When it comes to a sport where the regular season may matter even less than in NHL hockey, many casual sports fans only tune in to the NBA when the playoffs begin. That would have been a mistake this year, as the regular season has been chock-full of entertainment, from the constant soap opera of the Big Two-and-a-Quarter and the Miami Heat to the emergence of the Derrick Rose and the Bulls in the Eastern Conference, and the explosion of Blake Griffin’s dunking insanity in the West.
Now, though, the Playoffs begin. Saturday, April 16 the start date for the first round. What that means, of course, is that it’s time for some Fully Reconditioned predictions. Today, the Western Conference, with picks for the East to follow tomorrow. West going first, yet again? West Coast bias in full effect, right here.
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies
Less than twenty-four hours ago, this would have been a no-brainer, with the Spurs the most consistent team in the NBA all year, a solid mix of battle-tested veterans—led by Tim Duncan, maybe the greatest power forward in the history of the Association—and solid youngsters like DeJuan Blair. For some strange reason, though, Manu Ginobili was in the lineup for the Spurs’ final, basically meaningless game against the Suns, and hurt his elbow, and now is doubtful for the first game of the series.
If the injury isn’t serious and Ginobili comes back after Game One at somewhere near his normal level, this series is still a no-brainer. The Grizzlies are not an eight-seed to sneeze at, though, having played some of their best ball against the Spurs in a season series split 2-2; Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph are legit threats. That being said, the Spurs should eke this one out, with or without Manu.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets
The two-time defending champs have an injury worry of their own, Andrew Bynum’s knee. It’s apparently just a bone bruise, and he’ll be suited up for the first game of the series, but the never-ending fragility of the talented big man is a concern for the Lakers, who need that size in the front court to dominate against the Association’s better teams. If there are some products Andrew could take to protect those knees of his, he needs to start Bynum.
Bynum or no, the Lakers should still walk through this series. They swept the Hornets in the regular season, and Chris Paul can’t keep carrying this team on his back. They’ve had a successful year just making the playoffs, and will be lucky to take one against those who Lake Los Angeles.
Prediction: Lakers in 5
(3) Dallas Mavericks vs. (6) Portland Trail Blazers
The Lakers played hard in their final game against the Sacramento Kings to ensure they would not have to face the Blazers, whose LaMarcus Aldridge posted a career high in scoring this year (21.8 PPG) and has been playing with a chip on his shoulder since his perceived All-Star snub.
Combine that with the fact that no one really believes the Mavs are anything more than a consistently successful regular season team, and this has become a popular upset to pick. In this case, the popular opinion is correct.
Prediction: Blazers in 7
(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Denver Nuggets
Though the Nuggets have been playing out of their heads since Carmelo Anthony hit the road, going 18-7 after the deal and finishing up as the highest-scoring team in the league, and George Karl is a hell of a coach and quite an inspiration, this is the year the Thunder will make their presence felt. Russell Westbrook has become a legitimate star in his own right, no longer just second-fiddle to Kevin Durant, and the Thunder are 19-6 since obtaining paint-defender and all-around hateful bastard (in the best way possible on the court) Kendrick Perkins, formerly thought essential to the Boston Celtics’ recent playoff successes.
This will probably be the most fun, high-scoring series to watch in the West, with both teams able to put points on the board from all over the court, but the Thunder will take this battle of the (Mid)West.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
Be sure to hit your bookie up, since now you know all the answers, and drop by tomorrow for some Fully Reconditioned predictions about the best and least of the East.