It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Two straight months of intense, emotional and fun NBA Playoff basketball! This Saturday will kick off one of the most wide open playoff races in recent memory.
The Western Conference is as deep and talented as it’s ever been, and there really is no clear-cut favorite out West. With the first round beginning, the contenders will begin to weed out the pretenders, take a look at how I think the first-round will go out West and see who the BSO Staff is picking!
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks
If this series was taking place three years ago, we would all be salivating. The Spurs and Mavs have had one heck of a rivalry over the last 15 years, and the great thing about rivalries is it usually throws the importance of seeding right out the window.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, this iteration of their roster doesn’t really present enough of a challenge to the Spurs to believe this will be another classic chapter in their storied rivalry. Aside for Dirk Nowitzki, there really isn’t a supporting cast you can depend on to bring it game to game. Monta Ellis is a wild card who can shoot you into or out of a game very quickly.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. The Spurs enter the playoffs with top overall seed and home-court advantage throughout. They are looking to avenge a 7-game Finals loss to the Heat last season in a series they really should have wrapped up in 6. I look for the Spurs to come out aggressive and focused from the first game of the postseason.
Dirk is good for a win by himself come playoff time, and I think that’s exactly how many wins the Mavs will get in this series. Unfortunately for the Mavs, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili each are good for their own wins, and this should be a quick series.
My Pick – Spurs in 5
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
This series is a great example of how loaded the West is. Generally, a 2-seed vs. a 7-seed is an easy pick.
But the Grizzlies are not a normal 7-seed. Memphis struggled with injuries in the middle of the season and seem to be clicking now with the playoffs approaching. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are once again doing work inside, and Mike Conley Jr. has really stepped up this season for the Grizz. Add Tony Allen’s defense on the wings and the Grizzlies are not a team to ignore.
The Thunder are an interesting team to figure out. They have likely-MVP Kevin Durant and all-word guard Russell Westbrook, but so many question marks outside of their two stars. Will Serge Ibaka show up for what is guaranteed to be a physical series? Will Reggie Jackson and the Thunder bench give any type of support to the OKC stars? It’s what makes the Thunder so frustrating, they should be a clear-cut favorite out West, but they have so many question marks you’re never completely comfortable picking them.
With their physicality and length on the wing, the Grizzlies are going to be a popular pick to upset the Thunder in Round 1 (just take a look at the staff picks), but I think Westbrook and Durant are too good to go down this early. Durant is having a special year, one that makes you feel like a KD-Bron Finals is inevitable. The Thunder start strong here.
My Pick – Thunder in 6
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State Warriors
And now we arrive at what is the best first round match-up in the NBA playoffs, the Clips and Dubs renewing their mini-rivalry. I call it a mini-rivalry because the animosity is definitely there between the teams, we just haven’t gotten that playoff showdown, until now.
The Warriors have been a tough team to figure out. While they definitely have a talented roster capable of making a deep postseason run, their play has been incredibly erratic all season long. Then again, they have Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, so really, the Dubs have a shot (no pun intended) in any game.
The Clippers are coming off of the best regular season in team history. Yawn. Let’s be real here, nobody cares what Los Angeles does in the regular season. This team has Blake Griffin and Chris Paul, and is incredibly deep, especially after mid-season acquisitions of Danny Granger and Glen Davis. Make no mistake, this team is built to win and win now.
If both teams were healthy, I would probably be picking the Warriors to pull off the upset. But Golden State just lost Andrew Bogut to a broken rib, and without his size in there against a physical Clipper front-line, the Dubs will struggle. The Warriors will keep this series interesting, but eventually home-court will get the Clippers on to the second round.
My Pick – Clippers in 7
(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Portland Trailblazers
Of all the first round pairings out West, this is probably the most evenly matched. Both teams have All-Star big men and dynamic All-Star guards. Both teams have had stretches of brilliance and stretches that make you scratch your head this season. And both teams have do-it-all small forwards that can swing a game in their favor.
The Blazers came out of the gates smoking hot, rocketing to the top of the Western Conference and putting teams on notice that their young stars Damian Lillard and Lamarcus Aldridge were ready to challenge this season. Towards the end of the season, Portland has struggled a bit, dipping in the standings and losing games they should be winning rather easily.
The Rockets have had almost the inverse of the Blazer season. They came out of the gate stumbling a bit while trying to get Dwight Howard and James Harden to gel, and really came on in the second half of the season. There were questions about whose team this would be, but with his recent play to close out the regular season, Harden has left no doubt that the fortunes of the Rockets rest on his shoulders.
Nic Batum and Chandler Parsons are going to be huge factors in this series. With Howard/Aldridge and Lillard/Harden basically cancelling each other out, each teams third star will need to leave his imprint on the series. Ultimately, I think this battle between evenly matched squads will go to the team with home-court advantage in Game 7.
My Pick – Rockets in 7