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NBA

2011 NBA Western Conference First Round Matchups

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Better late than never I suppose. This was actually written at the same time as the Eastern Conference previews, but was saved as a draft instead of published.

Aside from the fact that the NBA Playoffs last longer than Raiders’ head coaching tenures, they are everything that regular season games are not.  In the playoffs, as if touched by the hand of God, effort levels rise, players hit the deck for loose balls… and one time I swear I even saw a bead of sweat on Vince Carter’s forehead. I digress; this isn’t a diatribe about the worthlessness of the NBA regular season… anyone that watched the Lakers sleepwalk through the last few weeks could easily figure that out by themselves. I’m just thankful to have watchable NBA basketball every night for the next 4 months or so.  Here’s a quick look at the first round matchups and some fearless predictions.

Eastern Conference

#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies

The Spurs surprised everyone by starting out the season nearly unbeatable. They then surprised everyone by looking lost on the court at times down the stretch. Injuries took them out of their rhythm and they haven’t looked the same since. Still, the Spurs just don’t lose in the first round (they’ve only done it twice in the past 14 seasons). However, the average age of their starting five is 32.2 and they look every bit of it.  I think their experience should be enough to get them past Memphis, but asking more than that might be a stretch… then again, I’ve said that before. Spurs in 6.

#2 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #7 New Orleans Hornets

Another team playing bad basketball when it matters most, the Lakers finished the season losing 5 of 7. Many in the media chalked it up to the Lakers resting themselves and preparing for the playoffs. Maybe… except the starting five plus Lamar Odom all played their regular amount of minutes. Granted, they could have been implementing new plays or some other strategies, but more than likely they were just going through the motions. While most people cite the Spurs age as a reason that they don’t have a chance to make a deep run, the Lakers are right there with them. Aside from Andrew Bynum, their next five main contributors average 32 years old. “But, but, but, the Lakers have Kobe?!” Yes, they do, but the Hornets have Chris Paul. Full disclosure, you can keep Kobe, I’ll take CP3. The only problem with picking the Hornets to upset the Lake Show lies in the fact that with David West out, I don’t think they have the length to compete inside. Chris Paul alone should be good for 2 wins, but asking more than that is a little much. Lakers in 6.

#3 Dallas Mavericks vs. #6 Portland Trailblazers

In a disturbing trend, the Mavs followed San Antonio and LA by playing uninspired basketball down the stretch. What’s even more disturbing is that uninspired play can be detected during a regular season that follows the 95/95 ratio where 95% of the players in the league could seemingly care less 95% of the time. In order to actually be called out for not caring in a league where no one cares is impressive and should be recognized in award form. This year’s award would go to Chris Bosh. His overall body of work and quote about just wanting to chill is enough to hold off late charges out of the west. Back to the series at hand, Nuggets coach George Karl came right out and said that the Mavs were beatable and that’s who he wanted in the first round. He didn’t get his wish, leaving it to Portland instead. As opposed to Karl, I’m moderately bullish on the Mavs even though a healthy Brandon Roy…healthy? Who am I kidding, Roy has no cartilage in his knees… However, if he can somehow find at least some of what made him one of the more exciting players in basketball, Portland has the bullets to send Dallas packing. I think this will be a long series, but like every year, I’ll take the Mavs. Dallas in 7.

#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #5 Denver Nuggets

Denver shipped Carmelo Anthony off to New York and may have ended up better for it, at least long term. They gave it there all and won 50 games with smoke, mirrors, and hustle. Unfortunately I don’t think they have any chance in the world against the Thunder. Denver’s main strength is that they are athletic. Sadly for Nuggets fans, they aren’t anywhere near as athletic as Oklahoma City. The Thunder have two of the best players in the NBA in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but their mid-season theft of Kendrick Perkins from the Celtics may be what they needed to push them to the next step. Perkins brings toughness to a Thunder team that was a bit lacking in that area. Perkins also brings the attitude that he’s never committed a foul in his entire life, and the contorted faces to match whenever he is called. Preseason, I picked the Thunder to lose to the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. At this point however, the Thunder look like the team to beat in the West and maybe the NBA. They are young, dangerous, and can straight up ball. In a league filled with the uninspired, the Thunder attack every game like game seven. Nobody wants a piece of Oklahoma City, with good reason. They play with the mentality of a college team in the NCAA tournament, and who knows, maybe they will bring the tradition of cutting down the nets into the NBA… we could very well see this June. Oklahoma City in 5.

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