NBA Playoff Previews – Western Conference
Tough match-up for the Lakers. Oklahoma City’s talented young core of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green will wreck havoc on the Lakers’ currently confused defense. There are two things intriguing about this series: Kobe Bryant, the Lakers best player, can be slowed down by the Thunders best defender, Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha has the right length to bother Kobe’s jumpers and the right speed to stay in front of him. I can hear Lakers fans saying, “Stopping Kobe in the playoffs? No way!”. Well, this isn’t 2006 Kobe where he was at his physical peak. Remember 2008? 2008 MVP Kobe was stopped by the Boston Celtics in the Finals, so there. Ha! Kobe was held to 11 points on 4-of-11 shooting against the Thunder in the last time these two teams played against each other.
Kevin Durant, the Thunders best player, cannot be contained by the Lakers’ best defender, Ron Artest. Durant has averaged 25 points against the Lakers. Although I’m still giving Artest the benefit of a doubt that he can still shut down one of the league’s best scorers. For all we know Artest may be channeling his inner Dennis Rodman with the blonde ‘do he’s sporting
This series is dubbed as “Durant vs Kobe”, but the real key for the Lakers is Pau Gasol and for the Thunder it’s Russell Westbrook. Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka can’t guard Gasol. It’s up to the Lakers to keep feeding it to the 7-foot Spaniard in the post.
Phil Jackson’s reluctance to curb Derek Fisher’s minutes will be bad for the Lakers. Fisher can’t guard a stationary lamp post and Westbrook is one of the quickest players in the league. The Lakers medical team better give Fisher some goggles to protect his eyes from the dust Westbrook will be leaving in his path. Westbrook exploded against the Lakers in their last regular season game.
The Lakers will have their hands full and will need six down to the wire games to eliminate the Thunder.
Dallas Mavericks vs (7) San Antonio Spurs
The Mavs have the greatest chance of beating the Lakers. They are a complete team and versatile at every position. Their midseason acquisition of Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson have reaped nothing but benefits. On the other flip of the coin, San Antonio’s acquisition of Richard Jefferson has been highly disappointing. Jefferson has been unable to adjust accordingly to Coach Popovich’s system.
Some say never doubt the Spurs in the playoffs, but realistically, their window has already closed. Tony Parker and Tim Duncan have been nagged by injuries and have not played a decent game after the All-Star break. Manu Ginobili has played great the past month but his age (32) and mileage make it hard to believe that he’s ready to take a lot of contact in the playoffs.
Dirk Nowitzki may have a tougher than expected series against the defense of Jefferson. Caron Butler and Jason Terry are the keys for the Mavs.
Dajuan Blair will have a big series for the Spurs, but Duncan and Parker need additional support from George Hill and Antonio McDyess. Don’t be surprised if the Mavericks win the series in five games. Stick a fork in the Spurs, they are done. It’s time to rebuild.
Phoenix Suns vs (6) Portland Trail Blazers
It’s a shame that Brandon Roy’s injury will greatly diminish the Blazers chances to advance to the second round. His presence would’ve made this an exciting series. Instead, we’ll see the Suns run Portland out the gym.
The Blazers don’t have the depth to keep up with the Suns up-and-down game. The return of Leandro Barbosa and Jason Richardson’s great play recently couldn’t come at a better time. The Blazers success will depend heavily on veterans Andre Miller and Marcus Camby, but their old legs will not be enough to outlast the Suns. Suns in five game.
Denver Nuggets vs (5) Utah Jazz
Carmelo Anthony must’ve been smiling on his way to the court for Game 1 against the Jazz. There was no one capable of guarding him after Andrei Kirilenko re-injured his calf strain. Anthony faced a combination of Kyle Korver, CJ Miles and Wesley Matthews and proceeded to drop 42 on the Jazz. The Jazz also had no answer for JR Smith, who scored 18 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets can heat up in a heartbeat and the Jazz found that out in Game 1.
Aside from losing Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur left the second quarter of Game 1 after re-injuring his Achilles’. Even if the Jazz lost to the Nuggets, I still believe this will be a long series. The Jazz have a better coach in Jerry Sloan. He will make the necessary adjustments for Utah. Unlike with the Nuggets, who will miss George Karl sooner rather than later.
Interesting series. The Jazz will come back to win in six games. Carmelo Anthony may be the best player in the series, but Smith’s streak shooting and inconsistency will be detrimental for the Nuggets.
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