The Wild West should be pretty interesting this year. The Lakers don't seem to be as dominant as they were the last few years. There could be a new representative for the West in the Finals, then again the Lakers could wake up and be the Lakers again. Only time will tell. But, what is true is the journey is one step at a time and that first step is getting out of the 1st round of the playoffs. Without further adieu, here is my prediction and preview for the first round of the 2011 Western Conference playoffs.
(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Memphis
The Spurs enter the playoffs with one of their Big Three hurting. SG Manu Ginobli has an injured elbow and will be dealing with this injury all post-season. For the Spurs to win this series, they have to knock down three's. The Spurs have been more three-happy this year and have to have SG Gary Neal, PF Matt Bonner, SF Richard Jefferson and SG Manu Ginobli knock down shots when PG Tony Parker breaks down the defense. Also, Tim Duncan has to get it revved up and play to the level he is capable of. For the Grizzlies, its simple. They have to make run the Spurs off the three-point line and get the ball inside. If PF Zach Randolph has a big series, then watch out for the Grizzlies. The matchup to watch for will be SG Tony Allen vs. SG Manu Ginobli. Allen is a pest on defense. Even though the Grizzlies are an up-and-coming team, this just isn't their year or time just yet.
Prediction: Spurs win series 4-1
(2) Los Angeles vs. (7) New Orleans
The Lakers escaped in Sacramento and earned the second seed in the West. Their prize is the New Orleans Hornets. C Andrew Bynum hurt his knee before the end of the season, but he should be ok to play this post-season. With Bynum and PF Pau Gasol in the paint, the Hornets will have fits and that's not even mentioning Kobe Bryant. The best thing the Hornets can do is to force the Lakers to shoot jump shots and limit their transitions opportunities. The Hornets must get good play from SF Trevor Ariza and PF Carl Landry. If PG Chris Paul has to do it by himself, then the Hornets may be in serious trouble. But, even with these three playing well, the Hornets may still be in trouble.
Prediction: Lakers win series 4-1
(3) Dallas vs. (6) Portland
The Mavericks head into the playoffs to take on underestimated Portland Trailblazers. The Mavs must get great play from PF Dirk Nowitzki on the offensive end of the court. He can take either C Marcus Camby or PF Lamarcus Aldridge out on the court and is a mismatch for anyone the Blazers have. On the defensive end, C Tyson Chandler has to be big. He has to patrol the paint and bring the toughness that Dallas needs. Another key for Dallas is PG Jason Terry. He is their offense other than Dirk. For the Blazers, they must ride the hot hand of their newest superstar, Lamarcus Aldridge. He must punish Dirk in the post. Another key for this series is SF/PF Gerald Wallace. He has been the catalyst at times for the Blazers and he causes tremendous matchup issues for the Mavs. Aldridge and Wallace coupled with all the other athletic talents on this team will overwhelm this Mavs team as they make another early exit in the playoffs.
Prediction: Blazers win series 4-2
(4) Oklahoma City vs. (5) Denver
The Nuggets and the Thunder should be the most exciting series in the 1st round of the playoffs. The Thunder are led by SF Kevin Durant. He has an interesting assignment in 7'0" SF Danilo Galinari. These two could be a stalemate, dependent on the consistency of Galinari. The difference in this series could be PG play. PG Russell Westbrook must outplay the combination of Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson for the Nuggets. If Westbrook struggles, the Nuggets will take over this series. Another difference in this series will be matchup of C Kendrick Perkins vs. PF Nene of the Nuggets. If Perkins can knock Nene of his game and get in his head, the Thunder will have the upper hand. I expect this series to go down to the wire.
Prediction: Thunder win series 4-3
These are my predictions for the Western Conference 1st round. If you have any other predictions or thoughts on the 1st round of the Western Conference, feel free to drop a comment. Let the games begin!