2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Western Conference Team-by-Team Analysis

Hamza AhsanCorrespondent IApril 13, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 10:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers is defended by Nick Collison #4 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second half at Staples Center on April 10, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Thunder defeated the Lakers 120-106. 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 Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Recently, the Western Conference has been known for one thing and one thing only: the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers are the NBA’s defending champions for the past two years and it will be difficult to dethrone this Lakers team in the 2011 NBA playoffs.

Although players like Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams have moved out East, the Western Conference still has strong teams that could emerge as victors this year. The San Antonio Spurs are one example of a team that has been relying on older players, unlike some teams in the East relying on their youth.

Heading in, the San Antonio Spurs start off the playoffs as the top team in the West. The Spurs have arguably the most balanced team in the playoffs with solid offense and defense. Some of the most important factors that make this team as great as it is, are the fact that the Spurs are virtually unstoppable at home and have the most experienced leader in future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan.

Next to the Spurs, the team that everyone will be watching is the Los Angeles Lakers. Kobe Bryant and company have a great shot at winning their third straight NBA title, with consistent play all year long. This Lakers team knows the feeling of winning championships, and will do whatever it takes to win another ring.

The Dallas Mavericks come in as another team that will cause some problems during playoff time. What you notice about this Mavericks team that differentiates it from others is the great play by veterans who are all hungry for a ring. This might be the last chance for Dirk Nowitzki to make noise in the playoffs, which makes him a force to be reckoned with for opposing teams.

With the speed of the NBA progressing faster as the game goes on, the most important asset a team can have is great youth. One up-and-coming team is the Oklahoma City Thunder. When you have a great scorer in Kevin Durant and a quick point guard in Russell Westbrook running the show, you know your team will be a threat in the playoffs.

The Denver Nuggets will come into the playoffs as a team that doesn't have star potential like the other teams, but will go 100 percent every game. The big thing about the Nuggets is that they have landed the fifth seed without the talent of Carmelo Anthony since the trade deadline.

With new talent like Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler leading the way for the Nuggets, and with George Karl coaching better than ever, look for the Nuggets to be a team that will wreak havoc for opposing teams in the playoffs.

In addition, the team that looks to be the under-the-radar team in the Western Conference has to be the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though the record doesn’t show it, the Trail Blazers have one of the most talented rosters in the playoffs. With LaMarcus Aldridge’s outstanding play and if Brandon Roy can return to All-Star form, this team has the potential to go deep in the playoffs.

A team that has gone through some bad luck has been the Memphis Grizzlies. During the season, this team played below the expectations they were given since the preseason. To make matters worse, this team has lost star Rudy Gay to a shoulder injury.

Yet, this team has fought back and with the help from role players, they have landed a playoff spot. Though Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol create problems inside, this team also has a solid shooting group with O.J. Mayo and Darell Arthur that makes up for Gay's loss.

Finally, the team that has been inconsistent all year long is the New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets, led by veterans Chris Paul and David West, seemed to have a great lineup on paper. But when the season came, this team wasn't playing at the level they had been in recent years. In the playoffs, though, that will go out the window as the Hornets prepare to make it past the first round for the second time in New Orleans Hornets history.

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