Friday, April 19, 2013

Western Conference Predictions

Yesterday we took the time to examine the Eastern Conference first round match-ups. Today, we look at the much more exciting because there's more than one good team Western Conference playoff picture. Like yesterday, you'll find all you need to know, or at least a couple of facts that are probably true (since that's the nature of facts), and then our tweetable predictions will follow.  Hopefully we win you a lot of money in your office pool.

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Houston Rockets

This gif comes from Business Insider. That's not a joke.
How they got here: Even after trading one of their three superstars before the season started, the Thunder managed to steamroll most of the league on their way to posting a 60-22 record with the best point differential in the league - even better than the Miami Heat. Kevin Martin has stepped in admirably in Harden's absence, averaging 14 PPG on almost 43% three point shooting (and being one of 3 proud Southern Conference representatives in the NBA). On Houston's side, many pundits picked them to finish nearly last in the West...until they landed Harden, easily one of the 15 best players in the league and a young superstar around which to build a franchise. They are also one of the primary adopters of advanced basketball statistics, launching 3 pointers at an absurd rate and hitting at a 36.6% clip. Should be an entertaining series - even if we know both stars are having the same dinner every night...

Individual match-up to watch:
Serious: James Harden vs Thabo Sefalosha. The big (and probably) only key for the Thunder this series is being able to contain Harden. If Sefalosha can do it without any help, Houston is doomed.

Less Serious: Russell Westbrook vs Russell Westbrook. Can Russell abstain from shooting 20 times a game? He is most effective on the nights where he goes for 20 points on 13 shots, and adds in a bunch of assists and rebounds. Probably won't be a problem against the Rockets...but I've been wrong before. Please, Russell, give the ball to your superior teammate.

Volume shooter impact: Houston has 3 players (Harden, Delfino, and Parsons) in the top 20 in the league in 3-pointers made per game - there's always a chance they light the nets on fire by making 17 in one game.  The greater impact here will be whether or not Russell Westbrook decides to volume-shoot his team out of a game, since he averages more shots per game than his teammate (who happens to be the second best player on the planet). This may not be a concern for the Thunder in the first round. Then again, this may always be a concern for the Thunder.

  PB: Harden steals game 1 and Houston holds serve once, but still, OKC in 6. Best team in the league.
  BS: Harden gets his revenge on the one meaningless home game. OKC 4-1.
  JP: "Kill 'em and pray for 'em after the game." Durant and the Menacing Gestures ease through in 5.

(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers

How they got here: The Lakers probably had the most tumultuous ride to the playoffs out of any team in the West this year. Their presumed starting lineup (Nash, Bryant, World Peace, Gasol and Howard) managed to suit up for a total of 7 GAMES ALL SEASON...AND THEY WON ZERO OF THOSE GAMES. Fortunately for the Lakers, even with Bryant out for the year, they still suit up 3 Hall of Famers every single game. Meanwhile, the Spurs once again bored their opponents into giving up 58 wins on the year, clinching another playoff berth (having made it every season since 1997-1998) and gliding into the playoffs with their big 3 getting hardly any minutes in the last 12 games. Will they be able to right the ship from their recent slide? Only Hack-a-Dwight will decide...something Popovich is not afraid to break out, even early in games.

Individual match-up to watch:
Serious: Tim Duncan vs Dwight Howard. What happened to Superman? He was thoroughly outplayed the season by AARP spokesman Tim Duncan. Dwight needs to play like it's 2009 for the Lakers to have a semblance of a chance.

Less Serious: The Lakers bro vs highlight reel plays. Who wins??

Volume shooter impact: With Kobe out of the picture, this part of this match-up becomes way less fun. It would be dumb to say this series may hinge on Ginobli's return and the effect it could have - San Antonio can handle the Lake Show either way. So look for Ron Artest (MWP), Antawn Jamison, and Pinky the Brain Steve Blake to hoist up as many threes as they can before Dwight starts goal-tending his own team because he isn't getting enough touches.

  PB: I think the Lakers compete here in the first 2 games, but SA has too much structure. Spurs in 6.
  BS: The Spurs are beat up. The Lakers flat out suck without Kobe. Spurs 4-0.
  JP: The Lakers win game 1 and everyone gets excited. The Spurs proceed to advance in 5.

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Golden State Warriors

How they got here: The Nuggets endured a brutal opening schedule featuring 17 of their first 23 games on the road. They salvaged an 11-12 record in these games, then proceeded to go 46-13 the rest of the way for a pretty decent 57-25 overall clip. Despite late-season injuries, nobody questions their depth as they have about 10 players who could start for most teams in the league, including fan favorite YMC-Andre Miller. Meanwhile, Golden State shook off their doubters from the preseason to easily clinch a playoff berth in the incredibly competitive Western Conference (they would comfortably have had home court in the East). Led by the dynamic shooting of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, they are capable of beating everybody or flaming out on any given night. Either way, tune in, because this might happen.

Individual match-up to watch:
Serious: Ty Lawson vs Steph Curry. I could not be more excited for this series. It's going to be one "Lawson layup followed by Curry 3" after another. If Steph can get the best of this matchup, it's going to be a long series for the Nuggets.

Less Serious: Javale McGee vs. normal brain function. I have a feeling Javale costs them at least one game with a mind-numbingly stupid play. Take it from someone who saw Javale on the Wizards - the guy is a legitimate ass clown.

Volume shooter impact: YES YES YES. It's not often a player shoots 600+ threes in a season, and even if you open up the parameters, simply put: no other season really comes close to the one Curry is having from beyond the arc. He leads the league by a mile in threes made (and attempted) per game, but even more fun (from a volume shooting perspective) is the fact that his teammate is tied for second in the league in three pointers made per game!  Can the Nug-nuts use Wilson Chandler and Corey Brewer to keep up with this output without Danillo Gallinari? Who, as a reminder, serves as both a spectacular shooter and bench-celebration inspirer:

  PB: Curry should make it exciting...but the Thuggets just have more in the tank. Nugs in 5.
  BS: God I hate to pick against Steph Curry. But no way GSW slows down Denver. Nugs 4-2.
  JP: Denver doesn't lose at home...SO I'M TAKING CURRY, VOLUME SHOOTING, AND GSW IN 6!

(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies

How they got here: Neither of these teams had an ideal regular season, but they are both pretty darn good and won a lot of games anyways. The Clips battled back from an injury to CP3 to win a solid 56 games, as did Memphis, but the clips managed the tiebreaker by winning the season series 3-1. This matchup is a continuation of the prior year when the Clips won a game 7 in Memphis after previously coming back from a 24 point second half deficit. They seem to be in Memphis's heads. Can they take advantage?

Individual match-up to watch:
Serious: Blake Griffin vs Zach Randolph. I think this matchup decides the series. Will Randolph execute his inside-outside game effectively? Can Blake hit his improving jumper consistently? Does Z-Bo look exactly like rapper Big Hawk from Clint Dempsey's rap video (scroll to 2:25)? A resounding yes!

Less Serious: DeAndre Jordan vs gravity. And to be honest I think DJ wins.

Volume shooter impact: We think we've sufficiently covered Jamal Crawford's ability to get off as many shots as he pleases coming off the bench. Just in case we haven't, here's a link to the list of 6th men who have taken over 13 shots a game and shot below 45%...EVER. As we always say, any time you're the only other name on a list besides J.R. Smith, you must be winning at life. Chris Paul is going to need to reign in the various loose cannons on his team in order to pull this one out. Or hope Mike Conley Jr. decides to try and win a game on his own (don't count this out).

  PB: Nearly impossible to call and a deserving foe goes home early. I say the Grizz take it in 6 games.
  BS: Tough matchup for the Clips, but tougher for the Grizz. Too much Lob City. Clips in 7.
  JP: I just like CP3 too much. He's too in control of everything. He'll pull them through this round in 6.

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