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NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Preview

Nick Barbarino |
April 17, 2015 | 5:10 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

James Harden (Wikimedia Commons)
James Harden (Wikimedia Commons)
Wow. What a finish to an unbelievable NBA season. It took all 82 games before the playoffs were set. There are so many storylines surrounding this postseason, from Anthony Davis’s first appearance, much to the dismay of Russell Westbrook, to the Clippers' reward for finishing the season 14-1 and snatching the No. 3 seed is a matchup with the defending champions Spurs. There’s too much to discuss in just this paragraph so let’s dive into our Western Conference Playoff preview. 

No. 1 Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans

Behind spectacular play from the the NBA’s future best player, Anthony Davis, the Pelicans were able to sneak into the playoffs with the tie break over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Unfortunately for the Pellies (isn’t that the weirdest nickname), they have to face the NBA’s best team in the Warriors. The Pelicans will be a far better opponent than the injury-ravaged Thunder would have been, but they are still no threat for the Stephen Curry-led Warriors. 

The return of point guard Jrue Holiday will help the Pelicans but only to a certain extent. Holiday will have a hard time guarding Curry and Tyreke Evans will be busy guarding the sharpshooting Klay Thompson, creating a massive mismatch. I’m giving the Pelicans one game in this series off of Davis’s potential to score 40 on any given night - he’s literally the reason the Pelicans made the playoffs, a ridiculous, off-balance three pointer to win the game over the Thunder back in February ended up giving them the tie breaker. Davis’ interior defense along with the recent play of Evans and Holiday’s return will make this a much more interesting matchup than people expect.

However, the Warriors are too good on both ends of the court. Andrew Bogut should be able to slow down Davis on the offensive end, while defensive player of the year candidate Draymond Green will shut down anybody he is guarding. The Pelicans play right into the Warriors' pace and ultimately the West’s top seed should run away with the series. Give the Pelicans another year or two and they should find themselves among the West elite, but for now the Warriors are showing no signs of slowing down.

Verdict: Warriors in 5

No. 2 Houston Rockets vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks 

Hold on one second while I try to figure out how a team that played 40 games without Dwight Howard and 50 games without Terrence Jones won 56 games. Yup, still don’t have an explanation except for that James Harden is without a doubt the NBA MVP. Seriously guys, this team is starting the player formerly known as Jason Terry as their point guard. 

In all seriousness, the Rockets have put together one of best seasons for such an injury ravished squad. Although they are only separated from the 3, 5, and 6 seeds by one game, the fact that they were able to win 56 games shouldn’t go overlooked. This series is extra juicy as the Rockets will face a former key player in Chandler Parsons.

The Mavericks went all in on the Rondo trade back in December and have had mixed success since. Rondo is extremely hard to coach as seen from his constant classes with Rick Carlisle. However, owner Mark Cuban brought Rondo in to be the player who puts them over the hump in the playoffs. If 2012 Rondo can resurface, the Mavs may be onto something. Dirk Nowitzki looks a step slower this season, but the Rockets have nobody who can guard the German.  

This series should be a bloodbath with the victors getting a matchup against either the defending champ Spurs or up and coming Clippers. Harden, a career 40 percent playoff shooter, has to prove that he can play in the postseason. The Mavs have a slight edge when it comes to playoff experience, with Carlisle, Dirk, and Tyson Chandler left over from the 2011 championship team and that pushes them just ahead of the Rockets. 

Verdict: Mavericks in 7 

SEE MORE: How Important Is Home Court Advantage?

Chris Paul (Wikimedia Commons)
Chris Paul (Wikimedia Commons)
No. 3 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 6 San Antonio Spurs

As a life long Lakers fan, I don’t think anything could have made me happier than seeing the Clippers play the Spurs in the first round. Out of all the teams the Clippers could have played (Memphis, Portland, Houston), the Spurs pose the biggest threat. Heck, even Doc Rivers was complaining about the seeding process before they got matched up with the Spurs, almost like he saw it coming. The Spurs wouldn’t have dropped that winnable game against the Pelicans to play the less-talented Clippers and then either Dallas or Houston, basically home games, in the second round, while avoiding the Warriors? (Right? Rigghttttt?) 

Chris Paul has put together one of his best seasons. Helping lead the Clippers for six weeks as Blake Griffin struggled with injuries. He is second on my MVP list for this. (I know what you’re thinking - I have Harden winning and CP3 second? I must be crazy) As I noted earlier, the Clippers have finished the season 14-1, their only loss coming to the Warriors, while outscoring their opponents by nearly 12 points per game. 

Unfortunately for the Clippers, the only team playing as hot, maybe even hotter, than them is the Spurs. After struggling with injuries at the beginning of the season, most noticeably with Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs have soared up the ranking since the All-Star break. The Spurs finished the season 21-4 and very easily could have been the No. 2 seed. Last years Finals MVP Leonard, has played exceptional since being given a more prominent role in the offense, while keeping his defense at an All-NBA level.

The Clippers have a great team, but their lack of wing depth will cost them in this series. Leonard and Green will abuse CP3 and the Spurs offense is too much for a sub-par Clippers defense. Any other opponent and the Clippers are cake-walking into the second round.

Verdict: Spurs in 6

No. 4 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 5 Memphis Grizzlies

Both of these teams will be limping into the playoffs. The Trail Blazers have struggled since losing Wesley Matthews to a torn Achilles and currently have no return date for Nicolas Batum. Don’t forget about LaMarcus Aldridge’s torn thumb ligament either. The Grizzlies have seen injuries to their backcourt as both Tony Allen and Mike Conley have been sidelined with injuries. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, the front court duo of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is fully healthy and ready for another deep playoff run. 

Jeff Green has completely transformed the Grizzlies since being traded from Boston. The former lottery pick has filled a massive hole on the wing, adding another scoring option for a rather clustered offense. Gasol should have his way with Robin Lopez in the post, but defending Aldridge will pose a challenge. 

For the Trail Blazers, this is a season of what-ifs. Had Aldridge not sustained that thumb injury and had Matthews not torn his achilles we could be talking about a potential contender. However, without Batum on the wing Portland is too thin off the bench. The Grizzlies will take full  advtantage of an undermanned Portland squad, pounding the ball down low to Randolph and Gasol. As long as Aldridge and Lillard are playing, the Blazers will compete, however, it may be too little too late. 

Verdict: Grizzlies in 6



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