Thursday, April 14, 2011

Western Conference Playoff Preview: First Round

Guest Contributor Ryan Mahanna is back for more. This time he breaks down the West.

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Memphis Grizzlies (Regular Season: 2-2)

We could have had a brother match-up! Damn you Lionel Hollins!

The 2010-11 San Antonio Spurs have to be one of the most overlooked #1-seeds in modern playoff history. I can understand why people tend to feel this way considering the Spurs have the most brittle Big-3 in the league and their supporting cast has fewer recognizable names than the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. If you put a gun to my head (or even just threatened to punch me) I would say the Lakers are better and the favorites to win the west. But that is just my gut feeling and everyone who knows me will tell you my gut is an idiot. Realistically,  the Spurs have just as good of a shot as any of the contenders, if not better. Why? Because they won 61 games in a very difficult Western Conference and only played Duncan, Ginobli and Parker an average of 30 mpg and some nights not all!! I think that is incredible. I witnessed a line-up of George Hill, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter SMACK the Portland Trailblazer starters. These guys are good and I think they will be even better in the playoffs.

Without Rudy Gay (and now a banged-up Tony Allen) I am not sure if this Memphis team can take the series past 5 games. They tanked it so they didn't have to play the Lakers which is a basketball death sentence as far as I'm concerned. I was really looking for to a Gasol vs. Gasol match-up too...oh well. Bottom line is if you don't think this Spurs team can win it all this year then you are probably a cake-eating gump.

(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs (7) New Orleans Hornets (Regular Season; 4-0 Lakers)

Hopefully Kobe doesn't use any little-people slurs this series.

If my guest contributions to the RFH Collective came with a vote for the NBA Coach of the Year it would definitely go to Monty Williams. Look at the Hornets seriously, take a look at it, I will wait. Did you see that thing? Good God!! Do they really start Marco Spaghetti Belinelli at the 2-spot? After David West tore his ACL I guess their second best player is Emeka Okafor...I am not even sure. This team won 46 games because Chris Paul makes his teammates enjoy playing basketball and Monty Williams got them to play hard every night and defend. Even though Chris Paul is and always will be a nut-puncher, when he is healthy and has a good coach on the sideline, the Hornets are tough to beat.

I would love nothing more than a Lakers first round exit but the Hornets just don't have the fire power to get it done. I predict that there will be at least one game in New Orleans when Chris Paul goes crazy, takes his prosthetic leg off and the Hornets play out of their mind. I will be happy if I can at least get some finger pointing and Phil Jackson back-handed disses from the Lakers in this round. Still disappointed the Lakers aren't playing Memphis. Lakers move on 4-1.

(3) Dallas Mavericks vs (6) Portland Trailblazers (Regular Season; 2-2)

Portland may have length like John Holmes but the Mavs still have Dirk Diggler.

This is my only guarantee 7-game series of the first round and I couldn't be more excited about it. Both teams have great fans, deep rosters and more length than John Holmes. On paper, Dallas would seem to have the edge in overall talent but I am a huge believer in Nate McMillian and I love the fact that Portland can rotate Marcus Camby, LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace on Dirk. I don't think it's a mystery that if Dirk struggles, then the Mavs struggle and it should be interesting to see how quickly Rick Carlisle tries to out-think himself. If things go south for Dallas then that deep roster might work against them. If you are a Dallas fan the last thing you want to see is 11 players in the box-score at halftime.

With all that being said, there is a good chance that Dallas throttles Portland in this series. Dallas is in the top half of the NBA in every team category that matters and when they are making jump shots they can beat anyone. I truly believe that any talent differences between these two teams will be negated by good coaching and the mental toughness Portland has developed out of necessity. In the end, a game 7 in Dallas will be too much for Portland to handle and the Mavs will move on to the semi-finals and face the Lakers. At that point I will be the biggest Mavs fan you have ever seen.

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (5) Denver Nuggets

"My kid beat up your Honor Student."

Besides the Celtics, I will be cheering for the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs more than any other team. It won't even be close. The whole match-up is just dream for me, an absolute perfect storm. I hate the Thunder. I have disliked them since they dropped their black and white summer league uniforms that just said "OKC" and picked up a team-name that even embarrasses WNBA fans. They "do everything the right way", whatever than means. They are the definition of a teachers pet. I bet David Stern has a bumper sticker that says "My Thunder are Honor Roll Students" on the back of his mini-van. Seeing Kendrick Perkins play for them is like watching a former gang member sing in the school choir. Nothing angers me more than when people say they are the favorite to win the Western Conference. Really?!? A four-seed that has never won a single playoff series is now a favorite to win it all but the Spurs aren't? It is a complete joke.

The Nuggets on the other hand are the total opposite. They don't have any superstars, they have an awesome amount of tattoos, they have the coolest team-name/uniforms and they are essentially the best AAU team ever assembled. This is the type of team that the typical middle-aged, white NBA fan absolutely hates. Well luckily I hate most middle-aged white NBA fans. Throw in the fact that George Karl and his family has survived cancer more times than anyone should ever have too and I don't know how you can't cheer for this Nuggets team. Unfortunately, I don't think my gushing support will be enough for the Nuggets to win the series. OKC will win in 6 games while the entire sports media brags about how well the Thunder do in school and they don't even have to make them study, they just do it on their own...ugh.

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