Lakers and Clippers are just as talented as their opponents, but Spurs and Thunder earned home-court advantage for a reason.
The Jazz and Mavericks decided not to show up, giving San Antonio and Oklahoma City plenty of time to rest. They’ll need it against their Western Conference semifinals foes.
They’ll Remember the Alamo
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers
The Spurs haven’t played since May 7. The Clippers’ last game was yesterday as they won a tough series in Game 7 on the road.
One team is rested, the other just survived. One team has a rich history that includes four championships. The other has only gotten to the second round once.
Chris Paul is without a doubt one of the best players in the league and he is arguably the best player in this series. Blake Griffin is a rising star and the Clippers have fine young players to win games.
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (4-0 first round) vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers (4-3 first round) Spurs won season series, two games to one.
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder (4-0 first round) vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers (4-3 first round) Thunder won season series, two games to one.
Tony Parker has played perhaps his best season, leading the Spurs to the top record in the West despite the team resting players for entire games. San Antonio still has the crafty Manu Ginobili and the dependable Tim Duncan.
Griffin and the rest of the Clippers’ frontline will have an easier time with the aging Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Paul averaged 20.7 points, 7.7 assists and 2.83 steals per game in the Memphis series. He should be partially neutralized by the stellar play of Parker. Griffin was the only other Clipper to average double figures (19.7 points per game).
San Antonio has an extremely deep bench with players who can knock down three-pointers and fill the lane on Parker-led fastbreaks. The Clippers will wake up from their dream season, but their future looks bright.
The pick: Spurs in six.
Youth Will Be Served
No. 2 Oklahoma City vs. No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are the model for inconsistency. They never play with enough urgency and for that they were rewarded with a Game 7 against an inferior team that probably could have been had in four or five games.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, plays hard every game. The Thunder may turn the ball over a lot, but their playmakers usually do just enough to get the W.
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were beasts in the deciding game. Bynum had a monstrous game of 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocked shots while Gasol got nasty down low with 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks. They are capable of that dominance every game. But will they do it?
Kobe Bryant averaged 29.1 points per game on 44 percent shooting. His Lakers have played in three of the last four NBA Finals. They have two trophies to show for it. L.A. should be hungry after last year’s embarrassing four-game sweep to the eventual-champion Dallas Mavericks.
If the Lakers are hungry, the Thunder is starving. In 2010, OKC pushed the Lakers to Game 6 in the first round, a contest L.A. was fortunate to win after a Gasol tip-in during the closing seconds. OKC played in the Western Conference Finals last season.
Kevin Durant (26.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game in round one) and Russell Westbrook (22.3 points and 4.3 assists) are the best players in this series. No disrespect to Bryant, but youth and athleticism will overcome experience.
OKC is long and athletic at every position. It has the NBA’s top shot blocker in Serge Ibaka and the Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden.
A sweep is probable, but the Lakers have some pride even though they don’t always play hard. L.A. should steal at least one game. Maybe.
The pick: Thunder in five.