The San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies will kick off their first round series this Sunday in San Antonio and we here at Project Spurs have been breaking down the series.
However, what about the other series and the teams that can possibly meet the Spurs down the road? Let's take a look at the other Western Conference matchups.
Lakers (2) v. Hornets (7)
The Lakers versus the Hornets is the least compelling match-up. The Hornets have a good front line (West, Landry, Okafor) and whereas that would hardly be considered a liability in most playoff series, the Lakers have one of the most imposing front lines in basketball. The length of Gasol and Bynum, and also Odom floating between the three and four spots, is difficult for any team to contend with, but especially if you're the Hornets who lack a true seven footer in the middle.
Chris Paul needs to have a fantastic series to five New Orleans a chance. Fisher, Shannon Brown and Steve Blake are an adequate trio of defenders to toss at him, but certainly not imposing. If Paul can put a big stamp on the series with his scoring and playmaking, maybe he extends things longer than I'm projecting.
Ariza is a good defender and I expect to see him have a strong series against his old club, maybe even pester Kobe into a bad game or two – but it's not enough to stop a talent of Bryant's caliber from putting games out of reach in key situations. The Hornets lack the interior defensive presence they need (really, Okafor and no one else); the Lakers have too much size and too much Kobe Bryant. Lakers in six.
Mavs (3) v. Blazers (6)
There's a part of me that really wants to pick an upset here, but ultimately Dallas is so stacked that the Blazers – scrappy and upstart as they are – haven't got a chance of going into Dallas and winning one and then holding three at home. The acquisition of Gerald Wallace has done a lot to invigorate the offense, moving away from the Brandon Roy led offense, but there's a part of me that wonders if they aren't better off long term with Roy.
Per usual, I'm not impressed with the structure of the Dallas roster, which looks like a nice collection of names that probably don't equal a cohesive championship caliber unit. Nevertheless, this is a highly talented Mavs squad with a lot of offensive sparks and more options that Portland can check effectively.
The Blazers are good, but they don't have that honed, precision execution needed to close out big postseason games. I think the Mavs get slapped in round two, but they have the depth and scoring to get past the Blazers with only a game or two lost. Mavs in six.
Thunder (4) v. Nuggets (5)
Best series to watch, by far. Denver is 18-7 since trading Carmelo Anthony and they also boast the second best home record in the conference. Denver is balanced and they're deep; they have nine players who average double digit scoring and Kenyon Martin who is still known to contribute the occasional offensive burst.
For OKC – well, I love Kevin Durant. No, seriously – I haven't put posters of basketball players on my wall since I was a kid, but I'd consider hanging KD on my wall, and right next to fucking Batman, too. He's that good. If Harrington and JR Smith are the defensive options for Denver, that's not enough. Expect KD to have an outstanding series.
For that matter, I don't see Denver checking Westbrook either.
I like the way Denver has been playing shipping off 'Melo; they're able to spread the ball around more, they're getting better ball movement now that they're free of the constant isolations for Anthony and they're spirits are up as they roll into the playoffs. Close series – I see it going all seven games – Denver wins.