The Western conference has long been the dominant conference. No more. It has the Lakers, and it has some other good teams, but the conference is quickly losing steam, The top three teams (in terms of record anyway) are all in last gasp mode with the Lakers the only one of the group with a legit title chance after this season.
The Thunder are the future of the conference, but they're probably not ready to come out of the conference just yet. Here's my Western conference playoff predictions sure to go wrong.
Spurs (1) vs Grizzlies (8)
The San Antonio Spurs have Manu Ginobili listed as doubtful for game one. LHowever, Ginobili is one tough dude, so unless there's no way he can go, I wouldn't be surprised if he suits up. If Ginobili's injury is serious enough to keep him out of game one, I'll be nervous about his ability to play in game two as well.
Without Ginobili the Spurs still probably have enough to take out the Grizzlies, but I think it's a fairly even matchup at that point. The Grizzlies have enough depth up front to deal with Tim Duncan who's stats have dipped, but still really keys the team as we saw when the Spurs fell apart once he was hurt.
The key for the Grizzlies will be whether they can run San Antonio off the three point line and control Tony Parker to some degree. The Spurs look like a paper tiger for a one seed to me. They simply don't scare me much.
That said, I think they still have enough to beat the Grizzlies, but it will be tougher than people think. I say it goes six games.
Spurs in six.
Lakers (2) vs Hornets (7)
I'm not going to spend much time on it, if the season went a bit longer the Hornets would have fallen out of the playoffs, and they're only seven because the Grizzlies threw their last two games in order to avoid the Lakers.
Whether Bynum is healthy or not, the Lakers trounce the Hornets. 4-0 Lakers, there's really nothing to dissect here.
The Hornets might win a game if Chris Paul goes off because the Lakers really have no one who can guard him, but they simply don't have anything else.
Lakers in four.
Mavs (3) vs Blazers (6)
Portland is athletic and physical and Dallas has a history of not going very far in the playoffs. I think they get upset again here, if they're even favored before the playoffs.
The Blazers just seem so dangerous to me since getting Gerald Wallace, they have great depth and very good players at the 1-4. Dallas isn't physical enough to go big against Portland, so they could run Aldridge at center, Wallace at PF, and Batum at SF to cause Dallas all kind of matchup fits.
Plus Brandon Roy, Rudy Fernandez, and Wesley Matthews all bring a ton of ability at the wing and generally have size advantages against their Dallas counterparts. I look for Portland to play small a lot against Dallas since they don't have any interior players who really scare you physically.
Once the game goes small, I just like the Blazers wing players more than the Mavs. Jason Kidd is a nice matchup for Andre Miller as well, because he's one of the few guys who isn't going to kill him off the dribble and expose miller's lack of quickness.
For the Mavs to win, they'll need a great series out of Dirk, and they'll need their shooters to knock down shots. Tyson Chandler could be somewhat of an intangible force if he puts together a good series, because he's the one guy who can provide some serious help defense for the Mavs in order to stop the Blazers wings from attacking the hoop.
Portland in six.
Thunder vs Nuggets
That was a fun ride for Denver after trading Melo, and if only they had thrown enough games to fall to six and played Dallas they could have won a round.
The one thing I'll say about the Thunder is that I question whether Durant will get it done in the playoffs. I think he's a guy you can take out if you're physical against him, but I don't think Denver really has the type of player who can beat up Durant well enough to pull it off.
I think Oklahoma City is lucky that Portland didn't make it to five, because Gerald Wallace strikes me as a guy who could have a ton of success on Durant over a series.
That said, the Thunder just have too much for Denver IMO. Durant and Westbrook are simply too good and Perkins is out there protecting the paint. Denver takes a couple games to stop it from being a route, but they never have a real chance to win the series IMO.
Thunder in six.
San Antonio (1) vs Oklahoma City (4)
The Spurs transition into a three point shooting team probably plays a bit into Oklahoma City's favor. I also don't think San Antonio really has great personnel to match up with Durant or Westbrook on defense.
The Thunder match up well in terms of personnel and style with the Spurs, but I think the Spurs have too much depth, too much experience, and home court advantage will give them an edge.
While the Spurs really don't have an answer for Durant/Westbrook, I'm not sure the Thunder have an answer for Tim Duncan, nor do I think their defense is tight enough or disciplined enough to keep the Spurs off their open three point looks.
Spurs in seven.
Lakers (2) vs Blazers (6) (or Mavericks if I'm wrong)
The Lakers are probably hoping that the Mavericks win in the first round, because I think the Mavs can do nothing to the Lakers. They don't have the perimeter size to guard Kobe or the front court defense to stop the Lakers front court.
The Blazers match up much better against L.A. They have good size with Roy, Batum, and Wallace on the perimeter, and Aldridge is a very solid interior player. They don't quite have the front court depth to match L.A. though which I think will ultimately stop them from having a real shot at beating L.A.
The Lakers should have a pretty easy time with either opponent.
Lakers in six over Portand or five over Dallas.
Spurs (1) or Thunder (4) vs Lakers (2)
I don't see either team having a real shot to beat the Lakers in a series. The Lakers have too much front court depth and are clearly the best team. However, both opponents would have a puncher's shot at L.A. if things went right.
Both opponents have the capability of launching and knocking down a ton of threes. If either team has really hot shooting then they could potentially take a series, but it's unlikely that either team can shoot well enough over seven games to pull it off.
The Thunder probably match up athletically with the Lakers better, but they don't have the experience, and Artest completely took Durant out of the playoffs last season. I think his ability to muscle up Durant really bothers him, and hurts the Lakers odds.
However, the Lakers have no one who can deal with Russell Westbrook, who'd have the potential to have an amazing series and give the Thunder a shot.
The Spurs simply don't have enough talent at any position on the court to really have an edge. They'd need Tony Parker to have the series of his life in order to advance, because that's probably the only position on the court that the Spurs have a serious advantage that they could consistently go to.
Lakers beat either team in six to make it back to the finals.
Since I judge everything with a Bulls bias, let me say the Lakers are the only team that scares me. The Thunder or Spurs would have a punchers chance against Chicago, but I think we'd ultimately beat either fairly handily.