#1 LA Lakers (57-25) vs. #8 Oklahoma City (50-32)
The Los Angeles Lakers have limped noticeably into the postseason, despite claiming the top seed in the Western Conference. The defending NBA champions have been banged up and lost seven of their final eleven regular season games. Team leader Kobe Bryant has been battling a finger injury and big man Andrew Bynum has been out combating an injury of his own and hasn’t played in around a months time. The Oklahoma City Thunder on the other hand enter the playoffs for the first time since they were the Seattle Supersonics after a 50 win season. Young sensation and league scoring champ Kevin Durant has a chip on his shoulder due to criticisms from opposing coach Phil Jackson.
LA Lakers will win because... of their experience and depth. Kobe Bryant will surely pick up his game for the postseason as he always does, and the Lakers will prove to be too deep for the young Thunder squad. Pau Gasol will dominate down low and expose his mismatch and the returning Andrew Bynum will also take benefit of his size advantage to shake off his rust. Lamar Odom’s versatility will also prove to be valued in this opening series.
Oklahoma City will win because... Kevin Durant will explode in his playoff debut and shoot over 50% from the field while averaging over 34 points a game. The Lakers won’t have anyone to contain Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook and his young legs will consistently penetrate and disrupt the Lakers defense. Thabo Sefolosha will be the next defender to get the temporary label of “Kobe stopper” for his efforts and on-ball defense.
Prediction: The Kevin Durant/Russell Westbrook duo will impress in their first playoff appearance, but a deep talented and experienced Lakers squad will be far too dominant down low for the Thunder to do anything more than scare Kobe and the Lakers. LA Lakers in Six .
#4 Denver (53-29) vs. #5 Utah (53-29 )
The Denver Nuggets who were once seen as the best bet to take down the Lakers in the Western Conference have been hit with some major obstacles during the second half of the season. Coach George Karl has been battling cancer and has left the team and his return date in unknown, and a hobbled Kenyon Martin has been battling injuries at the worst time. Karl’s absence has been devastating to the Denver Nuggets. They seem to lack the same inspiration and fire they sported for the first half of the season. The Utah Jazz once again quietly put together another great season gathering 53 wins in an under the radar fashion. Jerry Sloan coaches them up just as good as anyone in the game and the Jazz are a threat to any opponent they draw.
Denver will win because...they will bond together and bring back their “A” game for their coach George Karl. Carmelo Anthony will lead the Western Conference runner ups from a season a go and expect the offensive fluidity to return in full effect for this series. Billups will provide the leadership and composure in Karl’s absence. While Nene and JR Smith will bring the energy boost and extra burst that will prove to be too much for the Jazz.
Utah will win because...the Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer dual threat will control and overpower the Nuggets. Paul Millsap will be a force on the glass and Mehmet Okur will hit multiple clutch three pointers that will be daggers in the softened Nuggets hearts. Utah will dictate on their home court, where they have been dominant in recent years and will take advantage of playing against the only Western Conference playoff team with an under 500 record on the road.
Prediction: The Nuggets will outgun the Jazz behind the domination of Carmelo Anthony. The Jazz will miss Kirilenko and Denver will battle their way through to the second round in a tight tough series. Denver in Six .
#3 Phoenix (54-28) vs. #6 Portland (50-32)
The Phoenix Suns put together a tremendously overachieving and successful regular season behind the mastery of point guard Steve Nash. Though the squad doesn’t look to be much on paper to the average NBA fan, the two-time MVP has once again proven why he is one of the best point guards in NBA history. The often-doubted Suns received a big boost at the trade deadline when Amare Stoudemire wasn’t dealt away and from then on the Suns confirmed the fact that they are legitimate contenders to reach the Western Conference Finals under coach Alvin Gentry. The Portland Trail Blazers put together a nice 50 win season despite the long list of unfortunate injuries they were dealt throughout the season. But the most recent blow, losing their best player and leading scorer Brandon Roy might be one they can’t overcome on a big stage like the NBA playoffs.
Phoenix will win because...they are rolling right now. The momentum has been gaining and Steve Nash has the offense flowing at its peak. Amare Stoudemire will continue on with his great end of season form and Phoenix’s three-point barrage will continue on in this series. Look for Jared Dudley to continue his underrated hard work on both ends of the court, as he and Channing Frye’s three-point shooting are sure to be X-factors. In addition, the absence of Brandon Roy is surely to play a major role in Phoenix’s overwhelming of the Blazers.
Portland will win because...they do match up well against the Phoenix Suns. They have the length and athleticism to frustrate the Suns. Portland also doesn’t mind playing at Phoenix’s pace. Andre Miller will be an effective scorer in this series. Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez will bring the energy and firepower on offense to spark the Blazers. Marcus Camby will also play a big role in the paint and on the glass on both ends of the court.
Prediction: Without Brandon Roy the Trail Blazers wont have enough to keep up with the rolling Suns. Steve Nash and the Suns are clicking on all cylinders right now, and look for them to shoot the lights out to dispose of the unfortunate Portland Trail Blazers. Phoenix in Six .
#2 Dallas (55-27) vs. #7 San Antonio (50-32)
The Dallas Mavericks had an impressive regular season that saw them claim the two seed in a stacked Western Conference. The Mavs are led by Dirk Nowitzki and his 25 points per game, but they have a much deeper team than they have had in past seasons. The huge midseason trade that netted the Mavs Caron Butler and Brandan Haywood has had a very positive influence on Dallas. Combine them with likely future Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd and scoring guard Jason Terry and the Mavs are a force to be reckoned with. The San Antonio Spurs are still led by veteran future Hall of Fame lock Tim Duncan. But at the end of the regular season Manu Ginobli was the motor that made this Spurs team go. Ginobli looks to be healthy and at the top of his game, which is a danger to any team that lines up against the veteran Spurs.
Dallas will win because...of their depth and past success against the Spurs. Nowitzki will have a great series and the Spurs don’t have a great option to contain Dirk on the offensive end. Caron Butler will play a huge versatile role and add another clutch shooter to Dallas’ repertoire.
San Antonio will win because...Manu Ginobli is on fire. If Manu continues his hot play he can produce enough to lead the Spurs to the NBA Finals. Duncan will obviously produce consistently as he always does, but point guard Tony Parker is going to have to get back to the top of his game if the Spurs are to take down the talented Dallas Mavericks. Richard Jefferson will also have to contribute up to preseason expectations. DeJuan Blair will play an X-factor role off the bench and on the glass.