NBA Playoff Bracket 2012: A Guide to Western Conference Seeding and Matchups

Rob GoldbergFeatured ColumnistApril 27, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 27:  Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs drives the ball past Channing Frye #8 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on March 27, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Spurs defeated the Suns 107-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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The NBA playoffs are set to begin with some outstanding first-round matchups.

While the same old teams are still competing, there are also a lot of fresh faces that can make deep runs into May and beyond.

The Eastern Conference will likely be a battle between the Chicago Bulls and the Miami Heat, but the Western Conference seems to have much more uncertainty.

No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz

Few would have expected the Spurs to get the top seed in the West as little as a week ago, but San Antonio had a great finish to the season (21-2 since St. Patrick's Day) and are peaking at the right time.

The Jazz are built around a very good frontcourt with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, but as a team, they will not be able to guard a surprisingly deep Spurs team.

San Antonio is still led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, but the rest of the squad has stepped up and allowed their Big Three to be fresh going into the playoffs.

Prediction: Spurs win in five

No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - APRIL 06:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball during the NBA game against the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on April 6, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
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This typical old-school-versus-new-school matchup is a rematch of last year's conference finals. However, the results should be different.

No team was hit harder by the intense scheduling of the lockout-shortened season than the Dallas Mavericks. The older players could not stay fresh and the team struggled on the road.

Dallas might be able to win a game or two at home, but no one on the team has the quickness to stay with Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook.

Prediction: Thunder win in six

No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets

Metta World Peace will not see action this series following his elbow to the face of James Harden, but the Lakers will likely not miss him too much (via USA Today).

The offensive output he provides is minimal, and Denver does not have a singular threat to key on defense.

Los Angeles will struggle to defend the quick guards on the Nuggets, but should be able to score at will throughout the series.

A huge advantage down low between Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol should be all it takes to pull out this very close series.

Prediction: Lakers win in six

No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 22:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks in front of Gustavo Ayon #15 of the New Orleans Hornets during a 107-98 Clipper win at Staples Center on April 22, 2012 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expres
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This is by far the most intriguing matchup of the entire first round; do not be surprised if it goes the distance.

Both are young, but extremely talented teams that have the potential to go far in the playoffs.

Memphis is the best defensive team in the conference, but might not have the athletes up front to stick with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in transition. 

Most importantly, Chris Paul will become the best player on the court in crunch-time and will do everything necessary to help his team pull out a victory.

Prediction: Clippers in seven