NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Up's the Word
If the Eastern Conference pairings are depressing, at least we can look forward to the much more intriguing Western Conference first-round matchups.
The state of the NBA playoffs these days is reminiscent of the NHL's back in the late 1960s, when that league add six expansion franchises to its Original Six. Some bright light back then decided it'd be more competitive if all the new clubs were grouped in one division, but all it really did was make the other division's semi-final the real Stanley Cup showdown.
The only difference here is the NBA East teams aren't expansion clubs. They just play like they are, with the exception of Cleveland and Atlanta.
So the real drama will be out West.
1 Golden State vs 8 New Orleans
My Prediction: 4-1 Warriors
My Analysis: The Brow makes his first playoff experience! Fun! Really, though, this should be interesting, and he does pose a challenge to this vaunted Warriors team. But ultimately, Anthony Davis is only one man. He might become the league's best player in a few short years; however, for now, he’s still growing as is the team around him.
The Dubs, on the other hand, are on another planet. Barring injury I don’t see anyone from either conference -- with the possible exception of San Antonio -- challenging this Warriors team .
My No 1 Thing to Watch: Just enjoy the way Golden State plays. Focus on Stephen Curry during every offensive possession. The dude's a virtuoso. When he’s in a zone -- not just shooting the ball but passing, too -- it’s worth every penny of your ticket or cable fee. Honestly, my advice is to just simply watch the Warriors. They play beautiful hoops.
2 Houston vs 7 Dallas
My Prediction: 4-3 Rockets
My Analysis: This series might interest me the least out of any in the Western Conference, but it still has my attention more than any series in the East. Houston is a one-man show, plain and simple. Granted, it’s a truly terrific show, especially since the former turnstile-like defender James Harden has actually made an effort to improve his previously putrid defense.
Dallas has had a tumultuous year, but now it’s the playoffs, so you know Dirk is going to do Dirk things. Is benching Rejean Rondo the right call to bringing this team’s offensive prowess back? I honestly don’t know the answer, but somewhere in this Dallas team lurks a much better club than they’ve been since the Rondo trade.
Both squads have major flaws and major talents.
My No 1 Thing to Watch: Watch how methodically Harden gets to the line. Some like to point to his high free throw rate as an inflation of his points per game, but those folks are simply wrong. Getting to the line is a skill. This isn’t a Kevin Durant sweep play, for which you can’t get freebies anymore. Harden is simply skilled at driving the lane and using his large body to put himself in a place where opponents have no option but to foul him or let him score.
3 Los Angeles Clippers vs 6 San Antonio
My Prediction: 4-2 Spurs
My Analysis: This Clippers team is really good, their sartorial acumen notwithstanding. Chris Paul has been incredible this year, and being in the West, this team doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But the problem is, they aren’t going to win a title or even make the conference championship.
It’s even worse than that, though, because they aren’t even going to make it out of the first round. The Spurs have worked their dark magic yet again and are clicking on all cylinders. There is no stopping this machine. Not in this round, at least.
My No 1 Thing to Watch: The Clippers have become well known as the league's crybabies. It’s not just that so many of their players complain, it’s that they whine after damn near every call with about as much enthusiasm on the small stuff as the key whistles. When they go down early in this series, get ready to see it. They have a chance to make this a dogfight, but in whimper mode, it'll be over quickly.
4 Portland vs 5 Memphis
My Prediction: 4-2 Grizzlies
My Analysis: Like the last matchup, these are two excellent teams. Portland was a title contender until Wes Matthews went down, and Memphis was too before Mike Conley started playing like garbage the last couple of months. Honestly if Portland won this series 4-2 I wouldn’t be surprised but if I’m picking, I’m going with Memphis. Portland was a thin team before the Matthews injury, and even though CJ McCullom has looked good in his increased role, they might find it hard to score against this grinding Memphis team.
My No 1 Thing to Watch: It’s easy to forget that LaMarcus Aldridge almost ended his season with thumb surgery earlier this year. He and Damian Lillard have the ability to will this team to a victory. But I'm not just watching what's happening on the court, I'm noticing the always fun and intense Portland crowd in a potential Game 7. That’s what I want more than anything.