(For our Eastern Conference predictions, see yesterday's post)
Spurs in 6
Why the Spurs will win: I like when me and Blake agree on things. It makes him feel validated as a human being. Memphis is playing well, and they have a lot of decent, likeable players. But Gregg Popovich and Mr. Fundamentals win first round matchups in their sleep. In the past 10 years, the Spurs have only lost 1 first round matchup, a 2009 5-game exit mainly due to the loss of Manu Ginobili. The bald-spotted Argentinian actually hurt himself last night, so I decided to give the Grizz an extra game.
Why it could be 7: I too do not think this is going more than 6 games. But Memphis could extend it for a lot of reasons . Losing Manu for a game or two could be a huge factor, but overall, it's hard to scrape together reasons why they could win. Memphis is not a particularly great 3 point shooting team, which is one of the weakness they could exploit on San Antonio, which does some of the league's worst work defending the 3, percentage-wise. Memphis can make this into a long series if they defend adequately and pound the ball into Z-Bo and Marc Gasol. We live in a world where fat Zach Randolph and Pau's fat brother are the only hope for a team against San Antonio...signs of the apocalypse.
Lakers in 4
Why the Lakers Will Sweep: The Lakers won all four games against the Hornets this season. They won the first three games by an average margin of 8 points - all of which featured David West starting at power forward for the New Orleans Hornets. They played 3 weeks ago and the Show blew them out by 18. As Bill Simmons said today, Kobe Bryant is standing next to Marco Bellinelli. Pau Gasol will be guarded in the post by Carl Landry. Lamar Odom's NO bench counterpart is Jason Smith. I've got the same playoff experience as Monty Williams. This is over in 4. Don't be ridiculous.
Why the Hornets could take a game: Fresh off of unleashing a double F-bomb on national television, the GLBT society chloroforms Kobe after practice and throws him in a van.
DALLAS in 7 OR Portland in 6
Why Dallas will win: Ah, a disagreement with the writers on THE GREAT MAMBINO. Make no mistake, this will be an incredibly tight series, but I see both teams winning their games at home. Dallas is one of the best defensive teams in the league - they're extremely physical and with Tyson Chandler and Brenda Haywood guarding the paint, they negate one of Portland's strengths, which is getting to the rack with their bevy of slashers. It's weird to write that Dallas has a hard time scoring, but they do; they can go minutes without hitting a shot, as most of their players are streaky as hell. Portland, likewise, cannot shoot from long range (Rudy Fernandez or Wes Matthews is their best distance shooter?). Both teams have weaknesses the other can exploit, and I see this one going 7, with Dallas taking a tough one at home for the series.
Why the Blazers will win: When the Mavs play Tyson Chandler and Shawn Marion at the same time, defenses will take chances. More double-teams, more gambles, more ugly Dirk Nowitzki faces. Furthermore, the 2007 Golden State Warriors' blueprint for shutting down Dirk and Co. still holds today. Put an athletic, defensively-capable swingman on Germany's finest, and he will be rattled. Enter Nicolas Batum, who will not give Dirk room to breathe. Blazers in 6.
Thunder in 6
Why the Thunder will win: Denver finished as the highest scoring team in the league and can exploit pretty much every single team by playing on the break for nearly 48 minutes. BUT, the Thunder may be the only team in the league that can keep pace with them, both defensively and offensively. I expect a shootout every single night, with an average of 240 combined points for two weeks. I can't believe I'm excited for a series between a team from Oklahoma and Colorado. I've got the Thunder finishing up in front of a crazy (but oddly respectful, as a I found out a few months ago) Denver crowd, enough to stop the series before a deciding 7th game and a triple bypass for my buddy Stolte, Thunder fan #1.
Why the Nuggets could make it a 7 game series: The Nuggets are one of the most athletic teams in the NBA. They also play hard, so they will never lose because of a lack of effort. The Denver situation is like a playground sandbox: when the most popular toddler (Melo) leaves, all the other kids feel better about themselves and have more self-esteem. They're not fitting square pegs into round holes anymore. Unfortunately, it's not 2004 anymore, so superstars win in the end. Best non-Knicks series of the first round.