NBA Playoffs Preview: Western Conference First Round (with Gamblin Matt Mortensen)
[With the NBA playoffs beginning today, my good friend "Gamblin" Matt Mortensen and myself set out to give you an extensive preview of the first round match ups. Naturally that blew up into a column that was over 7,000 words. As a result, a one part column featuring all the predictions and analysis will now be broke into two parts. Here is the Western Conference portion.]
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Houston Rockets
Major Storyline: Can we make this a five game series so it can be over sooner? It hasn’t even started yet and I’m falling asleep over it. Next!
M: Dear loyal readers. You won't be hearing much from me in regards to this series because I don't have much to say. Is there a reason to even have it? Major storyline? I don't know. How badly are the Rockets going to lose by every game?
Warrior with the Most to Prove: James McAdoo. If he doesn’t get on the court during this blow out of a series then there’s no hope for his NBA career. Get on the court James!
M: None. Zero. Zilch. Why does anyone have to prove anything?
Rocket with the Most to Prove: This category actually is worth talking about thanks to my pick, Dwight Howard. Yes the Rockets will get eviscerated off planet earth here and yes there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. But Dwight Howard, who has been awful by his standards this year and looks to be nothing more than a headcase on decline, has a lot to play for. If he steps up and shows that he’s still capable of being a top five NBA center, perhaps the Rockets can steal a game. Most importantly he can potentially improve his free agency stock, which is exactly the reason the Rockets have no chance here. Good lord that’s sad.
M: The whole team. Try not to lose by 15 every game.
Gamblin Matt and the Odds plus Winner: $1.01 for the Warriors and $31 for the Rockets. This is over in 4. Bottom line. Dubs win and it's paying $2.10. Matter of fact, they win this, their next series in 4 the Western Conference Finals in 6 over the Spurs and sweep whatever mediocre team they get from the East in the finals.
Warriors in four. Now watch us be horribly wrong and the Rockets somehow come together to steal this series. Would that be the greatest upset of all time if it occurred?
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Major Storyline: How much will the Spurs have to push themselves to win this series? Memphis may be down to its last legs due to injuries and I’m not sure they have anyone that can score for them, which in fairness was a problem before all the injuries! But they are a tough unit with a bunch of guys who play physical, and I don’t see them going quietly at all here. The Spurs will win no doubt; the question is can they finish this early and easily enough where it doesn’t affect them going forward. That’s where things get interesting for me.
M: Hello, loyal readers. I'm back again. And again I'm here to say you won't be hearing much from me in this series. Major storyline? Can the Grizz make this more of a series than the Rockets?
Spur with the Most to Prove: Danny Green. Lost in how good the Spurs were this season was the fact that their prized three point sniper fell off a cliff. In a year Green went from an 11.7 PPG guy on 43% shooting and 41% from downtown to a 7.3 PPG guy who could barely hit over 35% of his shots (never mind his three point shooting, which cratered at 33%). It’ll be a bigger deal going forward but if the Spurs want to have a chance against Golden State Green has to start knocking down shots here. Otherwise he’ll have pulled a full blown Nic Batum, and you never pull a full blown Nic Batum.
M: None. Zero. Zilch. Why does anyone have to prove anything? That sounds eerily familiar….
Grizzly with the Most to Prove: Lance Stephenson. Against all odds Lance has emerged as the best player on this depleted Grizzlies squad since coming over from the Clippers, averaging double digits in points for the first time since his Pacers days and just being his overall aggressive self. The problem is there’s two sides to every Lance; an upside and a downside. If upside Lance is in this series, it’ll be a little more entertaining. If downside Lance is here...well it’ll still be entertaining for everyone other than Grizzlies’ fans. By the way, if there’s an alternate universe where the Hornets and Grizzlies somehow play each other in the Finals, sign me up for that. The thought of Lance beating the Hornets after they ruined each other last season fills me to the brim with a feeling of goodness!
M: Umm. I don't know. Tony Allen? They got swept in the regular season. Closest game was 6 points. They’ll be lucky to get within 6 again here.
Gamblin Matt and the Odds: $1.01 for the Spurs and $36 for the Grizzlies to win this series. How the hell are the Grizzlies paying more than the Rockets. What a load of crap. Anyway. Spurs in 4. $2.10. That's the only scenario this plays out.
Spurs in five. The Griz are well coached and tough enough to eek out one of these. In the end though the Spurs are just too talented and Memphis is just too depleted for this to be anything more than a squash. Next!
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks
Major Storyline: Is it just me or is there reason to be concerned for OKC? I know they won 55 games and all Matt but damn; I just can’t shake the feeling that this group is going to severely disappoint this round. Maybe it’s the fact that Russell Westbrook is just a little too out of control and too much of a stat stuffer (except in three point shooting, perhaps the most important thing you need to be good at these days); maybe it’s the fact that Kevin Durant seems to have one foot out the door; or maybe it’s the fact that the Thunder’s depth and coaching situation seem to be the exact same thing as before despite numerous changes. Add that to the fact that they’re going against one of the best coaches in basketball in Rick Carlisle, a man who knows out to get the most out of his guys at the right time, and I could see this as an upset in the making here Matt. I’m just not sold on the Thunder at all.
M: Wow do we see this series completely differently! Thunder win this comfortably. And I'm not too sure Durant will leave. Unless it's to the Dubs…. Will this series have more fight in it than the two previous series? Yes, I'm being serious. You beat the Mav's by stopping Dirk and taking him out of the game. That's what they did in the four games they played this year and they won all four. He played sufficient but he needs to be going off. I won't be spending much time on this series either.
Thunder with the Most to Prove: Durant. He’s quietly been great for the Thunder again this year and probably gets more flack than he truly deserves. He’s also still way too passive when it comes to demanding the ball from his off the wall point guard, a guard I’m not too certain he wants to play with all the time. Even with that out of the equation Durant has something to prove; he’s only reached the NBA Finals once in his career and the pressure is starting to mount on him to bring in a title. A good opening round series is the start to that, not to mention it will destroy any concerns the Thunder may have about being challenged by Dallas.
M: Serge Ibaka. He takes out Dirk and this series will be like a walk along the beach for the Thunder. And that's exactly what he'll do.
Maverick with the Most to Prove: Deron Williams. Dirk will be Dirk, a fact that doesn’t seem to change no matter how old he gets (seriously future NBA players; if you want to model your game after someone, you could do worse that Nowitzky. The man is still getting it done). That makes Williams, the former Nets PG who looked to be DOA before going to Dallas, the x-factor. The stats aren’t that much different for Williams then his time in Brooklyn, but something just seems different about him. Must be the Carlise aura or something! In any event, where he goes the Mavs will go here and if he even hangs in the same atmosphere as Westbrook the Mavs will have a shot. By the way Matt, I can’t believe I’m saying that. Are we really living in a world where Deron Williams, Marvin Williams, Evan Turner and Lance Stephenson are competent NBA players? WHAT IN THE WORLD IS HAPPENING?!
M: Going to be short here again but man are three Western Conference series such a bore. It's Dirk. Is he finally starting to show his age? I think he is.
Gamblin Matt and the Odds: $1.04 for the Thunder and $13 for the Mavs. This too is over in 4. $3.72 for the sweep. If for some insane reason it isn't the Thunder will win 4-1 and that's $2.28.
Get ready to fall over in your chair Matt; the Dallas Mavericks will win this series in six. It’s out there and it’s probably way too ballsy for my own good, but I just don’t like the make up of this Thunder team, I don’t like Billy Donovan as the coach and I really like Rick Carlise going up against this group. The Mavericks may not have OKC’s talent but I don’t think that matters; I think what we’ll see here is the implosion of what should’ve been an NBA dynasty for years to come and the Mavs taking advantage of it. You heard it here first Matt; this is the end of OKC as we know it. To quote REM, I feel fine about it.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers
Major Storyline: This is a two parter Matt; are the Clippers on the verge of imploding (much like I feel OKC is) and how in the world are the Portland Trail Blazers even here! Let’s start with the first one. Once again the Clippers put together what looked to be a really solid season, only they were once again dealing with the fact that Doc Rivers is a terrible GM (or at least a GM with the worst luck in the history of the western hemisphere) and the added bonus of Blake Griffin being an immature jackass who his teammates may not want to play for. To say the pressure is high on them would be an understatement. Then there’s the Blazers, who looked like a lottery team at the beginning of this year before going on to surprise everyone thanks to an supremely underrated coach in Terry Stotts, the best young backcourt in the NBA (move aside Wall and Beale) and an intriguing line up of young wings and bigs. In short, it’s the most dysfunctional great team in the NBA not named the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. the best story in the NBA. Should be fun!
M: I'm in bed so that didn't make me fall over in my chair but nearly made me fall asleep quicker than I already am! Finally we get to a series that is somewhat intriguing! I sure hope Lillard has a strong back because he's going to have to do a lot of carrying if he wants to see the second round this season. I wasn't writing off the Blazers as quickly as everyone else was and I'm glad I didn't. They still aren't that bad a team at the end of the day. And by “that bad” I guess that means making the playoffs and not being expected to make it further than the first round. Best story in the NBA? It's the Hornets not the Blazers! Come on, Iken!
Clipper with the Most to Prove: Austin Rivers! I kid I kid. It’s clearly Blake Griffin. I know some people will say Chris Paul, but the fact of the matter is that the Clippers wouldn’t be anywhere close to this situation without Paul, who in my opinion is the best point guard not named Steph Curry in basketball. Plus, when a guy punches out his buddy/equipment manager leading to him missing more time than he already was due to injury, he has to be the one with the most to prove. Blake, get your shit together man. Otherwise you’re going to be playing for the Knicks next year. And you don’t want that...actually maybe he does. In fact Matt, I’m starting to like that idea for the Knicks. They get an explosive player who perfectly contrasts Porzingis while the Clippers remain exactly the same. Phil, make it happen!
M: Anyone but Blake Griffin here? I can't begin to tell you how much I loathe this guy. I never thought I'd hate a player close to what I hate Lebron but my gosh does Black come close. The thing I hate about the Clippers is the team is a bunch of whining cry babies and I feel Blake is the worst of the bunch. Add to the fact I don't rate him and Jordan as basketball players at all. Well I didn't use to rate Blake but he's certainly improved his move set and jump shot. I rated them as spectacle players who could make dunks all day long. That doesn't excite me and not the type of basketball I like to watch. He needs to earn the faith back from his teammates here and he needs to pull his head in and have a good series. Don't think it means much though with what's on the horizon for the winner.
Blazer with the Most to Prove: C.J. McCollum. I’ll be honest Matt; I almost put Meyers Leonard here because a) it would’ve freaked you out entirely and b) I freakin love Leonard and his weird ass game of only shooting threes and no defense. He’s like the rich man’s Byron Mullens!
In any event, this has to be McCollum, a man who continues to get your disrespect for some bizarre reason. Damion Lillard carrying the Blazers?! Lillard is certainly Portland’s star, but McCollum was excellent this year himself, averaging 20 PPG and actually shooting better than Lillard overall (McCollum shot 43% from the field and 41% from three, compared to Lillard 42% and 38%). This kid is damn good and he will deservedly win Most Improved Player this year. The only question is whether or not he continues his play on the big stage, which is why he’s here. If McCollum matches his backcourt partner like he did throughout the regular season, the Blazers will win this series. Take it to the bank Matt!
M: Yeah gonna have to agree with you here that it's C.J. McCollum. I think this is a more prove to me more than it is to prove to everyone else. You seem to be under the assumption that he is going to be the Most Improved Player. Seems to be the way most people are thinking online actually. But he can't take a backstep and be made to look inferior to Lillard. He needs to demand the ball and score. He needs to prove me wrong and not go hiding and be overshadowed by the moment. He's on the big stage now.
Gamblin Matt and the Odds plus Winner: $1.30 for the Clippers and $3.70 for the Blazers to win the series. And we finish of the Western Conference with yet ANOTHER sweep. My gosh. 4 sweeps in 4 series. Who could believe that? $7.90 for the sweep. So that's totally not happening! Lillard will do enough to carry this team to at least a win. Not sure about two though. $3.74 for the Clippers 4-1 and $5.30 for the Clippers 4-2. I'm leaning towards 4-1. I feel they have too much firepower for the Blazers here and they’ll have to deal with that lob dunk shit all night long.
I must be something you don’t Matt because I’m going upset again here. The Trail Blazers, like the Mavs, will finish off their much more favored opponent in six games and I feel even better about this than the Mavs pick. The Clippers are a mess and even when they aren’t they always seem to have problems in the first round anyway. I think the Blake scandal was the last straw and the the Blazers, armed with the dynamic backcourt, Stotts and the interesting supporting pieces will shock the world. Unlike the Mavs win over OKC though, this will be a situation where both the Clippers implode and the Blazers make a statement.
And we’re done! We did it Matt! You can go to sleep now. Any last words before your weekend getaway?
He’s not the best column collaborator in the world for nothing folks! With that we’re off, though you’ll see me again either tonight or tomorrow with...something. Till then, a Bill Walton meme a day keeps the doctor away.