While there was a playoff spot open in the Eastern Conference going into the final game of the season, all the postseason slots in the Western Conference had been filled. The only thing known going into the final game of the season was the No. 1 vs No. 8 matchup.
What was up for grabs were the No. 2 through 7 seeds on the last day of the season. All the matchups are now set and there are some interesting first round series.
The amazing thing about the Western Conference playoff teams is that every team won at least 50 games this season. Only seven games separated the No. 1 seed from the No. 8 seed.
Here is the Western Conference preview and prediction for the first round of the playoffs. Previously published was the Eastern Conference preview and predictions, so be sure to check that out if you have not.
Los Angeles has stumbled and sputtered into the playoffs this year. The Lakers are 4-6 in their last 10 games and have not looked like dominant team late this season.
Phil Jackson has already started to poke at the officials and the Lakers' first round opponent. Kobe Bryant has looked worn out and has been injured for parts of this season.
While most experts think the Lakers are the team to beat in the West, they look very beatable at times. Los Angeles looked the same way last season at times, but turned it up a notch on their march to the title.
Much like Cleveland in the East, one thing to watch this postseason is if Kobe gets help from the bench and role players. If Bryant has to carry this team from the first quarter to the fourth, he may start to wear down over a long playoff grind.
The Lakers' Andrew Bynum is nursing a strained Achilles' tendon and could be of little to no help this postseason. Los Angeles will also be missing Sasha Vujacic for an indefinite amount of time because of a high ankle sprain.
Those injuries could put major minutes early in the playoffs on Pau Gasol and Bryant, since both their backups are injured. Jackson could move Jordan Farmar to help replace Vujacic if he cannot go in the first round.
One more thing to watch with the Lakers in these playoffs is the actions of Ron Artest. There is always a possible chance of an Artest meltdown at any time that could cost the Lakers a game or a series in the playoffs.
As for the Lakers first round opponent, the Thunder from Oklahoma City will give the whole country a chance to see budding super star Kevin Durant. After only winning 23 games last year, the Thunder won 50 this season.
Durant led the NBA in scoring average this season, becoming the youngest player to ever accomplish this feat. Oklahoma City will go as far as Durant can carry them, so he (and hopefully the officials) will have to forget about comments made about his ability to get to the free throw line.
This is the Thunders first trip to the playoffs since the team left Seattle. Bad news for Oklahoma City is that only once since 2000 has the No. 8 seed upset the No. 1 seed, which was in 2007.
Some good news for Oklahoma City is that the No. 1 seed has only swept the No. 8 seed twice since 2000, in 2008 and 2005. More good news for the Thunder is that they were a decent team on the road and at home, while the Lakers are beatable on the road.
Winner: Los Angeles 4-3
This is a rematch from the playoffs a year ago and was won by Dallas four games to one. The difference is that roles are nearly reversed, since the Spurs were the No. 3 seed last year and the mavericks were the No. 6 seed.
Dallas is one of the deepest teams in the playoffs this year and they got one of the best draws they could get in the first round. The Mavericks won the regular season matchup three games to one.
Led by Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, and Caron Butler this team is looking to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2006. The window for winning a championship may be starting to close if the Mavericks cannot win the title this year.
Dallas owner Marc Cuban can become a distraction for this team like last season against the Denver Nuggets. A deep run the playoffs will be much easier for the Mavericks if their owner is seen but not heard.
Speaking of championship windows that are closing, that phase has to apply to the Mavericks first round opponent San Antonio. The Spurs have won three championships since the start of the new millennium.
The only other franchise to be as consistent as San Antonio has been the Lakers, with four titles over the same period. The core of the Spurs—Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Genobili—are all in their late 20s to early 30s.
Parker and Genobili have been injured this season and Duncan's scoring average has dipped this season nearly four points below his career average. The Spurs were solid at home this season but were only one game above .500 on the road.
For a team that will not have home court advantage in the postseason it could be the road grind that ends this post season for San Antonio. Even more bad news for the Spurs is that the No. 2 seed has not lost to the No. 7 seed in the West since 1991. That season the Golden State Warriors defeated the Spurs.
Winner: Dallas 4-2
No. 3 Phoenix Suns vs. No. 6 Portland Trailblazers
This season for the Phoenix Suns might be remembered for the one trade in the NBA that never happened. Most experts thought that the Suns forward Amare Stoudemire was going to be shipped out of town before the trade deadline.
Instead Phoenix decided to keep Stoudemire and he has been nearly unstoppable since not being traded. The Suns could go deep into the playoffs if Amare stays hungry and keeps playing like a beast.
Steve Nash still runs the show in the desert and most people might not realize that Grant Hill is still in the league and starting for the Suns. A glaring weakness for Phoenix is defense.
This team averages more points than any other team in the playoffs but also gives up more points than any other team in the playoffs. If Phoenix wants to make a deep run in the playoffs, they will have to play better defense.
In the first round the Sun will face the Portland Trailblazers. This Portland team is a walking MASH unit with several key players injured.
Portland will be without Greg Oden, who is out for the rest of the season, and Brandon Roy, who will miss at least the first round of the playoffs with a knee injury. One player expected to be back in time for the playoffs is LaMarcus Aldridge, who missed the season finale with a gastrointestinal virus.
More bad news for the short-handed Trailblazers is that only twice since 2000, in the Western Conference, has the No. 6 seed upset the No. 3 seed. Even more bad news for Portland is that only in 2003 has the No. 6 seed has won more than one game in this series in the West.
The only good news for Portland is that it leads the regular season series two games to one.
Winner: Phoenix 4-0
No. 4 Denver Nuggets vs. No. 5 Utah Jazz
Denver might be a sentimental favorite in the Western Conference with the battle coach George Karl is facing against cancer. NBA fans whose teams that did not make the postseason could cheer for the Nuggets and hope Karl and return for round two.
This is pretty much the same team that made a run to the Western Conference finals last season. It will be up to Chauncey Billups to keep this team from imploding until Karl can come back.
Billups knows what it takes to win a title and will have to help keep the fiery Nuggets under control. Keep an eye on Kenyon Martin—if any player can derail Denver in the playoffs it will be Martin.
Chris “Bird Man” Anderson has to come up big on the boards and J.R. Smith cannot afford to go cold for long stretches. The Nuggets have to take advantage of their home games after being three games under .500 on the road this season.
Dropping a game at home could cost Denver a series in the playoffs unless they can overcome their road woes. Also the Nuggets have to defend better in the post season being the only other team besides Phoenix to give up over 100 points a game to their opponents.
A break for Denver could be the fact that their first round foe, the Utah Jazz, are battling the Trailblazers to see who can have more players out of the playoffs. Already out for Utah is Andrei Kirilenko with a calf injury.
Carlos Boozer (oblique) and Mehmet Okur (Achilles') are game time decisions with injuries. The Jazz are a team many think could make a run in the playoffs but with the injuries an early exit could be in Utah’s future.
Take this however you would like, but in the West only four times since 2000 has the No. 5 seed beaten the No. 4 seed. Bad news for the Jazz is that Denver won the regular season series three games to one.
Utah was great at home this season, tied for third place with the most home wins. It has been on the road where the Jazz have struggled, only being one game above .500.
Winner: Denver 4-3
Enjoy the first round of the Western Conference and see you in the second round. Also check out the first round Eastern Conference preview and predictions.
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