2011 Playoff Predictions: Western Conference

(continued from previous post)

One game has already been played, yet I nearly blew a prediction. The Bulls barely beat the Pacers. Since Rose is such a media darling, the close-call was perceived as yet another reason Rose is our savior. Chicago almost lost to a team with a losing record. Isn’t that more of a concern than evidence of their greatness? Oh well. Here are my picks for the other side of the states:

Round 1:

(1) San Antonio and (8) Memphis

Over the last quarter of the season, the Grizzlies have been outscoring opponents by 4 points a game, while the Spurs have dropped to 2.6 a game. Ginobili was recently injured, and when he comes back he gets to be guarded by a combination of Tony Allen and Shane Battier. The match-ups in particular aren’t in San Antonio’s favor. Memphis has a big frontline to play against the new-look Spurs, Tony Allen has the skills to erase Manu from the series and Tony Parker has to play against one of the league’s many lightning quick point guards. San Antonio, however, is still the better team because their offense is one of the best in the league and I think they can bring it back. At one end Randolph will be destroying Matt Bonner, but at the other Bonner will be draining three’s. It’s a weird series in that neither team feels like its respective seeding, and I think it’s also a series that will go the distance.

4 – 3 San Antonio

(2) Los Angeles and (7) New Orleans

Even though the Lakers have been playing poorly to finish the season, they should have no reason to be worried about the first round. Amazingly, given the New Orleans cast, Chris Paul has pushed them into the playoffs on balky knees. Paul has had amazing stretches over the course of the season, but either his knee injuries or his worries about his injuries have affected his game. While Bynum’s health is in question, New Orleans doesn’t even have David West. The counter to that is perhaps West is overvaled: he’s a low efficiency scorer who doesn’t defend or rebound well. Another interesting point is that the Lakers weakness is at the point guard position, which is precisely the Hornets’ strength. For this reason I think it’s more likely they’ll win one versus a sweep.

4 – 1 Los Angeles

(3) Dallas and (6) Portland

Full disclosure: I’m a Blazers fan. It’s been a heart-breaking, perplexing season, but Gerald “Crash” Wallace has been a gift from the basketball gods. We basically got an all-star for nothing. Now we have Wallace, Aldridge and Batum to use against Nowitzki, and one weakness (no antidote to a big center) is moot against the Mavs. Andre Miller and Jason Kidd will be an interesting match-up of heady vets who have defied aging. Who will win? Well, it’s tough to use season long stats because of how teams change over a season, these two in particular. But Dallas has played almost as well as Portland has over the last quarter of the season, although Portland had a tougher schedule. I think this will be one of the most evenly matched series of the first round, and as a tie-breaker I will say that I’m a Blazers fan so they will obviously destroy Dallas. Hey, at least I’m honest.

4 – 2 Portland

(4) Oklahoma City and (5) Denver

Another series with parity. I wish more was made of how these teams found their recent success. The Thunder have built a young team as well as anyone could, and found a piece that fits in Perkins. I’m not sure why Boston gave up a young center with value, but now Oklahoma City has a frontline of Ibaka and Perkins with the underrated Collison off the bench. Denver, to the surprise of the mainstream media, didn’t flounder when trading Carmelo. I was hoping this would finally convince the media that players who score a lot (and usually in flashy ways) aren’t necessarily great values, but I’ve come to terms with that world. They don’t learn from history, even recent history. Denver presents an interesting case study in how teams win and with what players. Unfortuately, they face a tough match-up.

Both teams have been playing well lately, with the Thunder outscoring opponents by 7.7 points a game in the last quarter of the season, but Denver has destroyed its opponents — 10.3 a game. They were already one of the best (if not the best) offenses before the trade, and since then they haven’t slipped on that end while defensively they’ve improved remarkably. But to counter their hot streak, Oklahoma City has the home-court advantage. Denver’s main strength lies in its 10-man rotation, a beast capable of limb regeneration — you take out one of their starters, and off the bench comes a player of equal value. However, I’m not sure that translates into postseason success. The Thunder have Durant, clearly their best player, and Denver has no one to check him, while Westbrook’s speed is offset by the combination of Lawson and Felton. I think this will be a great series, and gambling on who wins takes away from the beauty of the game. I don’t feel confident about this pick, but because Denver’s depth is not useful in the playoffs, Oklahoma City has the home-court for one extra game and no one can guard Durant, I think the Thunder prevail.

4 – 3 Oklahoma City

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