NBA Playoffs 2011: West Predictions and First Round Breakdown
With the threat of an NBA lock-out next season, one thing is definitely true. This year's NBA playoffs will be the best quality of basketball that fans have seen in a handful of years. Each first-round match up will entertain even the casual fans (although some series' will be more entertaining than others).
After a disappointing performance in the NCAA Championship game, fans will be happy to notice the difference in quality of game-play from young college students versus grown men who play professional basketball.
Before sitting down at your favorite spot in the living room, or on your favorite couch to enjoy the NBA playoffs this weekend, take into account this analysis of the first round of this year's NBA playoffs.
NBA Playoffs 2011: West Coast: #1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies
The San Antonio Spurs will win this series 4-2.
While Zack Randolph has proven that he has matured into the offensive and defensive leader that the Grizzlies want him to be, Memphis still has a lot of concerns and un-answered questions. The first issue that Memphis will have is the uncertainty of who will contribute offensively to compensate for injured small-forward Rudy Gay.
A couple of pluses for the Grizzlies, however, include improvement at the center position, a veteran leader that can contribute on the defensive end of the floor, and depth at the guard position which may cause the older Spurs some trouble.
Grizzlies center Marc Gasol has averaged 12.5 points and eight rebounds per game during the last ten games. Shane Battier, although in limited minutes, has proven that he can still guard the other team's superstar as well as hit a clutch shot when the Grizzlies need one.
Tony Allen and O.J. Mayo could be the young back-court attack that the Grizzlies need to exhaust the older veteran Spurs back-court.
All that being said, the Spurs will show their veteran composure during this first-round series. Tony Parker has more than enough experience to slow the game down by making sure Tim Duncan gets his touches and shots. Parker also has the skill to score at-will against a back-court that has not seen much playoff experience.
What is also important to know is that Spurs guard Manu Ginobili is still battling some discomfort in his right elbow. Ginobili is currently listed as doubtful for Sunday's game one of this series, but many will agree that a "doubtful" for Ginobili might as well be a "probable." Expect Ginobili to do what needs to be done to be a contributing factor in game one.
This opening series will also be a great opportunity for players like George Hill and Tiago Splitter to gain more playoff experience before running into the Denver Nuggets or the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round.
NBA Playoffs 2011: West Coast: Must Watch #4 OKC Thunder vs. #5 Denver Nuggets
Despite the new and improved version of the Denver Nuggets, The Oklahoma City Thunder will win this series 4-2.
This series will give fans the best mixture of up-and-coming talent and players with a handful of playoff experience. If one is looking for a great example of how NBA basketball is going to be played (and should be played) over the next ten years, look no further than this series between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets.
If you have been blessed with the chance to watch the Nuggets play after the Carmelo Anthony trade, you will notice the significant improvement in three key players: J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin, and Chris Andersen.
If it is even possible to imagine, J.R. Smith has become even more fearless when it comes to having the ball during the last minute of a quarter, half, or game. He still does not hesitate to take a three-point shot when the Nuggets need to build momentum or stop the momentum of the Nuggets' opponents.
Nuggets veteran power-forward Kenyon Martin continues to do what he does best. He continues to ignite the crowd with emphatic dunks, and he continues to have a great touch inside the paint. Martin has averaged almost 15 points and eight rebounds this month.
Chris Andersen's numbers have increased slightly since the Anthony trade as well. Andersen's points per game averaged has improved from five points per game to now ten points per game. This extra offensive contribution will certainly help the Nuggets win a couple games this series.
Unfortunately for the Nuggets, the Oklahoma City Thunder have home court advantage. Aside from that, the Thunder have a handful of players that now have playoff experience after taking the Lakers to six games in the 2010 playoffs before being defeated by the Lakers in game six.
Look for the offensive production from Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, as well as the defensive-minded players such as Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Thabo Sefolosha to wear down the Nuggets in six games.
NBA Playoffs 2011: West Coast: #2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #7 New Orleans Hornets
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
This series, unfortunately, will be a snooze-fest for most basketball fans. Look for the Lakers to win this series 4-1.
While there is no doubt that players like Kobe Bryant and Hornets point-guard Chris Paul will do their part to entertain their respective home crowds, three Lakers players that will absolutely shut down any threat of Paul's dribbling and penetration will be Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum.
What is good news for Lakers fans, however, is this: According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, Lakers center Andrew Bynum practiced on Friday and will play in Game one of this series against the Hornets.
When Odom, Gasol, and Bynum are on the floor at the same time, it is almost impossible to get any penetration against the Lakers. Unfortunately, the Hornets do not have enough talent through the entire lineup to offset the Lakers offense. This series will be the first to end.
Another Must Watch: West Coast:#3 Dallas Mavericks vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers
This may shock many NBA viewers, but this series may turn out to be a nail-biter. Expect the Mavericks to take this series all the way to seven games and win the series 4-3.
Is this the year that the Mavericks make one more push to the last round of the NBA finals? Many would say that the window of time is closing in on the Mavericks. With Mavericks point-guard Jason Kidd showing occasional signs of aging, and the nagging injuries of many of their players, the Mavericks may be in for a long battle in the first round.
The Mavericks still lack the consistent third-scorer that is needed to make a deep playoff run. Expect major offensive contributions from power-forward Dirk Nowitzki and small-forwarad Caron Butler. Butler will provide an extra offensive spark coming off the bench when Nowitzki and forward Shawn Marion need rest.
Regarding Portland, with unfortunate nagging injuries to Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge has had no problems stepping into the role of offensive leader of the team. Aldridge has averaged nearly 22 points and nine rebounds this season. He should have no problems meeting and exceeding those averages during this series.
With that said, look for the Mavericks to take advantage of having home-court and win the series in the seventh and final game of the series.