Saturday, April 20, 2013

We're All Set, Western Conference Preview

Two races were at the mainstay of talking heads when it came to the Western Conference playoff race, the number one seed and the number eight seed.  Mainly because of the teams involved as the Spurs and Thunder seemed to be fighting for the top spot all year and the retooled Lakers weren't gelling like everyone though, sending them to the bottom of the league.  The match ups seemed to work out a lot better than they did in the East, at least David Stern must think so.  Pacers against the Hawks doesn't hold as much ground as the Lakers looking to upset the Spurs minus Kobe but with a rejuvenated Dwight Howard.  The Heat taking on an under 500 Bucks team doesn't even touch the Thunder seeing their old friend James Harden in the first round.

The West is full of star power.  Even without Kobe it seems that every team besides the Nuggets has at least one superstar.  Whether it is future superstars like KD and Russell Westbrook, former superstars like Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, and currently in their prime superstars like Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, every team can bring something to the table.  The excitement factor in the West is through the roof.  You could conceivably convince someone that an upset is possible in every series.  What are the odds it actually happens? 

Let's take a look at the Western Conference:

#1 Oklahoma City Thunder VS. #8 Houston Rockets
Season Records: 60-22 vs 45-37
Series Record: Thunder leads series 2-1

The Thunder look close to destined to represent the West once again.  They are stacked and they have a roster of young players who never get injured.  The Rockets made major moves this offseason.  They brought in James Harden from these same Thunder and also signed Jeremy Lin away from the Knicks.  Bringing Linsanity to Houston showed that they were serious about becoming contenders in the West for years to come.  They also made under the radar moves like signing Omer Asik away from the Bulls and Carlos Delfino away from the Bucks.  The Rockets GM Daryl Morey made some smart moves to push this team in the right direction.  He made the moves that helped end a three year absence from the postseason in Houston.  The Thunder seem to never make a wrong move.  They did get Kevin Martin and three picks from the deal that sent away Harden, they gave away basically nothing to bring over Ronnie Brewer, Derek Fisher and Eric Maynor over in midseason trades, and they did just enough to obtain the first overall seed.

Unluckily for Oklahoma City, the Rockets are just happy to be here.  They would love to knock off the number one and the favorite to take the West crown.  Harden would love to show the Thunder that they made the wrong choice by trading him.  Lin would love to show the world that he wasn't just some one hit wonder.  The problem is that the Rockets defense is downright awful.  Ranking 28th in the league, Houston allows 102.5 points per game.  They have problems with every offense, and they will have fits trying to stop scoring machine Kevin Durant.  The third worst defense going against the third best defense is not a match up that will work out well for the former.  The Rockets will put up a fight, but the Thunder will be too much for this upstart team.

Series Outcome: Thunder in 6 games

#2 San Antonio Spurs VS. Los Angeles Lakers
Season Records: 58-24 vs 45-37
Season Series: Spurs lead series 2-1

It has been well documented how the Laker's season has gone.  They brought in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to make them preseason favorites.  They started off bad and fired their coach Mike Brown after three games.  They continued to struggle throughout the first three months as they sported a record of 20-26 at the end of January.  That's when Kobe stepped in and took over.  He started having 35 and 40 point games by the handful.  He took the Laker's woes in his own hands and did what he could to turn it around.  It is a sin that they never figured out how to make the Kobe, Nash, Howard, Pau Gasol foursome work.  If they had the right system then they would dominate the NBA.  Enough about the Lakers, they take over Sportscenter enough that you know all about it.  Somehow after all these years the Spurs keep winning.  The fact that Greg Popovich has done as well as he has done even though his starting unit keeps getting older is remarkable.  At 36-years-old, Tim Duncan is still balling better than most power forwards in the league.  He hasn't had numbers as good as this year since three years ago.  Tony Parker shows he should be in every conversation for best point guard in the NBA, even though he isn't. 

This is the series most NBA fans are looking forward to the most.  The Lakers, the surprising underdog, while the Spurs know this round is just a necessity.  The Lakers lost Kobe for about a year when the shooting guard tore his Achilles tendon against the Warriors.  LA will need to use their bigs to take advantage of San Antonio.  Howard and Gasol can surely take advantage of the likes of Duncan and Tiago Splitter.  The Spurs have questions regarding the health of Ginobili and have just brought on former superstar Tracy McGrady.  Is this a smart decision or an act of desperation?  With all the clues given the writing is on the wall, the Spurs will dominate this series.  What?  Everything seemed to point to a Laker upset, what happened?  For one, the coaches are a distinct San Antonio favorite.  The depth of the Lakers is garbage, especially without their leading scorer.  Nobody knows how healthy Nash really is, and if he can't go their back court will consist of Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks.  Things are bleak in LA and expect the NBA to lose some ratings over how short this series is (unless David Stern has something to say about it...SHHHHHHH).

Series Outcome: Spurs in 5 games

#3 Denver Nuggets VS. #6 Golden State Warriors
Season Records: 57-25 vs 47-35
Series Record: Denver leads 3-1

These teams have not seen each other since they met back on January 13th.  A lot can happen in three months time.  Danilo Gallinari's knee was still intact back then.  There were no questions about Ty Lawson's health.  Andrew Bogut is finally back and playing for the Warriors.  This isn't like it was back then.  The Nuggets are sorely going to miss their leading scorer throughout this postseason.  The Warriors provide an interesting match up.  They can score up front and have a scorer in the back with Stephen Curry.  They rank third in the league in rebounds and get plenty of second chances to add points that looked as if they were lost.  Curry is slowly becoming one of the most frightening point guards in the league. 

The x-factor here is going to be home court advantage.  The Nuggets have won 38 out of their 41 home games.  They have a over a 92 percent winning percentage at home.  That is unfathomable in today's NBA.  How did they fall to a third seed then?  Well they only won 19 of the 41 away games.  This series will go exactly as it is supposed to, the home team will win every game.  Both teams play great in front of their home crowd, yet win less than half their games on the road.  Expect the defense of Javale McGee and Andre Iguodala with an addition of the presence of Kenneth Farried to end up being too much for the Warriors.  It will be a back and forth series, but Denver takes it at the very end.

Series Outcome: Denver in 7 games

#4 Los Angeles Clippers VS. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
Season Records:   56-26 vs 56-26
Series Record: LA leads 3-1
The Clippers come into this series after winning their first division title ever.  That wasn't a misprint, a franchise that has existed since 1970 had never won a division title.  Think about that Cubs fans.  This is a new way of thinking for the "other" LA team.  They swept the LA Lakers for the first time in the Donald Sterling era.  They are fun to watch, as proof by them being sixth in the league in attendance.  They are playing great defense and are deeper than most teams on the bench.  The Grizzlies are a different kind of team.  They beat you with no doubt the best front court in the NBA.  Marc Gasol is quickly out shining his brother in terms of being the best Spanish player in the NBA.  He is dominating a position that just seems to get thinner and thinner every year.  The fact that there are four or five dominant centers shows how different an NBA we live in. 

The Grizz will be a formidable foe for the Clips.  Gasol and Zach Randolph will have their respective ways with the likes of Deandre Jordan and Blake Griffin on the offensive side.  The issue here is that is where there advantages stop.  Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game and the Clips have a pure scorer in Jamal Crawford coming off the bench.  Even if the stats show that Memphis has been 27-10 since the Rudy Gay trade, they are going to miss his pure scoring ability in this series.  They don't have the athletic ability that the Clippers possess.  That is what is going to decide this series.  The Grizzlies defense will make this series a nail biter, but it will be the Clippers who taste victory. 

Series Outcome: Clippers in 7 games

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