NBA Playoffs: Western Conference 1st Round Preview

San Antonio Spurs (1) vs Dallas Mavericks (8)

The Spurs have ignored the murmurs of them being too old to contend for the Championship once again, and not only have they secured the top seed in the West, but also home court advantage throughout the playoffs. They have also accomplished this while managing the minutes of every player on the team, with no-one playing an average of more than 30 minutes per game. This is a great testament to the coaching of Gregg Popovich, who continues to get the most out of his team no matter who is on the court.

The Mavs were able to sneak into the playoffs after beating the much improved Phoenix Suns in a battle for the eight spot. Dirk Nowitzki has been instrumental once again in his team making the playoffs, with his 21.7 points per game landing him joint 12th in the league in scoring. He has been aided by an unlikely Sixth Man of the Year candidate, Vince Carter, who has provided some much needed offense off the bench.

This battle of Texas has the potential to be a walkover. The Spurs are well rested and will be looking to get this series over with as quickly as possible so they can get an extra few days rest before the next series. The Spurs swept the season series 4-0, and I expect the same result here. Despite the potential sweep, it will be great to see arguably two of the greatest power forwards of all time, Nowitzki and Duncan, lock horns once again in the playoffs. Duncan currently has a slight 14-12 advantage over Nowitzki in playoff games played against each other, expect that margin to grow.

Winner: Spurs in 4.

Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs Memphis Grizzlies (7)

The Thunder secured the second seed in the Western Conference despite not having Russell Westbrook for 35 games due to injury. This has been, in large part, due to the play of Kevin Durant, who will surely win the Most Valuable Player award this season, after leading the league in scoring with a monstrous 32 points per game. At one point in the season, Durant had a streak of 41 games with 25 points or more, truly astounding numbers.

The Grizzlies are a team that the Thunder would probably have liked to avoid. Their big men of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol will punish the Thunder inside, and will look to slow the game down so that they can keep up with the young and athletic Thunder. Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince will have to be at their best defensively, as they will no doubt shoulder the unenviable task of taking it in to turns to guard Kevin Durant.

This is a re-match of last season’s Western Conference semi-finals, in which the Grizzlies prevailed against the Thunder, who were missing Russell Westbrook due to injury. These two teams do not like each other, with Randolph and Perkins getting in a verbal altercation on the court last season. That is the type of physicality we can expect to see in this series. Ultimately, the Thunder should have enough to get past the Grizzlies, as they will have no answer to the offense that Westbrook and Durant can create.

 Winner: Thunder in 6.

LA Clippers (3) vs Golden State Warriors (6)

The Clippers are an exciting team to watch and are almost impossible when running on the fast break. Chris Paul orchestrates this team perfectly, getting everyone involved, which makes things a lot harder for the opposition defense. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordon’s athleticism is going to be very tough for the Warriors to deal with, as they are not blessed with athletic big men. The Clippers made solid acquisitions during the season and look more than ready for a deep run into the playoffs.

It is baffling that there were rumors during the season that Mark Jackson was on the verge of being released from his position, despite him leading the Warriors to the playoffs for the second season in a row, the first time Golden State have done this in over 20 years. The Warriors have the ability to bury any team when their shooting is on form, with Stephen Curry being almost impossible to stop when shooting off the dribble, and Klay Thompson is not a bad second option either.

This should be an exciting series, with two high scoring teams who will be playing at a fast pace. The Warriors will need their shooting to be on top form in this series, because if Andrew Bogut does have to miss this series due to a broken rib, the Clippers will have a much easier job of dominating in the paint with their athletic big men. Again, this should be an exciting series, so enjoy it, as it could be over quickly.

                                                                   Winner: Clippers in 5.

Houston Rockets (4) vs Portland Trailblazers (5)

This could be the best chance that Dwight Howard has had so far to win a Championship. The Rockets are built perfectly to play an inside-outside game, allowing Howard to go to work in the post and passing the ball out to a shooter if he is double-teamed. It was this style of play that saw him make the NBA Finals with the Orlando Magic. James Harden and Chandler Parsons make a lethal pairing on the wings, and will be very difficult for the Blazers to stop.

The Trailblazers got the season off to an incredible start, leading the way in the Western Conference with a 31-6 record. They fell off slightly in the second half of the season, but did enough to finish in 5th place. LaMarcus Aldridge has had a season that deservedly put him in the MVP discussion, and will be hoping to repeat his 31 points and 25 rebounds performance he had against the Rockets in December throughout this series. Damian Lillard has continued the form that saw him win Rookie of the Year last season, scoring over 20 points per game this season. His match-up against Beverley will be very interesting to watch.

These teams are two of the highest scoring teams in the league, averaging 107.7 and 106.7 points per game respectively, with Houston scoring slightly more. The Rockets have had injuries to Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley in the last month or so, and they will need to be back to their fittest to help negotiate this tricky first round match-up. The Blazers should make things difficult for the Rockets, but player for player, Houston has the superior talent on their side.

Winner: Rockets in 6.

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