Lakers, Spurs Easy Picks; but Who Will Be the Other Two Teams to Advance?
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I wrote about the Eastern Conference playoffs Wednesday and am going to give a hurried synopsis of how I think the first round will go in the West.
I confess I do not know as much about the West. I'm from Indiana, so many times it depends on who's playing the Pacers as to what I learn from the other teams.
Anyway, a couple of these rounds will certainly be easy to predict, but one or two is not so certain.
I watched the Knicks advance to the Finals after being an eighth seed, only to lose in five games to the Spurs.
I'm not sure if Patrick Ewing would have made a difference or not, as the Spurs had David Robinson (aging, yes, but still) and second-year player Tim Duncan.
Three championships later, the Spurs have an aging, but still effective Duncan with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. It is important to note that Duncan's numbers were "only" 13 and 9, but that he also played just 28 minutes per game.
A solid fourth scorer in Richard Jefferson also runs the wings. This team is guaranteed 50 wins year in and year out and have grabbed the No. 1 seed.
Who wins the West?
The frontcourt is very impressive, with Duncan being arguably the best power forward ever. Or at least, the best at making the bank shot. Antonio McDyess is a fantastic spot up shooter, with Matt Bonner being the same from long range.
The wild card here might be the second year man in DeJuan Blair. The backcourt is very impressive. And while Manu Ginobili is injured, he plays through many injuries and I would be shocked if he missed more than one game.
And the Spurs continue to have a knack for finding talent in odd places, grabbing Gary Neal as an undrafted player and seeing him contribute 10 points per game while shooting 42 percent from long range in his rookie season.
A solid, veteran core combined with Blair and Neal insures at least a first-round victory for the Spurs.
Memphis is young, has talented big men, but cannot compete with the playoff-tested Spurs, even though they split the season series.
However, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph nearly combine for 30 points and 20 rebounds per game. But they will miss second leading scorer Rudy Gay, even though some argue they played better without him.
Mike Conley is a solid young point guard, but what else do they have? O.J. Mayo's average dipped six points per game and his shooting percentage five.
Darrel Arthur, Sam Young, and especially Tony Allen help, but this team is not equipped to beat the Spurs. In order to make things right in many people's eyes, Zach Randolph needs to have a monster series.
A couple of 20-20 games would be huge. However, he cannot do this alone, nor can it be done with help. Even if Rudy Gay were available, it will be a tough task for anyone to stop the Spurs in the playoffs. It can be done, but not by Memphis. Not at all.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Next up we have Oklahoma City and the Nuggets. Oklahoma City pushed the Lakers hard last year in a first round series. The Thunder's efforts had me pulling hard for them, as I'm sure many were. But in the end, the Thunder just didn't have it, and the Lakers went on to win it all.
This year, they still have Kevin Durant of course (who, in my mind, will be the best player in the league in the next 2 years) and Russel Westbrook.
This is an excellent two players to start a franchise with. The two will combine for over 50 probably each game in the series, as both are easily capable of dropping 35 without hesitation.
Add in the efforts of Serge Ibaka and third overall pick two years ago in James Harden, and this is a spectacular young team. I did not look this up, but I would speculate they are one of the five youngest teams in the league.
In February, they swindled the Celtics into giving them another young piece to add in Kendrick Perkins. Since, Perkins has given the Thunder an edge, or maybe even a chip on the shoulder, that they didn't have.
This teams is going to be in the Conference finals by next year. Nick Collison, Thabo Sefolosha, and Eric Maynor contribute off the bench, but the young starting core is an amazingly talented group and will be fun to watch for years.
The Nuggets are also now a younger team, after the Anthony/Billups trade. As a Knicks fan, I am disappointed as to how much we gave up, and am still not sure what we'll get in the long haul.
I know we couldn't have kept all of the players, but it was a young, fun group to watch. Anyway, Ty Lawson has the starting point guard job now and has an excellent backup in Raymond Felton.
These two are two of nine players who have a points per game average of at least eight. The other two younger players picked up in the trade are Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler. Both are excellent shooters.
The Nuggets have a query of bigs they can put on the court. Whether it's the solid contribution of Nene or the colorful Chris Andersen, the frontcourt is loaded with talent.
Former No. 1 overall pick Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington are also capable scorers. Denver is a very high scoring team and really can move up and down the floor along with spreading the floor really well.
With Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups gone, the Nuggets run fewer isolation plays and have to play team basketball, which has been VERY effective. But will it work against the Thunder?
This is a series I have a tough time deciding on. At first glance, I would say the Thunder, with Durant and Westbrooke. But Denver is playing very, very well since the trade deadline.
No superstars on the team, but they have many capable weapons. I feel though, that in the end they cannot contain the Thunder's two stars and lose in a long, very fun series.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in seven
Next up we have the Portland Trail Blazers and the Dallas Mavericks. I'll be honest. This is where I don't know as much about some teams. I struggle to see how the Blazers have played this well this year. I know LaMarcus Aldridge is a beast in the paint.
Wesley Matthews has contributed very nicely, with a really good shooting touch and has the distinction of being the only Blazer to play in all 82 games. Andre Miller is still very solid and runs the team very well.
Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez, for all the trade talk surrounding those two, are valuable contributors to the team. I feel the Blazers have a very valuable center in Marcus Camby, but the big question mark to me is this.
What can they expect, if anything, from Brandon Roy? I know injuries have taken their toll last year and this, but 12 points per game from the "franchise player" is not going to help the Blazers against the Mavericks. If Portland is going to win the series, they need more help from Roy.
The Mavericks are an aging team, but any team with the current Dirk is bound for the playoffs. An amazing shooter who I love to watch play has been surrounded with veterans like Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Jason Terry, and others to be named later.
Kidd at one point (no pun intended) was the best point guard in the league. Not now, of course, but is still a point guard I would love to have run my team. Being able to have Shawn Marion and Jason Terry as secondary scorers is huge.
This quartet of players can win you several games. But then you throw in Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson, JJ Barea, Brendan Haywood, and Peja Stojakovic, and you have a fantastic rotation.
And I haven't mentioned Corey Brewer and Brian Cardinal, who is still getting the job done. Hmm...notice how Purdue players who make it in the league make it by hard work and hustle and are usually not the "typical" type players at their position.
Cardinal, Brad Miller (a three-point shooting center), and Carl Landry (a very short power forward)...interesting, isn't it? But moving on now, we see that this might be the deepest team in the West.
If this team can play as capable, do we daresay they will represent the West in the Finals? I'm not sure...but...
Prediction: Dallas in 5. Dallas is too talented. Enough said.
Finally we come to the New Orleans Hornets against the defending champion Lakers. The Hornets have Chris Paul, who I consider to be the third-best point guard (assuming all agree that Derrick Rose is a point guard) behind Derrick Rose and Deron Williams. They have a few interesting pieces, but nothing to compete with the Lakers, as off track as L.A. may be.
David West averaged 18 and 8 and Emeka Okafor nearly averaged a double-double. So the frontcourt is strong. You hear the name Marco Bellinelli and the word "shooter" comes to mind. And then they have Trevor Ariza also starting.
Also in the rotation is the aforementioned Carl Landry and a solid backup for Paul in Jarrett Jack. Willie Green and Jason Smith will also receive significant playing time with Quincy Pondexter gathering a few minutes as well. Not a fantastic bench and not a fantastic starting five.
A solid team, that would have done better in the Eastern Conference, which it could be argued that they could almost belong in. But as mentioned, they have little chance in this series.
The defending champs have stumbled into the post-season. I say stumbled due to Kobe Bryant's slip of the tongue and yet another injury to Andrew Bynum. He says he'll play. We'll see.
If so, and if Bryant stays under control, I fully expect L.A. to beat whoever comes out of the East, if they can beat the Mavericks and Spurs. Kobe Bryant is almost the best player in the game. And Pau Gasol is no longer soft.
Ron Artest and Matt Barnes make up a tough duo who seem willing to mouth off and get in anyone's face. The Lakers had an amazing 6 players play in every game.
Lamar Odom is super, whether he plays off the bench or in the starting line-up. Shannon Brown could start on many other teams in the league.
The never-seeming-to-age Derek Fisher is still calmly and coolly going to hit clutch shots in the postseason. Steve Blake was a good pickup for them and splits the point guard duties with Fisher.
If L.A. gets over this Bryant issue and if Bynum is really not as injured as it seems, we should see the Lakers move on easily.
Kobe Bryant is going to be a bit upset and may be looking to shut up his critics with the only way he knows how. Good basketball. I say he ups his average to 30 per game and...
Prediction: Lakers in five.
So...second round then is Spurs, Thunder, Mavericks, and Lakers. I ask you, is this what you expect as well?
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