Home > Basketball, The Final Buzzer > The Final Buzzer – Western Conference Round 1 Playoff Preview (17/4/11)

The Final Buzzer – Western Conference Round 1 Playoff Preview (17/4/11)

After 82 regular season games, it finally comes down to this. The playoffs start on Saturday (USA time) and it took until the very last day of regular season games for the order of the West to be decided. Every team is 16 wins away from NBA immortality. Only one will get there. Let’s have a look on how the Western Conference bracket shapes up.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzles

Season Series: Spurs 2, Grizzles, 2

Two big storylines heading into this series. The first is the elbow injury to Manu Ginobili. He’s doubtful for game one. This is a huge concern to the Spurs because he’s such a talented player. Pop sat him out of the Lakers game but brought him back for their last regular season game against the Suns. Why did he bring them back at all? Now only did they lose against the Suns, they also dropped the overall record to the Bulls. Tim Duncan has been played pretty sporadically over April, but you should expect him to play more minutes now that its playoff time. The Spurs are aiming for their 5 NBA title in the Duncan era and they find themselves with one of the toughest roads back to the NBA finals. Memphis is not your typical 8th seed. The Griz appeared to…no forget that, they obviously tanked their last couple of games to get to the 8th seed to avoid playing the Lakers. The Spurs shouldn’t expect an easy first round. Memphis is physical and Z-Bo is a beast down low. The Griz front court could provide the Spurs some trouble if they’re not careful.

Now the second big storyline heading into this game is why the Grizzles tanked all the way to the 8th seed when they could’ve made it to the 6th seed and faced the Mavericks. Although in saying that, they didn’t know the Mavs were going to be the 3rd seed until the end of the regular season (fun fact time: the last day of the 2011 regular season featured all 30 teams playing on one day. This is the first time this has happened in NBA history). In fact, if the Griz secured the 6th seed instead of tanking, and the Lakers lost to the Kings (R.I.P), they would’ve faced the Lakers in round 1. Confusing I know, but the Grizzles chose the lesser of two evils. Now we get to see if this was a smart move. It’ll be interesting to see how this young team will react to the difference between playoff and regular season basketball. They do have a couple of veterans with playoff experience though, so that should help. It’s crazy to think that this series could come down to the play of Tony Allen. He’s averaging 17 points per game shooting 70% against the Spurs. TONY FREAKIN’ ALLEN! If Tony Allen can keep up those crazy numbers, play good defence and limit a limited Manu, then the Griz could look to steal a couple of games and make it an interesting series. Seriously…TONY FREAKIN’ ALLEN?!

I expect the playoff experience of the Spurs to prevail, but I think it might be closer than people think. It might not reflect in the amount of wins, but each game should be hotly contested…if that makes sense…

Prediction: Spurs win 4-1


(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets

Season Series: Lakers 4, Hornets 0

Of all the potential paths to the finals and the potential teams the Lakers could’ve faced, they somehow got the easiest path through the playoffs and the best possible round one opponent for them.  Their path is potentially easier than the Spurs path, who would most likely have to go through the Grizzles, the Thunder and then the Lakers in the conference finals. The Lakers? Not as bad as that, although until they secured the 2nd seed, it could’ve been very different. If they had lost to the Kings in OT (Kobe dampening the Sacramento mood on final time), the Lakers would’ve ended up 3rd and faced the Blazers. The Blazers aren’t your typical 6th seed, and they’re playing with a lot of confidence since being handed Gerald Wallace. There was serious potential for an upset. No jokes. The Grizzles would’ve also been tough, and have the size up front to at least compete with Gasol, Bynum and Odom.

Yet somehow, through share luck, they end up facing the Hornets. Although this match is favourable, the Lakers do have their own problems to deal with. Andrew’s Bynum’s seems to be ok from his annual knee injury. Saying the Lakers were worried would be an understatement. They were crapping themselves and praying to Jesus. Jesus must’ve listened because Bynum is fine and is expected to play in game one. Steve Blake is dealing with chicken poxes. No seriously, this isn’t a joke. 31 year old Steve Blake has the chicken pox and is out indefinitely. He’s been told to stay away from the team as Andrew Bynum has never had them. Neither has Kobe. Ron Artest doesn’t think he has. Of course Ron Artest wouldn’t know (on a Ron Artest related note, I’m very excited for his playoff quotes and his kissing of his biceps. Definitely more enjoyable to watch than his terrible shot selection).

The Hornets will struggle to stay with the Lakers in this series. The loss of David West would’ve made this series much more competitive, but even then that’s not the only problem that they have. Who’s going to guard Kobe? Will it be former Laker Trevor Ariza? How will they slow the Laker big’s? Will the Lakers regret letting DJ Mbenga leave via free agency? Chris Paul needs to play like its 2008. He needs to be more aggressive and look to find his shot more against the Lakers in order for the Hornets to have any sort of chance.

The Lakers should sweep this series. They have too many match-up advantages, too much size and too much talent. The only reason that they won’t sweep is because of complacency since that 17-1 run after the All Star Break. The combination of the Lakers not caring and Chris Paul being too much of a talent will see the Hornets win a game. I mean after all, he will be guarded by Derek Fisher (AKA the human sieve).

Prediction: Lakers win 4-1

(3) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) Portland Trailblazers

Season Series: Mavericks 2, Trailblazers, 2

It seems trendy to pick the Blazers to upset the Mavs in round one. Is that considered an upset then if everyone’s picking it? In the Mavs defence, they get no love from anyone, except from Mark Cuban. The won 57 games this season and were one overtime away from facing the Hornets in the first round. Instead the Laker beat the Kings in OT and the Mavs now draw the Blazers in what should be the most entertaining round one Western Conference match-up. Dallas will have the best player in the series in the Big German. But, I can see why many people are picking the Blazers in the upset. Rodrigue Beaubois is out for game one because of a foot sprain, which means DeShawn Stevenson will start at SG. This gives Portland a fantastic chance to steal game one and home-court advantage from Dallas. Dallas will rely heavily on Dirk to deliver, but if they’re really going to be successful, they’re going to have to find scoring from somewhere other than Dirk and Jason Terry. Does Shawn Marion still have scoring left in that ugly shooting stroke of his? Can Jason Kidd knock down some open 3’s? Is Peja still alive? Tyson Chandler has been fantastic for the Dallas defence since he arrived, but even he needs to be able to score.

Luckily for Dallas, Portland plays with one of the leagues slowest paces. I honestly don’t have the raw numbers to back it up but it sounds about right. Well you don’t see Andre Miller running up and down the court like Steve Nash does. If the Blazers lose, it wouldn’t be a huge deal because it would be expected. After all, the Mavs are the 3rd seed. If the Blazers win, then people won’t be surprised because most people picked the Blazers to come out on top. So people wouldn’t be really disappointed if the Blazers lose, or surprised that the won. How does that even work?! I just feel that people have written of Dallas already. This Mavs team is pretty decent. Dirk will be All-NBA first team this year, Jason Kidd is moving very well for an 86 year old and Tyson Chandler has revitalised the Mavs defence. The Mavs zone could cause some problems for the Blazers on offence and force Gerald Wallace into shooting jumpers instead of attacking the rim. Is Aldridge good enough defensively to stop Dirk? Can anyone stop Dirk’s fade-away? And how much does Brandon Roy have to give? If he can give the Blazers some reliable play off the bench, then the Blazers will be in much better shape, especially if this is a long series…which it should be.

Prediction: Mavs win 4-2

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Denver Nuggets

Season Series: Thunder 3, Nuggets, 1

Both of these teams have been playing fantastically since the Trade deadline for different reasons. The Thunder are playing well because they got Kendrick Perkins to be the front-court bully that they’ve needed. Did you also know that they got James Harden in that trade also? Oh you say he was already on the Thunder? Really? Because he’s playing like a man with a new beard since Jeff Green was traded. Perkins brings championship experience and a defensive anchor to this Thunder defence which is very scary and menacing. But Perk has also benefited the Thunder on offence as well. Dirty or not, Perkins does set some fantastic screens (very underrated skill for a big man) which gives Durant more space to operate and more time to get his jumper off. No one’s benefited more from Perkin’s scowl on the Thunder more than Ibaka. He’s now got the freedom to help out more on defence and can now go for the block without worrying about who’s covering him on defence. They’re a nasty front court combo. Durant and Westbrook are set to shine and we’re going to see if their FIBA experience will benefit this team as the playoffs begin. They shouldn’t look past the first round though. After all, the Thunder have never won a road game in the playoffs. If they don’t win a playoff series this year, then there will be more pressure on them next year even if the expectations will be higher for them next year if they win a round this year…wow that’s confusing! Basically I’m saying that people will put more pressure on Durant and Westbrook next year if they don’t win a series this year (why didn’t I just say that to start with?).

Now the Nuggets are playing well since the trade deadline because of who they gave away. They got rid of Carmelo Anthony and have been playing some fantastic basketball. Credit must be paid to coach George Karl for keeping his players focused with all the Melo drama going on. The Nuggets have seamlessly blended the talent that they got from the Knicks and now have one of the deepest teams in the league. Their only problem is they don’t know who the best player on the team is. George Karl has been playing some crazy rotations often going with the hot hand to win games. Well what if there isn’t a hot hand in one game? Do you really place all your trust in JR Smith? He can win you games as much as he can ruin them for you. I don’t know how effective Nene will be against Perkins and Ibaka, and we’ve already seen the tensions rise in their last meeting before the playoffs, exchanging head butts. I don’t think even George Karl knows what he’s doing, so how can the Thunder prepare for them?

I think the Nuggets will struggle to win this series. The Thunder have the athletes and the speed to hang with the Nuggets, and no one on Denver has stepped up to defend Durant. Both arena’s will be pumping, but I just don’t see the Nuggets being able to win this series. All their advantages are countered by the Thunder. Nene and Kenyon Martin? Checked by Perk and Serge. Gallinari and Chandler? Good luck matching up against Durant. Felton and Ty Lawson? Russell Westbrook. Birdman’s tattoos? Kendrick Perkin’s scowl. JR Smith? Well that answer is also JR Smith. It really depends what day you face him because he can be terrific or terrifyingly bad.

Expect a fun and intense series, but also expect the Thunder to win their first playoff series

Prediction: Thunder win 4-2

And there you go! Finally done! Enjoy the first round and I’ll be back to do a preview of the second round. So until then, that my friends, is The Final Buzzer.

  1. raghav 'rondo' pratap
    April 17, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    what about the suns tomo

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