Yesterday I covered the Eastern Conference. Same annyoing professional sports league. Different Conference. I won’t bore you with my abject distaste for modern professional basketaball. Instead, I’ll jump right into the breakdowns. Have fun.
1 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. 8 Oklahoma City Thunder (50-32)
Why you should watch: Because in the Western Conference these days, every playoff matchup has a chance to be compelling. Because OKC is just 7 games out of first (vs. the 20 games that seperate the 1 and 8 seeds in the Eastern Conference). Because If OKC were in the East they’d be a 4 or 5 seed. Because the upstart Thunder have Phil Jackson so scared he’s already working the refs from afar, resorting to his time-tested mind games . Because Ron Artest is involved, and he may pull someone’s pants down . Or he may pull his own pants down . If those aren’t good enough reasons, how about because Kobe Bryant, the most lethal closer in the NBA will be squaring off against Kevin Durant, the most uniquely-dangerous offensive player around.
PG: Derek Fisher vs. Russell Westbrook-Advantage Thunder
SG: Kobe Bryant vs. Thabo Sefolosha-Advantage Lakers
SF: Ron Artest vs. Kevin Durant-Advantage Thunder
PF: Lamar Odom vs. Jeff Green-Advantage Lakers
C: Pau Gasol vs. Nenad Krstic-Advantage Lakers
Bench: Advantage Lakers
Coaching: Advantage Lakers
Prediction: Lakers 4-2. The Thunder are a young, energetic and fun-to-watch team. Durant is almost as unguardable as LeBron, and his supporting cast is an athletic, well-balanced group that defers to him, but is capable of picking up the slack on his off nights. Any other year (except for maybe last year) a team like that would give LA fits. But the Lakers are more cohesive than anyone thought they would be. With Andrew Bynum again making a return from injury at the right time, and everyone clicking on both ends, it doesn’t look likely that the Thunder can pull an improbable Golden State over Dallas-style upset. Remember, this is OKC’s first trip to the playoffs since relocating. The Lakers have missed the playoffs just five times in the last 61 years, and have won 16 titles in that span. Sorry Thunder, but it’s not quite your time.
2 Dallas Mavericks (55-27) vs. 7 San Antonio Spurs (50-32)
Why you should watch: Unlike the 1-8 series, there’s a chance of an upset here. If anyone knows how to squeeze value out of obscure, old, and/or overlooked players, it’s Gregg Popovich, who’s won 4 titles in his tenure. On the other side, though Rick Carlisle clearly has the better team, he’s never won a title or even been to the Finals. If you like good defense and well-executed set offenses, or you haven’t watched basketball since the late 1990s, this is your series.
PG: Jason Kidd vs. Tony Parker-Advantage Mavericks
SG: Caron Butler vs. Manu Ginobili-Even
SF: Shawn Marion vs. Richard Jefferson-Even
PF: Dirk Nowitzki vs. Tim Duncan-Even
C: Eric Dampier vs. Antonio McDyess-Advantage Mavericks
Coaching: Advantage Spurs
Prediction: Dallas 4-3. If Duncan can regain the playoff greatness he’s used to (over his career he’s averaged 2 more points and 1 more rebound per game in the post season than in the regular season) the Mavs could be in trouble. With Parker presumably healthy and Ginobili peaking at the right time, it’s going to take everything the Mavs have to hold off San Antonio from an upset that’s not as improbable as the seeds would have you believe. Dallas can fall back on the fact that they beat the Spurs in 3 of 4 contests this year, and have the best road record in the league, so if San Antonio steals one of the first two games, all is not lost. But if Timmy gets the flat-footed Mavericks center rotation in early foul trouble, watch out.
3 Phoenix (54-28) vs. 6 Portland (50-32)
Why you should watch: As usual, the Suns play tons of offense (1st in the league) and no defense (23rd). They throw lots of alley-oops, and since jettisoning Shaq for cap room they’ve opened their offense back up and become just as fast-paced and fun to watch as they were before he ever got there. Be that as it may, the Blazers won the season series 2-1 and held the Suns under their season scoring average in all three contests. In Phoenix’s only win, the Suns scored just 93 points, which was one of only ten occasions all season that they scored under 100.
PG: Steve Nash vs. Andre Miller-Advantage Suns
SG: Jason Richardson vs. Rudy Fernandez-Advantage Suns
SF: Grant H ill vs. Nicolas Batum-Advantage Suns
PF: Amare Stoudemire vs. LaMarcus Aldridge-Advantage Suns
C: Jarron Collins vs. Marcus Camby-Advantage Blazers
Coaching: Advantage Suns
Prediction: Suns 4-1. Obviously with Brandon Roy playing this is an entirely different series, as the Suns really have no answer for him on either end. In the two games he played against Phoenix this year he averaged 25 per. Who on the Trailblazers roster is going to duplicate that? More
importantly, who’s going to warrant respect from the refs? Roy went to the line 19 times in two games vs. Phoenix this year. The Blazers are deep at the wing position, but not that deep. The Suns have their own injury issues (explaining why Jarron Collins is starting…anywhere). But they’re one of the best home teams in the NBA. With the higher seed, they should get out to a 2-0 lead pretty easily, and it’ll be tough for the depleted Blazers to come back from that.
4 Denver Nuggets (53-29) vs. 5 Utah Jazz (53-29)
Why you should watch: You couldn’t ask for a better matchup on paper. These two teams are among the league’s best offensively, and the Jazz, despite being the higher seed, are actually more balanced than the Nuggets statistically. Both teams can run. Both can play D. Both can shoot it. It might come down to home court advantage. In any event, it looks like this should shape up to be an exciting series with the potential to go to 7 games.
PG: Chauncey Billups vs. Deron Williams-Even
SG: Aaron Afflalo vs. Wesley Matthews-Even
SF: Carmelo Anthony vs. C.J. Miles-Advantage Nuggets
PF: Kenyon Martin vs. Carlos Boozer-Advantage Jazz
C: Nene Hilario vs. Mehmet Okur-Advantage Jazz
Coaching: Advantage Jazz
Prediction: Jazz 4-3. Early in the season, when ‘Melo was grooving and the Nuggets were playing defense, I picked them to be the darkhorse to win the West this year, and earn the right to lose to LeBron and the Cavs in the NBA Finals. Now I’m not so sure. With George Karl still receiving treatments for throat cancer, the team will either rally around him so he can coach them in the second round, or shrivel a little. And a little shrivel is all this Jazz team will need. These two teams are evenly-matched, and they’re both excellent at home. The Nuggets are tied for the best home record in the West, and the Jazz are tied for the second best home record. I predict one improbable home loss for the Nuggets, and the Jazz sneaking through to the second round where they’ll be devoured by Kobe and the Lakers.