Friday, April 13, 2007

Round 1: Western Conference Preview

1 v. 8
Dallas v. LAC/GS/NOOK

Honestly, does it really matter which team Dallas is playing (LA Clippers, Golden State, New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets? Actually, you might be able to field Dallas against all three and then see if it’s still a 4 game sweep. So not much analysis is needed for this match up (whoever Dallas ends up playing). The Mavs have been the hottest team this year and that is reflected in one of the best regular season records since the Bulls 72 win season of 1995-96.

The Mavs have their big time shooter in Dirk Nowitzki. Josh Howard may be over looked at times, but he provides nearly 20 points a game and 7 rebounds. Jason Terry provides a constant 3-point threat on the perimeter. Eric Dampier provides a rebounding and shot blocking presence in the lane. And Devin Harris just doesn’t make mistakes at point guard. More than anything Dallas is deep. The Mavs can bring Jerry Stackhouse, Anthony Johnson, Devin George, and Austin Croshere off the bench.

Though its not necessarily related to their success, Dallas does entertain fans with the most entertaining collection of reserve player names in the league: DeSagana Diop, DJ Mbenga, Jose Juan Barea and Pop Mensah-Bonsu (lest we never forget Wang Zhi Zhi).
Prediction: Mavericks 4-0

2 v. 7
Phoenix v. LA Lakers

Wow. This series seems fun even if the Lakers are running out the likes of Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Andrew Bynum, Brian Cook, and Vladimir Radmanovic to surround Kobe Bryant. This also sets up a battle of the reigning 2 time MVP Steve Nash and the player many though deserved the award, Kobe Bryant.

Let’s get this out of the way. Kobe is going to score. A lot. Period. It all comes down to what the Lakers can get from Lamar Odom and players that are not named after a delicious piece of steak. But the Lakers just have too many match up problems across the board. Smush Parker cannot stop Steve Nash. Andrew Bynum is not going to stop Amare Stoudemire. Shawn Marion is what Lamar Odom was supposed to be. And the Suns have Lenandro Barbosa coming off the bench.

Phoenix is fast, athletic. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant. Phoenix has the best point guard in the league. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant. You get the point. Of course, LA and the Suns do have an interesting playoff history. Last year, in their playoff series Raja Bell clocked Kobe in the head, leading to a suspension. That along with Kobe’s “arm flailing” there is a good shot somebody’s getting hit in the face.
Prediction: Phoenix 4-2

3 v. 6
San Antonio v. Denver

While Denver’s Allen Iverson experiment seems to finally be catching hold, San Antonio just seems to have “been there and done that” in the playoffs. The Spurs have the post season experience that is so crucial in a seven game set. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, Brent Barry, Robert Horry, Beno Udrih, and Manu Ginobili all have a significant number of playoff games under their belt. And while Iverson has led a team to the finals, he is hardly considered a “leader” on the team.

The Nuggets definitely have talent. They have two of the top scorers in the NBA with Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. Marcus Camby is a solid rebounder but Steve Blake and Reggie Evans are likely not talented enough to carry Denver into the next round. While the team chemistry is coming together, this is just your classic match up between experienced veterans versus athletic talent. In this case, the smart money is on Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs. And really, can you ever bet against a team with Robert “Big Shot Bob” Horry still roaming the court? I think not.
Prediction: Spurs 4-1

4 v. 5
Houston v. Utah

While the match up is definite, home court advantage is still up in the air. And really, any advantage in this anticipated series is crucial. This seems to be the most evenly matched of all the opening round series.

Each team has their set of favorable match ups. Utah will definitely have the advantage at the forward position with Carlos Boozer. There is just no Rocket that will be able to handle him on the defensive end. Juwan Howard is just too slow and will be a defensive liability against Boozer. Chuck Hayes, for the Rockets, is much more of an inside defender and will not be able to extend his defense much out of the paint. The Rockets may just have to live with Boozer’s points and focus on stopping Mehmet Okur in the paint.

The Jazz are also running out second year point guard Deron Williams. This may be the biggest advantage for the Jazz. Williams has turned into a very solid NBA guard and Houston will have to get much better back court defense to have any chance. Rafer Alston just doesn’t play defense. He just doesn’t. I think he made a life long pact with the “And 1 All-Stars” to allow every drive to the basket finish in a highlight dunk.

The Rockets, however, counter with arguably 2 of the top 10 players in the Western Conference in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. You can barely stop one and you just can’t stop both on any given night. Okur will most likely draw the match up with Yao. While Okur is a solid defender, Yao is just too strong to be held over the course of a 7 game series. And then there is T-Mac. Barring an injury of some kind, McGrady will be able to score at will against the Jazz defense. Either Andrei Kirilenko or Boozer will draw Tracy on the defensive end. McGrady is fast enough to take it to the rack on both and can shoot over either one at will. Yao and McGrady will set the tone for the Rockets and if they perform at the level they are capable of, the Rockets should be on solid footing in this series.
Prediction: Rockets 4-2

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