Western Conference First Round
Damian Lillard predicts that the Trailblazers will stun the Golden State Warriors in six games, but it will take more than just words for that to occur. The Warriors swept the Blazers in the regular season by an average of 20.5 points per game, including a 45 point blowout on December 17. The Blazers have a superstar in the making in Damian Lillard; but his backcourt mates C.J McCollough and Alan Crabbe will have to elevate their play tremendously to run with the Warriors. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green are all elite players in the middle of their prime, and they’re looking for a championship. Durant is back in the lineup after missing injury and it appears the Warriors haven’t missed a beat. If Jusuf Nurkic can come back from his leg injury and be effective, the Blazers will make it a series. He’s a walking double-double and provides a size matchup problem for the Warriors.
Series: Warriors 4-0 (With Nurkic, 4-1)
I feel like these two teams are playing each other in the playoffs all the time, and that would be accurate. The Grizzlies haven’t had much success against the Spurs in their playoff history, but they’re trying to change that around this time. The season series was split but I believe that will not matter here. Look for Tony Parker to have more minutes in the postseason as he has more experience than new starting guard Patty Mills. The Grizzlies will be without lockdown defender Tony Allen who suffered a calf strain in their final game this week. Look for their “Big 3” of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (yes he is still in the league) to try and lead their struggling offense to victory. Memphis finished second to last in points scored, and dead last in field goal percentage this season. The Grizzlies mantra is still defense, with only allowing 100 points per game, ranking third in the NBA. The gag is that San Antonio ranks above them at second holding their opponents to 98 points per game. At the end of the day the Spurs shoot too well from the field (47 percent) and have Kahwi Leonard, who would be the MVP this year if not for the heroics of some other guys.
Series: Spurs 4-1
Cue the other guys, introducing Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Former teammates and now the frontrunners for the NBA MVP race square off in the first round of the playoffs. But this matchup will go deeper than just the battle between Westbrook and Harden, the “others” will have a higher impact on this series than the superstars. For the Thunder, Steven Adams must come up large and be the “Shaq” to Westbrook’s “Kobe”. Prior to the start of the season, Adams was ranked the No.36 best player in the NBA, now he must live up to that moniker. Victor Oladipo will have to elevate his play as well. He had a great March as he averaged 17 points per game and shot 29/59 from three-point range. The Rockets will have to do what they’ve been doing all year, raining three’s. The Rockets great shooting has been led by Harden, Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson who hit 712 of their new NBA record 1182 three-pointers. The midseason addition of Lou Williams has sparked the Rockets as he’s averaged 14.9 points in just 23 games with the Rockets. When it all come down to it, Westbrook will have to carry the load for the Thunder like he has the entire season, and I don’t believe he’ll do that against the Rockets. He’s below his averages against them, and are simply outnumbered.
Series: Rockets 4-2
The Clippers and the Jazz are at it again, and this will be a good one. This series holds close to the phrase “playing to each others strengths”. The Clippers rank sixth offensively while the Jazz rank 28 offensively; vice versa defensively the Jazz rank first overall, while the Clippers are 12th. I believe the biggest keys in this series for the Jazz will be Rudy Gobert aka “The Stifle Tower” and Joe Ingles. Gobert is a shot blocking machine, averaging 2.6 per game, and Ingles contributed well in their only win against the Clippers this season. Gordon Hayward will come to play as usual, but he will need some help with this one. The Clippers will rely on their NBA-style run and gun offense to push their way through this matchup. It’s not much to this one, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul will have to lead the Clippers to a win in this series, because they cannot afford another early playoff exit. The Clippers as constructed have not made it to the Western Conference Finals, I think this is the first step of many for them.
Series: Clippers 4-3