While the Eastern Conference offers some entertainment value for NBA fans, the depth and quality of the Western Conference present perhaps the best opening round in recent years. Top to bottom, there are qualities of each squad that could be a factor to playoff success. Below is a preview of each Western Conference series; as each team begins a marathon that is the quest for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
The Pelicans demonstrated some grit, battling through the season’s final game to secure their playoff berth; at the expense of the red-hot San Antonio Spurs no less. While the team boasts one of the emerging dominant stars (Anthony Davis), New Orleans lacks the overall talent and depth of the juggernaut Golden State Warriors. As a team that only lost two home games all season, there is little question that Golden State will maintain their home court advantage through the playoffs’ first series. Having offensive firepower (Stephen Curry, Clay Thompson) along with versatile depth, perimeter and interior defense, there is no reason to question the legitimacy of Steve Kerr’s 65-17 rookie coaching record.
Prediction: Warriors in 4
(2) Houston rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Of all the opening round series, this matchup presents one of the more likely upset opportunity. Familiarity breeds contempt; and these two Texas teams are not only division foes but true rivals. Dallas is one of the few teams that has the interior presence (Tyson Chandler) who can guard Dwight Howard one-on-one in the paint. The Mavericks will have to strategize on how to best contain MVP candidate James Harden; but Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in the league In game planning to counter. For Houston, the key factor lies in the health of Howard; who can be a game-changer on both ends of the floor. In the end, if Rajon Rondo returns to his 2009 playoff form; as opposed to the sub-par perfotprmances this season to date, the ahing Mavericks will be a tough out.
Prediction: Mavericks in 7
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
While the seeding may suggest this, a San Antonio series win does not really constitute an upset. The defending champion Spurs are as playoff-proven a team as there has been over the past 25 years; and have one more title run in them. Gregg Popovich is the game’s best roster manager and motivator; and has once again kept his players rested and sharp as the season drew to a close. Doc Rivers will have his hands full making this talented but undisciplined team a formidable playoff force.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
(4) Portland Trailblazers vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
The Trailblazers entered the 2014-15 season with aspirations of a deep playoff run. Like many teams in seasons past, injuries (Wesley Matthews, Achilles) have impacted Portland’s ability to advance into June. LeMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lilard are elite talents and will shoulder the playoff burden; but a lack of depth will be a hindrance. Memphis is a team built for the playoffs; with defense and an interior presence the cornerstone of their success. While a lower seed, the Grizzlies are a better team in this competitive environment
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7
Summary: This is truly the “Wild Wild West”, with tons of firepower on display. The opening round of the Western Conference playoffs offer some compelling matchups and the potential for upsets throughout the pairings. After a franchise record season, the talent and depth of the Warriors make them a heavy favorite to emerge. The Spurs have one more run in them and are best constructed to push the league’s best team to the limit. Father time will play a factor and there will be a new sheriff in the West.
Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors