Seeds 1 and 8— San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies (Spurs win in 5)
I really want to pick Memphis. They are such an athletic group, and I love me some Z-Bo. Do people know he’s averaging 20-12 this year? And he didn’t even make the All-Star team…shame on us all! I understand he’s kind of chubby and more than a bit crazy, but that boy can do some good things on the court. Mike Conley has been playing like a halfway-adequate point guard this year (almost 7 assists per game), so we no longer have to scratch our heads and wonder why he is employed by an NBA team. Marc Gasol, though unflashy and completely uninteresting, is an above-average center. So what if watching paint dry is more fun? He blocks balls and rebounds. I also think Tony Allen has been a really underrated presence this year; he’s got that swagger only an enormous, golden championship ring can afford. Also, Battier has brought some real tenacity into the fold. The team plays defense now. However, they’re missing Rudy Gay, who’s their second best player and really benefited from the TEAM USA experience last summer. His absence is going to hurt them. Also, let’s not forget they’re the 8th seed. It’s no coincidence the Spurs won 16 more games this year. I think in the history of all time, an 8th seed has beaten the 1 seed twice in the NBA. The Nuggets may have done it sometime in the 90’s (the beforetime), and, of course, the Warriors famously did it against the Mavs in 2007, after Dirk’s well-deserved-MVP season (sarcasm). Seriously though, does anyone think the Spurs are going to choke away a first round series? Right. I know Duncan is old, and I’m fairly certain the team is hobbled; one to all of their players might be injured, but they have one the NBA’s top 3 coaches, veterans with loads of playoff and championship experience, and…it’s Memphis. Come on, now. As in the East, there’s a reason one team is the #1 seed, and the other is the 8th. The Spurs might drop a couple of games, but they’re taking the series.
Seeds 2 and 7— LA Lakers vs. New Orleans Hornets (Lakers win in 4)
Someone more intelligent than I needs to explain to you how the Hornets are in the playoffs. I have no idea. Their team consists of Chris Paul on one knee, David West for 60% of the season, and little to nothing else. Yet they somehow made the playoffs by a comfortable margin. Paul needs to win some kind of award. Ever since his left knee surgery, he’s lost a step; actually, he’s lost all steps. He looks like Gary Payton from 4 years ago, gingerly picking his spots like a wily veteran, which would be great if he weren’t 25 years old. I hope this is some kind of temporary funk, or that he’s saving himself for when he’s a free agent because if this is permanent, we’ve basically lost what could have been the best point guard of all time 5 years into his career. Anyway, I am in awe of the fact he’s still managed to lead his team into the postseason while playing well below his peak. Unfortunately, this playoff series is going to be embarrassing. The Lakers will manhandle New Orleans. Bynum should be healthy, but even if they sit him to keep him whole for the rest of the postseason, the Lakers are still bigger and badder than the Hornets. Emeka Okafor looks a great guy; I would love to have a beer with him and talk politics, but on a basketball court he’s milquetoast. He makes Pau Gasol look like a Bad Boy Piston. Remember when Dwight Howard getting drafted over Okafor was controversial? It’s just adorable in retrospect. I’m not really sure why he’s even on the team. New Orleans has been all about cutting cost the past two years, but they jumped at the chance to dump Tyson Chandler, who is solid contributor in Dallas now, for the opportunity to pay Okafor a few more millions a year. The Lakers are going to glide through this series at 60% and still sweep New Orleans.
Seeds 3 and 6—- Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trailblazers (Blazers win in 6)
I’m almost completely convinced I couldn’t care less about this series. I hate Dallas because their whole team is built around defying my belief that white people shouldn’t be allowed to play in the NBA. Not only do they employ Caucasians, they made one the centerpiece of their entire franchise! Thankfully, all it has netted them is no championships and a historically embarrassing loss to the lowest seed in the 2007 playoffs. I’m going to come off my pedestal for a minute and admit that Dirk has been impressive this year. Everything I said about Chris Paul in the preceding section can be applied to him. His team this season has consisted of awe-inspiring pieces like Tyson Chandler until he got hurt, the re-animated corpses of Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion, and the actually lifeless corpse of Caron Butler. The team keeps pushing Rodrigue Beaubois on everyone like crack on inner-city high schoolers; I guess they think he can be the next Tony Parker, since he’s French, too. Unfortunately, he’s averaging 8 points per game. It’s nothing short of miraculous that Dirk has been able to drag this collection of overpaid dead weight to the 3rd seed in the playoffs. Having said that, The Maverick’s journey ends in the first round. The sort-of-loss of Brandon Roy and a mostly mediocre season has had everyone overlook Portland, but their current roster gives Nate McMillan, who is a criminally underappreciated head coach, some good things to work with. Lamarcus Aldridge, at all of 25 years old, has blossomed into a PLAYER (all CAPS), and no one on the Mavs will be able to stand in his way. This is another guy, like Randolph, who was somehow shoved out of the All-Star game even though he averaged 22 and 9 for an entire season. How do we sleep at night? Gerald Wallace, who was overrated in Charlotte, is now playing great as an underrated piece in Portland, and between him and Aldridge, I don’t see how the Mavs are going to secure a single rebound. I’m not really sure what’s left of Brandon Roy at this point, but Wesley Matthews has been more than capable filling in for the former MAN of the team. I just think Portland is more athletic, better coached, and is getting out of round 1.
Seeds 4 and 5— Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Denver Nuggets (Thunder win in 5)
I am high on the Nuggets; those how have read my Melo trade post know how I feel. They play offense in an uninhibited, fast-paced style, scoring points in bunches, and defend damn well, too. I truthfully believe the only 2 teams in these playoffs Denver couldn’t take out are the Lakers and The Thunder (singular). Unfortunately, they got stuck with one of those 2 teams in the 1st round. I am higher on OKC. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are genuine superstars, with a “super” in front of the “star.” Durant, who quietly took home his second scoring crown in a row, is one of the top 5 players in the league, and I don’t just mean offensively. He is a damn average defender, which in today’s NBA counts for a hell of a lot; it’s actually a compliment. People have been too busy riding Derrick Rose’s pole to the MVP voting booth to notice the best under-25 point guard in the NBA might be playing a little further South. I am a little worried about their relationship. The Team USA experience seems to have helped Westbrook develop individually, but I think he was a bit miffed at having Rose take the alpha-point guard status, so now he hogs the ball away from Durant way too much. I keep hearing the two are good friends, so I’m assuming they’ll figure out some way to better coexist in the playoffs. Even with their problems, the Thunder dominated Denver during the regular season. Denver’s frantic style of play just doesn’t work against a team that is even more athletic. I know I said I supported the Perkins trade for Boston, but I also happen to love the trade for OKC, which has really grown into an elite defensive unit with his presence. They have grit. Perk’s penchant for dropping pinpoint passes from Rondo doesn’t matter in OKC, since Westbrook rarely passes. Denver has been a great story post-Melo-trade, but the Thunder can do everything they can do, but better, and will get out of the first round.
Seeds 1 and 4— San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder in 6)
It’s time for the old guard to move over. The Spurs are boring and over the hill, so I hope the Thunder just put them out to pasture. Tim Duncan has a lot of miles on him, and he just isn’t the same player he was four years ago during their last championship run, and DeJuan Blair is certainly not enough to make up for drop-off. Perkins and Ibaka are going to hold down the fort, and there won’t be much room for Duncan and Blair in the post. Ginobili and Parker are still at the top of their game, but I don’t think those two players are enough for a long playoff run. As quick as Tony Parker is, OKC”s Westbrook is even faster, and he’s going to get the best of that matchup. In contrast, we’ve got the young bucks in the other corner. Kevin Durant is all of 22 years old, and so is just starting to reach his potential. San Antonio is really good at knocking off their opponent’s first option, but I really don’t know if the Spurs are going to have an answer for KD defensively. The Spurs have the experience and the swagger, but the Thunder will win this series in 6 games.
Seeds 2 and 6— LA Lakers vs. Portland Trailblazers (Lakers in 5)
L.A. is going to be rested and ready after their scrimmage against the Hornets. Portland is going to be tired out after a hard fought battle against Dallas. Aldridge is a beast, pure and simple, but The Lakers can throw Pau, Odom, and maybe probably Bynum at him to slow him down. And then, of course, we have Kobe. He may or may not have tailed off this year, but even so he is the best player in this series. I don’t think any of the Blazers’ wing players are going to be able to defend Bryant. On the other hand, his veteran wiles will have little issues shutting down Matthews. Again, I have no idea what’s left of Brando Roy. If he were in 2009 form, this might be a series, but now that he doesn’t have knee ligaments, he will be a complete non-factor. L.A. will win the series, and get back to yet another Western Conference Finals appearance.
Western Conference Finals
LA Lakers vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (Thunder win in 6)
I know, I know. L.A. is the obvious, tired choice to make it out of the West, so that’s why I’m picking the Thunder! Westbrook is going to have a field day against Old Man River (Derek Fisher). Gasol and Bynum are deadly, but ever since the Perkins addition, the Thunder are just mean inside. They’re going to bully the Spaniard and maybe probably break Bynum. Kobe is going to tire out defending Durant, and so his offensive contribution is going to be limited. I know all the arguments against the Thunder. They haven’t won a road playoff game. They’re young. Westbrook has issues with sharing the ball. But I think this team is hungry, and they have good overall chemistry. The Lakers have the swagger and the experience, but the Thunder are deeper and more athletic, and they’re going to tire L.A. out. Oklahoma City is heading to the Finals to take on Miami. Let’s check back in June and see how wrong I was.