NBA Playoff first round analysis and predictions: Western Conference

Western Conference

San Antonio Spurs(1) vs. Utah Jazz(8)
This series will be an interesting one to watch. These are two of the most opposite styles of teams in the league right now and for them to be going head to head should be a basketball fan’s dream. The Spurs like to get out and run. They spread the floor with their shooters from spots all over the floor and allow Tony Parker to penetrate with the ball and kick it out to whoever is open. The Jazz like to slow the pace of the game down and operate from the post position on the floor. They allow Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson, two of the best post players in the league, to go to work. Its a similar formula that the Memphis Grizzlies played with last year when playing San Antonio in their first round match up.

Tim Duncan will be a key factor in this series defensively. He’ll be matched up on Al Jefferson most of the time and he’ll need to be able to contain him in the post. Jefferson has some of the best low post moves in the NBA so it could be a difficult match up for Duncan. Jefferson struggles with height, though, so don’t be surprised if we see Tiago Splitter taking a lot of minutes during this series. If he can defend Jefferson then Duncan will be able to make more of a contribution in other areas of the floor.

The Jazz must be able to stop Tony Parker from creating fast break opportunities and slow the ball down before he gets to the timeline area of the floor. Parker likes to get the ball and push it as far as he can into the paint. This year he has been more of a facilitator than ever averaging a career high in assists. If the Jazz employ a half court press mentality on Parker, they can slow the game down and limit his penetration and also the rim running ability of San Antonio’s bigs.

Manu Ginobili will be the X factor in this series. Depending on Parker’s play, he’ll be able to be more of a feature in the fastbreak. If Parker struggles, they’ll have to go more to Ginobili in the half court. While that isn’t a bad thing it could take Parker out of play here because of his lack of a three point jump shot. That could be a potential danger to the Spurs, but I doubt that it will come to that.

Give me the Spurs in 4.

Oklahoma City Thunder(2) vs. Dallas Mavericks(7)

I’m sure we all remember how awesome the battle between Dirk and Durant was last postseason. I’m pretty excited to see it again myself. Two of the best scorers in the league going head to head is always something that the World should behold and appreciate. With that being said, this will be much more of a different series than last year. The Thunder will be more dominant than they were last year. They seem to have the mindset that they’re going to make a successful playoff run and I believe it.

Oklahoma City features two of the best scorers in the NBA in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. These two have easily combined for 80 points before and I don’t think that they’ll hesitate to do so again anytime soon. There isn’t a soul on the Mavericks who is able to stop them from scoring. They can only hope to contain them. If one of these guys has a bad night, though, Dallas should attack that. This is their only chance to score. The problem with the Thunder is that they are too one-dimensional. If the two leading scorers aren’t scoring then everyone else seems to struggle as well. It all rests on them to make everyone else better including James Harden. While Harden is an adept scorer and creator, he isn’t the type of play that is able to carry an offense on a consistent basis.

I think that OKC has to watch out for Dallas’ defense here. They’re a pretty good defensive team, and when they have to they will apply a zone scheme. It worked for them last year at some points, and OKC can’t allow that to happen again. They must feature proper floor spacing and ball movement, which has always been a problem for them. Too often OKC’s offense is a backscreen ISO for one of their star players. Dallas will salivate at those one on one match ups with their zone. They’ll keep all of their shots too the outside which allows them to let OKC shoot themselves out of the game. If that becomes a struggle, then this will be an awesome series.

Give me OKC in six.

LA Lakers(3) vs. Denver Nuggets(6)

This is one of the most simple series that I’ve gone over. The LA Lakers and Kobe Bryant are out to prove that they are still the best team in the West and the Nuggets are looking to prove that they can win a playoff series without any superstar help. Denver is a well balanced team that can shoot the ball pretty well, but they struggle defensively in the low post. This is where the Lakers are able to excel at.

The Lakers have two players who are over seven feet down low. In the playoffs, where the tempo of the game slows down, this is a great asset to have. I except the Lakers to work in the post a lot more often than not. Not only with Bynum and Gasol, but with Kobe Bryant as well. The Lakers are just a big team that is able to take advantage of smaller teams like the Nuggets are. The Nuggets will struggle to defend LA’s height in most areas of the floor. I think that will decide the series for the most part.

One thing that the Nuggets have over the Lakers is their bench production. They are one of the deepest teams in the NBA today and can use that to their advantage. If they are able to use some of their line ups to get out on the run and tired the Lakers bigs, they’ll be able to score the ball with Al Harrington off of the bench. Their floor spacing will be the key to beating the Lakers as well because if they can spread the Lakers height out it will open up the paint for inside penetration.

Give me the Lakers in 5.

LA Clippers(4) vs. Memphis Grizzlies(5)

This will be an amazing series for sure. I think that this will be the most entertaining, captivating basketball that we could see during all of the postseason. Both of these teams are able to make deep runs in the postseason and both of them can beat any team in the league. It will be a battle for sure.

I think that the advantage the Grizzlies have over the Clippers is their post play. Again, the playoffs are a slowed down slugfest that will require great play from the bigs on any team defensively and offensively. Once it slows down, it gets harder to score. If you have someone who can bang in the paint and tire the opposition you’ll be in great position to win a playoff series. The Grizzlies have two great post players in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Even though Randolph comes off the bench, he’ll make a great impact when in the game.

The Grizzlies won’t be able to take care of one of the Clippers’ glaring weaknesses and that’s defending the three point shot. They are a team that must play from the free throw line down because of their lack of shooting. The mid range jumper is essential to them and they struggle with spacing. This will make it easier for the Clippers perimeter defenders to harass their bigs in the post. With a crafty guard like Chris Paul that’s always a danger.

Getting back to Chris Paul, you can never count him out of a playoff series. We remember when he destroyed the Lakers last year in a few games of their playoff series, and that was with the Hornets. It’s not an easy task to shut him down. The Grizzlies have great perimeter defenders in Mike Conley Jr. and Tony Allen who may be able to do it, but its still Chris Paul.

Give me the Grizzlies in seven.


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