NBA Western Conference Playoff Preview: Round One

Western Conference teams and fans, please bow your heads…

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of the Western Conference, I will fear no Clippers for Bron art with me. Thy Dame and thy Luka they comfort me. Thou preparest the conference for me in the place of mine opponents. Thou anointed my hands with clutch, the Larry O’Brien runneth over.

The crucible that is the Western Conference will need a prayer because it’s going to be an all out war this postseason:

 

(1 ) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Portland Trail Blazers

Mark my words: this will be the premier series of the entire playoffs. The Lakers are the team we thought they were after getting Anthony Davis and the Blazers are the scrappy underdog lead by a motivated Damian Lillard. Who will prevail?

 

Keys To The Game:

The Lakers have one job and one job only: make Damian Lillard ineffective. If LeBron James and Anthony Davis can do that while creating consistent offense, then they will come out victorious. Also, Kyle Kuzma will need to play at the peak of his abilities to help boost this Lakers’ team against a tough Blazer squad.

The Trailblazers have a very deep team offensively but on defense they can be absent. They can’t allow James to expose the soft underbelly that is their interior defense. They will also have to keep Anthony Davis off the boards and stop his crashing to the basket on offense. If they do that and get offense from others besides Lillard, CJ McCollum and Carmelo Anthony, then they will make this a tough go for L.A..

 

Matchup To Watch:

Kyle Kuzma vs. Carmelo Anthony

This can be the premier matchup in this series. On one side you have a young offensive star that is trying to prove he can be more than just a shooter. On the other side a wily veteran who is proving he can still fill it up at a high level. The matchup will come down to who will play better defense for his team in crunch time: Kuzma or Anthony?

 

Prediction: Lakers over Trailblazers (4-2)

There is no doubt in my mind the Lakers will take this series. Portland is tough but James and company are a battle tested collective and will be ready for this challenge. The Blazers are good but the Lakers are the best in the West.

 

 

(2) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

Who wins out? Stout defense or elite scoring? This series will be nothing short of two teams that are polar opposites clashing. The Clippers are sound favorites but the underdog Dallas Mavericks are a worthy opponent.

 

Keys To The Game:

The L.A. Clippers have a chance to go deep in the playoffs this year but a stout young Maverick team stands in their way. The one thing that they can’t do is overlook this Mavericks team who have plenty of offensive firepower with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. If they can focus on the task at hand, this should be a quick series for the Clips.

Dallas can solidify themselves as one of two things this postseason: overachievers or young up and comers. A way they can do that is to attack this Clippers’ defense with the two-man game that has driven them to a postseason berth this year. Doncic and Porzingis have to exploit Kawhi Leonard and Paul George’s lack luster interior defense. If they can do that and knock down the occasional deep ball, the Mavericks will have a great chance to advance to the next round.

 

Matchup To Watch:

Luka Doncic vs. The Clippers’ Defense

Doncic is highlight worthy on offense and it shows in his sixth ranked 28.8 points per game. The Clippers have plenty of bodies throw at him but he has shown the ability to exploit his opponents’ weakest areas. The Clippers strength is depth, their weakness is Leonard and George can’t guard everyone every play.

The Clippers can make life hard for Doncic by getting the ball out of his hands early and often.

 

Prediction: Clippers over Mavericks (4-3)

The Mavericks have plenty of offense but their defense leaves a little to be desired. The Clippers will get stops in key moments but the Mavericks will still make this a series.

 

 

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Utah Jazz

If you want to see highlights you’re going to want to watch this series. Donovan Mitchell is as smooth an athlete as they come and the surging young star Michael Porter Jr. is looking to carry his momentum into the playoffs. Get ready for some high flying, high scoring games that are guaranteed to produce some classics.

 

Keys To The Game:

The Denver Nuggets have a good dilemma on their hands right now. Their young players are playing well and they will have to find minutes for them, then hope for consistency when the lights are at their brightest. Along with that they will have to figure out which Nikola Jokic will show up: Big Joker or Little Joker? They also have to stop the three pointer against one of the better three point shooting teams in the NBA.

Utah has talent in loads on both sides of the floor. The issue is keeping the intensity up for 48 minutes. They will have to do that while getting the deep ball going against a porous perimeter defense in Denver. The one thing they can’t do though is rely on Donovan Mitchell for all of their offense: others will have to pull their weight if they want to win this series.

 

Matchup To Watch:

Nikola Jokic vs. Rudy Gobert

A Defensive Player Of The Year candidate again this season, Rudy Gobert will have to be at his peak performance against The Joker. Same goes for Jokic: any let up from either could mean the series getting out of hand. These two can swing the tide for their teams, and their matchup will decide this series.

 

Prediction: Utah over Denver (4-2)

Denver can really pour it in but their youth will be their Achilles’ heel. Utah will take this series over with their veteran savvy.

 

(4) Houston Rockets vs. (5) Oklahoma City Thunder

Houston we have a problem: a Thunderstorm is coming your way. This series has revenge written all over it for both sides. Russell Westbrook will be motivated to show OKC what they traded away and Chris Paul will want to win this to show he still has it.

 

Keys To The Game:

With the Rockets running a unique small lineup there are a couple of things that have to happen for them to win. One is James Harden HAS to show up…he has a tendency to disappear in the playoffs and against OKC, Houston can’t afford that. The second is rebounding the ball as a team. That will lead into them playing with a quicker pace, which suits their strengths.

OKC has an advantage in the size department but they have to use that size properly. Making the Rockets defend the pick and roll in the half court is one way to utilize that size. They also need to stop Houston’s transition offense… and with that they can force someone besides Westbrook and Harden to beat them.

 

Matchup To Watch:

Chris Paul vs. James Harden

Bad blood is an understatement in this matchup. Chris Paul is the leader of his team and has shown he can still get it done, even at 35 years old. James Harden wants to show that he didn’t need Paul to thrive in Houston.

These two will go at each other early and often. There will be a scrappy nature to this series and it will stem from Paul and Harden.

 

Prediction: OKC over Houston (4-3)

I can see this series going seven games. I think Houston’s size will be their downfall here. Small ball worked well in the regular season but the playoffs are a whole different animal.

 

 

 

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