After the regular season ended last night with the Lakers overtime win after blowing a 20 point 4th quarter lead to the Kings in what may be the last professional basketball game in Sacramento, the Western Conference bracket was set. Here is a look at what you could expect.
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies
Don’t sleep on the Grizzlies. After Rudy Gay went down with season ending shoulder surgery, I thought they would free fall out of the playoff picture and let a team like Houston sneak in, but instead they went on a 15-8 run over the next two months (including 2-1 against San Antonio in that time span). Zach Randolph has been a beast inside and even OJ Mayo seems to have found himself again, but the Spurs will be ready. The Grizzlies are fun to watch, they play the passing lanes like Allen Iverson and they run the floor like the 05-06 Suns, so their only shot in this series is to get the older Spurs to play a fast paced game with fast breaks all over the place. However, the experienced Spurs with Gregg Popovich in charge will not fall into any traps set by a #8 seeded team like Memphis. It should be an incredibly entertaining series, especially if Memphis can somehow get San Antonio to attempt to run the floor with them, but the Grizzlies just won’t have enough without their best player to overtake the best team in the NBA.
Spurs 4, Grizzlies 1
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #5 Denver Nuggets
In my opinion, this will be the most entertaining series of all eight first round match-ups. Two very, very young teams full of really athletic and talented basketball players. At first, I’m sure Kevin Durant is happy that he doesn’t have to go head to head with Carmelo Anthony, but then he realizes that the Nuggets have gone 17-7 since that trade which brought them together and made them arguably the deepest team in the NBA. The Thunder won two games against the Nuggets in a 5 day span just last week, but they were tough physical games. The Nuggets have no answer for Kevin Durant (as do most teams), and Russell Westbrook is one of the few point guards that can run with Ty Lawson while being longer and more athletic. The acquisition of Kendrick Perkins has given the Thunder a new identity and made them more balanced, and should lead to an interesting matchup with Nene.
You want more reason to watch this series? This is what happened when the two teams met last week:
It is no surprise to see Perkins and Nene mix it up, but you have to love the fact two Mr. Nice Guys in Durant and Gallinari also got into it at the 1:55 mark. This series is going to get really, really interesting very quickly.
Thunder 4, Nuggets 2
#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs #7 New Orleans Hornets
Kobe is fresh off of a $100 K fine for his actions a few days ago, Andrew Bynum is fresh off another knee injury which sounds like will not sideline him in the playoffs, and the Lakers as a team are fresh off of a 6 game losing streak (which snapped in an OT win at the lowly Sacramento Kings in which they blew a 20 point 4th quarter lead). It sounds like the Lakers might be in trouble, but fortunately here come the Hornets to the rescue. Although the Hornets were 5th in the NBA in defense, allowing 94 points per game, they allowed 101 per game to the Lakers in their 4 meetings which were all won by LA. To make things worse for the Hornets, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 56 for 83 (67%) against them. And just to make things even worse, David West just underwent surgery for his torn ACL. I think that Chris Paul could play the best basketball of his career and this series would still be ugly.
Lakers 4, Hornets 0
#3 Dallas Mavericks vs #6 Portland Trailblazers
Another really entertaining series between two very good, very balanced teams that have been known for underachieving over the past three years or so. Sure the Blazers will put you to sleep at times as they run the slowest offense in the NBA, but they can be equally exciting when they go on one of their runs. Gerald Wallace has done more than they could have expected, and Brandon Roy will surely hit his share of clutch shots if necessary. The two teams split the season series with the home team winning each time, so home court advantage could be important for the Mavericks. Also, don’t count out the fact that Caron Butler might return this series. Even if he isn’t completely effective, that could be an emotional lift for the Mavericks who have usually flopped in the playoffs. LaMarcus Aldridge has taken his game to another level this year, as has Wesley Matthews. This series could go either way, but I’ll take the upset.
Blazers 4, Mavericks 3