive.

  • Clippers in 7
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