The 2012-13 NBA season has concluded and the playoffs are on the near horizon.
Here are the Western Conference first round series:
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (8) Houston Rockets
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) LA Lakers
(3) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Golden State Warriors
(4) LA Clippers vs (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Breakdown and Predictions
(1) Thunder vs (8) Rockets:
Almost one full year removed from the Thunder’s defeat at the hands of the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, the Oklahoma City Thunder stand as the top contender and No. 1 seed in the Western Conference entering the 2013 playoffs.
Arguably, the biggest off-season move made in 2012 was the Thunder’s trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets, after failing to reach an agreement to extend the sixth-man-of-the-year’s contract.
Harden has proven himself among the NBA’s elite, ranking fifth in points per game over the season at 25.9. On an interestingly ironic side-note, Harden scored a career-high 46 points against the Thunder Feb. 20th 2013.
The Rockets may need four of those games from Harden in order to pull out a series victory though.
The Thunder won the regular season series against the Rockets 2-1. Without any player capable of shutting down Kevin Durant, Houston will need to score 125 points a game this series to compete. I can see that happening possibly once at home, but that’s it.
Prediction – Thunder win series 4-1
(2) Spurs vs (7) Lakers:
There’s something about this series that screams “coin toss.”
A month ago, this match-up would likely have been dubbed an “easy sweep” for the Spurs. However, with the Lakers winning five straight games entering the postseason and the Spurs losing seven of their last ten, LA isn’t looking quite as outmatched.
Even without Kobe Bryant (out with Achilles injury), the Lakers have had success shooting the ball and big men, Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, have been solid.
The coin flip aspect of this series, I feel, stems from the feeling that both the Spurs’ bad recent play and the Lakers’ stellar recent play are both anomalies, that could swap back at any time.
Only because I think it would be humorous to see the Lakers advance without the help of Kobe Bryant, will I give the Lakers the benefit of the doubt.
Prediction – Lakers win series 4-3
(3) Nuggets vs (6) Warriors:
With two of the up-and-coming teams in the West, this series between Denver and Golden State may be the most high-flying and action-packed.
Both the Nuggets and Warriors average over 100 points per game. Alternately, they both allow over 100 points per game, so prepare for some classic offensive battles.
Heading the Warriors’ offense will be rising star Stephen Curry, who just broke Ray Allen’s single season 3 point field goal record. Leading Denver will be Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, and Corey Brewer.
Denver won the regular season series 3-1 with the lone loss coming on the road 106-105. I anticipate similar results.
Prediction – Denver wins series 4-1
(4) Clippers vs (5) Grizzlies:
This series is an intriguing one in that the L.A. Clippers are the poster children for in-your-face, highlight-reel style basketball, while the Memphis Grizzlies are the prototype for flying under the radar with consistency and defense.
The Grizzlies are first in the NBA in points allowed at just 89.4 points per game allowed. I doubt the Clippers will worry much as they tend to gravitate towards the high percentage shots (A.K.A. the alley oop)
Memphis has their work cut out for them. We’ll see if they can use their size and defense to slow the game and make the Clippers beat them with range. I expect they will.
Prediction – Clippers win series 4-2
There you have it. Enjoy the Western Conference first round match-ups.