See our Eastern Conference Previews here. Now on to the West:
Clippers at Spurs
Matt: The Spurs should easily take this Western conference matchup. The advantage they have at the wings is much greater than the Clippers’ PG and inside edges. Basically, I don’t want any Los Angeles SG or SF on or near a team supported by me or anyone I know. On the other side, Manu is posting 27 points, 7 boards, and 9 assists (per 48 minutes). And Leonard isn’t any less of a force, grabbing 16 and 10 and almost 3 steals. Both of them do their scoring damage extremely efficiently as well. They’re playing against guys like Nick Young. Niagra Falls isn’t as big of a drop off. But it gets worse:
Chris Paul seemed slowed despite his valient effort. At times, drives that would normally end with layups or assists were stopped short and turned into difficult passes and jumpers. At other times, he seemed fine. Griffin may also be favoring his injured leg, and LA has no shot if its two stars aren’t 100%.
Pat: The Clippers came through in game seven against the Grizzlies to advance to the second round using a blueprint that will serve them well as the competition stiffens in the second round against the Spurs. That formula was simply a heavy dose of Chris Paul who is the best pure point guard in the league and arguably the best player in this series. The Spurs get a lot of credit for their depth, but the Clippers also have some bench options and had nine guys this year average 19 minutes per game or more. From a psychological standpoint, the pressure in this series is completely on the Spurs who are the top seed with years of playoff experience, so the Clippers can play the underdog role which really motivates some players. Blake Griffin showed some nice signs offensively in the first round and the Spurs, let alone the rest of the league, can’t keep up with him athletically if things are clicking. A lot of things will have to happen just right for the Clippers to take out the Spurs, but if they can keep games close, having the ball in Chris Paul’s hand to end a game (who can finish you off with his passing or scoring) make the Clippers as dangerous as anyone.
The Picks: Matt: Spurs in 5. Pat: Spurs in 5.
Lakers at Thunder
Matt: Just like the Spurs, the Thunder have a huge advantage at the wings. Ron Artest can only guard one guy, but the Thunder can roll out with Westbrook, Harden, and Durant all together. Unlike the Spurs, the Thunder have Serge Ibaka to neurtalize one of the Laker big men. Harden’s one of the most efficient players in the league, providing an interesting battle between Harden’s TS% and Kobe’s rage against age (and efficiency).
The Lakers are busy blaming their best players for their problems and pre-emptively firing the coach, so the only question here is, “How many games?”
Pat: It took the Lakers a few more games than anticipated, but nonetheless they move on to the second round to face the Thunder. The Lakers biggest advantage is the same this series as it would be against any other team in the league: size. Oklahoma City does have quality big men in Ibaka and Perkins, but they are not nearly as talented on the offensive end as the Laker bigs. The Thunder love to take jump shots and if Bynum can set the tone in the paint and keep the Oklahoma City shots coming from well outside, all it will take is an off game from Durant or Westbrook for the Lakers to steal a game on the road. Metta World Peace is back from his suspension and what he loses in height to Durant he more than makes up for in strength. Kobe had some huge offensive games in round one and he is proven capable to take on the scoring load when others struggle. The Laker core has plenty of playoff experience and they can use that to come out fast in game one and steal one of two in Oklahoma City. If they can put the Thunder on their heels and then use the size and skill of their big men combined with the ever present threat of a 40+ Kobe scoring night to move onto the Western Conference finals.
The Picks: Matt: Thunder in 5. Pat: Thunder in 6.