Sure, San Antonio and Oklahoma City are the favorites, but any upsets that take place won’t be surprising in the least.
The Western Conference is loaded. Any of these teams could play in the NBA Finals and have a shot to win (with the exception of Utah, which just got in).
Get Some Rest, Old Friends
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz
Somehow, Coach Gregg Popovich got a team that everyone thought was done to nab the top spot. Tim Duncan and the other veterans rested constantly while the youngsters helped carry the load.
The Spurs have transformed from a beat-em-up defensive juggernaut to an offensive powerhouse, averaging 103.6 points per game.
Will their finesse game work in the playoffs?
It will in the first round. If Utah, which looked poor at the beginning of the year, but has been steady of late, takes one game that would be surprising.
The pick: Spurs in four.
Little Big Man Will Save the Day
No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers
The Grizzlies were last year’s Cinderella, knocking the No. 1 Spurs out in the first round then losing to Oklahoma City in seven games.
The Clippers have been losers forever, but with the addition of point guard Chris Paul that has changed during the regular season.
That will change in the postseason as well.
Zach Randolph beat up San Antonio and OKC last season, but has been slowed by injuries. Memphis is a deep team. So are the Clippers.
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (50-16) vs. No. 8 Utah Jazz (36-30); Spurs won season series, three games to one.
No. 4 Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) vs. No. 5 Los Angeles Clippers (40-26); Clippers won season series, three games to one.
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19) vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks (36-30); Thunder won season series, three games to one.
No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers (41-25) vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets (38-28); Lakers won season series, three games to one.
Paul will be the difference. He has made the most out of nothing when he played in New Orleans. Now he has Blake Griffin and others to fight back.
This will be a close series. Paul will win all of the close games by himself, changing the culture of the loser Clippers, and perhaps, changing the mindset of those who think a championship can only be won wearing purple and gold jerseys in Los Angeles.
The pick: Clippers in seven.
No. 2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 7 Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks are the defending champions and they’ve had all season to celebrate it. That party ends abruptly in the first round.
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will be too much for the aging Mavs. The rest of the Thunder are too athletic and young.
Dirk Nowitzki hasn’t played the role of unguardable 7-footer who makes every shot this season.
OKC is on a championship mission while Dallas will certainly look to get into the Deron Williams sweepstakes during the off-season.
The pick: Thunder in five.
No. 3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 6 Denver Nuggets
What Lakers team will show up?
If it’s the team that lets Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol punish the opposition in the low post as a first option then they could win the championship.
But more than likely it will be the shoot-first Kobe Bryant offense. The Lakers could survive the Nuggets with that offensive mindset. However, their journey would end after that.
Denver is extremely deep thanks to New York giving up way too many quality players for Carmelo Anthony.
If Bryant shoots a low percentage (which he’s often done this year, 43 percent, his lowest since 2004-’05, the last time the Lake Show missed the playoffs), Denver has a chance. The Nuggets’ depth and quickness will bother L.A.
Just enough Bynum and Gasol will get the Lakers through to survive Bryant’s shooting woes.
The pick: Lakers in seven.