Man, just about every match-up in the first round of the Western Conference looks AWESOME. We got the Spurs vs Mavericks in a battle of the two greatest forwards to have grace a basketball court when you’re talking about Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. The second seeded Oklahoma City Thunder will go up against the seventh seeded Memphis Grizzles in a rematch of last season’s second round playoff match-up. Then the four and five seed match-up between the Houston Rockets and The Portland Trailblazers looks to be one of the highest scoring playoff series we’ve seen in recent memory.
As good as all of these match-up looks, the series I’m looking most forward to is the third seeded Los Angeles Clippers going up against the sixth seeded Golden State Warriors. I’m going to be breaking down the series and give my prediction in this piece.
Lets start off with the fact that these two teams DO NOT like each other, and why should they? They’re division rivals, and split the regular season series at two games a piece with both teams winning their games at home, all four of those games were hotly contested and testy at times, resulting in little team scuffles and ejections (the one on Blake Griffin in the third game was bogus). Lets breakdown what to look for in this match-up.
The Front-court will be the deciding factor in this series
The Warriors will be without Andrew Bogut for the playoffs after suffering a cracked rib April 10th against the Denver Nuggets, and David Lee who had a nerve inflammation in his right leg, came back against the Los Angeles Lakers April 11th but we don’t know if this will be a reoccurring problem, so without Bogut and a hobbled Lee, I think it will be tough for the Warriors to contain the play of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Griffin has taken his game to a whole other level this season, especially when Chris Paul went down for those 18 games with a separated shoulder, and when CP3 did return, Griffin’s play did not drop off at all, he has arguably been the Clippers best player this season (3rd on my MVP list). Deandre Jordan (My pick for MIP) also has taken his game to a new level under head coach Doc Rivers, he’s become a double-double guy and improved immensely on the defensive end of the court, one of the traits he’s shown this season is he is relentless on the offensive glass (averaging 4 a game!!). The Warriors will have to lean heavily on Jermaine O’neal to fill in for Bogut but that is a scary proposition for the Warriors.
As good of a job Mark Jackson has done in his three years so far in Golden State, he just doesn’t have the pedigree and experience to match-up against Doc Rivers. As we all know in the playoffs, one of the key things to winning a series, is game-to-game adjustments, Doc Rivers is one of the best in the NBA at making game-to-game adjustments and has been through it all, having already been to the NBA finals twice, winning one and has made multiple deep playoff runs with the Celtics. Mark Jackson is going to be up many nights in the film room trying to play the chess match with Rivers.
The Back-court battle
We got two of the premier point guards in the league in this series when you’re talking about Stephen Curry and Chris Paul. They will not be guarding each-other however, as the playoffs from last year and the regular season this year show, Mark Jackson likes to put 6’7 Klay Thompson on the defensive assignment of the opposing team’s point guard. The Clippers have been up and down all season with health in their back-court as the shooting guard position has constantly changed, because of the inconsistency for the Clippers at that position, look for Klay Thompson to have a HUGE series, with Paul and Curry expecting to cancel each other and their production out a little bit.
Bench play will be BIG
The rotation gets smaller during the playoffs, but still the sixth and seventh man make HUGE impacts in series as history shows. Can the Warriors bench match the power of the Clippers bench lead by sixth man of the year candidate, Jamal Crawford? Can the Warriors get the struggling Harrison Barnes to rekindle that playoff magic he had last year? Can Jordan Crawford play within himself? Those are question that should be answered after the first game. Also look for Warriors back-up point guard Steve Blake to have an impact in this series as well.
Prediction: Clippers in 7 games
This will be a great series, I don’t see either team losing on their home floor, but the Front-court to me will be the deciding factor. Look for Griffin and Jordan to dominate the glass and take advantage of the fact that David Lee is a little hobbled and Andrew Bogut will not be in this series barring a healing miracle. In an alternate universe I could see a scenario where Curry can go Super-Nova and heat-cheacking his team past the first round, but the Warriors are a jump shooting team and like the old saying goes “Live by the jump-shot, die by the jump-shot.” and as mentioned earlier Doc Rivers is just too good of a coach and will make enough game to game adjustments to give the Clips the edge.
It’s the best time of the year isn’t it?