The West is known among most NBA fans as the dominant conference. The evidence is hard to argue against, as the fourth- and fifth-best teams in the West have a better record than the second-best team in the East. And it is also no secret that in the past five seasons, three of the NBA champions have come from the West.
Obviously I'm not going to guarantee that a champion will come out of West. But I will say, between the two brackets, the West looks more competitive because it doesn't look like the team with the best record is a lock to make it out.
After careful study of each team, I would like to show you my prediction for each matchups. All I ask for is your time and your attention spans.
Who would have thought that before this season that the James Harden-led Rockets would be facing hisformer team, The Thunder?
But I think the bigger surprise has been Harden himself. He's gone from Sixth Man of the Year to MVP candidate. I doubt even the Rockets expected to get this kind of production from Harden right away. But Harden hasn't been the only surprise for the Rockets.
Had you ever heard of Chandler Parsons or Omer Asik? Probably not. But they are a huge part of why the Rockets are in the playoffs aside from Harden. Parsons is a deadly shooter, who is one of the best in the NBA in field-goal percentage at 48.6 percent. And Asik is third in the NBA in rebounding.
Although this Rockets team is an eighth seed, they are still a dangerous opponent for the Thunder. The Rockets finished second in the NBA in points this season.
The Thunder did what we expected them to do. And that was to gain the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It wasn't easy; they sat at No. 2 for a while. And there were questions about whether or not Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could co-exist with Westbrook shooting more shots than Durant was.
Wow. Why does this all sound so familiar? It seems like these issues are always coming up. I think Westbrook should try to play more of the facilitator than the shoot-first point guard. But if Durant is getting shots and the Thunder are still winning basketball games, shouldn't we all just...go with the flow?
Because let's be honest, having two 20-points-per-game scorers, isn't the worst problem a team could have.
Key Player: Jeremy Lin
Why: Westbrook is going to get his points. So are Harden and Durant. But what about Lin? This whole season, Lin has been inconsistent. He has a couple of good games that makes us think, "maybe he has it." But then he has nights that just make you wonder why the Rockets coveted him as a free agent.
Lin is going to need to step up his game if the Rockets are to even have a chance. If he doesn't...well then the Rockets might as well prepare to play some NBA 2K13 like the rest of us.
Who Wins: The Thunder
Why: The Rockets are too inexperienced and too inconsistent to beat the Thunder. Harden is great. But the Rockets have much more growing to do as a unit before they are able to become a plausible threat to the Thunder.
Prediction: Thunder in Game 5
No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers
Oh boy. What can you say about the Lakers' season? It hasn't been terrible. At the very least they made the playoffs. That's a great accomplishment considering the number of injuries and changes they went through.
Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kobe Bryant aren't walking through that door. But this is still a team with a lot of talent. Rumors are circling that Steve Nash could be making his return to the Lakers during the first round of the playoffs (The Los Angeles Times). They still have Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
The Lakers have their struggles, but this isn't one of those teams that you look past. The Spurs are going to have look at them and go through them.
Can we go ahead and call the Spurs the "New England Patriots of the NBA?" They are just a model of consistency, year after year. I keep expecting Tim Duncan to fall off, but he has maintained his All-Star form. Tony Parker is being talked about as an MVP candidate (Fox Sports). Manu Ginobili has struggled, but other role players have picked up the slack.
They did start struggling towards the end of the season, but I don't look at that as a preview of how they will play when playoff times comes.
Key Player: Jodie Meeks
Why: As you might have noticed, I said that Kobe Bryant wasn't walking towards that door. He suffered a season-ending injury, which means that Meeks will have to take Kobe's place as the perimeter scorer for the Lakers. Can the Lakers really ask Meeks to come in and mimic the production of a future Hall of Famer like Kobe Bryant? Heck no.
But he does need to be better than average for the Lakers. Because they can't just depend on Gasol and Howard for the entire series and expect to win against the Spurs.
Who Wins: The Spurs in Game 5
Why: The Spurs as a team are too much for the Lakers. I will take Gregg Popovich over Mike D'Antoni. And a healthy older Tim Duncan over a questionably healthy Pau Gasol.
No. 3 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 6 Golden State Warriors
The Nuggets are the team I most certainly am rooting for in these playoffs. The one team that isn't dependent on one or two superstars. But a team that...plays as a team. They are a team full of very good players. Despite their lack of superstars, they still lead the league in points scored this season.
The Golden State Warriors have had an up-and-down season. Sometimes they seem great, sometimes mediocre and sometimes just plain awful.
The one bright spot on their team is the play of Stephen Curry, who got robbed of an opportunity to play in the All-Star game. With Curry, this is a very good team that can score 100 points on their opponents any night.
Key Player: Evan Fournier
Why: Danilo Gallinari is out for the season, and he will be missed by this Nuggets team. But Fournier has stepped in for the Nuggets and done well. But he hasn't started many games and the playoffs will be even tougher. Fournier won't have to be a superstar because of the talent around him, but he needs to be at least consistent and take good shots for the Nuggets.
Who Wins: The Nuggets
Why: The Nuggets are a better team than the Warriors on both sides of the floor. The Warriors might surprise the Nuggets in two home games...but that's it.
Prediction: Nuggets in Game 6
No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
This is a special matchup to pay special attention to. The Clippers have been a team on the rise for the past two years and they have even earned the nickname "Lob City." Who would've thought five years ago, that the Clippers would be a better team than the Lakers?
There have been times where the Clippers have been inconsistent, but they are still a top-five team in the West and one of the most exciting teams in the NBA. You can thank Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan for that.
The Grizzlies shocked the NBA when they started out with the best record. But they seem to have fallen off a bit. They are still a tough team with playoff experience. Zach Randolph is still the double-double machine that he's always been. While some people have penciled in Marc Gasol as D.O.P (Defensive Player of the Year), Mike Conley has probably had the best year of his career, scoring 14.6 points per game and hitting a career high from the three-point range.
Key Player: Blake Griffin
Why: It seems like ever since Chris Paul came to the Clippers, Griffin has taken a backseat. He still plays well, but ever since his rookie season, his numbers have dropped. Chris Paul is not enough for this team to become a championship contender.
For the Clippers to become a championship team, both Griffin and Paul must play at an elite level. Griffin is going to have to become a guy who can average 25 points and 10 rebounds per game. He can do it. He demonstrated that when he was a rooking and during a few games this season. And against Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies, he's gonna need to do it.
Who Wins: The Clippers
Why: This will be a long series, but the Clippers just have too much fire power. I just don't have enough faith in the Grizzlies bench to keep up the bench of the Clippers.
Prediction: Clippers in Game 7
For those who haven't seen my predictions for the Eastern Conference, please click here.
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