The playoffs this year should be much more interesting than those in recent years. Huge off-season moves have been made, and big mid-season trades have drastically changed teams. If you paid attention to the NBA last year but ignored this year, then you'd probably be totally lost when looking at this playoff bracket. In addition, the massive amount of moves has given teams a lot of flux, so a team at the top might not be as good as you think they are, giving a much larger potential for an upset.
Accordingly, as I did last year, this year I will be giving a general preview of the Western and Eastern Conference playoffs. These are just general previews to give you a general feel as to how good each team is, and they also serve as a way for me to get my predictions out there.
The Western Conference Quarter-Finals
The Grizzlies sat out their starters in the season finale, even when they had a chance at the seven seed. I think somebody wants to avoid the Los Angeles Lakers, or they just really wanted to sit their starters. Regardless, the Grizzlies now find themselves in a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs, whom they have beaten twice this year. And while the Grizzlies are better than your average eight Seed (In the East, they would have been a five seed) the Spurs are also better than your average one seed. Had they not lost Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker to injury late in the season, this team would have wins in the late 60s, which is a fearsome record indeed. Heck, their bench almost beat the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles late in the season, when Los Angeles needed to win in order to keep their seed. Yes, the Grizzlies did beat the Spurs twice this season, but in one matchup they were without Parker, and in the other they were without Duncan and didn't need to win the game. The Grizzlies can win this series, but they'd have to get regular scoring production out of their guards, which they've struggled to do all season. Randolph and Gasol match up well, but the Grizzlies don't have any worthwhile bigs on the bench. They have some great defenders on their team, but San Antonio is one of the best offensive teams in the league. I'll say it goes 6 games because of San Antonio's injury problems, but the Spurs have a pretty clear advantage here.
Spurs in 6.
Obviously, I'll have a more in depth preview of this series soon to come. But the Thunder have had Denver's number ever since they got rid ofCarmelo Anthony. Yes, I know that Denver finished the season incredibly hot, and that the Thunder were a bit lucky to defeat Denver three times this season. But Denver just does not have the advantage, defensively or offensively. Defensively, the Nuggets have no answer for Kevin Durant. Offensively, they don't have a scorer to go to in times of need, which is really where they lost the last two games against the Thunder. It'll be a tight series, and the Nuggets will win the games in which they can get ahead early on. But they just don't have the star power to win a playoff series.
Thunder in 7.
Everyone has ragged on the Mavericks all season for being old, tragically flawed, and over-reliant on Dirk Nowitzki. Here, they get a chance to prove everyone wrong with one of the toughest playoff opponents out there in the Portland Trail Blazers. The Trail Blazers were off to a rocky start this season, with Greg Oden suffering another season-ending injury and Brandon Roy battling knee problems. But they found new diamonds in their rough, with LaMarcus Aldridge taking the main scorer's role, Wesley Matthews filling the old role of Brandon Roy, and Gerald Wallacebringing a new defensive presence through a mid-season trade with the Bobcats. They closed the season extremely strong, with wins over the Thunder and Lakers, and were even able to beat the Mavericks. The Trail Blazers are reliant on their home crowd, but they can pull it out in 7 games. Their scorers are younger and more reliable, and the Mavericks can't rely on Jason Kidd to score 24 every night.
Trail Blazers in 7.
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 7. New Orleans Hornets
The Lakers finished the season ice cold, and were easily my favourite team to get upset in the West. Fortunately, they are meeting the Antarctic New Orleans Hornets. The Hornets have lost their main scorer in David West, and haven't come close to defeating the Lakers all season. As long as the Lakers stop Chris Paul from scoring, all they have to deal with is a random collection of role players. The Hornets main advantage is that their collection of role players can be molded to match up against the team they're playing. This works to an extent, but they just don't have the offense in the paint. The closest thing they have to that is Carl Landry, who can get you a double-double, but not anything close to what Bynum, Gasol, or Odom will give you. Okafor, Mbenga, and Ariza match up extremely well defensively, but the Hornets just don't have consistent offensive firepower. They'll win a game, but won't come close to winning the series.
Lakers in 5.
Below: The Semi-Finals, Conference Finals, and NBA Finals!
The Western Conference Semi-Finals
1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Well, the Thunder avoided a semi-finals matchup with the Lakers and ran straight into the San Antonio Spurs. I hate to say it, but the Thunder went out of the frying pan and into the fire. The Thunder haven't come close to beating the Spurs all season. Of course, the Spurs haven't facedKendrick Perkins, but the Spurs don't rely on Tim Duncan to score 20 a night anymore. They can rely on their guards if they need to, and Matt Bonner can and has killed us from the perimeter because our big men aren't very mobile. In essence, we match up alright against their traditional lineup, but once they start playing small and fast, the Thunder will be left in the dust. The Thunder can play small with them and even break out Nate Robinson, but everything Scott Brooks knows was learned from Gregg Popovich, and he'll always be one step ahead. I hate to say it, but the Spurs come out victorious in this one.
Spurs in 7.
2. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers
This is a great matchup, and one that I hope to see. Aldridge going head-to-head with Bynum. Gerald Wallace and Pau Gasol taking turns on exploiting each other. Nicholas Batum valiantly trying to stop Kobe Bryant. Wes Matthews and Ron Artest trading threes. Lamar Odom and Brandon Roy providing great sparks off the bench. Oh yeah, and there's the Andre Miller-Derek Fisher matchup too. Regardless, these teams match up extremely well, and while the Lakers are more talented, the Trail Blazers are younger and more towards their prime. It's truly a test of who has the better guts. And my gut feeling goes to the Trail Blazers. I can't really explain it, since these teams are so even in my eyes. But I think the Trail Blazers slow pace will aggravate the Lakers, and really contributes to keeping a level head and winning basketball games. It's a weak reason, but hey, it's a reason.
Trail Blazers in 6.
The Western Conference Finals
1. San Antonio Spurs vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers
The Spurs lost their season series against the Trail Blazers, but two of their losses came during the stretch where the Spurs were battling injury problems. Generally, the teams are pretty evenly matched. The Spurs have an offense the utilizes more options, while the Trail Blazers generally rely on one guy to be the main scorer for a certain game. The Spurs aren't necessarily a fast team, but they take an open shot if they see it, and that can lead to huge runs. The key for the Trail Blazers will be to control the pace. I see them winning this series because the Spurs just don't have a lot of defensive answers for individual players.
Trail Blazers in 7.
The NBA Finals
1. Chicago Bulls vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers
Call me crazy, but I think we'll see a rematch of the 1992 NBA Finals. I'm too young to remember that time, but I have gone back and looked at that series, and it would be an excellent one to relive. The Trail Blazers were pretty lucky to get this far, but they just don't have the tools to beat the Bulls. The bulls have pretty much every type of player the Trail Blazers have, except just that much better. Think about it, Boozer is better than Aldridge, Rose is better than Miller, and Deng is about equal to Wallace. Not to mention the Bulls' much deeper bench. I can see the Trail Blazers home crowd carrying them through a couple of games, but I just don't see them winning this series.
Bulls in 6.
How do you think the West and NBA Finals will shake out? Vote in the poll or post a comment!