The very competitive Western Conference starts off in a few hours and practically all the series match-ups will be strongly contested. The only exception may be the series between the Lakers and the Jazz, but every other series is really a toss-up. The favorite to come out of the West is definitely Kobe’s Lakers as even Vegas did not come out with odds for that series while every other series had its own except for their 1st seed counterparts in Lebron’s Cavs in the East.
Here are my series picks for the First Round in the WESTERN Conference. I think the Nuggets are the darkhorse here and really do have a big chance of making a lot of noise while the always-reliable Spurs might be booted out right off the bat by the Mavs as Manu is out for the playoffs. Who are your picks?
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Utah Jazz
Just like the Cavs, the Lakers are being considered shoo-ins to breeze past their 1st Round opponents. And as expected, Kobe and the gang are looking to bring home the trophy that eluded them last year. And looking at their chemistry this year, it seems very likely that Kobe will be holding up another trophy.
Why am I discounting the Jazz? Well, first off, they’ve struggled closing out the regular season. And second, Okur is sidelined and may not even play the first game and it might be even more. The Jazz are a very savvy bunch but without Mehmet, Booze and Deron are just not enough to topple the would-be champs. AK47 will need to step up and look to score more especially with Okur out, but the keys here will be how Brewer plays Kobe, as well as how Millsap can help compensate for his Okur’s absence.
Are the Lakers as good as they were last year? In my opinion, they are in a 7-man perspective especially with Bynum coming back at the right time and Ariza playing unbelievable basketball at both ends of the court. But looking at their bench, I think they’re a tad bit weaker than last year as Farmar has been totally useless since coming back from his injury. And if the Lakers want to seriously win a title this year, their bench better be ready to step up unless that solid 7-man rotation is going to hold up until the Finals.
The edge is definitely still with the Lakers but they can’t be overconfident against this feisty Jazz team. I think Utah takes one home game, and might have a slight chance for another, but that’s about it.
PICK: Lakers in 5.
(2) Denver Nuggets vs (7) New Orleans Hornets
I never thought Denver would end up being the 2nd seed in the West especially when Nene and Kenyon were in and out of the season with injuries. That speaks volumes of how talented and deep this Denver team is and they are definitely the darkhorse in the West. The Hornets quietly squeaked in the playoffs this year and look to make a little noise, but seem rather mismatched against a larger Nuggets team.
Thanks to the trade that brought in Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets are poised to make a ton of noise in the competitive West. With the departure of Allen Iverson, the Nuggets turned from a pure offensive squad that shot the lights out every night, to a squad that finally had control and a real legit point guard who could lead. Maybe that’s what they were lacking from the start and now that they’ve got it, that might be all they really need. They are 8-man deep and have 2 players that come off the bench that can make a huge impact on the game. JR Smith can shoot the lights out as evidenced by his 11 threes in that one game and Birdman can block 8 shots in a game. This match-up will be a test, but I’m pretty high on them moving to the next round.
Do the Hornets stand a chance? Maybe, but they have 1 legit big man in Chandler and err, Hilton and Wright, and throw in Melvin Ely, as backups, if you want to in the mix, against the solid front court of the Nuggets. Man, that’s a really tough match-up every night for those guys. I learned never to count Chris Paul out though, but he has to be playing the game of his life and have David West in sync, but most importantly have Peja healthy and in shape enough to hit those open threes. If one of those 3 players have an off-night, it’s going to be lights out for the Hornets.
PICK: Nuggets in 6.
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs (6) Dallas Mavericks
This series looks pretty interesting as both these teams have developed a little rivalry over the past 3 years. There’s one big difference though this year, and that’s the fact that the Spurs don’t have Manu Ginobili to save them anymore. The Mavs, on the other hand, have lost the quickness of Devin Harris, who’s one of the few players who can keep in step with Tony Parker.
It’s quite a surprise to see the Spurs end up as the 3rd seed because Manu really hasn’t been playing practically half the season but that’s testament to their core and veteran savvy. Tony Parker has been absolutely amazing this year and he’s developed great range now and is almost unstoppable if he has it turned on. Duncan is still been one of the best and most reliable big men around and hurt you in so many ways. But that’s about it. Outside of those 2 players, there’s really not much else but role players. Finley has aged, Mason is still raw, and everyone else is a backup player. Is this team strong enough to beat the Mavs?
Dallas finished the season strong and got Josh Howard back “healthy” in time for the playoffs. Dirk will still be the Spurs biggest thorn as there really is NO player that can match-up with him on the perimeter and in the post. You add Howard to the mix and the Spurs have huge problems as Finley or Bonner can’t guard jack. The only problem the Mavs have is how to slow down Parker as Jason Kidd is going to be a liability in defense. The key to the Mavs winning this series is actually Barea. If JJ can slow Parker down, the offensive threesome of Dirk, Howard, and Terry, will easily be able to sail the Mavs to the 2nd round.
PICK: Mavs in 6.
(4) Portland Trailblazers vs (5) Houston Rockets
Just like how it is in the East, the match-up between the middle seeds seem to be the most exciting series to watch. Pitting the youth of the Blazers against the Rockets veterans, it’s either going to be a classic, or a sorry sleeper. If the Blazers youth succumb to the Rockets toughness, this series might be real short. But seeing how good the Blazers have been in the regular season against perennial contenders, it seems these young guns are ready to make some noise in the playoffs.
Brandon Roy has been a joy to watch this year and the young studs of the Blazers have stepped up when needed and that’s why they have home-court advantage in the playoffs in the 1st Round. The Blazers have a solid 9-man rotation with youth booming off the bench. The real question here lies on whether the playoffs will be too much pressure for these Blazers as this is definitely far from what the regular season is. My biggest concern here is how well Lamarcus Aldridge plays. If he manages to play his game and shake off those nerves, they are going to be a handful for the Rockets. But that’s still a big question mark and is definitely the key to the Blazers moving on to the 2nd round.
Everyone was counting the Rockets out since the day T-Mac called it quits. No one gave them the light of day as the question of Artest being able to co-exist with Yao and the gang was a huge mystery. But look where they are now? Sure, they’re the 5th seed in the West, but they really can make a lot of noise. Yao is pretty much money and Scola has been amazingly consistent lately. Artest has been a warrior but can shoot you in and out of a game in a heartbeat. Brooks though has been the revelation and he is the KEY to the Rockets advancing. If he starts off well and gets the confidence he needs to play his style of basketball, then the Blazers are in big trouble. This is a real tough one, but I’ll go out on a limb and pick the veterans to squeeze it out in Game 7.
PICK: Rockets in 7.
East First Round Matchups