Yesterday I did my breakdown of the Eastern Conference opening round. (You can read it here: https://www.fakepigskin.com/2014/04/25/nba-playoffs-breakdown-eastern-conference/ ) Today, I am going to do the same for the Western Conference. Unlike the East, there is no lack of talent in the West. I don’t think that it would surprise anyone if Dallas, Portland, or Memphis made a serious run or even made it to the finals. Here I am going to break down each series and what each team has to do to advance to the next round of the NBA playoffs.
San Antonio versus Dallas
Series overview: All tied at 1-1
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San Antonio looked to be in a league of their own all season. They literally didn’t lose a game in the month of March. Dallas was hot and cold for most of the season, not winning more than four games in a row. You would have thought that the Spurs would sweep the series with no problem, but that is clearly not the case. Like I said yesterday, this is why they still play the game. Dallas has been the better team for all but ten minutes of this series. If San Antonio doesn’t start playing like the team that won 62 games this season, they could be going home
Is San Antonio too old to hold off Dallas?
Pop has done nothing short of a spectacular job coaching this season. He has managed to keep his players fresh and by limiting their minutes all season, and managed to win over 75% of games. The biggest problem for the Spurs has been their inability to have someone take over when they need to score or a defensive stand. Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan have all played at a high level, but have not excelled late in games like they have in seasons past. Someone will be needed to step up at some point in this series, and they must figure out who it’s going to be.
Does Dallas have the talent to advance?
Months ago, I mentioned one guy that I believed would be key for the Mavs to make a playoff push. So far, Devin Harris has been their best player over the first two games. Dirk and Ellis did step up big last game, and will have to continue to do so if they want to close games out. But unlike the Spurs, Dirk and Ellis can be called upon to do just that. If the rest of the Mavs can rebound well, they will continue to outplay the Spurs. They have the formula to beat them, and are well on their way to pull off one of the biggest upsets in postseason history.
Who wins the series?
Dallas has been the better team so far, but I can’t doubt Pop or his coaching history. He has proven to be the best coach in the league and he knows what he has to do to get his guys to win. Kawhi Leonard needs to play better and will need to take Ellis into the post to take advantage of his height. That why, despite the slow start, I think the Spurs take it in 6.
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Oklahoma City versus Memphis
Series overview: Memphis leads 2-1
I’m no oracle, but I also was raving about the Grizzlies when they were set to go to OKC. They are a tough matchup for the Thunder (as proven last year) and finally got healthy the last 20 games of the season. Kevin Durant has continued to play at his MVP level, but he needs a supporting cast that can be efficient and make stops on defense. Memphis has taken the approach that they will let Russell Westbrook shoot jump shots as often as he wants, which has worked out pretty well. The more shots out of KD’s hands, the better for the Grizz. Game 4 will be the most important game in the Thunders history.
Can the Thunder finally take that next step?
One of the most frustrating things about being a Thunder fan has to be the streakiness of Russell Westbrook. People get on him when he doesn’t put up the numbers like Durant, but also blast him when he takes too many shots. There is a fine line within that space that the Thunder need to find if they want to even the series. He can’t continue to go shot-for-shot with KD, and the three games so far have proven that. In game one, Westbrook took 19 shots and the Thunder won game one. In games two and three, he had 28 and 26 shot attempts but the Thunder lost. Westbrook may need to take a step back to be more of a facilitator that he has in the first three games.
Does Memphis have the talent to hold off KD and company?
The big bodies of Randolph and Gasol have been one of the biggest attributing factors to the Grizz winning this series. Keeping the Thunder out the paint has worked so far, but I don’t know how much longer it will continue. What Memphis lacks is someone to take over the game when they need it most. Mike Conley showed he has the capability, but hasn’t done it on a consistent basis. If his big shots in overtime last game were any indication of things to come, than the Grizzlies will start to lean on him more as the series goes on to lead them into the next round.
Who wins the series?
I said this was a seven game series from the beginning and I see no reason to think that it will end any differently. Two of the three games have gone into overtime, and it has been the best series to watch this postseason in my opinion. The bottom line is that it’s hard to pick against any team that can take Durant and Westbrook to overtime twice while having a 4-point play against them, and are still able to win. I’m going to stick with my original pick of Memphis in 7 games.
Los Angeles versus Golden State
Series overview: Clippers lead 2-1
This is the series that both teams are out for blood. They do not like each other, and have made no effort to hide those feelings. I know game two was a blowout, but I suspect the remaining games will be much closer like games one and three. Both teams have won on the road as well, so homecourt advantage has not been much of a factor.
Do the Clippers have enough in them to advance?
This appears to finally be the year that the Clippers finally put it all together. After two seasons of disappointment, they appear to be the team that everyone has been expecting them to be. But even with the big 3 of Jordan, Griffin, and CP3, they have still only managed to win one playoff series thus far. Golden State seems to be content with letting Griffin settle for outside jump shots, and he has responded by shooting very well. If Griffin can continue to shoot over 65% like he has in their two wins, L.A. will be almost impossible to beat.
Can the young guns lead the Warriors?
I never would have imagined that in the year 2014, one of the most important pieces to any team’s basketball puzzle for a championship would include Jermaine O’Neal. to be fair, O’Neal and Iguodala bring some much needed leadership and playoff experience to a young Golden State team, but Thompson and Curry are what they need to win this series. If the Splash Brothers can get hot at the same time, the Clippers will not be able to shut down both guards in the backcourt. They simply don’t have the depth or the defense to shut down big shooters who can hit from anywhere on the court.
Who wins the series?
Golden State still has a real grasp on this series to make a run over the next couple games. Their defense shut down Griffin before, and they have been letting Paul shoot the ball more to keep it him out of the paint. But I do think this is L.A.’s year to make a deep run, and Doc knows how to coach up his guys. His leadership with CP3 and Crawford on the court will be the key to getting the Clippers out of the first round. This series will continute to be a fight to the end, but I think the Clippers take it in 6 games.
Houston versus Portland
Series overview: Portland leads 2-1
Houston was a dark horse for many to make a deep run into the playoffs this season, but now it is unclear whether they can make it out of the first round. Portland has been playing this series like the team that started the season with the best record in the Western Conference. If they can sustain that or not is yet to be seen. Houston needs to figure out a way to get their bench involved more if they want to even the series and turn it to a best of three games.
Can Harden win with Dwight?
This is the 80 million dollar question on everyone’s mind going into this postseason. Dwight has performed very well so far; averaging 28 points and 14 rebounds in three games. Harden has averaged over 27 points himself, but at the cost of 32% shooting from the field. In order for Houston to advance, they need to find some kind of middle ground for both guys to get their touches without taking away from other shooters. Troy Daniels provided a spark last night and will need to continue to do so if the Rockets want to even the series. The other key for the Rockets to is make that extra pass to find the open man. Jeremy Lin and Harden are the only players the past three games to average more than 2 assists on their team.
Can Portland finally play some defense?
Lets be honest here, Portland was never going to shut down anyone this postseason. What they have done all year is shot the ball very well from deep, and made the most of their chances in the paint. LeMarcus Aldridge was a one man wrecking crew in the first two games; dropping 40 burgers on the Rockets. It’s not reasonable to expect him to continue to shoot 52% from the field for the remainder of the series. Once he cools off, Portland will need to make some stops down the stretch and that will be the key whether they can close out a game to advance to next round.
Who wins the series?
Like I said, it’s not reasonable to expect LMA to shoot so efficiently the rest of the series. Someone will need to step up besides Damian Lillard. On the other hand, Houston looks to be getting on the right track after last nights game. Two overtime games will take it’s toll on both teams, so the bench will be key down the stretch as well. Portland only started two different lineups all year, and those minutes might wear down their starters if this goes to seven games. Houston needs to get more of their bench players involved as well, and unfortunately, their bench doesn’t run as deep as Portland’s. That’s why I am sticking with Portland to win in 6 games and move on to face the Spurs in the next round.