Did you really think David Stern was going to let the Lakers miss the playoffs? No offense to the Utah Jazz, but they play without a point guard. Their four best players play two different positions. Even without Kobe, the Lakers are still a better team to watch.
These four series are an NBA fan’s dream. The basketball gods could not have arranged for a better way for these eight teams to be seeded. For once, every series has the potential to turn into a street fight. We will just have to hope that the play on the court lives up to the drama off of it.
₁Oklahoma vs. ₈Houston
To understand Oklahoma’s decision to trade James Harden, one would have to look ahead to 2014. The Thunder figured they would avoid the luxury tax by trading a player they did not want to pay top dollar. However, they did it a year too soon. Harden has continued to blossom into a superstar, worthy of the max deal Houston gave to him before the season. Now, the former teammate is returning to OKC with a vengeance. While the Thunder are undoubtedly the better team, the Rockets superior depth makes them a dangerous opponent.
Rockets: PG Jeremy Lin, SG James Harden, SF Chandler Parsons, PF Donatas Motiejunas, C Omer Asik
Thunder: PG Russell Westbrook, SG Thabo Sefolosha, SF Kevin Durant, PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins
Best Case Scenario HOU: James Harden is able to drive and get to the foul line, en route to averaging thirty points per game. Fear the Beard! Chandler Parsons continues to shoot lights out from behind the arc. The Rockets bench outlasts the Thunder in close games. THUNDER IN 7.
Best Case Scenario OKC: Harden struggles like he did in his first game vs. OKC. Durant and Westbrook combine for sixty points per game. THUNDER IN 4.
Prediction: THUNDER IN 5. Sefolosha will keep Harden at bay, and Serge Ibaka’s presence will allow the Thunder to dominate inside.
Player To Watch, HOU: Thomas Robinson, PF. The 5th pick in last June’s draft, Robinson will have to cut his teeth earlier than expected. The Kansas big man has a history of playing his best in big games.
Player To Watch, OKC: Kevin Martin, SG. When OKC traded Harden, Martin filled his void in the rotation. An effective shooting series by Martin could spell disaster for Houston.
₂San Antonio vs. ₇Los Angeles Lakers
It wouldn’t be the Western Conference Playoffs, without Lakers/Spurs. These two veteran teams will duel it out for a chance to move on. While the Lakers have been hot (winners of eight of their last ten), San Antonio has coasted into the postseason (winners of three of their last ten). The Spurs feeble finish allowed the Thunder to seize the top seed in the West. Without Kobe, the Lakers will have to rely on Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. Does the original big three have anything left in the tank? Can the Lakers win without their prodigal son?
Lakers: PG Steve Blake, SG Jodie Meeks, SF Metta World Peace, PF Pau Gasol, C Dwight Howard
Spurs: PG Tony Parker, SG Danny Green, SF Kawhi Leonard, PF Tim Duncan, C Tiago Splitter
Best Case Scenario, LAL: Howard dominates the low post, while Gasol picks apart Duncan in the high post. The Lakers find a way to stay healthy. Steve Nash provides a spark, in a limited bench role. San Antonio cannot “turn it on”, after a disastrous stretch. LAKERS IN 6
Best Case Scenario, SA: Ginobli, Parker and Duncan play the way they did early in the season. If injuries become a problem, the Spurs bench provides depth to outlast LA. Popovich coaches circles around D’Antoni. SPURS IN 5.
Prediction: LAKERS IN 7. It won’t be pretty, but San Antonio’s injuries will cancel out any advantage they may have had with Kobe being out. Dwight Howard wins the city over with a huge performance.
Player to Watch, LAL: Steve Nash, PG. If he can play, will he be the difference maker in this series? I wouldn’t bet against the Hall of Famer.
Player to Watch, SA: Cory Joseph/Patty Mills/Gary Neal, PG. If Parker is unable to play effectively, San Antonio will rely on these three players to run the offense.
₃Denver vs. ₆Golden State
If you’re a casual fan that loves scoring, this will be your favorite series of the entire tournament. Denver uses their fast-paced transitions to wear down opponents. Golden State shoots better than anyone else on three pointers (over 40%). Denver’s superior athleticism, especially at home (35-3 home record), has allowed them to run teams off the court. The Warriors will need a big series from David Lee if they expect to endure the Nuggets.
Warriors: PG Stephen Curry, SG Klay Thompson, SF Harrison Barnes, PF David Lee, C Andrew Bogut
Nuggets: PG Ty Lawson, SG Evan Fournier, SF Andre Iguodala, PF Kenneth Faried, C Kosta Koufos
Best Case Scenario, GS: Curry proves he is the best distance shooter in professional basketball, and his shooting rubs off on Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes. Jarrett Jack provides instant offense off the bench. The Warriors steal a win in Denver, and they take care of business in Oakland. WARRIORS IN 6.
Best Case Scenario, DEN: They win all of their home games. Faried’s injury does not limit his explosiveness, and the Warriors cannot find an answer for Andre Iguodala. NUGGETS IN 4.
Prediction: NUGGETS IN 6. Denver is just too athletic, and they are playing at a really high level. They are hot at the right time.
Player to Watch, GS: Carl Landry, PF. If Lee gets into foul trouble, it will be up to Landry to fend off Faried.
Player to Watch, DEN: JaVale McGee, C. Always, JaVale McGee. The man makes some of the best (and worst) plays you will ever see in a professional game. Love him, or hate him, he is the man to watch.
₄Los Angeles Clippers vs. ₅Memphis
In 2012, these two teams were in the exact same position. In a very physical, seven game series, Chris Paul’s Clippers were able to narrowly escape. “Lob City” plays with an up- tempo flair, and pizzazz. The Grizzlies slow down the game, and they beat up their opponents inside the paint. The matchup will go to the team that gets the most out of their bench. It was last year’s best series to watch, and this year should not be any different.
Grizzlies: PG Mike Conley, SG Tony Allen, SF Tayshaun Prince, PF Zach Randolph, C Marc Gasol
Clippers: PG Chris Paul, SG Chauncey Billups, SF Caron Butler, PF Blake Griffin, C DeAndre Jordan
Best Case Scenario, MEM: They are able to bully the Clips. Gasol and Z-Bo force the LA into foul trouble, and the Grizzlies are able to take advantage of their free throws. Tony Allen neutralizes Jamal Crawford and Billups. GRIZZLIES IN 6.
Best Case Scenario, LAC: Chris Paul is able to control the tempo of the game. Eric Bledsoe, Jamal Crawford and Lamar Odom allow the team to continue to score, despite resting its starters. CLIPPERS IN 5.
Prediction: GRIZZLIES IN 7. Revenge is sweet for Memphis.
Player to Watch, MEM: Ed Davis, PF. The return on the Rudy Gay deal, Davis will have to make the most of his limited role, and replicate his efficiency with Toronto.
Player To Watch, LAC: Matt Barnes, SF. Barnes was brought in to add defensive tenacity to this team. He’s their answer to Tony Allen.