PREDICTIONS: WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS

Yesterday, I’ve published my predictions for the Eastern Conference Bracket that you may check here. Even though we have approached the tip-off for the postseason, I will still be sharing my analysis and predictions for the world’s greatest basketball tournament.

The Wastern Conference continues to be the stronger of the 2 groups in the NBA. All 8 teams have winning records (over .500), with one team even missing the cut (OKC Thunder) that could have easily been the 6th seed if they were in the East. The clamor of removing the conferences and have the top 16 teams in the Playoffs instead continues to grow. But that’s for another blog post.

We focus on each match-ups, starting with:

(1) Golden State Warriors v (8) New Orleans Pelicans
Why Golden State will win: Easy explanation? They’re the best team in the NBA. Logical explanation? The Warriors have a 10.1 net differential, and lost only 2 games at home to the Spurs and Bulls. They led the league in  the 3-point field goals made and percentage, so leaving them behind the arc is not a good idea. So how about making them beat you inside? Stephen Curry has expanded his game, from being a mere-3pt shooter to being lethal on the pick and roll with Andrew Bogut. Draymond Green, having a Defensive Player type season, will surely slow down Anthony Davis, having an MVP type season. All signs lead to the Warriors getting past the Pelicans

Why New Orleans will win: 
It starts and ends with Anthony Davis. Per basketball-reference.com, he led the league in PER, almost 3 points more than leading MVP candidate Stephen Curry. Tyreke Evans has found a way to co-exist with the athletic big man, having the ball in his hands more after Jrue Holiday suffered an injury. We’re still waiting on Eric Gordon, as he’s been the ultimate enigma and will continue to be one for the series.

Who takes this: Need I say more? They’re ready to win the championship, or at least go to the Western Conference Finals. Unless the Pelicans steal home court advantage or have Anthony Davis drop a 40 point – 20 rebound game, this will be a walk in the park for the Warriors. Golden State in 5.

(2) Houston Rockets v (7) Dallas Mavericks
Why Houston will win: If the Pelicans have Anthony Davis, the Rockets have James Harden. The “bearded one” removed any doubt that he’s the best shooting guard in the NBA, playing like an MVP this season. He basically made the Rockets a threat in the West, giving them the #2 seed even though they missed Dwight Howard for half of the season. They also have depth in their bench with Jason Terry continuing to carry the 2nd team, and bringing championship pedigree, while Josh Smith and Corey Brewer will provide match-up problems for Dallas.

Why Dallas will win: 
Rondo-Ellis-Parsons-Nowitzki-Chandler. Come to think of it, a team with that starting five is a team that could win the whole thing. Although, ever since the arrival of Rajon Rondo from Boston, Dallas has struggled to find their offensive rhythm again. Rajon needs the ball to set up the play. Ellis and Parson need the ball to push the tempo. And Nowitzki needs the ball to go on an isolation play, where he has always succeeded. Once Carlisle figures out a way to get everyone in their spots, Dallas will be a threat to Houston and the rest of the West.

Who takes this: This match-up could be tighter than we think. Houston will be hard to beat once they push the tempo and get the easy baskets and/or go to the line (courtesy of James Harden, who leads the league in that criterion). But Dallas, who has been playing through these situations for years, can still surprise them. And that is what I think will happen. The Mavericks just need to steal the homecourt advantage and/or find a way to stop the beard. I believe they could do that. Dallas in 6.

(3) Los Angeles Clippers v (6) San Antonio Spurs
Why Los Angeles will win: They closed out the season riding a 7-game win streak, which is a big thing, especially when you’re up against the defending champions. Blake Griffin, who missed 14 games due to an elbow injury, continues to play strong for the Clippers. Though not his usual self sometimes, Griffin averaged 23 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists during the win streak, just in time for the postseason. DeAndre Jordan held the defense on his own, averaging 2.2 blocks and a steal. And then there’s Chris Paul. In his 10th year in the NBA, CP3 has never cracked the Conference Finals. The legacy of his career is on the line, and now is not the time to back down.

Why San Antonio will win: Simply put, because they’re the Spurs. They still have the best coach and power forward in history, and they have the perfect role players to complement their style of play. They never got off to a strong start, but they nearly finished the season with the #2 seed, before losing to the Pelicans in the last game of the regular season. Kawhi Leonard is turning out to be a dangerous 2-way player. Tony Parker, turning 33 in May, still has some speed left in his spry legs. And Coach Pop will always find a way to counter-attack any game plan being played out against the Spurs. Old or not, they still know how to win.

Who takes this: This is without a doubt the series to watch in the first round. 2 championship-contending teams trying to eliminate each other this early. At the end though, I still give it to the defending champions. How quickly have we forgotten how good they were during last season’s championship run. And they showed glimpses of it to end the season. It’s going to be a long series for both teams though, and it will all come to down to execution. Spurs in 7.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers v (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Why Portland will win: When you have 2 all-stars on the team, you always have a good chance to win. Lucky for the Blazers, they have those in Lillard and Aldridge. Both of their stars complement each other’s style of play. LaMarcus has one of the deadliest mid-range game in the league right now, while Lillard continues to attack the defense or take his patented step-back trey. They may have lost some key players down the stretch, but they now have a solid cast of role players ready to step up for Coach Terry Stotts and the Rose Garden.

Why Memphis will win: Grit and grind is what they call their style of play. And to win in the Playoffs, you literally need to grit and grind. Marc Gasol, who has been the league’s best center, and Zach Randolph were built to withstand any physical play from their opponents. Role players like Jeff Green are also ready once called upon to compete with the best of Portland. They’re hungrier than ever, and it’s always a tough time when you’re facing a desperate team like Memphis.

Who takes this: Injuries to some key players have affected the hype for this matchup, but it’s still a must-see TV. Portland may have lost Wesley Matthews (and probably Arron Afflalo) but they won’t quit now, having enough motivation to play better and harder. Mike Conley could miss this series (and the rest of the postseason) with nagging foot injuries, but Memphis has some quality players to pick up the slack. It will go down to who really wants this more. And I believe, Memphis is still the team to beat in this case. Memphis in 5.

– David Gamboa

(image from: http://bit.ly/1aDymlw)

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