It’s finally that time of year: the 2012 NBA Playoffs! The matchups are set, so let the debating begin! With games starting tomorrow, here are my playoff predictions. Eastern Conference predictions are soon to follow, but for now, let’s take a look at the first round matchups in the Western Conference.
#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz – Everyone is loving the Spurs right now. Maybe because the Thunder didn’t finish the season on a strong note, maybe because people were throwing Tony Parker in the MVP conversation as San Antonio took over the one spot in the West, and maybe a combination of all those things. But let me remind you: just like this year, the Spurs had one of the best records in the NBA and entered the playoffs as the top seed in the West last year. And they lost in six games to the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies. Now it did take a particularly dangerous Memphis team to do it, but the point is, the Spurs are not safe just because they can rack up regular season wins. The Jazz aren’t as dangerous as that Grizzlies team was last year, but they’ve been playing well recently and their youth could either guide them to victory (like the Grizzlies) or it could be their downfall due to a lack of playoff experience. Although I still think San Antonio is overrated, the Spurs will advance, if only because Utah doesn’t quite have the firepower to dethrone them. But don’t be surprised if this series is actually competitive thanks to Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap’s youth and athletic ability in the paint against Tim Duncan.
Prediction: San Antonio in 6 games
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks – The Mavericks ousted the Thunder from the playoffs last year and you’re not going to tell me Oklahoma City has forgotten it. The fans are going to be fired up in OKC and Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook should be able to sort out their recent struggles against this unimpressive Mavericks squad. Jason Kidd is a good defender but I don’t think he can hang with Westbrook’s athleticism for a seven-game series. The same goes for Shawn Marion guarding Kevin Durant. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry might be able to sneak in a win or two at home, but the Thunder are just too good for the aging Mavs, even if James Harden doesn’t return at full speed. If OKC can get offensive production out of Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, Dallas is in serious trouble. The Mavs have plenty of playoff experience, but have never looked like a quality contender this year, so the nod has to go to KD and Westbrook to clean their game up and move on to the next round.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in 5 games
#3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets – The first two series won’t be extremely competitive, but with Ron Artest (I’m still refusing to call him Metta World Peace) sitting out, the balanced Nuggets have a chance against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee will have to play extremely good defense against Andrew Bynum to have any chance. We all know Kobe will likely get his 20-30 points every night, but if Denver can limit Bynum and possibly frustrate him (we’ve all seen what happens when Bynum gets riled up), the Nuggets will make it competitive. Danilo Gallinari will be another factor in the series: if he shoots the ball well, Denver is dangerous. The final major factor in this series is Pau Gasol. If Gasol has big games, he might be able to make up for any poor performances from Bynum, especially if LA’s bench doesn’t mess things up. This should be a good series, but I’ve got to give the edge to the Lakers. Overcoming Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is a little too much to ask of this balanced Nuggets team.
Prediction: Los Angeles in 6 games
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers
On paper, it doesn’t take a genius to assert that the four/five matchup will be the most competitive, but in this case, the fourth and fifth seed actually do deserve to be where they’re at and should give the audience one hell of a first-round playoff series. On the one side, you’ve got playoff and crunch-time champion Chris Paul along with the athletic freak-of-nature Blake Griffin, and on the other you’ve got Rudy Gay, a resurgent Zach Randolph and the rest of Memphis’ role-playing lineup. This series will come down to how much Mo Williams and Randy Foye contribute, whether or not Mike Conley can put up big numbers on offense and whether or not the Grizzlies’ impressive defense can hold CP3 when it matters most. Earlier in the week, I had the Clippers winning in seven, but after seeing them stumble over the finish line and concede home-court advantage to Memphis, I’m taking the Grizzlies in seven. LAC’s supporting cast disappeared this week and Chris Paul missed a game with a mild groin injury. If that injury continues to bother him and if their supporting cast doesn’t pick their game up, this series is too easy for the Grizzlies.
Prediction: Memphis in 7 games