Most of the teams that made the playoffs in the Western Conference have been there before. In fact, the top six seeds in the West made the playoffs last season. This should lead to some interesting match-ups in the playoffs. Let’s take a look at the first round.
1 ) San Antonio Spurs vs. 8 ) Memphis Grizzlies
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Key Player in Series: Manu Ginobili. He was injured in the last game of the regular season, and he needs to come back healthy so that the Spurs can make it past the Grizzlies.
This is the match-up that the Grizzlies wanted. It appeared as if they lost their last game on purpose so that they could play the Spurs. But why would a team lose purposely to play the team with the best record in their conference? It is because Memphis knows that it has a young, athletic team that is capable of wearing down the Spurs. But San Antonio is an experienced playoff team, and knows how to adjust. Greg Popovich rests his players throughout the season for a reason, and the Spurs should be able to win this series.
Prediction: Spurs win in 6 games.
2 ) Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets
Season Series: Lakers won series 4-0
Key Player in Series: Pau Gasol. With David West not playing, Gasol should take over in the post.
The Lakers lost 5 of their last 7 games, so they should be worried, right? Wrong. L.A. is the 2-time defending champion, and will not even be tested in this series. If not for a great start to the season, the Hornets may not have even made the playoffs. With West out for the season, the New Orleans is a completely different team. Chris Paul will have to perform at an MVP level just to make the series interesting. If the Lakers take a big lead in the series watch for Andrew Bynum to spend a lot of minutes on the bench to rest and stay healthy.
Prediction: Lakers win in 5 games.
3 ) Dallas Mavericks vs. 6 ) Portland Trail Blazers
Season Series: Tied 2-2
Key Player in Series: LaMarcus Aldridge
The Trail Blazers have been a team made up of young, promising plasyers the past couple years, but have not reached their expectations. The main reason that they have not reached those expectations is injuries. Greg Oden has not played a full season in the NBA, in fact he has only suited up for 82 games in his first four seasons in the league. Brandon Roy has gone through knee problems that are potentially career threatening. Roy is now less explosive, and he may only have one or two more productive seasons left. The Blazers are a very deep team, and the trade for Gerald Wallace will prove useful in the playoffs.
The Mavericks are not at full strength either. The team lost Caron Butler early in the season. The Mavs are also an older team. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd may only have a few seasons left, and both are still looking for their first championship. The Mavs did not get any luck having to face the Blazers in the first round though. LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the few players in the league who is tall and athletic enough to cover Nowitzki. Aldridge has had a career season, and he will look to carry that momentum into the playoffs.
Prediction: Blazers in 6 games.
4 ) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets
Season Series: Thunder won series 3-1
Key Player in Series: Russell Westbrook
The Nuggets did the right thing by trading Carmelo Anthony before the trade deadline. They received some young talent who will help them to be good for a long time. While it may take the Nuggets a few years to become an elite team, the Thunder are already there. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are one of the best duos in the league, if not the best. Even though Durant is coming off his second consecutive scoring title, Westbrook is the reason the Thunder will win the series. He is an excellent scorer, and he can dominate almost any point guard in the league. The addition of Kendrick Perkins will also help the Thunder down-low, and allow them to make a deep run into the playoffs. Expect this to be the best series of the first round, and it might come down to some buzzer beaters. Considering the Thunder have more explosive offensive weapons, they should be able to win the close games in the series.
Prediction: Thunder win in 7 games.