For the Love of the Game: Finally, the playoffs have arrived! Won’t waste time explaining how excited I am for this, here are my predictions for the 2011 playoffs, gonna try to keep this short and sweet starting with the West coast:
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (8)
Season series: Spurs 2 - Grizzlies 2
The Spurs and Griz stand even with a 2-2 season series record, and with the suddenly questionable status of Manu Ginobili (elbow) entering the playoffs, this series will prove to be more than a push-over than most may make it out to be. San Antonio has struggled these past seasons in one specific area of the game, their health, as they’ve proven time and time again that when working on all gears, they are as close as you can get to an unstoppable force. Yet again however has the injury bug bit them in the most crucial of times, although Ginobili should be good to go for the long haul of the playoffs, the Grizzlies shouldn’t be written off just yet. As their season series shows, these teams should give us a series to watch, Duncan vs. Z-Bo will be the matchup most talked about, however I believe that Conley will step his game up and prove to be the X-factor in this series as he duels with a fellow speedster in Tony Parker. Speaking of Tony’s, Tony Allen is another crucial piece for Memphis, his length, strength and instinct could prove to be another difference maker in the series, that is until Ginobili returns. Nevertheless, the Spurs are the #1 overall seed for a reason, and with experience and Pop on their side, they should make it past the 1st round, although it may get ugly.
Prediction: Spurs 4 - Grizzlies 2
X-Factor(s): Spurs experience, Mike Conley
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7)
Season series: Lakers 4 - Hornets 0
First of all, thank God Bynum’s injury wasn’t anything major! That being said, the Lakers landing the 2nd seed to play the Hornets will work out tremendously in their favor, more so than before. A West-less Hornets squad should be easy pickings for the defending champs even lacking their starting center. It may not be a sweep, as Bynum should be able to find some much needed rest as the Lakers cruise through this matchup. Chris Paul has somewhat lost his mojo over the past weeks and looks nowhere near the player he was in previous seasons for whatever the reason. Although he may (I expect him to) turn on the jets and start playing out of his mind given that it’s the playoffs, it still won’t be enough to overcome #24 and the Lakers, do you really think Kobe will allow a 1st round exit?
Prediction: Lakers 4 - Hornets 1
X-Factor(s): Lamar Odom
Dallas Mavericks (3) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6)
Season series: Mavericks 2 - Trailblazers 2
Now this will be worth watching, easily a potential seven game series, the Mavs and Blazers stand even with a 2-2 season series record, so why wouldn’t that carry on to the playoffs? Dallas appears just fine without Butler, although he may return in the 2nd round, he’s been out way too long that his return may work against the Mavs and their already bubbling chemistry. True the Mavs have a history of choking in the post-season, we all remember their infamous loss to the 8th seeded Golden State Warriors of 2007, however this is a team determined to put to rest any such doubts. The Blazers on the other hand have to be admired for overcoming their large share of injuries, however LaMarcus Aldridge, an all-star snub, has come into his own this season as the new face of the Trailblazers. Now with newly acquired Gerald Wallace in tow to pack a stronger punch in their offense as well as further establish the defense, the Blazers are close to being a complete team (they still lack a perimeter game). The Blazers however may prove to still be too raw, and the Mavs experience and grit should push them into the 2nd round in this one.
Prediction: Mavericks 4 - Trailblazers 3
X-Factor(s): Mavericks 2nd unit
Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs. Denver Nuggets (5)
Season series: Thunder 3 - Nuggets 1
Perhaps the most exciting 1st round matchup this year, this series simply pits youth against youth, and that should make for fantastic entertainment. With all the Melodrama that the Nuggets have been put through for the first half of the season, they’ve emerged from the Melo trade as the clear winners, many of which did not expect to happen. Now sporting incredible depth, the Nuggets will be anything but a push-over in the post-season. Westbrook vs. Lawson should be awesome, while Durant will be Durant, the difference maker here may not be the Durantula himself, but the fact that the Nuggets have no one to guard the man- err beast. And now with the defensive stallwart of Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder should be able to keep this series from going the distance.
Prediction: Thunder 4 - Nuggets 2
X-Factor(s): No one to guard Durant
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
Season series: Spurs 3 - Thunder 0
Don’t let the season series fool you, those victories came without Perkins on the floor, the missing piece to the Thunder’s woes against the Spurs, Perkins’ defensive tenacity in the post should prove to be the difference maker in this exciting series. The classic matchup between experience and youth, the up and comers vs. the veterans, the Spurs and Thunder series will definitely have that playoff grit and nastiness to it that the fans love to see. For once, I have the young guns getting the better of the vets.
Prediction: Spurs 3 - Thunder 4
X-Factor: Kendrick Perkins
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (3)
Season series: Lakers 2 - Mavericks 1
Kobe Bryant loves playing the Mavericks, it’s no surprise by now, so what more in a playoff situation? WIth Bynum hopefully back at full strength by this time, the Lakers should be able to come out on top of Dallas when all is said and done. Pitting two veteran PG’s against each other will be great to see unfold as well, we all know how physical Fisher can get. The Mavericks will once again have to rely on Dirk’s jumper as he matches up with Gasol (Unless they stick Artest on him?) and with the rest of the team outmatched, and the games best closer against them, the Mavericks will have a rough road ahead of them.
Prediction: Lakers 4 - Mavericks 2
X-Factor(s): Dirk vs. Gasol
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (4)
Season series: Lakers 2 - Thunder 1
In what should make to be an amazing series and a stage in which the Durantula takes his game further into the stratosphere, the Lakers and Thunder’s clash to get to the Finals will be nothing short of epic. Bynum vs. Perkins and Gasol vs. Ibaka down low is sure to be enthralling, and should have their fair share of “playoff basketball” moments. Artest has done well in the past of “containing” Durant, however a game of such magnitude should work in Durant’s favor against Ron. Westbrook will once again prove to be the exclamation mark for this young Thunder team, as he is the most likely matchup to be exploited against the defending champs. From the Lakers perspective, this will be nothing short of a tough matchup, perhaps their toughest of the post-season. However with determination and experience led by the Black Mamba I’d say the Lakers come out victorious based on sheer will power alone. They simply want it more.
Prediction: Lakers 4 - Thunder 3
X-Factor(s): Artest vs. Durant, Westbrook mismatch
Western Conference Champions: Los Angeles Lakers
Well that’s my NBA 2011 playoff predictions for the west, soon to follow will be predictions for the east. I love making these predictions, although you can be so wrong that it’s laughable, there’s nothing sweeter than getting a prediction spot-on, I’m obviously hoping for the latter. If not then I’ll be sure to laugh alongside you guys.