We covered the Eastern Conference here. That silver platter has been all set for the Heat. Here in the West, we actually have some intrigue all the way through.
1 Oklahoma City vs 8 Houston Rockets
James Harden's revenge! The Beard must be anxious to show them how stupid the trade was for OKC. In exchange for Harden, a superstar and Top 5 NBA scorer, the Thunder received a one-year rental of Kevin Martin, a D-League rookie, and two draft picks in the worst draft in years. Maybe it will work out long term, but I expect these playoffs to show at some point that the Thunder needed Harden to compete for the title. I expect Harden to rise to the occasion, being the best player in at least two games. There will also be one more where Jeremy Lin Lindicates all the Lincessant compLinments from last year when he Lincited media Linsanity en route to a a Houston Lin.
The Thunder, strangely, have had more efficient offense since losing James Harden. Ibaka has stepped up his game big time, adding a 3-point range to his offensive arsenal. Reggie Jackson has filled in a void to energize the bench. And, of course, Derrick Fisher brings his veteran leadership (unfortunately, also his veteran oldness).
Oklahoma City is too good. The defending Western Conference Champs hold on.
The Pick: Thunder win 4-3
Hungover Commentary: No way Houston wins 3, maybe not even 1. James Harden has to carry such a large load for Houston. I am getting scared Linsanity was a flash in the pan (what to do with my puns?!). Asik aka Judge Reinhold can rebound and nothing else. I may have watched Harden more than OKC this year, and focused too much on what was lost than what was still there. OKC remains dominant. At least I'm still happy with my pick at the bottom.
2 San Antonio vs 7 Los Angeles
With over 27.3 ppg and 6.0 apg and plenty of clutch moments to carry the Lakers to the playoffs, Kobe Bryant exceeded all expectations. You would think losing one of the all time greats in the midst of a surreal season would doom your playoff chances. Not when the other variable in the equation is having a terrible coach.
D'Antoni used Kobe more than Rachel Ray uses a Slap-Chop. The same guy that benched Pau Gasol 20 min per game for Antawn Jamison couldn't find 4 minutes a game for Kobe to find some rest. His last 7 games before tearing his Achilles, Kobe played 48, 47, 43, 47, 41, 48 and 45 minutes, on his way to 48 in the game the injury occurred. Most dudes in their mid 30s would tell you that injury was no fluke.
Here is why it makes the Lakers interesting. Taking Kobe away from D'Antoni is like taking Playboy from a sex addict. They finally learn to appreciate what other surroundings. Pau and Dwight are playing great together right now. San Antonio's one weakness is defending the post, and now that is the only place the Lakers can go.
The problem for the Lakers, though, is that Leonard, Green, Parker, Ginobli and the rest of the Spurs will dominate everywhere or else. Unless Steve Nash or Steve Blake magically become competent defensively, the Spurs will roll past the slow Los Angeles team.
The Pick: Spurs win 4-2
Hungover Commentary: Any doubt that lingered along with Ginobli's rumored injury are gone. Popovich duped us again. Los Angeles looks slow. Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace might lose to four McDonald's employees in a relay race. They still might steal a couple games, but only on a night when the Spurs can't shoot.
3 Denver vs 6 Golden State
This is going to be a fun one. This is like the Bulls brand of basketball, only the exact opposite. Denver and Golden State play at a lightning pace! One one end, Steph Curry has had flames following his shot's arc all season. Ty Lawson leads a Denver offense so fast it should be driven by Vin Diesel.
The long, athletic Nuggets can run out and defend the three balls of Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Brewer, Fournier, Faried, and reigning Defensive POY, Andre Iguodala have the tools to drive out on the Warriors' shooters.
This, however, falls under the age-old simple logic that the best player wins the series. Steph Curry has been dominant this year. On his worst night, he only has range from 28 feet. His has been lighting it up from outside, setting and NBA record with 270 3-pointers on the year. There will be a game when he scores 50. Golden State also has one of the greatest home courts in the NBA (remember the Baron Davis team that beat Dirk and the Mavs?) that is just itching for some playoff excitement. I'm going for the upset.
The Pick: Warriors win 4-2
Hungover Commentary: David Lee's injury screws up everything. Not to mention the game they had the chance to steal in Denver ended on a GW layup from the equivalent of my uncle at a picnic. This pick looks like toast.
4 Los Angeles vs 5 Memphis
This is the series closest to a slugfest. Zach Randolph pisses off Blake Griffin like the O'Doyles did to Billy Madison. He just constantly harrasses him, doesn't let him play the way he wants and spoils all the fun. Blake gets out of his game and sucked into the fight. Memphis' defensive matchup also gets more interesting with the improved health of Tony Allen this year. The Grizzlies have a rare defensive advantage with the ability to stick a defender, Allen, one-on-one with Chris Paul. Not to mention, Marc Gasol may have elevated to the best center in the league.
The Rudy Gay trade had to be made, both for the future and present Grizzlies. The current iteration operated more consistently without relying on the erractic Gay. He is the type of player, though, that typically becomes important in a playoff series when the pace slows and teams need guys that can create their own shot.
We all know the best creator in this series: Chris Paul. He has been essentially been coaching the Clippers as the best point guard in the game, best creator, and a hell of an insurance agent. Again, the best player typically wins the series.
The Pick: Clippers win 4-3
Hungover Commentary: The first game went like Game 1s should. You don't think all Game 1s are going to end with a 27 point comeback, did you?
Western Conference Finals:
Oklahoma City Thunder defeat San Antonio Spurs 4-3