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The Western Conference has been very unpredictable with key injuries that have affected the way the playoff standings have ended up. All of the matchups could swing any way, especially considering how many of these records were built on superstars that may not be available now. Look for long and competitive series’ that should end in lots of excitement.
(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves
James Harden and the Rockets have finally reached the top of the mountain during the regular season. Their continuity and play making ability has them heading into the playoffs on a high. The Timberwolves are feeling on cloud nine after a thrilling overtime win against the Denver Nuggets to clinch the eighth seed. Houston’s strength is spreading teams out and letting MVP candidate Harden and Chris Paul dissect the defense and pass to three-point shooters. Meanwhile, Minnesota is now healthy and has scoring fire power with Jimmy Butler, Karl Anthony-Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague.
Matchup To Watch: Andrew Wiggins vs. Trevor Ariza
These two guys will be the X-factors and the difference makers in the series. Ariza must hit the shots and keep Wiggins frustrated on the offensive end. Wiggins need to attack on the offensive end and so that Ariza can’t play the passing lanes.
Prediction: Rockets win 4-2 (Raphael Haynes)
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Golden State Warriors
The Spurs rely heavily on LaMarcus Aldridge’s 23.1 points per game, which is more than the next two players on his team combined. San Antonio stand at the top of the league defensively allowing 99.8 points per game to their opponents. The Warriors come into the playoffs without Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala. This might hurt Golden State after leading the NBA with 113.5 points per game, .391 three point field goal percentage and an overall field goal percentage of .503. They also lead the league with 7.5 blocks per game. The Warriors have battled injury all season and losing Curry could affect those numbers. Unfortunately for the Spurs, they are missing their best player which should benefit the Warriors.
Matchup to Watch: Manu Ginobili vs. Nick Young
The sixth men for both teams should come off the bench to light up the scoreboard. Ginobili has always been great come playoff time, able to find another level to his game. Young is instant offense, able to fill in at two or three positions and he never saw a shot he didn’t like.
Prediction: Warriors win 4-1 (Ab Stanley)
(3) Portland Trailblazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans
The Trailblazers are one of the better defensive teams in the league allowing 103.0 points per game. Their front court players are long and athletic enabling them to be one of the best rebounding teams in the NBA as well. Their back court of Damian Lillard and C. J. McCollum average 48.3 points per game combined. Anthony Davis and the Pelicans come into this series red hot winning their last five games. The Pelicans are one of the best scoring teams averaging 111.7 points per game. They too are able to rebound as well as score inside. They also protect the rim averaging just under six blocks per game. These teams records are very close and the separation isn’t enough to clearly say one team is better.
Matchup to Watch: Al-Farouq Aminu vs. Nikola Mirotic
Both are “stretch fours” that will take shots outside the three point line and they will be looked upon to rebound as well. Both are their teams’ second leading rebounder. The player that gets the better of the other might swing the wins in his team’s favor.
Prediction: Pelicans win 4-3 (Ab Stanley)
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (5) Utah Jazz
This is a very intriguing matchup. On paper, Oklahoma City seems to have a big advantage but not so fast. The Thunder come into this series stumbling, after going 5-5 in their last 10 games. The Jazz come in with the momentum playing good basketball going 7-3 in their last 10. Oklahoma City led the league in offensive rebounds per game at 12.5 and 5th in overall rebounds. Utah’s glass work must be up to the task. The Jazz’ halfcourt defense is no walk in the park.
Matchup to Watch: Steven Adams vs. Rudy Gobert
The key matchup will be against the two big men. Whichever team can get the opposing center in foul trouble first will have a huge advantage. Neither team has a quality back-up big behind their starter. That battle can swing the momentum either way.
Prediction: Thunder wins 4-3 (Allen Fields)