Saturday, 20 April 2013
2013 NBA WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS PREVIEW BY QUETT WALKER
In my previous article, we had a look at the 4 Eastern Conference first round matchups. Let’s continue with a previewof the 4 Western Conference matchups.
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Houston Rockets
This is going to be a very entertaining series due to the fact that James Harden of the Houston Rockets will be playing against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the team that traded him last October.
The Thunder have gotten better every year since they first qualified for the post season in 2010. After having made the NBA Finals in 2012, the Thunder were picked as the favourite to win the West once again and embark on another trip to the Finals. It definitely shocked the NBA world when the Thunder traded their ‘Sixth Man of the Year’ winner James Harden to the Houston Rockets shortly before the start of the season. Many pundits claimed that this would diminish the Thunder’s performance and sabotage their chances of appearing in the Finals as Kevin Martin, who was acquired in the trade with Houston, doesn’t nearly possess the same intangibles as Harden.
Well it seems as if those thoughts were nothing but nonsense as the Thunder have acquired the best record in the West and are still poised to reach the NBA Finals once again. The maturity and development of Russell Westbrook and the increased level of play from Kevin Durant have the Thunder in prime position to once again battle with the elite teams.
James Harden going to the Houston Rockets franchise was a blessing for a team that cleaned house this past offseason. The Rockets released approximately 9 out of 12 players from last season in hopes of securing a new start. They have started on a positive note by not only acquiring Harden, but signing Jeremy Lin (Linsanity!!!) and Omer Asik. In addition, the improvement of Chandler Parsons and contributions from role players Francisco Garcia, Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks have allowed the Rockets franchise to reach the post season after a 3 year drought.
The Thunder are definitely the better team as they are not only a deeper team with a bigger front court, they have amazing team chemistry as they have been together for the last 3 -4 years. Furthermore, Houston has no answer for Russell Westbrook, since Jeremy Lin is a terrible defender and seems to have lost the spark that propelled him into stardom last season. You also cannot deny the fact that this Houston team lacks playoff experience and it’s a tall order for James Harden to upset this Thunder team during his first playoff series as a starter and star of the team.
Nevertheless, this is going to be an explosive series to watch; one which the Thunder will eventually end up winning.
Thunder win 4 -1
San Antonio Spurs vs Los Angeles Lakers
This would have been a very entertaining series but given all the injuries to both teams, it will be difficult just having all of the star players present!
The San Antonio Spurs have been a very consistent team to the point where everyone can basically count them as a playoff team every year. This is the 14th consecutive season where the Spurs have won 50+ games and they always seem to achieve this regardless of any injuries or conflicts that may arise on the team.
The Spurs enter this post season without Manu Ginobili, who is recovering from injury, as well as a banged up Tony Parker. However, the Spurs have one of the best players in NBA history in Tim Duncan and although he’s not the same player he used to be, he can still have breakout games when his team needs them. Very solid role players such as Kawhi Lenoard, Danny Green, Gary Neal and Tiago Splitter help to make the Spurs’ engine run.
The Spurs have recently released Stephen Jackson and signed Tracy McGrady. At one point during his NBA career, McGrady was considered one of the top players in the NBA, but that was a very long time ago. McGrady’s performance has declined over the years and his recent stint playing in the Chinese league over the last few months may actually help his confidence and performance level. The Spurs will not know exactly what he can bring to the table but they definitely need contributions from T-MAC right away.
The Lakers are always in the limelight of the constant media circus that is in Los Angeles. Great expectations are placed on them every year and this year was no different with the signing of superstar centre Dwight Howard and hall of fame point guard Steve Nash. However the Lakers have been plagued by injuries all season which saw them constantly fighting just to make the playoffs.
Then in the third to last game of the season, the worst possible scenario for the Lakers occurred. Kobe Bryant injured his Achilles on an attempted drive to the basket. All the Laker fans held their breath fearing the worst as Kobe hobbled off the floor. Then the news came that he injured his Achilles heel and would require season ending surgery and rehabilitation that would prevent him from playing basketball for 6 – 9 months. So now the Lakers enter the post season with an injured Steve Nash and without Kobe Bryant. Ouch!!!
This matchup has lost some of its shine due to the absence of Kobe Bryant but nevertheless the Spurs are still going to have to come out and play a resilient Laker team. Spurs definitely have the advantage at the point guard position and they have a lot more playoff experience. The Spurs are also a defensive minded team which will definitely pose problems for the Lakers. Although the Lakers are bigger up front with Dwight Howard and Paul Gasol, the Spurs have a deeper team and more role players who can contribute to securing a win in the series. Lastly, no Kobe Bryant!!!
Spurs win 4 - 2
Denver Nuggets vs Golden State Warriors
This is going to be a high octane fast paced series as both of these teams like to run up and down the floor. Don’t blink as you may miss something!!
The Denver Nuggets have secured the 3rd seed in the Western Conference after having a fantastic season. Trading for Andre Iguodala in the offseason has sparked an outstanding performance by this Denver team as not only have they won a franchise best 57 games and average 106 points per game (the best in the NBA), but they have only lost 3 games at home all season which makes them only the 11th team to ever achieve this. Furthermore they are the second leading rebounding team in the league at 45 rebounds a game and lead the league in points in the paint. They have been able to do all of this without have a superstar or go-to player on the team.
These accomplishments have put them in a position where they have a chance to advance pass the first round of the playoffs since they last did so 4 years ago.
The Golden State Warriors have also had a good season behind the brilliant play of Stephen Curry and David Lee. Curry’s hot 3 point shooting has not only made him a viable offensive threat but has allowed Golden State to space the floor. Klay Thompson has also emerged a sharp shooter which opponents will have to pay attention to. David Lee is a rebounding machine and has contributed to the Warriors being the 3rd best rebounding team in the league.
The Warriors are entering the post season for the first since 2007 when they made history by defeating the 1stseeded Dallas Mavericks as an 8th seed in the first round. What is impressive is they have been able to accomplish this without their all star centre Andrew Bogut.
The Denver Nuggets are the team with more chemistry and playoff experience than the Warriors. This will be David Lee’s and Stephen Curry’s first ever playoff experience and their lack of playoff expertise will definitely show. In addition, games in the playoffs tend to be played more in a half court set and result in ‘slowed down, grind it out’ type of games. Both teams are running teams however Denver has the advantage as it is a better defensive team than the Warriors and has better rebounders. The Loss of Danilo Gallinari and the nagging injury to Ty Lawson is a huge blow to Denver however they should still be able to advance to the second round being the deeper and more experienced team and having better role players.
Nuggets win 4 -2
Los Angeles Clippers vs Memphis Grizzles
This series is a rematch of last year’s first round matchup in which the Clippers edged the Grizzles 4-3.
The Los Angeles Clippers have had a phenomenal season as not only have they won a franchise best 56 games and won a franchise best 17 straight games but they have also clinched their first ever Pacific Division title.
The Clippers have always been considered the Los Angeles Lakers’ younger brother and as a result have been overlooked in terms of a potential destination for players due to their terrible track record. However since acquiring stellar first round draft pick Blake Griffin and signing premier point guard Chris Paul, the Clippers misfortunes have been overturned. They have been able to plug pieces around Paul and Griffin which has allowed them to have the best two seasons so far for the franchise.
The Memphis Grizzles have been knocking on the door of the West elite for the last couple of years now. The midseason Rudy Gay trade convinced many that this would have provided a disruption to the team chemistry and the team would experience a decline in their performance. However Memphis has persevered and is still in a position to threaten the other teams for the title in the West.
Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are a front court dynamic duo that plays tough defense, rebound and can score. Mike Conley is a solid point guard and Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince can play tough defense on the opposing team’s best wing players. All in all this is a very solid, tough defensive minded team.
The Clippers are an explosive team especially on the fast break. However, the playoffs are all about a half-court situation where the game slows down, the physicality increases and teams are able to make adjustments since it’s a 7 game series. The Clippers don’t perform well in this situation and its in these types of games where Memphis’ speciality lies. As a result Memphis will be able to slow the game down, beat up Clippers in the front court and make them play a half court set. This will minimise the performance of Blake Griffin as the Clippers will have to become too reliant on Chris Paul and thus this will force him to become more of a scorer instead of a player maker since almost no one on the Clippers can get their own shot.
The Grizzles are a defensive team that will surely be seeking revenge from last year’s matchup especially since in Game 1 they allowed the Clippers to win after trailing by 27 points at the start of the 4th quarter.
Grizzles win 4 -2