The second half of Delay of Game’s playoff preview tries to sort out the daunting Western Conference. Outside of the upstart New Orleans Pelicans, each team has a strong chance to represent the West in the NBA Finals.
Check out our picks!:
1 Golden State Warriors v. 8 New Orleans Pelicans
Stephen Curry and the Dubs are motivated to show why they are the top contender in the West. With one of the most balanced rosters around, Golden State has the perfect mix of offensive firepower (Curry, Klay Thompson) and defensive identity (Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut) to make a deep run.
The Pelicans, on the other hand, are just happy to be in the second season. Anthony Davis and the Pels made a strong statement by fending off Russell Westbrook’s gauntlet for the eighth and final spot. For years to come, AD will be tough to beat in a seven-game series but right now, Curry and co. have the advantage on every level.
Witnessing AD’s first playoffs series is a nice story but one thing is certain…it won’t last too long. Unless Tyreke Evans & Jrue Holiday produce virtuoso performances, the Pels could be done in just 5 games.
Omer Asik v. Andrew Bogut is another matchup to watch but stars like Green and Thompson should thrive with the experience they gained against LA last year. If the Warriors dominate, they will send a devastating message to the rest of the NBA.
Stephen Curry: Projected Top D.O.G.
WARRIORS IN 5
2 Houston Rockets v. 7 Dallas Mavericks
Rockets-Mavericks is a toss up. Can James Harden carry the enormous burden that he did in the regular season? It remains to be seen, especially since Rick Carlisle is sure to make defensive adjustments on Harden throughout the series. Dirk Nowitzki is hungry for another deep run and Dallas is prepared to make some noise in the playoffs.
But is it too bad of a matchup for them to overcome? The Mavs struggled on defense all year long and still have not developed the correct chemistry with Rajon Rondo in the lineup. The Rockets are a high octane offense (avg. 103.9 ppg) led by one of the league’s top “drivers” in half court sets. If Dwight Howard is available (without restrictions) for all 7 games, Houston may have the inside track.
Without Patrick Beverley, Rondo really needs to make his impact on the series. Chandler Parsons (knee) is still banged up but Rondo, along with Tyson Chandler, needs to control the pace for Dallas to advance. Rondo hasn’t found his “footing” since being dealt to Dallas midseason. If he can make plays on both ends, the Mavs are way scarier. Even if he has trouble producing, Monta Ellis should have a HUGE series. He is always a problem for Houston with his ability to penetrate and make plays at the basket.
Houston’s X-Factors include Corey Brewer and Josh Smith. Both have the opportunity to use their versatile skill sets to gain enough ground over Dallas’s inconsistent bench. In the end, we predict Harden’s incredible all-around game will result in a close Game 7 victory.
James Harden: Projected Top D.O.G.
ROCKETS IN 7
3 Los Angeles Clippers v. 6 San Antonio Spurs
WHAT. A. SERIES. Clippers-Spurs will easily be the most exciting, hotly contested opening round tilt in the postseason. The stage is set: the champs travel to LA to defend their title with honor. If you think about it, the two teams are on opposite spectrums.
Los Angeles, led by Doc Rivers, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, is looking to shake the “style over substance” label that has been placed upon them over the years. Getting by the disciplined Spurs could give them momentum to make a deep run in this year’s postseason.
San Antonio, on the other hand, led by Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, looks to repeat as champions for the first time in franchise history. Without even exploring how effective (2015 All-Star; avg. 14 points, 9 boards) Duncan has been in his advanced age, Leonard’s impact will be known all series long.
Not only does he have the defensive capabilities to defend Chris Paul, his offense (avg. 16.5 points) has improved to the point where Coach Pop trusts him to deliver in clutch situations. It’s rough because if the Clips try to shut down Leonard, he can move the ball to shooters like Danny Green or Marco Belinelli and will not hesitate to defer to the Big 3.
This series will most likely be determined by bench play. The Spurs are balanced off the pine (Patty Mills, Boris Diaw, Aron Baynes/Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, Belinelli), while Los Angeles is searching for stability. Since Jamal Crawford continues to work off the rust from a hampering calf injury, guys like Austin Rivers and Glen Davis need to produce big time. Wow, that’s even difficult to write!
Who knows? CP3 may go full “God mode,” Griffin may be too much to handle down low and DJ’s athleticism could be an extreme matchup problem. The safer bet, however, is that the Spurs will do what they’ve done for over a decade: find a way to win when it matters most.
Kawhi Leonard: Projected Top D.O.G.
SPURS IN 7
4 Portland Trail Blazers v. 5 Memphis Grizzlies
The Blazers will hang tough in this series, despite numerous injuries to many key players. Wes Matthews, Dorell Wright & Arron Afflalo’s ailments will make this a difficult series for Portland to pull out. Afflalo could be a big difference maker if healthy enough to play but the onus is on Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge to lead the way to victory.
Although Memphis had a very tough time winning games down the stretch of the regular season, they are playoff-tested and suitable to grind out wins when the game slows down in fourth quarters. Even with Mike Conley not at 100%, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and the rest of Memphis’s front court should devastate Robin Lopez, Meyers Leonard and Chris Kaman in the middle.
The key for Portland to pull off the upset lies with UnderDOGS CJ McCollum & Lopez. We figure Jeff Green and Courtney Lee will make a big difference for Memphis, so the Blazers also need aid from their unheralded stars.
CJ has played very well since Afflalo went down in the lineup. He is a very effective scorer in P&R sets and should get plenty of opportunities starting alongside Lillard and Aldridge. If he has a big series, Portland is in prime position to pull off the upset (yes, we realize they are the higher seed…).
But once it is all said and done, size will be the deciding factor for Dave Joerger’s group. Gasol should have a field day down low and his passing will open up the rest of the Grizzlies’ offensive attack.
Marc Gasol: Projected Top D.O.G.
GRIZZLIES IN 7