Apr 15, 2010

NBA Playoffs Preview 1-of-2: Western Conference

With the regular season in our rear view mirror it is time for the most exciting basketball of the season, The NBA Playoffs. This off season expects to be one of the most exciting in history and before we get to the summer of LeBron there is still a trophy to hoist. This is part one of my two part NBA Playoffs Round 1 preview and tonight we will focus on the Western Conference.
#1 L.A. Lakers v. #8 OKC Thunder
Season Series: Lakers 3-1

"A team will always appreciate a great individual if he's willing to sacrifice for the group.” -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I chose to begin with this quote because not only is it by one of the best Western Conference players of all time, and Lakers legend, but I think it describes the underlying battle in this series, Kobe Bryant v. Kevin Durant, Black Mamba v. Durantula.

I know most people are picking this Lakers to go all the way and I am not going to argue but I think this will be the toughest test the Lakers may face until they reach the finals. The Lakers are the defending champs and even though they won the west in the regular season they are a stark contrast to the team that tortured the Magic in '09.

The Lakers: Kobe will always be Kobe but this team is a little to battle bruised then I would like coming into a series with the fastest and most underrated team this season. With Kobe still not back to 100% and without Andrew Bynum in the lineup this team will be asking for a lot more minutes from people like Lamar Odom and could tire easily if this series goes to more then five games. Don't get me wrong I still think the Lakers will be in the finals defending their title but if they are not careful this series could get close. I expect to see a lot of strong play from L.O who is averaging 10.9 points and almost 10 boards a game. Just as Trevor Ariza stepped up in last years playoffs (11.3 ppg on 49.7 shooting) It will be the forwards that win this series and will take it to the mildly undersized Thunder lineup.

Thundercats Go!: Kevin Durant is the youngest regular season scoring champion is NBA history and could have his coming out party in the OKC's first trip to the players in franchise history. KD has been everything for the Thunder this season and has expanded his ever evolving arsenal of moves as the season went on. Durant is a scorer but I expect his defense to be the deciding factor on how far the Thunder will make it in this series. Expect to see a lot from Russell Westbook when the Lakers shift to double teams on Durant.

Key Match-up: It would be easy to say Durant v. Kobe but I think its going to be the big men that make or break this game. Nenad Kristic is recovering from a right knee bruise and is going to be rusty in the opening games of this series but that is beside the fact. Kristic is not the typical center and is going to be put up against Pau Gasol in this series. If Kristic suffers expect to see 6'10 Serge Ibaka getting a lot of playing time for the Thunder. Ibaka is the team leader in blocks and averaging 6.3 points and over 5 boards in only 18 minutes a game.

Results: As much as we all love the Cinderella I don't think the Thunder are there yet, Lakers in 6.

#2 Dallas v. #7 San Antonio
Season Series: Dallas 3-1

If Durant v. Kobe is the Masters this is the Senior Open. Both is these teams are marque names but are not the high profile teams of yesteryear. 

Dallas won the Southwest by five games and handled the Spurs in their season series with Dirk averaging 28.8 points a game. I love the Spurs but they are not the team they once were and with the ongoing injuries to Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili I expect the Mavericks to end this series quickly.

The teams have put up similar numbers this season (Dallas 102. ppg on 46.5% shooting and S.A 101 ppg on 47% shooting) but if you look at the Spurs down the stretch they have relied way too much on players like Roger Mason, George Hill and rookie De Juan Blair to eat up minutes while their starters rest and I feel that if it comes to that scenario the Mavericks will smell blood and go for a quick KO.
The Mavericks: This may be Dallas' last chance at an NBA title and they know this. With an older team of beyond veteran players (J, Kidd, Marion and Nowitzki) Dallas knows that it is now or never. This strategy could be good or could completely backfire on them as they have lacked production when they play out of their element.

San Antonio: First off let me say that I love the Spurs but this team is a little to old and injured to make an kind of splash in this years playoffs. Tim Duncan will be relied on to do a little too much in this series and could hurt the team if it is ineffective. Duncan has never been a selfish player but if San Antonio is to make it anywhere beyond this series (if they make it that far) Duncan is going to have to be a one man wrecking crew.

Key Match-up: I think that the point guards are going to make this series and I am not talking about Tony Parker. This will be a battle between 23 year old George Hill and 37 year old Jason Kidd. Kidd is the ageless wonder this season averaging over 36 minutes a game and has ran the point very well for Dallas. On the contrary I really like the way that George Hill has come in for injured Tony Parker this season. I think the Spurs have found their point guard of the future in Hill, not only is he a three point threat (40%) but he is quick in his motion towards the basket. 

The only thing that will decide this is how badly Hill sprained his ankle in the season finals against Dallas. He is listed as DTD so that single injury might decide how long this series goes.

Results: Dallas is just a better ball club, Dallas in 5. (Dirk is gonna go NUTS, 23+ ppg guarantee) 

 # 3 Phoenix Suns v. #6 Portland Trailblazers
Season Series: Portland 2-1 

 I would love to pull for the Trailblazers in this series but I don't think this will even make it to five games. Portland is way to injured and with the possibility that Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge may have to play injured does not bode well for Rip City. Portland rode a duo of tested veterans to make the playoffs (Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard) but I feel that was mostly a temporary solution to their greater problem. 

Portland has a lot of young talent but most of it is injured. Lets not get into the Greg Oden debate because that is a non factor lets talk about players like Joel Przybilla and how he was supposed to be an integral part of the team this season. Or lets talk about the massive shooting slump Rudy Fernandez is in. This is going to be a four and out for the Trail Blazers if they cant get guys hot quickly.

On the plus side I have liked the play on Nicholas Batum, this SG has made an immediate impact for Portland and could be a surprise star in the series.

Key Match-up: Who ever has to guard Steve Nash and Amare. These two are going to blaze through this series (pardon my pun) and make easy work of Portland. Expect to see this duo wreck havoc early then the Suns will coast at the end of each game on the backs of Louis Amundson and Goran Dragic. The Suns second team is one of the most impressive units in the NBA and have averaged a +6 assist to turnover ratio against fellow western conference foes this season.

Results: Portland doesn't stand a chance. Suns in four.

# 4 Denver Nuggets v. #5 Utah Jazz
Season Series: Denver 3-1

Denver is the most up and down team in the NBA this season. You look at them on paper and you expect them to be making a run at the finals every season but it just seems like something holds them back every year and this year its the Utah Jazz.

The Nuggets: Denver handled it to the Jazz in the season series and but I don't expect them to do the same thing in the playoffs. The Nuggets hasve something to play for and a team with a desire and drive is hard to beat. With the words of head coach George Karl pushing them along as he deals with his ongoing cancer treatment I expect the Nuggets to play with a renewed sense of passion. We all know about Mr. Big Shot but Melo will be the one with the ball in his hands if the games get close.

The Jazz:  Unless you watch the NBA everyday (which thank god my job allows me to do) you don't know much about this team other then Deron Williams and that Karl Malone and John Stockton are no longer playing and if so frankly your missing a really really good team. They have a balanced attack and are a huge threat.

The Jazz are very unassuming and the most statically efficient team is basketball. Whether its their FG percentage (49.1 2nd in the west) the fact that they allow teams the second lowest rebounds a game (39.2) or the fact that they have eight players averaging almost 10 points a game has gone unknown around the mainstream media.

Utah is the Sleeper in the playoffs and could be a surprise in the Western Conference finals.The duo of Deron WIlliams and Carlos Boozer is as tight as any in the NBA. I swear there is just something about that city the creates great duos, too bad if they get past this series they will end the same way.

Results: Utah forgets their 3-1 record against the Nuggets and wins it in the toughest opening round match-up. Utah in 7.

Love is or hate it well all find out starting Saturday. Stay tuned to Eternal Mulligan
for my Eastern Conference Preview tomorrow.


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