So as promised… Here is the Western Conference, which was much more intiguing than East in terms of what happened on the court.
Utah vs. San Antonio
What Did We Learn from Game 1: The Spurs aren’t the vulnerable team they were last year. They are clearly better and healthier than they were last year. They are the main beneficiaries of this 66 game season, and Popovich handled it masterfully as he does most things (my Coach of the Year, article coming later this week). The Spurs have a distinctive advantage at just about every position, and Stephen Jackson may have quietly been the most important in-season acquisition (1). Meanwhile, the main advantage the Spurs (not only now, but for the rest of the playoffs) is that they can play at any other teams tempo and still look better than you (2). Utah had unbelievable metrics this year when it played Paul Millsap at the 3 this season, and Millsap ended the game at -23. I thought Utah’s length and versatility was going to bother San Antonio somewhat, but it didn’t show in Game 1. Also, Utah better find an answer to Tony Parker…. FAST.
What to Expect: Utah will win a game, maybe 2 at home… but it’s inability to stop Parker combined with San Antonio’s depth (Ginobili played only 25 minutes off the bench and Dejuan Blair played 10) and the rest time (Game 2 is Wed, Game 3 Sat and Game 4 Monday) clearly favored San Antonio. But playoff series’ are won with execution, intangibles and experience and the Spurs will manage to prove that vs. a young but talented Utah team. Spurs in 5.
LA Clippers vs. Memphis:
What We Learned: To divide the playoff preview into 2 parts and to not start writing your playoff preview with 8 minutes left to go in the 4th quarter of a 21 point game. Seriously. I started writing my Eastern Conference preview with Memphis up 21 and I stopped just minutes later when Nick Young went bonkers from 3. But like I have stated before, Game 1 is important, but it’s just ONE GAME. I still think Memphis is the better team. They out executed, out-hustled, out-rebounded and out-ran the Clippers for 40 minutes in Game 1. It just goes to show you that if you have a monumental eight minute letdown when you shoot bad jump shots, don’t get to the free throw line, don’t run back in transition, don’t defend the pick and roll in the half court, don’t close out on open jump shooters (3) and don’t foul Reggie Evans when he goes up to shoot a layup, you can give up a 23 point lead in eight minutes and lose. Chris Paul is the best player in this series, but losing Caron Butler hurts the Clippers because it takes away their best wing scorer and defender.
What to Expect: Memphis to get over their monumental collapse in Game 1 and take 2 of the next 3. I still think Memphis wins the series because the absence of Butler over a significant period of time is significant, and Memphis’ biggest strength will wear out the Clippers in a seven game series. Chris Paul has to play a better overall game, because Conley outplayed him for three quarters in Game 1.
Memphis in 7.
Denver vs. LA Lakers:
What We Learned: That size matters. The Lakers exploited their size advantage with Bynum’s monster performance and allowed the Lakers to seemingly beat Denver at their own pace on Sunday afternoon. George Karl made me a believer in a theory I have long disagreed with and that is that “a blocked shot is just as bad as a turnover.” Denver, who was tops in the league in pace in the regular season, does not necessarily do a good job of getting back in transition. Although the Lakers scored only 11 Fast break points, they were able to get easier baskets in the half court as a result of Denver’s defensive scrambling. Also, Denver is VERY YOUNG. Corey Brewer, Andre Miller and Birdman are the only three players that have more than 2 seasons of playoff experience.
What to Expect: Denver has to do a better job of forcing turnovers and defending the paint forcing the Lakers to hit jump shots (64/101 points in the paint won’t win you a playoff game if you shoot 35% from the field.) I see Denver winning one, maybe 2 games at home because the Lakers’ have been known to have mental letdowns against inferior opponents in the first round (Hornets last year, Thunder 2 years ago, Utah in 2009). In the end, the Lakers’ size and experience will end up being the deciding factor.
Lakers in 5.
Dallas vs. Oklahoma City
What We Learned: That the Thunder seemingly took Dallas’ best shot without playing well… and still won. This is going to be a great series and would not be surprised if every game went down to the wire. The Thunder may have gotten bailed out by a last second shot by Kevin Durant, but it’s going to have to play alot better if they have any hope of winning this seven game series. Dallas is also not the same team, but are still very vulnerable. Aside from Jason Terry and Dirk, the Mavs are going to have to get some kind of consistent contribution (Shawn Marion 17 points, 7 rebs in Game 1) to get the Mavs over the top.
What to Expect: Every game to be tightly contested and rely on down the stretch execution. In Games 1 and 2 it was OKC, now Dallas must counter by taking home court, which I believe they will. Can OKC execute as well and be as physical as they were at home? These are the kinds of series’ that anatomies of good teams develop into those of great ones. ho will step up for Dallas? Can Ian Mahimi and Brandan Haywood give them half of what Tyson Chandler did last season? Buckle up ladies and Gentlemen, this will be the most hotly contested first round series.
OKC in 7.
Regular season Awards coming later this week!
What to Expect:
1. Spurs are so much better and more versatile with Stax Jax than with RJ.
2. Which was the key to their title runs in 05 and 07.
3. I’ve managed to name about everything you can do wrong in a basketball game…. Memphis could have still won, but these are the best players in the World. The beauty of the NBA is that they have the best players in the World and a 24 second shot clock, no game is EVER out of reach.