Thursday, April 17, 2008

The NBA playoffs: Western Conference Preview

While I realize that most people prefer the passion and heart displayed in college basketball over the lack of defense played in the NBA, the NBA playoffs start Saturday and could shape up to be the best in a long time. Plus, everyone knows NBA teams actually start playing when the playoffs come around.

While I prefer college basketball as well now that I am in college, throughout my last two years of high-school I had season tickets to the Memphis Grizzlies, my hometown team, so I still have a soft spot for the NBA. My Grizz are lottery bound in hopes of landing either Michael Beasley or better yet the local kid Derrick Rose, but I will still follow the NBA playoffs this season because of the parity in the league especially in the Western conference and the excitement that is sure to accompany it. Today, I will preview the West. Tomorrow the East...

The Western Conference games will probably be more exciting than the East for the simple fact that there is more parity in the West. The seedings were not determined until last night because of how close the teams were. Plus, when the defending champion Spurs are the three seed you know it has to be competitive. Also of note, the Denver Nuggets, the 8th place team in the West, were only seven games back of the L.A. Lakers, the first place team in the West, compared to the 29 games back that the Atlanta Hawks, the 8th team in the East, were behind the first place Boston Celtics.

Round one match-ups:

1) L.A. Lakers vs. 8) Denver Nuggets
First game: Sunday 2 p.m. CT (ABC)

While the Lakers have been on fire of late thanks to the acquisition of Pau Gasol from the Grizz for almost nothing (you're welcome Laker fans. In case you are wondering I am not bitter or anything...), this series will shape up to be a good one. Kobe, who should win his first MVP ever this year, Lamar Odom, and Pau will go up against the big three of the Nuggets: Marcus Camby, Allen Iverson, and Carmelo Anthony, who will hopefully be sober since this past Monday he was arrested on a DUI charge. This series could be the most exciting because of the star power both teams have. Melo vs. Kobe will be solid if Melo decides to play some defense. Pau vs. Camby could present problems for the Lakers, and A.I. should run around whoever is guarding him and put up huge numbers. However, I don't see a repeat of last year when the eighth seeded Warriors beat the one seed Mavericks. My prediction is that the Lakers win in seven.

2) New Orleans Hornets vs. 7) Dallas Mavericks
First game: Saturday 6 p.m. CT (ESPN)

These two teams played just last night in Dallas with the Dallas Mavericks winning 111-98, and Jason Kidd recording his 100th triple double with 27 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds. However, the New Oreleans Hornets have been the surprise of the league this season with MVP candidate Chris Paul leading the way. Paul averaged 21 points per game, almost 12 assists per game, four rebounds, and almost three steals on 49% shooting from the field and 37% from three this season. Those are unbelievable numbers from a third year player. The Hornets also have sharp shooter Peja Stojakovic, David West, who may be the best player in the league that you haven't heard of, and Tyson Chandler. The Mavericks have a lot more depth and experience with Jason Terry, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Dirk, Kidd, and Eddie Jones. Kidd and Terry vs. Paul will be an intriguing match-up although I am not sure I wouldn't put Josh Howard on Paul and let the former Demon Deacons go after it. In the end, this series will come down to game seven, and the Hornets will win because of the home crowd and Chris Paul, one of the top five players in the league in my opinion.

3) San Antonio Spurs vs. 6) Phoenix Suns
First game: Saturday 2 p.m. CT (ABC)

This is a re-match of last year's second round meeting between these two teams. The main reason everyone should want to watch this series is the fact that the Suns traded away a younger, better overall talent in Shawn Marion to get Shaq for the very purpose of beating these Spurs. The strategy seemed to work on April ninth as the Suns demolished the Spurs 96-79 in San Antonio although the game was close going into the fourth quarter. Duncan vs. Shaq will be a good match-up, but Amare Stoudemire will prove to be the difference as the Spurs won't be able to guard both he and Shaq. Maybe if Eva Longoria, Tony Parker's wife and star of Desperate Housewives, can distract the Suns by sitting next to their bench naked at all the games, the Spurs could win the series, but Eva is too classy for that. The Suns will win in six games as the defending champs are bounced from the playoffs in the first round.

4) Utah Jazz vs. 5) Houston Rockets
First game: Saturday 8:30 p.m. CT (ESPN)

For me this is the most boring series in the West, and it is the 4-5 game which should be the most competitive in theory. The Jazz are good, but don't have the big stars like the other teams in the West. Boozer and Deron Williams are great players. They just don't have the awe of the Kobe's, Lebron's, KG's, etc. The Rockets will be playing without Yao, who is out for the season, yet that didn't stop the Rockets from going on a 22 game winning streak. Luis Scola has really stepped up, and Shane Battier is a lock-down defender on the perimeter, but when Bobby Jackson is starting for you at shooting guard and Mutombo is starting at center, I don't like that team's chances against a formidable foe. Tracy McGrady has still not won a playoff series, and unfortunately, i don't see his team beating the Jazz. Perhaps, the Rockets will pull out some of that winning streak magic and beat the Jazz, but I see the Jazz as having an easy time of it and winning the series in five games.

(Photo courtesy of GettyImages and

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