Unlike the Eastern Conference, which only really features two Finals-worthy teams, the Western Conference playoffs are full of intrigue and mystery. While Oklahoma City looks to be the early favorite, there are several other teams that are more than capable of making it to the NBA Finals. Never count out the veteran Spurs, led by the ageless Tim Duncan and perhaps the best coach in the NBA in Greg Poppovich. The Rockets have all the necessary pieces, and even the Clippers have to be considered legitimate contenders with the near-MVP level play of Blake Griffin this year.
Here’s my prediction for the final standings, along with a round by round synopsis of the Western Conference playoffs.
- 1. Oklahoma City
- 2. San Antonio
- 3. Houston
- 4. L.A. Clippers
- 5. Portland
- 6. Golden State
- 7. Phoenix
- 8. Memphis
1. Oklahoma City vs. 8. Memphis
This won’t be much of a test for Kevin Durant and the Thunder. The Grizzlies are strong in the frontcourt, but they don’t have an answer for the scoring of Durant and Westbrook. Serge Ibaka should be able to contain Zach Randolph, and the Grizzlies won’t be able to muster enough offense to stay with the high flying Thunder.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in 5
2. San Antonio vs. 7. Phoenix
This is a tough opening round for the Spurs, as the Suns play the kind of basketball that could get the veterans in trouble. The Suns love to run with Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, which should put a lot of pressure on the veteran Spurs to keep up. Phoenix plays solid defense and doesn’t make clumsy mistakes, which is uncharacteristic of a young team as well. The Spurs, however, are too solid of a team to fall this early, and Duncan should be able to have his way with the Suns frontcourt. The Spurs will move on.
Prediction: San Antonio in 6
3. Houston vs. 6. Golden State
This should be a great series between two teams that could legitimately advance to the conference finals. The Warriors are strong in the frontcourt and the backcourt, and they can absolutely shoot the daylights out of the basketball. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson love to run and get out in transition, but the game slows down in the playoffs, which could be the difference in the series. James Harden should excel in the halfcourt game as the Warriors don’t really have a defender capable of staying with him. Chandler Parsons can match Thompson shot for shot, and Dwight Howard should be able to outperform the best efforts of Andrew Bogut and David Lee. The Rockets move on, but this is a thrilling series.
Prediction: Houston in 7
4. L.A. Clippers vs. 5. Portland
Portland has had a remarkable season to this point. NBA experts had them hovering around the 8 seed or looking at a lottery pick this year, and instead they dominated the NBA to start the year and are still hanging tough heading into the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the Clippers are just a little bit better in every area. Perhaps the only power forward playing better basketball than LaMarcus Aldridge in the entire NBA plays for the Clippers. Damian Lillard has had an exceptional season as well, but he gets to face up with CP3 as well. The home court advantage, the pedigree, and the athleticism of lob city will carry the Clippers past the Blazers this time around.
Prediction: L.A. Clippers in 6
1. Oklahoma City vs. 4. L.A. Clippers
The Clippers have fared well against the Thunder in the regular season, and they come into this one with a ton of confidence after their thorough dismissal of the Blazers. Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook look to play this one to a draw, which leaves Blake Griffin and his supporting cast against Kevin Durant and his. The Clippers are by far the deeper team, and they have perhaps the second best player in the western conference this year in Blake Griffin. But Kevin Durant is on another level, and he will have to carry the Thunder past the Clips in order to advance. This series goes to 7 games and really is a tossup, so when in doubt you have to go with the home team.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in 7
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 3. Houston Rockets
Consider this series the swan song for the San Antonio Spurs dynasty. It’s tough to ever write the Spurs off as they seem to rise to the occasion time and time again, but I don’t know if they have an answer for the Rockets this time around. Dwight Howard is a force in the paint, which will contain Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter. Parsons is a better player than Danny Green and will neutralize the three point threat of the Spurs. Tony Parker is the Spurs best shot here as the Rockets remain weak at the point, but his heroics won’t be enough to offset the offense that James Harden and the Rockets will be able to muster. This series may be the last time we see this version of the Spurs together, so be sure to tune in and pay your respects.
Prediction: Houston in 6
1. Oklahoma City vs. 3. Houston
The year is 2012. The Thunder just lost in the finals to the Miami Heat, and now they have to decide between resigning James Harden or resigning Serge Ibaka. They opt for Ibaka, turning Harden loose. Harden signs with the Houston Rockets, and two years later he returns with Dwight Howard and company to knock off the odds-on favorites to return to the NBA Finals for the western conference. The Thunder just emerged from a grueling series against the Clippers, and their fatigue shows in this matchup. Dwight Howard bullies Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins in the post, and James Harden overwhelms Thabo Sefalosha en route to a stunning upset of the number 1 seed. Kevin Durant does his part, but it’s not enough to slow down the Rockets, who have gained momentum through every round of the playoffs thus far. Eventually the Rockets move on to face the Heat in the NBA Finals.
Prediction: Houston in 6