The Eastern Conference has been taken care of and now it is time to preview and predict the Western Conference, which promises much more entertaining first round matchups.
1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8. Houston Rockets
What to watch for : Harden against his old team. There’s also the relative youth of both teams as well and their upward trajectories, but that’s a story for later. Much later. Right now, we want to see James Harden face off against his old running mates.
Best performance this series : James Harden is an easy choice, but Russell Westbrook may have the best impact when this series ends. If Durant is tough to deal with in the half court, then Westbrook is tough in transition, and both squads will have plenty of opportunities to run. And Russell will be the fastest.
How the Rockets can win : Run and don’t look back. They have the highest pace and the highest points per game average as well. There’s no reason to stall in a half-court offense, since it plays into the hands of OKC, who have Serge Ibaka guarding the rim.
How the Thunder can win : Stay the course and play to everyone’s strengths. Although OKC can keep up with Houston, they also can play good enough defense to force the Rockets into bad looks and turnovers. Both OKC and Houston average 18 points off of opponents turnovers, so picking up those transition points are great for OKC, since it can give them time to set their defense up in the half court.
Who wins and in how many games : OKC in 5 games. As fun as this series is, OKC has the advantage at every position except shooting guard. And even though Harden will get his, OKC can make sure the rest of Houston has a tough time getting theirs.
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers
What to watch for : The interior battle between Pau and Tim Duncan. Both have been exemplary players for their teams and both will be the main men that will take the responsibility in the post.
Best performance this series : Even though we’ll focus on Pau and Tim, I believe Dwight will be the main man this series. He’ll be paired up with Splitter and Duncan, but he can deter Parker and Ginobili in the lane and snag rebounds as well. With Pops strategy, he’ll also have a lot of chances to hit free throws.
How the Lakers can win : Run things through Pau and Nash and get timely shooting. The Lakers defense has been a step behind all season, and if they want to keep up with San Antonio, they have to keep the pressure on the Spurs with their scoring. Dwight needs to guard the basket and stay out of foul trouble on defense, which will be a challenge since the Lakers perimeter defense is non-existent.
How the Spurs can win : By going with the one-two punch of Duncan and Parker on offense and trusting the young’uns on defense. San Antonio has the length advantage with the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, not to mention Tiago Splitter in the paint. The Spurs are more consistent on both ends, even if Diaw won’t be around to play.
Who wins and how many games : Spurs in 5. The Lakers need strong games from everyone now that Kobe is out, but their defense will be their undoing.
3. Denver Nuggets vs. 6. Golden State Warriors
What to watch for : The blurs racing across your TV screen. Denver is second and Golden State is sixth in offensive pace in the NBA. There will be a lot of offense and very little defense.
Best performance this series : Stephen Curry. Denver will most likely put Andre Igudoula on him for stretches, just to make Curry pass the ball. With this in mind, Curry will have a few 40 point games. Maybe a 50-pointer.
How the Warriors can win : Play their game, which Denver will let them play anyway. Golden State can move the ball with the best of them, and David Lee will be in the middle of it. Curry, Jack and Klay Thompson will be big factors in how far the Warriors can go.
How the Nuggets can win : Use their athleticism to their advantage and run, run, run. Denver is much like Houston in that they can score quickly, and give up points just as fast. If Faried can play and make an impact, Denver can own the boards and control the pace (if possible) McGee and Koufos can finish plays and their size will give Golden State fits.
Who wins and how many games : Denver in 6 games. Denver can control the boards and their energy can turn the Warriors plans very chaotic.
4. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies
What to watch for : The battle inside, especially between Blake Griffin and Zack Randolph. This whole series will be physical and a grind. It would play into Memphis’ hands, but the Clippers have…
Best performance in the series : … Chris Paul. He was the difference last postseason, and this time will be no different. Memphis will throw Tony Allen, Mike Conley, and other guards at Paul, but Paul has shown he can find the right guy and win one on one matchups if need be. Although Memphis can boast a strong inside presence, but Chris Paul is the reason LA will advance. He just has that extra gear at the ends of games.
How the Grizzlies will win : Grinding the Clippers air show to a halt. Bumping players off their routes, getting rebounds, putting bodies on the floor. Basically, anything that puts the Clippers in bad positions will benefit Memphis. Chris Paul is great at getting into position, so Memphis has their work cut out for them. On offense, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will lead the charge.
How the Clippers can win : Trust in Chris Paul on offense and a balanced defense. The Clippers can slip into a defensive slump that even a team like Memphis can take advantage of. Blake Griffin will have to show more improvement from last postseason as well, since Memphis will throw everything at him.
Who wins and how many games : Clippers in 7. This series is going the distance and Chris Paul will be the big difference-maker. Memphis plays great defense, but their deliberate offensive scheme be their undoing.
About the Author
Written by Michael Reid