Predicting the Western Conference First Round Playoffs
With the NBA season officially over, the real fun can now begin. Enter NBA playoffs. It is every basketball fans favorite time of the year with high intensity games being nationally televised every day starting Saturday and running until June. The playoff teams and seeding shacked out in a way no one could possibly predict. The league is just that crazy, no one is safe from just strange events happening in the course of a season and this year’s playoff bracket was no different. That said, let’s take a look at the Western Conference and give my take and predictions on what to watch out for as the games begin. See my Eastern Conference predictions here.
1) Golden State Warriors vs. 8) New Orleans Pelicans
Personally, I am very excited to get this series underway. The Pelicans used an emotionally charged 82nd game to knock off the defending champ Spurs and edge out the Thunder for the final playoff spot. Anthony Davis, who will soon be the most dominant player in the league and his on his way to being an all-timer, should benefit from getting from playoff reps at the young age of 21. New Orleans has a lot of size and stretch shooters but their inconsistent guard play has been an issue all year. Now we turn to the Warriors who had just plain and simple one of the best regular seasons of all time. MVP front runner Stephen Curry didn’t play in eighteen 4th quarters this year because the team was up that much on their opponent. That’s ridiculous. The splash brothers, along with youngsters Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes looked poised for a title run, and Anthony Davis and company seem like just the type of exciting tune-up the Warriors need for potential run into June.
Matchup to Watch: Draymond Green vs. Anthony Davis
Prediction: Warriors win 4-1
2) Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks
I documented a few weeks ago why I think the Mavs are a dark horse to make some noise in the playoffs. The wheels have still not come quite together however for Dallas despite having a loaded roster at every position. However, Houston has injuries in starter Patrick Beverly being out and Dwight Howard still obviously not 100% yet. The Mavs have their stud small forward Chandler Parsons limping around with a new injury. The Rockets really only have MVP candidate James Harden as a viable offensive weapon. Take into account that Houston was only one loss away from being a 6 seed and the “upset” here isn’t as much as you think. One more little nugget of information is that James Harden went to the free throw line almost 13 times per game, which accounted for almost half of his offensive output. Historically, the refs tend to swallow their whistles a bit more in the playoffs and bailout calls simply are not there. Unless Harden has an absolute MVP solidifying performance, I give the edge to Dirk Nowitzki, Rajon Rondo, and Monta Ellis and company.
Matchup to Watch: James Harden vs. Monta Ellis
Prediction: Mavericks win 4-2
3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. 6) San Antonio Spurs
This Western Conference is just brutal. 5 more points on Wednesday night and the Spurs would’ve been the 2 seed in the bracket, instead they have to go on the road and open up against the Clippers. From the Clippers standpoint, they won 13 of their last 14 and fought their way to the 3rd seed and are hit with the defending champs in the first round. This series is certainly shaping up to be the better of the first round matchups. Picking a winner is so tough but you have to choose, you have to give the benefit of the doubt to the champs. Also; Chris Paul, despite his skill and leadership, has been known to shy away in big moments, having never played passed the second round in his storied career. The Spurs should pull off the “upset”, although it technically is anything but that.
Matchup to Watch: Blake Griffin vs. Tim Duncan
Prediction: Spurs win 4-2
4) Portland Trailblazers vs. 5) Memphis Grizzlies
This series is going to have a slow pace to it. Both teams rely heavily on their star post players (Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge) to carry the offensive burden while having star point guards (Damian Lillard and Mike Conley) to serve as second fiddle. The Blazers have been hit with a laundry list of injuries at the wing position of late (Wesley Matthews, Aaron Afflalo and CJ McCollum) but still use a decent half court flow offense to help compensate. I think at the end of the day, the Grizzlies will have a bit more juice left in them to push on to the second round in what will be a grind it out series. This series has a lot of late game drama potential so be sure to watch for that.
Matchup to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge vs. Zach Randolph
Prediction: Grizzlies win 4-3
The NBA playoffs begin Saturday, April 18th. Be sure to check back before the second round (semi-finals) for the latest predictions and analysis. Happy playoff season!