By Andrew Barbuzzi
After a crazy season riddled with injury and uncertainty, the Los Angeles Lakers not only were safe for the eight seed following a Utah Jazz loss, but they stole the seven spot from the Houston Rockets. This means they avoid the young and explosive Oklahoma City Thunder and play the old and experienced San Antonio Spurs. This has a lot of people anxious and wondering if this means the Lakers can make a deep playoff run this season, and be a legitimate threat to win the NBA finals.
The final regular season game of the season dropped the Rockets to the eight seed, forcing them to play the Thunder in the first round. This is a tough break for the Rockets; they are a young explosive team who averages the most possessions per game, along with the most points per game. They can score at will, and run most teams out of the gym; the only problem is the Thunder match up in every facet of the game. They can run just as fast, score just as well, they play tough defense, and they can rebound. Look for Kevin Durant to score 30 points per game and the Thunder to win in a convincing five games.
The Grizzlies are playing great basketball of late, despite trading their best overall player in Rudy Gay earlier in the season. They have a great frontcourt in Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, and good point guard play with Mike Conley. However, the Clippers are just too deep and explosive, and Chris Paul will dictate the flow of the game. I think both teams match up well with each other, but the athleticism of Blake Griffin and the rest of the gang will be tough to manage. On the opposite end of the floor, Blake will struggle defensively against Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen will be a pest defensively against Jamaal Crawford and the rest of the backcourt. This will be the tightest series in the West, and I have the Clippers in seven games.
The Warriors have the ability to beat any team in the league with their ability to shoot the basketball. They have the new season leader in 3-pointers made in Stephen Curry, along with sharp shooter Klay Thompson. The Warriors also have the league leader in fourth quarter minutes in backup point guard Jarrett Jack, who is undoubtedly the best backup point guard in the league. Don’t forget about David Lee a guy who finished the year averaging over 18 points and 11 rebounds. The only problem is they aren’t built for the playoffs. The Nuggets on the other hand are even deeper despite various injuries this season. One big question they have is the health of Ty Lawson, who was sidelined the last few games of the regular season due to a partial tear of his Plantar Fasciitis (sole of the foot). Lawson recently said he felt 100 percent and he will be fine for the playoffs. He runs the offense, and without him they fail to run the fast break and score points. I fully expect the Nuggets to score 110 points plus per game, although the Warriors will not be far behind. This will certainly be the highest-scoring first round, as the Nuggets will advance in six games.
We talked about earlier how fans were getting excited about the Lakers facing the old San Antonio Spurs, and wondering if they have a chance to win the series. The answer is absolutely not. I had questions surrounding the Lakers before Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles, and still thought the Spurs would beat them. The Lakers have the weakest bench out of the playoff teams. Steve Nash is a question mark to be healthy, and they will struggle to score points. People always forget just how good the Spurs are, even though they will seemingly have to win this first round without sixth man Manu Ginobili. Tony Parker is going to have a field day on either Nash or Steve Blake, while the rest of the Spurs young players like Kawhi Leonard are going to run laps around the likes of once good defender Metta World Peace. I expect the Spurs to run away with this one in five games.