The NBA’s Western Conference has been excellent this year. With the Warriors winning a NBA-record 73 games and the Spurs only losing one game at home this season, there are many that see the road to the NBA Finals going through Oakland or San Antonio. But along with that, there are some other interesting teams that have made the field. And as the playoffs go on, it will be interesting to see if another challenger to the Warriors rises up. But first, let’s get into the first round.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs (8) Houston Rockets
How the Rockets can win: James Harden and Dwight Howard. James Harden has to be incredible for them to win. He would have to average at least 30 points a game and get their backcourt in foul trouble. In regards to Dwight, he has to have a flashback to what he once was. If he can be that guy for Houston, then the Rockets have a chance. Combine that with (for their sake) better defense and the Rockets may have a chance to take a few games.
How the Golden State Warriors can win: Just continue to be who you are but cut down on the turnovers. The Warriors have been handling their business, but they have also been loose with the basketball as well. Getting that in order will go a long way for them. If not, the turnover issue could rear its head at an ugly time.
Golden State: Maurice Speights has been automatic offensively when he has come in the games these past few weeks. In this series, expected him to continue to get buckets because the Rockets don’t have anyone that can guard him at this point. He could average 12-15 points per game in this series.
Houston Rockets: Trevor Ariza is known as a two-way player in the NBA. He has locked down some of the best offensive player with his lengthy frame and lateral quickness. In this series, he will produce more offensively while trying to do his best to disrupt Steph Curry and Klay Thompson.
The Outcome: Golden State is the superior team and will come out ready to knock the Rockets out. Of course the Rockets will try to respond, but they just simply don’t have the weapons to do so. Steph Curry and crew could be waiting for a while on their second round opponent although James Harden may have a big series.
Conclusion: Golden State wins in four games
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs (7) Memphis Grizzlies
How San Antonio can win: The Spurs just have to stick with their formula. They have thrived on ball movement, shooting and penetration from their point guards and playmakers. And in this series, they will continue to do so, finding what all the Grizzlies have for them since they are a depleted bunch.
How Memphis can win: Memphis is still one of the grittiest teams in the NBA. Unfortunately, that era of basketball has almost phased itself out. For them to have a chance, they have to play tough, physical defense and make this series ugly. The uglier the game, the more it favors the Grizzlies.
San Antonio: The Spurs just seem to roll out guys that can get it done in their system. One guy that has been excellent for the Spurs off the bench has been Patty Mills. And in this series with the Grizzlies using guards that have not played much in the NBA, the Spurs may have the advantage there.
Memphis: The guy that has stepped up since his trade to Memphis has been Lance Stephenson. And in this series, he will have to step up once again. The Spurs have been very tough defensively this year and they will definitely present a challenge for Lance. But he is fighting for a new contract more than likely, so we may get to see the best of Stephenson during the playoffs. Plus he gets to play with the basketball in his hands, which is a huge thing for his production.
The Outcome: The Spurs are a powerful machine. A team that faces San Antonio has to play at their best to make it happen. And if that level is not attained, then the Spurs go ahead and taken advantage of the situation. This one could get ugly for the Grizzlies provided they have scoring issues.
Conclusion: San Antonio wins in 5 games
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (6) Dallas Mavericks
How Oklahoma City can win: Pick up the pace on the Mavericks. They started playing slow recently and that helped them get a winning streak going and propel them into the playoffs. If you pick up the tempo, the Mavs may have some serious issues keeping up.
How Dallas can win: Force the Thunder into the halfcourt as much as possible. The more they have to operate in the halfcourt, the more they could potentially turn the basketball over. And also, the Mavericks have to box out. The Thunder are one of the top rebounding teams in the NBA and they can bully people on the boards.
Oklahoma City: The Oklahoma City Thunder acquired Randy Foye to strengthen their bench at the trade deadline. And in this series, he could definitely help the Thunder with his shooting and overall court game. And it helps him also that Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook will be on the court with him at all times, taking some of the defensive attention away from him.
Dallas: Justin Anderson has come on and made some plays for the Mavericks. And in this series, he will get a chance to hit some open shots. The Thunder do have defensive lapses and that can leave Anderson all by his lonesome. His percentages may not reflect it, but the rookie from Virginia can definitely shoot the basketball.
The Outcome: Oklahoma City is a high-octane team and the Mavs are that vehichle that is in the slow lane. In a battle of styles, look for Oklahoma City to eventually get their way. And if they can keep the turnovers down, they will handle Dallas.
Conclusion: Oklahoma City wins in 6 games
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs (5) Portland Trailblazers
How Los Angeles can win: The Clippers have to defend and defend well. Their primary objectives are CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. If the Clippers are able to make those two work hard for theirs and get someone else to try and beat them, then they should be fine defensively. Offensively, just give Blake Griffin the basketball. He has a mismatch in this series and the Clippers should take advantage of it.
How Portland can win: Portland has to Lillard and McCollum show up, but also the supporting cast. If they show up, that makes the Clippers have to account for them and that can be a problem. Defensively, the Blazers have to contain Chris Paul. That falls mostly on Lillard. If they are able to give Chris Paul some issues, then that slows down the whole Clippers offense.
Portland: Gerald Henderson has the ability to go off for 30 off the bench. He may not reach that number, but he can definitely be productive relieving the starters for this team. He needs to give them at least 15 points per game off the bench in order to put more game pressure on the Clippers.
Los Angeles: The Clippers have arguably the 6th Man of The Year sitting on their bench in Jamal Crawford, so it is hard to not say him. One person that would be a good player off the bench for the Clippers is Jeff Green. The veteran forward probably will hit free agency this summer, so this is his last chance to make an impression on the NBA. And usually when that happens, players play their best.
The Outcome: This series has the potential to be tougher than the Clippers may think it will. They are playing against a Portland teams with nothing to lose. But eventually, the Clippers will handle business versus Portland and control the series.
Conclusion: Los Angeles wins in six games.
The General Mike Patton is an up-and-coming writer from Nashville, TN who brings a fresh and non-biased opinion about sports. From his radio experience in Nashville to his time as a sports writer for Free’s World, the website for radio personality and former cohost of BET’s 106 and Park Free (www.freesworld.com), The General is definitely one you want to get to know in the sports world. You can catch his work on SPORTSAWAKENING.COM. Mike grew up rooting for the San Francisco 49ers, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Cubs, and remains a passionate sports fan who expresses intelligent opinions.