Well, the regular season is done and there’s nothing left to do but look at the playoff brackets and dream. The season seemed to end on a sour note with a lot of teams experiencing injuries to their important players on their team. Other teams may have over thought this thing and rested some of their key players while at the same time enduring a small losing streak here and there. We’re going to take a look at the playoffs and see where it takes us.
Western Conference – Round 1
Lakers vs. Thunder
Not too many teams have looked as out of sync as the Lakers as of late. With Kobe ailing (where are his legs?), Fisher injured, Vujacic injured, Bynum returning (hopefully) from injury, and Farmar with a hammy that could go at any time, the Lakers are playing the part of the wounded hero. We all know that the Lakers were the odds on favorite with the addition of Artest, but now, not so much. Kobe looks like he needed the 2 game break he got at the end of the season, but the Lakers just aren’t plain playing well. We know that Kobe should be able to turn it on, but the big question is whether Bynum can come back and play decent ball and whether the other injuries are going to hurt the Lakers. We’ll see.
The Thunder come in as one of the darling teams in the NBA. By that I mean they weren’t supposed to be here. They were the young team with a lot of talent, but they played ahead of their curve. Kevin Durant has been the catalyst for them by scoring at will, but this team also has Jeff Green (a do it all forward), Russell Westbrook (a good on the ball defender), and a host of guys willing to play their roles. Phil Jackson has already started working the refs in his favor, evidenced by his $35K fine for what he said about the refs giving Durant all the calls. This is the big stage for the Thunder, their opportunity to shock the world. As healthy as they are and as hungry as they are, they have more than a fighting chance.
Series Roundup – I want an upset, I’m thinking it’ll be an upset, but then reality sets in. Prediction: Lakers in 7.
Nuggets vs. Jazz
The Nuggets come into the playoffs struggling also. They can at least attribute their struggles to their coach being out fighting cancer. This team is too talented to not be at the least in the Western Conference Finals. It’s the same crew with Billups, Melo, and Nene. Add to them, the speedy Ty Lawson, the never gun shy J.R. Smith, Kenyon Martin (recovering from a knee injury), and the crowd favorite, the Bird Man. I think the window for these Nuggets is closing and that may add some pressure to the expectations that many have as the team that can dethrone the Lakers in the West. Now is the time to step it up Denver.
The Jazz are suffering from their own pains. Carlos Boozer went down with an oblique strain that will probably not get better during the playoffs and Andrei Kirilenko’s calf isn’t allowing him to play. The Jazz still have Paul Milsap who can produce like Boozer, but they really need AK. I like the fact that Deron Williams has played well of late and he in his own groove. The Jazz always play a physical game and that may be to their benefit against a Nuggets team that doesn’t have their enforcer (Martin) really ready to step up to the plate. Look for CJ Miles to play an important role in this series if the Jazz are to win.
Series Roundup – Can I just watch the first game to see who wins to pick this series? Denver has home court, but something is telling me to pick the Jazz.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6.
Mavericks vs. Spurs
This will be interesting. The Mavericks have played some of the best basketball since the All-Star break. Caron Butler is starting to find his way in this rotation, Haywood is giving them a much needed offensive presence in the paint, Kidd looks 30 again, Shawn Marion playing good defense, and you still got Dirk. I didn’t even mention Jason Terry, who is quietly the compass for this team. As he goes, so go the Mavericks. The Mavericks were supposed to end up around the 4th seed but they have used defense to help them get to that second spot in the West. The Spurs have really been a thorn in the Mavericks side in the past and this year, I think the Mavericks are ready.
The Spurs have been battling injuries coming into this game. George Hill sprained an ankle and may not be able to come back for the 1st round of the playoffs, Tony Parker is coming back from an injury, Tim Duncan is fighting off father time and bad knees, and we all know that Ginobili is one falling down awkward shot from being out of the series. I am surprised that Richard Jefferson hasn’t been more of a force with this team, but he is starting to come on now that Ginobili is back. DeJuan Blair has been some beef that has been welcomed by everyone, but specifically Tim Duncan. This team is solid as they always are and they are playing well at this juncture.
Series Roundup – This is going to come down to defense for the Mavericks. Can they stop this Spurs team when they need to and can they keep Ginobili from going bonkers? The Spurs get older each year, but like wine they seem to get better with age. Prediction: Mavericks in 6.
Suns vs. Trial Blazers
That’s Amar’e!!! Talk about someone who has done the most with what he has and has thereby increased (well, he’s getting a max deal regardless next year) his value, Stoudamire has caught fire since playing his way into shape. He has led the Suns on a streak that has gotten the Suns to the #3 spot in the West. Steve Nash and Grant Hill look at least 3 years younger and the Suns have enjoyed getting Barbosa back from a wrist injury. The only downside is that they are going to lose their big man, Robin Lopez for at least the first round and possibly the entire playoffs. He’s not spectacular but he does have a good motor and plays well next to Amar’e. Replacing him is one of the Collins twins (are they both still in the league?), but I hope that we’ll see more Channing Frye or even a sighting of Earl Clark (where has he been?).
Let me get myself together for a second (grabs rabbit feet, lucky charms, the Bible, some holy water, brought in my pet unicorn, caught a falling star, threw about $20 in a wishing well, and grabbed some horse shoes), the Blazers lost another player to injury. Brandon Roy tore his meniscus and will have surgery and will miss at least the 1st round of the playoffs. The Blazers have lost at least 300+ games due to injury. Even with all of that the Blazers have performed this year and are the #6 seed in the West. Nate McMillan should have some COY votes strictly on that alone. The Blazers are a balanced squad and they can play defense with the best of them. They were able to shut Kobe down towards the later part of the season with Batum and Webster taking turns. They will struggle to score a lot without Roy, but don’t’ count these Blazers out just yet. Look for the veteran big men Camby and (gulp) Howard to play a big role in their success.
Series Roundup – Can anyone stop the Suns from rolling? I expect the Blazers to slow this thing down and make the Suns play half court or it’s over. Prediction: Suns in 6.