San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Los Angeles Clippers (5)
|Two of the best ever from Wake Forest.|
But it's not that simple. The Spurs have superior health, home-court advantage, and, to put it nicely, a significant edge at head coach. They also have 3-point shooting. San Antonio ranked first in the NBA in 3-point percentage this season and continued hitting from deep against Utah at a 40.7 percent clip. The Clippers, nearly last in the league at defending the 3-point line during the regular season, closed out on Memphis well, but Memphis's weakness is shooting 3's, whereas it's a strength for the Spurs. The Clippers don't have the size or the consistent smarts to defend San Antonio's spread-floor offense.
With that spacing, Parker and Manu Ginobili will carve San Antonio up. The only way the Clippers contend with that duo is if Eric Bledsoe plays like he did in game 7 against Memphis. Tim Duncan should also get his on the green DeAndre Jordan, who will likely be in foul trouble for much of the series.
The best thing L.A. has going is Blake Griffin will likely put up better numbers than the 18 points and 6.4 rebounds he did against Zach Randolph. His production and offensive rebounding, as well as Kenyon Martin's and Reggie Evans's ability to drag the Spurs to hell, will keep this series close. Chris Paul will dominate as per usual.
The series will be close, but the Spurs have too many built-in advantages going in.
Pick: Spurs in 6
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (3)
The Western Conference matchup everybody wanted to see. After the Thunder thrashed the team that trounced them a year ago, they get their revenge match against the Lakers, who bounced them from the playoffs two years ago.
|Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant are two of the league's best pure scorers.|
World Peace locked down Durantula two years ago, but World Peace was Ron Artest and Durantula was a young scorer in his first playoff series. Durant is now a seasoned 3-time scoring champ with experience in the Western Conference Finals. He won't go off for 40 each game, but he'll be a consistent scoring presence.
Westbrook and Harden will determine the series for OKC. If they can effectively do what Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari could not- that is, initiate plays in the halfcourt and score efficiently with the clock winding down- then the Thunder offense will be lethal enough to win. Bryant has slowed Westbrook in the past, but not this version of Westbrook. How does L.A. defend OKC when they put Harden, Durant, and Westbrook on the court? That was Dallas's issue, and Jason Terry got torched. Can Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake do any better?
Gasol will likely dominate Serge Ibaka, who is a poor post defender. Bynum's offense is the bigger variable; L.A. is at its best when Bynum is scoring efficiently and the Lakers get to defend in the half-court. OKC will destroy them if they get in transition, so L.A. needs to create space for both 7-footers to go to work.
In the end, OKC's fast, tall perimeter double teams will likely make entry-passes too difficult, and Bryant will need to take a lot of shots. Bryant is an amazing player, but it's too much to ask to cover up all of his team's flaws at his age against a young Thunder team.
This series will end in five, but it won't feel easy. This will be a great matchup.
Pick: Thunder in 5