While Sayre covered the Eastern Conference, there is still another half of the NBA Playoff picture--one that includes the reigning NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. While the name of the game in the east is size, size and more size, the West features far more finesse and shooting. No doubt there are some talented post players--Pao Gasol, Lamarcus Aldridge, Andrew Bynum, Tim Duncan and Tyson Chandler among others--but don't be fooled: offensive precision is the name of the game. Let's take a look into the first round matchups, and I'll lay it on the line with my predictions of who will be moving on.
Despite losing Tim Duncan for a period of time and limping to the finish of the regular season, the Spurs retained the number one seed and draw a good matchup against the Grizzlies. Memphis is extremely quick, but are not extremely disciplined, so the patience and execution of Greg Popovich basketball should ultimately trump Memphis. It won't be pretty, and it won't be a high-scoring series, but I see San Antonio winning in five games.
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets
In stark contrast to the Spurs-Grizzlies series, this one will have some fireworks. If both teams have anything to do with it, someone might score 200 points. Obviously Bynum's health is a concern, but the star power of Kobe Bryant against Chris Paul will steal the show. The Lakers have had their ups and downs this season, but they're built for the playoffs and have Phil Jackson's Farewell on their side. This is an easy one. Lakers in four.
It really is a shame the Trail Blazers have been cursed with injuries. They're an extremely fun team to watch, and have a very talented young core. Against Dallas, they match up well and will really give the Mavs all they can handle. The key to this series is obviously the play of Dirk Nowitzki. He has had some really ugly games in the playoffs in the past. The playoffs are for superstars, and if Dirk can't find it or is out of it mentally, Dallas will have a rough go of it against Portland. The team around Dirk is better than the Blazers role players, and I think it'll be enough as long as Dirk has two or three games to give the Mavericks the edge in six.
With a dynamic squad and explosive scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder were a sexy pick to challenge the Lakers for the Western Conference crown when the season began. The Nuggets, despite trading Carmelo Anthony, have gelled at the right time and get maximum effort out of their players night-in and night-out. Denver should have their hands full with OKC's firepower, but the Nuggets can play to their advantages by working the ball and getting balanced scoring. Denver is a fun team and a good story, but the Thunder will come away in five.
Dallas and Portland kick off the playoffs on Saturday at 9:30 on ESPN, while the other three series will fill up the schedule on Sunday.