Western Conference Playoff Preview

I’m writing this as game 1 of the Atlanta @ Orlando series is going on, so it should be finished right before game 1 of Portland @ Dallas.

The Western Conference playoffs, unlike the East, are destined to be a lot more fun. The East is sure to get more interesting come round 2, but overall, the Western Conference tournament takes the cake. Every matchup is interesting, even with the Hornets, who are at the bottom of my WC rankings, playing the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

The teams are more complete in the West, and the the stars are a more experienced group than those in the East (the Celtics not withstanding). Before I break down the individual matchups of each series, I’m going to give you my WC Power Rankings. Once again, this is how I rank the teams; it is not how they are seeded.

8. New Orleans Hornets

7. Memphis Grizzlies

6. Denver Nuggets

5. Portland Trail Blazers

4. Dallas Mavericks

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

2. Los Angeles Lakers

1. San Antonio Spurs

Memphis Grizzlies v. San Antonio Spurs (8th v. 1st)

Let me start by saying that the Memphis Grizzlies are a dangerous team. It’s a shame that Rudy Gay is out for them, because they probably would have been ranked higher than 8th in the standings. Unfortunately, that’s not how things played out, and they’re headed to San Antonio.

That’s bad news for any team in any conference in any region and in any mindset (this sentence is grammatically correct, btw). The Spurs are hurting, with their closer battling an elbow injury on his off-arm, but they’re going to give the Grizzlies everything they have. The reasons for that are two-fold:


1. The Spurs always play hard. They’re the most well-coached group in the past decade, and their fearless leader, Tim Duncan, is a great lead-by-example superstar. At this stage in his career, he’s no longer a threat to drop 30+ and 15+, but he’s still an impossible cover. Well, not impossible, but improbable.

2. The Grizzlies may have angered the Spurs, tanking their last few games and making sure they did everything possible to land the 8th seed and a matchup with San Antonio. They didn’t want to play the Lakers, for obvious reasons. The 6th seed was out of reach. But the idea of tanking and playing San Antonio, who appear vulnerable, is going to backfire on them. If you didn’t click the second link, it’s a chat wrap with ESPN’s Ric Bucher, and he answers a question about Memphis-San Antonio nicely. Bucher asserts,

“Much more competitive without Manu. On paper, it should be very competitive. I’m just leery of a young team like the Grizzlies *asking* to face a proud, experienced group like the Spurs. Whatever San Antonio has, the Grizzlies are going to get it in full force.”

He’s right. The Spurs are way too proud to lose to an 8th seed. Plus, I know it was a long time ago, but they were the second-to-last team to face Memphis in the post-season, and they swept them in what was a very competitive 3 v. 6 matchup back in 2004. This is all from memory, and Memphis is clearly a different team, but the Spurs are confident no matter who they face, so this figures to add to a surplus of confidence.

On top of all this, the Grizzlies’ best player, Zach Randolph, is going to have a tough go-around. He’s going to be hounded by the pound-for-pound anti-Zach in DeJuan Blair. Blair has a similar build to Zach, except he’s uber feisty, way more toned, and tries really hard on every possession. Randolph is going to be having Blair nightmares for the duration of the series.

When Blair is out, he’s going to see the long arms of Tim Duncan, and then (cue fart noise) Matt Bonner. Talk about a significant dropoff.

Anyway…

Spurs in 5

(Keep in mind that as I write this, Dwight Howard is abusing the Atlanta Hawks’ big men, and consequentially making me look like an idiot. Thanks, Dwight. Shave that stupid goatee.)

New Orleans Hornets v. Los Angeles Lakers (7th v. 2nd)

There are more interesting subplots than there are interesting main plots in this series.

  • The health of Chris Paul
  • The severity of Andrew Bynum’s knee injury (gulp)
  • Trevor Ariza v. Ron Artest
  • Trevor Ariza coming back to LA
  • Trevor Ariza’s familiarity with Kobe’s tendencies and the Laker offense
  • Marco Belinelli spotting Sylvester Stallone courtside and realizing how much he resembles him
  • Jarrett Jack’s pouty face
  • Jarrett Jack going rogue and destroying the Lakers like he always does

I honestly can't tell the difference.

Those are subplots. As far as main plots go, what is there? The Lakers v. Hornets is not an interesting matchup. Sorry, New Orleans, but I’m just being honest.

X’s and O’s indicate that the Lakers will destroy the Hornets. They’re a one-trick pony that relies on the success of Paul. If he does not get his teammates involved, the Hornets have no chance. If he does get them involved, they will be fine. The problem with that is that they aren’t as talented a group as they were in 2007-2008. He was doing amazing things back then, but he had Tyson Chandler catching his lobs and setting monsters picks, David West knocking down elbow jump shots, and they were a better defensive club.

This year? Not so much. Paul’s knee surgery over the summer might still be lingering and affecting his play, but there’s a cone of silence around the organization about its severity. A lot of what I have read about him is true: some games, he looks like he’s saving his legs; other games, he looks like he’s back to MVP form; and outside games, he looks like he’s going to end up having a short career.

The same is true for Andrew Bynum. He’s one misstep away from missing 2 months of playing time. That’s scary for Laker fans, but, according to Ric Bucher, the Lakers and Nets might make a play for Dwight Howard as early as this summer, and are reportedly the only teams he’s interested in playing for (found in same chat wrap link I posted earlier).

The Hornets are expecting big things from Trevor, who’ll most likely be playing with a chip on his shoulder in this series, but I’m not sure that it’ll matter. Pundits are envisioning a big series for Kobe, but they’re over-looking how good a defender Ariza is. He’s longer than Kobe, knows all his moves, and is more athletic than him at this point in his career. Kobe’s going to have trouble with Ariza, but Ariza’s going to have trouble with Artest, who can really frustrate his opponents.

Whether Andrew plays every game or not, the Lakers will win. It only impacts how many games in which they’ll win.

Lakers in 5

(I’m starting to notice a trend here…)

Portland Trail Blazers @ Dallas Mavericks (6th v 3rd)

I would like to dispel two myths floating around the mainstream media right now.

1. Portland beating Dallas is an upset.

When everyone in the free press picks one team to win over another, no matter what the seedings are, it ceases to be an upset.

People have made one huge leap in logic about this Portland team. They’ve been regarded was the one team in the lower bracket that no team wants to face, but because of that, they’ve been overrated. Just because they’re a team that nobody wants to face does not mean that they’re a team that will win against contenders. All it means is that they’re going to be a tough out. Oh, they’ll be out. You can bet on that. But they’ll be a TOUGH out.

Just like in the days when the Lakers consisted of Kobe, Lamar Odom, and a bunch of scrubs playing above their talent level because of the wizardry of Phil Jackson and the intensity, expectations, and will of Kobe Bryant were a team that no contender wanted to face, the Blazers are the same kind of team. No, they’re not built like that; but that’s their status. The Lakers were never going to WIN a championship with that team, or even beat the Dallas Mavericks (who went to the Finals that year-2006). They were just going to be a tough out.

That’s Portland. They’re a really good team. LaMarcus Aldridge has really come into his own since the downfall of Brandon Roy. There’s no denying that he’s been fantastic for them. Still, though, the Trail Blazers are, once again, playing above their heads. And they can’t shoot.

2. Gerald Wallace can mitigate/guard Dirk Nowitzki.

This has to be the dumbest myth floating around out there. Anyone who says this doesn’t watch the Dallas Mavericks.

When you really think about it, the Blazers are more traditional team. Top to bottom, they’re conventional. The Mavericks are not. They have never had a low-post presence in the Dirk era outside of Dirk, and he does not operate exclusively in the post. Dirk is a back-to-the-basket player, but more in the sense that he’s going to fade away and hit a seemingly impossible shot that nobody else can make with his alarming regularity.

He’s so tall that it’s impossible to block his shot. He’s stronger than he looks. His stroke is better than most guards. His dribbling ability is underrated; he’s not going to break someone down off the dribble so much as he’s going to control the pace of his matchup with the dribble. He has absolutely mastered the turn-around/fadeaway jump shot.

Dirk can shoot the open three. Hell, he can shoot from anywhere. There are certain players that one would think Dirk would have trouble scoring on. Guys that are big and mobile, as well as feisty, are guys that Dirk used to have trouble with. Kenyon Martin, Lamar Odom, Udonis Haslem, Nene, and Gerald Wallace are all guys that one could definitely envision troubling Dirk.

But that was the old Dirk.

Hey, NBA-Sprechen sie DIRK!

That’s the problem with people who are saying that Wallace can give Dirk trouble. They are banking on the old Mavericks who lose in the first round, and they’re mistakenly assuming that Dirk is soft and doesn’t like it when guys like Stephen Jackson get in his grill. That was true, but it’s not anymore. Dirk has conquered that and is waiting for the rest of his team to catch up with him.

He’s been doing that since Steve Nash left, actually.

Dirk was the lone standout on the Maverick teams that got eliminated these past two post-seasons. He ripped the Nuggets apart two years ago and he did the same to the Spurs just last year. The Mavericks don’t lose because of Dirk. They lose because Dirk doesn’t have enough help.

Unfortunately, that’ll be the same old story this year. Jason Terry’s jumpshot seems to have fled him; Jason Kidd’s body is betraying him; Shawn Marion is a shell of his former self; JJ Barea has more bark than bite, and Roddy Beaubois has more perceived value than actual value. While the Mavericks might lose in the first round, it’ll most likely be in the second.

Mavericks in 7

Denver Nuggets v. Oklahoma City Thunder (5th v. 4th)

I legitimately dislike both of these teams.

While at times I may have rooted for them against opponents, I was only choosing the lesser of two evils. It’s hard to hate Kevin Durant because he’s such a nice guy, great teammate, and freakishly talented athlete. I’ll be the first to admit that. However, I do not like Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Thabo Sefaloshahgaghkteijmvap, Serge I-Blaka, or Daquan Cook. And I hate Kendrick Perkins with a passion.

I mentioned the guys on OKC that I hate because my beloved Lakers are more likely to see them than they are the Denver Nuggets. Neither of them will beat a healthy Spurs team, but they the Thunder are much more likely to, given the nature of Manu’s injury. So I won’t bother with Denver unless we somehow end up facing them in the conference finals.

As far as this matchup goes, though, it figures to very interesting. It could easily go 6 or 7, and the Nuggets could get hot and steal it. The Thunder are playing with a lot of confidence, but also with a lot of expectations. Those expectations are new to them as a unit, but not to Durant and Westbrook, who handled the bulk of the pressure in the FIBA tournament this past summer. They are built to contend with the championship teams out west, so that works in their favor.

There’s not much to criticize when talking about the Thunder. I don’t think they’ll win it all or go to the finals, but that’s not to say that I would be surprised if they did either. One thing that people are over-looking is how predictable they are in crunch-time moments. They run the same play all the time (so do the Lakers, I know), and they have trouble executing it and getting the shot off that they want. In the playoffs, they’re not going to blowout teams or run them off the court.The games are slower, tougher, more physical, and are very grind-it-out. In those type of games, you need to be able to execute in the final minutes to win.

They have the talent with Durant to make a game-winner or two. There’s no denying that. However, the Nuggets are going to be a “tough out.” Ha. I don’t know that they’ll beat Denver, but I expect them to because their pecking order is clearer.

Denver has guys that can get hot, are two deep at every position, and have a very distinct homecourt advantage (they run and gun in a high-altitude environment). In addition, they’re extremely physical. Perkins might be able to intimidate some other losers, but not the big men in Denver. Birdman doesn’t shy away from contact, K-Mart and Nene both love to initiate contact, pushing guys around and “nudging” them with their elbows and what not. There are going to be some shoving matches in this series. I’m sure of it.

While I think Denver can win, the smart money says that they won’t. Yeah, they blow teams out and win by an average marging of 10+ points (per their post-Melo wins), but they need to have a guy that can get them points at the end of the game. When the defense tightens down, will J.R. Smith take a stupid shot, then implode? Will Lawson’s ankle hold up? Will Danilo Galinari light it up or fizzle? Can Wilson Chandler body-up Durant?

I don’t know.

But I’ll have fun with this one and say…

Denver in 6

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2 Responses to “Western Conference Playoff Preview”

  1. daniel "cool beans" lee Says:

    Lakers in four, ideally. And lol at the Denver twist.

  2. Sina Says:

    ^Lol at Denver here too. But what do you think of Atlanta’s preformance in game 1..can they win the series?

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