NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Preview and Predictions
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans can’t beat the Warriors in a seven-game series. The truer debate lies in deciding whether they can win one game against Golden State. An emboldened, postseason version of Anthony Davis will be a sight to see regardless, though. Davis is the best 21-year-old the league has ever seen, and his late-April debut against Steph Curry’s squad makes for a potentially unforgettable moment of introduction. While this may be the least competitive series in the West’s first round, it could also very well be its most watchable.
Verdict: Warriors in 4
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
With full health, the Rockets would be runaway favorites against discombobulated Dallas. But without Patrick Beverley to help cause Maverick headaches with with his perimeter defense, and without the extra punch Donatas Motiejunas gives them down low, this could be a drawn-out affair for Houston. James Harden and Dwight Howard — along with the armada of relentless Rockets wing defenders—should still be able to lead the way into the second round, but they might tire themselves out quite a bit getting there.
Verdict: Rockets in 7
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
Pour one out for Chris Paul. The Clippers point guard has had a fabulous season, and deserves every bit of MVP consideration he gets. But Los Angeles is undeniably overmatched against the surging defending champion Spurs, and their likely first-round exit is only going to give more fuel to the band of CP3 haters who criticize him for his lack of postseason success. The Spurs look poised to take the NBA throne back again, and it seems like a bit of Greek poetry that Paul has to stand in their way so early along the defense path.
Verdict: Spurs in 6
(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Both of these teams are somewhat fortunate to have found each other. The Blazers and Grizzlies both limp into the first round, collectors of broken bodies and holders of lowered hopes. Mike Conley Jr. has been far less than his best self for months, playing on a bum foot, Marc Gasol recently sprained his ankle, and Tony Allen and Courtney Lee have been on and off the floor for a long while. At least their injuries aren’t keeping their men out of action, though: the Blazers will do battle without Wesley Matthews, arguably their most important defender. Expect Memphis to come out alive in this war of attrition.
Verdict: Grizzlies in 6
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
Barring Memphis finding a miracle curative elixir, the Warriors’ path of relatively little resistance should continue into the second round. If Memphis can walk into the bout with good health, they can cause Golden State trouble—Zach Randolph is a post-player who can most definitely make the Warriors second-guess their decision to start the undersized Draymond Green at power forward. But the Warriors are likely to waltz through their series with the Pelicans, while the Grizzlies face a more punishing climb in their matchup against Portland. Stamina is always key in the playoffs, and the Warriors look set to have far more of the stuff.
Verdict: Warriors in 5
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
The Rockets, again, should find themselves cursing the injury Gods against San Antonio. Every bit of depth is needed against the Spurs, and the Rockets will more than notice their two missing, crucial pieces of it when Gregg Popovich is running them ragged with relentless ten-man rotations. Putting Kawhi Leonard on James Harden, too, should give San Antonio an edge that no other team in the conference could have over the Rockets. Like Paul before him, Harden might start to see a thin playoff resume diminish his reputation in the eyes of casual fans, after another premature playoff exit.
Verdict: Spurs in 6
Western Conference Finals
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
This series could very well be the NBA Finals — whoever comes out of the East might be ill-suited to contend with either winner. For the Warriors, the sight of San Antonio is certainly scarier than any that could come from the other coast. A late-season Golden State thrashing at the hands of the Spurs put the league on notice, as San Antonio showed it has what it takes to mess up the Warriors’ brilliance on the perimeter. You can’t stop Steph Curry, but if you’ve got Leonard and Danny Green to throw at him, you can come as close as you need to.
Verdict: Spurs in 6
— John Wilmes