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Teams are making their final push for seeding in the NBA playoffs which are just weeks away, beginning April 16. Teams are preparing for the home stretch of the season, but also have an eye on where they sit in the standings, and what type of draw they will have come playoff time. The Western Conference has several intriguing matchups that should result in thrilling basketball as a carryover from March Madness.
No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 8 Grizzlies: The Spurs have been a surprising team this year, having the best record in the NBA. They still have the main components of their championship teams with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Although the eighth seed could be the Jazz, Rockets, or Suns, the Grizzlies have the berth for now. The Grizzlies have some nice pieces down low with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and point guard Mike Conley is finally coming around. The Spurs are just too veteran of a team and have played so well this year that they won’t have a first round letdown. This is a team that has been there before and with Richard Jefferson making them a more athletic team, they will muscle their way into the next round, and compete to play in the Finals.
No. 2 Lakers vs. No. 7 Hornets: The defending champions, the Lakers, are one of the deepest, most complete teams in the NBA. Even if they don’t have the best record in the regular season, they are built to win in the post-season and they will be tough to beat, no matter who the opponent is. The Lakers have great big men, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, a good defender, rebounder and scorer in Ron Artest, experience and smarts in Derek Fisher, and possibly the best player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant. That’s not even mentioning the type of talent they bring off their bench, guys who would start for many other teams. The Hornets have put together a nice season this year, and have good forwards, David West and Trevor Ariza. Chris Paul runs the show, and will give Fisher all that he can handle, but the depth of the Lakers, along with the experience and ‘it’ factor of Kobe Bryant, will place this team in position to go much deeper than the first round. They will most likely represent the West once again this season.
No. 3 Mavericks vs. No. 6 Trailblazers: The Mavericks have had a solid year this season, and have a little different look to their team. Dirk Nowitzki leads the team, but a solid supporting cast with future Hall-of-Famer Jason Kidd, and shooter Peja Stojakovic, the Mavs are a bit more complete, balancing experience with youth and athleticism. Jason Terry, Tyson Chandler, and Shawn Marion round out a great bench, and help to add a different dynamic to the floor with their presence. The Trailblazers have had an up-and-down season, and star guard Brandon Roy’s numbers were down as he struggled to stay healthy. Marcus Camby and Andre Miller bring some experience, and Gerald Wallace provides a nice compliment to LaMarcus Aldridge at the forward position. The Mavericks just have too much offense for the Blazers though, and should slide past Portland, although the series should be tough and could go six or seven games.
No. 4 Thunder vs. No. 5 Nuggets: These teams will face off twice before the regular season concludes, April 5, and 8, and will be very familiar with each other’s tendencies. The Nuggets look so different with the gaping hole left by Carmelo Anthony’s departure, but they have continued to play good basketball. The team has good guards and forwards, and Ty Lawson adds a burst off the bench. If Kenyon Martin can step his game up, and Danilo Gallinari continues to have a good year, the Nuggets could pose a threat to an overly talented young Thunder squad. The addition of Kendrick Perkins was huge for the Thunder, adding size and playoff experience to a young, hungry team who gave the Lakers all they could handle in the first round last year. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant are the two stars that everybody talks about. Without Carmelo, the Nuggets will have trouble keeping up with Thunder, and Perkins will pose serious problems for Denver down low. This will be a battle, as the 4 vs. 5 matchup usually is, but the young stars of the Thunder will carry them on, becoming a nightmare for a top seed in the next round.
This should be a year of great matchups in the West, as every team brings a winning record to the playoff table. The Western Conference boasts the defending champion Lakers, and the best record in the NBA, the Spurs. The team that makes it out of the conference will pose a serious threat to the East, and most likely be the favorite to win it all in the end.