NBA Roundtable

2012 Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Matchups

In General NBA on April 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm

The four ties

  • (1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Utah Jazz
  • (2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
  • (3) Los Angeles Lakers vs (6) Denver Nuggets
  • (4) Memphis Grizzlies  vs (5) Los Angeles Clippers


San Antonio Spurs vs Utah Jazz

I like Utah in this series a bit more than most seem to. I don’t think they will win but I do think they can give the Spurs a good time of it and win a game or two.

I like their strength up front with Al Jefferson and Millsap with Kanter and Favors off the bench + their size, quickness and talent in the backcourt with Devin Harris and Gordon Hayward. Younger legs. I think the combination of those players can cause San Antonio some problems.

Still, the Spurs have far too many weapons to be gunned down by this Utah team. They have a comfortable advantage and should win this series in 6. If Utah’s inexperience comes back to haunt them, the series may be over even quicker than that.

Oklahoma City Thunder vs Dallas

Best series of the first round. A terrific matchup. Somewhat of a rematch from last year’s Conference Finals although Dallas’ roster has changed a fair bit since then.

Kidd, Marion, Terry and Dirk are still around while Tyson Chandler, DeShawn Stevenson and JJ Barea have left. In comes Delonte West and Vince Carter to replace those backcourt losses while Brendan Haywood and Ian Mahinmi have been larger roles in the frontcourt.

I don’t know what to make of this series. I think it’ll be one heck of a series and I’d consider Oklahoma the slight favourite but I really think this is anyone’s series.

Going back to last year, Serge Ibaka struggled to contain Dirk Nowitzki. I am not sure much has changed since then. Ibaka is still an incredible weakside shot-blocker and high level team defender but his man-to-man D (while above average) is not yet of the same level. Nick Collison fared much better and should see a lot of time against Dirk.

Collison’s superior foot-speed (vs Perk) will also make him valuable in matching up against Dallas’ quicker big man combinations when Brandan Wright and Ian Mahinmi slot in at center. Good opportunity for Collison to have a big series. They need him here.

The Durant-Marion matchup will continue to be a great one. One of the better wing defenders in the league against one of the most lethal (if not the most lethal) offensive threats in the league.

The freakishly athletic and talented Russell Westbrook against the aging but cagey Jason Kidd who continues to be a very effective starting guard due to his intelligence and ability to effect games in the non-scoring departments (leadership, ball-handling, running the offense, passing ability, team defense, multi-positional defender, defender, creates turnovers, possession creator, facilitator, stabilizer offensively who makes sure the ball goes where it should).

Then there is the terrific James Harden who has been the third best shooting guard in the league this season and is a clear All-Star caliber player. While the Mavericks combat that with a former sixth man of the year candidate of their own in Jason Terry. An explosive shooter and scorer but lacks the all-round game of Harden.

A pair of plodding defender/rebounders/screen setters at center in Perk and Haywood. Then glue guy two guards of a different mold in Thabo Sefolosha and Delonte West. Thabo a high level defender/rebounder on the wing while Delonte is more of a multi-dimensional combo guard.

The intelligence and cohesion of the Mavs vs the athleticism and youthful energy of the Thunder.

Rick Carlisle vs Scotty Brooks

This is going to be a great series. No idea how it’ll play out and I think that is one of the most exciting aspects of this series. I can’t wait. The matchup to watch in the first round.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

This could have been a very good series had Denver not traded Nene for McGee. That is a large decrease in talent in the immediate sense and it will cost Denver a shot at advancing out of the first round.

Add in the undersized PF Kenneth Faried and fellow inexperienced bigs like Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov and you can see just how large an advantage Los Angeles’ starting bigs Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have against these guys.

The one big man who has caused the Lakers troubles is Al Harrington. The Lakers do not defend perimeter orientated big men well. Harrington’s long distance shooting and ability to put the ball on the court and drive plus his transition game has caused LA major problems in regular season matchups. Pau Gasol does not like to defend PFs like Harrington and when LA go to their bench, well, their backup bigs are only marginal talents so Al Harrington still causes problems. A tough guy for LA to deal with.

The other big threats for LA to deal with are the PG combination of Ty Lawson and Andre Miller and the sweet-shooting 6-10 Gallinari at small forward.

I believe Wilson Chandler is out injured for this series. That is a big blow for Denver’s wing depth. They still get good service there with Afflalo, Rudy and C.Brewer but Wilson could have been another difference maker off the bench (along with Al Harrington and Andre Miller).

The Lakers advantages are obvious. The two seven footers in the paint with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum neither of whom the Nuggets can contain. Then they get good play from their backcourt with Kobe Bryant and Ramon Sessions.

No Ron Artest to cover Gallinari though which is a worry. Gallinari has a habit of beating up lesser defenders but usually fails to do the same against top class D. Instead, Matt Barnes will take the assignment and he’ll need to stay vigilant and cover Gallinari closely across the perimeter because he can shoot from anywhere on the court. That will be a very interesting matchup to watch. Barnes a highly over-rated defender who can get taken advantage of quite frequently by top class offensive talent.

The Lakers should win this series fairly comfortably. I am expecting a short series. Probably five games. Their size advantage in the paint is too much for Denver to overcome. The Nuggets will have many good moments but that inability to contain Bynum and Pau is just too much.

Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Clippers

Terrific series — along with the Mavs-Thunder matchup, this is one of the two best matchups in the first round.

I expect the Grizzlies to win this series in a hotly contested matchup against a gallant Clippers team spearheaded by Chris Paul. I think the Grizzlies defensive power, balance and more experienced (individually and collectively) group will give them the contest.

The matchup I am most looking forward to is Tony Allen defensively on Chris Paul. I love watching Tony guard PGs. Always have. His size and quickness, defensive chops, he murders smaller guards. Now pitted against one of the smartest and most efficient offensive guards in all of basketball. Wonderful. One of the best individual matchups in the first round.

I think the Grizzlies will have an advantage in the paint with Marc Gasol over DeAndre Jordan. More skilled, more intelligent. Jordan still in the early stages of his development and hasn’t made enough progress for the Clippers this season to push them into contender status. Marc Gasol, meanwhile, continues to be a major catalyst in Memphis’ surging squad.

Rudy Gay should have a good matchup at small forward too and OJ Mayo off the bench should cause the Clippers problems also. Nick Young has been very inconsistent since joining the Clippers but if he can string together a few quality moments, that could go a long way to neutralizing the advantage OJ Mayo looks to have.

Clippers main advantage is obviously with Chris Paul against Mike Conley/Tony Allen. Blake Griffin and Zach Randolph should cancel one another out. If Randolph isn’t able to be a difference maker of that caliber, Griffin’s advantage here could allow the Clips a real shot at winning this series. The Grizzlies need high level play from Zach Randolph.

Neither squad gets much out of their bench but the Grizzlies have more balance in their top 5/6 guys than the Clippers do. LA more top heavy and reliant on Paul and Griffin. That will be the difference in this series.

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