By Chris Lehman
After the shortened NBA season, we’re set up with what figures to be one of the more exciting playoffs in many years. For years, the western conference has been considered the stronger of the two. This year, it appears as though it has finally equaled out. Nonetheless, the west still shows great depth in terms of teams. Here are the first round predictions:
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz
– This one is easy. The Spurs are playing their best basketball since the Twin Towers in which they had one of the best front courts we’ve ever seen. Tony Parker is playing out of his mind and has led his team to an overall tie for the NBA’s best record and is making a strong case for himself as the league’s MVP. There’s no need for a description. The better team will win in 4 games.
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers
-This is my favorite first round matchup in the west. Before the season started, I predicted the Grizzlies to be the #3 seed and considered them the dark horse to make some serious noise come playoff time. With a healthy Zach Randolph, Memphis shows incredible depth and an overall surplus of talent. I also said the Clippers would be the #5 seed but did not want to see this matchup in the first round because I wanted both teams to have a chance to go further. As much as I love what the Clippers are doing, I’m going with my gut here. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Grizzlies in the western finals, but first, they’ll have to play the Spurs. Grizzlies win this series in 6 games.
#3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets
– I really like what the Denver Nuggets have done this year. Before the season, I saw potential with the dangerous back court of Lawson and Afflalo. It doesn’t surprise me that they made the playoffs, but I never imagined them going any further. It doesn’t help their case that they play the Lakers. The combo of Bynum and Gasol will simply be too much for the Nuggets’ big men to handle. Kenneth Faried is just not tall enough to try to cover Pau Gasol. Gasol is able to shoot over players his own size because of his high release, let alone someone who he stands 4 inches over. Javale McGee is a very talented player but is still undisciplined and Bynum will capitalize on that. This series will be won in the paint. Also, the Bryant / Afflalo matchup will be one to keep an eye on. Lakers win in 5 games.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks
– The Mavericks just aren’t the team they used to be. Tyson Chandler’s absence proves that he was the glue of the team and without him, their dominant defense is no more. The Mavs are usually able to take over a game when 6th man Jason Terry comes in. Unfortunately for them, the 6th man on the Thunder is no slouch. James Harden will win 6th man of the year for the eventual NBA champions. The Thunder will set the tempo for this series and it will get away from the Mavs quickly. Get out the broomsticks in Oklahoma City.