The Western Conference is up now, here’s my breakdown of the first round matchups in the East.
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies, Game 1 – Sunday 1 PM
When it comes to 1 vs. 8 matchups, this is a pretty interesting one.
For the first half of the year, the Spurs were a buzz saw, tearing through the West with ease. Quietly, San Antonio stumbled down the stretch, finishing just 12-11 en route to finishing a game behind the Bulls in the race for the NBA’s best record. They dealt with injuries and age over a long regular season and enter the playoffs playing far from their best ball.
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Memphis, on the other hand, found an identity as a close-knit solid defense team even though their most talented player, Rudy Gay was injured. They have a front-court with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol that presents problems for anyone, the Spurs included. OJ Mayo has reemerged as a contributor and Tony Allen has upped his offensive game.
PREDICTION – SPURS IN SIX
This will be a competitive series, but Duncan, Ginobili and Parker will turn out to be too much for the dangerous Grizz.
#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #7 New Orleans Hornets
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The Lakers have been micro-analyzed all season long, but now is their time. They’ve had their losing streaks, but they are still may favorites for the title and I question anyone who thinks otherwise. They had a scare put into them with Andrew Bynum’s knee injury, but he’s apparently good to go for the playoffs.
The Hornets, on the other hand, did not. David West tore his ACL in March and he won’t be taking the floor in the playoffs, ending any chance for New Orleans to present any problems for the LA. Chris Paul will score some points and dish some assists though.
PREDICTION – LAKERS IN FOUR
No chance the Lakers lose here and I’ll be surprised if they even lose a game.
#3 Dallas Mavericks vs. #6 Portland Trailblazers, Game 1 – Sunday 3:30 PM
This is everybody’s upset pick for the first round, and rightfully so. Portland has six or seven quality guys, including defense stopper Gerald Wallace who has made a big difference for the Blazers. The Mavs have Dirk, Jason Terry and a combination of old dudes and young guys who are only occasionally capable.
The thing is, though, that Dirk is ridiculously good. I used to make fun of him for a lack of clutchness, but I can no longer rationally make that claim. He’s awesome and if you have him on your team in a close game, you have a much better chance of winning.
PREDICTION – MAVS IN SEVEN
If I was a little more confident about Brandon Roy being even marginally capable, I would switch my pick, but this is going to be a series with a bunch of close games. In the end, I say Dirk makes the difference.
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Denver Nuggets, Game 1 – Sunday 9:30 PM
This is another great matchup.
It’s an example of two of the teams that made the biggest deals at the trade deadline – deals that turned out beautifully in both cases. Denver let go of their superstar in Carmelo, but they found their identity as a fast-paced, run-and-gun team in the process and have played unbelievably well. The Thunder, on the other hand, acquired Kendrick Perkins, who has unleashed OKC defensively. Serge Ibaka can now play on the weak side, where he is a terror.
Denver, with their combination of youth and altitude, would present problems for most any team, but Oklahoma City should be able to run with them for the most part. Russell Westbrook is a terror in the open floor and should run roughshod over Denver’s smallish point guards.
PREDICTION – THUNDER IN SIX
There will be some really, really high-scoring games in this series. In fact, if I could watch just one of the eight first round matchups over the next couple weeks, this would be the one I would choose.
Although Denver is a better overall team having lost Carmelo, they now lack an elite crunch time scorer, while OKC has one of the best in Kevin Durant. I say he makes the difference.