At 7PM, central time, on TNT the Spurs will tip off game one of their opening round match up versus the Dallas Mavericks. As a proper Spurs fan we wouldn't expect you to watch any other game in place of this one, if you had to choose only one. Thankfully, the profit minded folks at ABC, ESPN, Turner Broadcasting, and the National Association of Basketball don't want you to choose just one. Playoff games are like Pringles or Ambien – you can't have just one.
So this weekend, and for the duration of the first round, we encourage you to watch basketball, lots of basketball, and not just Spurs basketball. If anything, consider it this way: if the Spurs advance, you will want to know how their next opponent has been playing. Therefore, as something of a PS, PSA, we're bringing you a break down of the other Western Conference first round playoff match ups.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (8)
Game One: Sunday, 2PM – ABC
This series is about Kevin Durant. Durant is the best pure scorer I've seen step on a basketball court since the 2001 Allen Iverson, and as such, every time he takes the floor the game becomes about him. Fortunately for the Lakers, they are equipped to slow him down. Ron Artest is a premier defender, so versatile that we've had to shed the “perimeter” from his “defender” title because he can guard anybody at any position. A combination of Artest and Lamar Odom may slow Durant considerably, depending on how well the third-year player, and league leading scorer, rises to the postseason pressure.
The Lakers will capitalize on their superior presence inside with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and utilize their length to disrupt Durant. This series will be closer than people anticipate; Durant is deadly, and for however much hype he's associated with, he's still underestimated. The Thunder will steal two games, but the Lakers will prevail in a 4-2 series win.
Phoenix Suns (3) vs. Portland Trailblazers (6)
Game One: Sunday, 9:30PM – TNT
Never underestimate the sports media's ability to bluster erudite punditry on matters which they hold no significant expertise. Brandon Roy has a torn meniscus in his right knee and that means he will not play basketball well – period. I laughed when I heard Roy was planning on playing through his injury because the doctor told him, “it can't make it any worse.” That's like gleefully attempting to reach the opposite end of a pitch black room because you can't make your inability to see any worse; you're still going to have a bitch of a time getting where you want to go.
First, a torn meniscus is painful, and it's not the type of pain that you can ignore. It will affect him. Second, a tear of the menisci affects mobility and flexibility in knee. Even if Roy is fine toughing out the pain and discomfort (which I'm sure he is), that knee simply won't do what he wants it to all the time. It will affect his effectiveness.
With a healthy Roy, I would have given the Blazers a solid chance for an upset, but their offense identity resides with Roy. There aren't a lot of options for the Blazers offensively without Roy to create his own shot. Andre Miller will try to pick up some slack, and so will LaMarcus Aldridge, but a hampered Blazers offense will not be able to keep up with high scoring tempo team like Phoenix. Suns win the series convincingly in five games.
Denver Nuggets (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)
Game One: Saturday, 9:30PM – ESPN
The Nuggets and Jazz have identical regular season records (53-29), separated by a tie-breaker (held by Denver). They're evenly matched. It's possible lingering injuries to Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko may prove more severe than we thought and tilt the series, but right now it looks like this is going to be one of the closer first-round match-ups.
Carmelo Anthony is the best player in the series and I expect him to wreck shop all over Utahover the course of a long series. Anthony can score from all over the court, and exploit multiple types of defenders; there's simply no one for the Jazz who can check him effectively and if he gets off on one-too-many big games it could spell defeat for Utah.
I'm also a big fan of Chauncey Billups in the playoffs. At least once, if not more than that, he will win a game in the closing moments for Denver. If this series comes down to a deciding game, Utah had better make sure the ball is not in his hands with the clock winding down.
With all that love for Denver out of the way – here's the truth: the Nuggets went 8-7 over their last 15 games and endured a stretch where they lost 6 of 7 games, which is largely why they dropped from near the top of the conference to the fourth seed. They are inherently a jump shooting team that forgets about Nene and Camby down low far too often, and at times they're a jump shooting team lacking ball movement, leading to low percentage shots.The unfortunate reality for Utah is that Kirilenko will be out for two weeks with a strained left calf, and Carlos Boozer is a game-time decision for game one with a strained right oblique. That limits their defensive options on the frontline, and against Carmelo (AK typically a guy who would check 'Melo). This was going to be a tight series no matter what, and I hate to see it come down to injuy, but with Kirilenko out and Boozer clearly affected in a significant way by his injury, I think the Nuggets will outlast Utah in a tough seven game series. Denver wins.