The regular season is behind us and the playoffs tip off Saturday. Ever since the Cavs completed the epic comeback to win the NBA championship, the Golden State Warriors will be looking to avenge their NBA Finals loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, this time with Kevin Durant on board.
Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs, the Houston Rockets and a Russell Westbrook led Oklahoma City will fancy their chances of spoiling the Warriors v Cavaliers love affair. With the Playoffs kicking off tonight, lets take an in-depth look at the series of matches in the Western Conference.
# 1 Golden State Warriors vs #8 Portland Trailblazers
The Warriors made it clear at the start of the season that they wouldn’t be chasing regular season records this time around as opposed to last year.Still, they recorded their third straight 65+ win season to finish with the best record in the NBA and are the over-riding favorites to lift the title in June.With Kevin Durant returning from injury just in time for the play-offs, the Warriors are fully fit going into the post-season, having won 14 of their last 15 regular season matches.
Portland snuck into the Playoff picture this year and will be disappointed not to have improved on last year’s fifth seed finish in the West. In Damian Lillard they have a superstar able to carry the team who has enjoyed his best scoring season averaging 27 points-per-game.
Key Match up : Damian Lillard, for some reason, predicted the Trail Blazers would win this series in six games. While he might be good enough to help Portland win a game or two, I just don’t see it happening. Damian will be match up with Klay and probably Livingston throughout the series.
Series Prediction : The Warriors are on a mission. Dubs in a 4-0 sweep.
#2 San Antionio Spurs vs #7 Memphis Grizzles
The Gasol brothers will match-up against each other in a series not expected to make headlines for glossy basketball. The Spurs are always regarded as the dark horse in the NBA Playoffs and for good measure really. Gregg Popovich’s side pride themselves on good defence with Kawhi Leonard leading the charge and have the second best defensive record in the league Kawhi Leonard took another step toward stardom this season by averaging 25.5 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. LaMarcus Aldridge (17.3 ppg) struggled at times, but he is rounding back into form at the right time.
The Grizzlies have not fared any better as of late. They enter the playoffs having lost five of six. The three-headed attack of Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol lost its bite a bit this season. Memphis, however, is very deep.
Key Match up : Danny Green has been in a post All-Star slump, and the Spurs would certainly like to see him break out of it for the sake of their playoff longevity. He was over 40 percent from the arc in the first half, and against a defense like that of the Grizzlies — which leads the league in fewest points in the paint allowed — Green’s ability to stretch the floor would be useful.
Series Prediction : Spurs are such a well oiled machine. Expect the Grizzles to win one game. Spurs in 6.
# 3 Houston Rockets vs #6 Oklahoma City Thunder
This is what an intriguing first-round matchup looks like. Two explosive teams with championship aspirations will clash earlier than they probably would have hoped, but the winner of this series can make a big run.
Russell Westbrook entered the record book with his legendary season. Not only did he pass Oscar Robertson for most triple-doubles in a season, but he also averaged a triple-double (31.6 ppg., 10.7 rpg., 10.4 apg.). He needs help from Victor Oladipo and Enes Kanter to win this series, though.
James Harden is ready to lead Houston past his former team after averaging 29.1 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds per game. The Rockets were just 4-5 in their last nine games, but they have an explosive backcourt and a number of versatile bodies in the paint.
Key Match up : Isn’t it obvious? The two candidates for MVP will be the center attraction in this series. Oklahoma City certainly wants to clamp down on things defensively and force players like Patrick Beverley, Trevor Arizia and Ryan Anderson out of their comfort zones both offensively and defensively. They do have a big advantage down low and when it comes to rebounding the basketball and any hope of an upset could hinge on those two factors alone. So you can see, it will come down to who’s role players will step up the most. Advantage goes to Houston
Series Prediction : The Thunder will put up a fight, and this will be an entertaining series. But there is just not enough firepower, and the Rockets take it. Houston in 6.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs #5 Utah Jazz
It was the last playoff series to be determined, but both teams took care of business, which left them with matching records and the Clippers with the slightly higher seeding.
Despite the standings holding in the Clippers’ favor, there is a definite sense that Los Angeles is something of the past while Utah is a bright spot of the future. Led by a Big Three of Gordon Hayward, Gobert and the oft-injured George Hill, the Jazz may not get a lot of attention in a top-heavy Western Conference, but they can succeed on both ends of the court, ranked 12th in the NBA in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency.
The Clippers enter the playoffs riding a seven-game winning streak thanks to a balanced scoring attack that features six players averaging at least 12 points per game. Chris Paul is still the heart and soul of the team, but both he and Blake Griffin missed time with injuries this season.
Key Match up : The Jazz will want to slow down Chris Paul and force the Clippers into a bit of a grudge match. If they succeed in that, they may put the final nails in the coffin of the Lob City contention window.
Series Prediction : I think experience will play a vital role. Going with the Clippers in seven.