Thank you all so much for reading my first round Eastern Conference Preview. I wanted to try and get everything done before games started at 12:30pm EST tomorrow with the Wizards against John's Raptors. I will try to keep this one shorter as to not inundate you with too much. Also, I think most of the West's matchups are pretty straightforward. Let's get rolling!
Dallas Mavericks versus San Antonio Spurs
Whether you love them or hate them, you have to respect what the Spurs do. They have had 15 consecutive 50 win seasons all while not having one player who averaged more than 30 minutes a game. This is the fantasy basketball equivalent to trying to figure out Bill Belicek's running backs but the end result is nothing short of amazing. The goal is always "let's milk one more championship out of this group". They are all healthy and any team that is going to win the NBA title must go through San Antonio. They are deep and their role players will be ready because of how deep their rotation is on a game by game basis. Their stars are healthy is Kawhi Leonard can play like he has the last month, watch out!
As much respect as I have for Dirk, Dallas is just going to be overmatched. I will give credit to Monta Ellis for becoming a less of a black hole (this shows you how terrible planet Milwaukee must've been) and Dirk is arguably one of the greatest shooters of all time. That being said, they just don't match up well with San Antonio. This team can't play a lick of defense and were swept by San Antonio during the regular season. I'll give them a win, but none more.
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Memphis Grizzlies versus Oklahoma City Thunder
What an intriguing matchup this is going to be. Remember back to last season, when OKC lost Westbrook and Memphis came in as the underdog and knocked Durant out of the postseason. Now, Russell Westbrook is healthy and Kevin Durant may be on the verge of supplanting LeBron James as the best basketball player on the planet. Compliment those two with Serge I-block-ya *Ibaka* and improved bench led by Reggie Jackson and better defensive depth, OKC may be primed for a run at the Spurs in the West.
Hold your horses though. Remember, this Memphis team knocked OKC out last year with solid defense and timely shooting. This is an extremely talented team led by Mike Conley, a healthy duo down low with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and arguably the best defensive player in the NBA in Tony Allen. With the recent Nick Calathas suspension, this will definitely hurt the Grizzlies depth in their second unit. To win this series, they are going to have to contain Durant (if that's possible) and make Westbrook try to beat them. If Westbrook decides to try and take over games and Durant doesn't assert himself, this could be a huge upset. That all being said, I think OKC has revenge on their minds and a chip on their shoulder.
Prediction: Oklahoma City in 6
Golden State Warriors versus Los Angeles Clippers *BIAS ALERT*
The LA Clippers may be the most fun team to watch in the entire NBA (I cannot believe that I just typed this sentence). The second most fun team to watch? The Golden State Warriors (may need a be checked by a doctor). These two perennial losers have built great teams and look to become the two best teams in California for years to come (Sorry Laker fans). Chris Paul has been my favorite player since I watched him torch my childhood UNC Tar Heels over and over again at Wake Forest. He is the ultimate floor general, distributor who has the ability to take over the game. I will eat my words here but Blake Griffin has really turned himself into a tremendous player. I wrote an article earlier this year how I couldn't understand why people called Blake Griffin the best power forward in the NBA over the likes of Kevin Love. I can at least see the argument now *He's still not better than Love though*. Doc Rivers has gotten more out of DeAndre Jordan than I ever thought there was, although if teams start playing hack a Jordan his 6th grade free throw shooting skills will be on display for the country to see. This team is deep, talented and hungry.
However, they have the unfortunate draw of playing the Golden State and their Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson). If LA needs a refresher in how tough this team is to put away, they can ask San Antonio who were given all they could handle by this young, talented team. If they get hot, Curry is the best shooter in the NBA and Klay Thompson can put up points in a hurry. The difference in this series will be in the bigs. Andrew Bogut can protect the rim but his trouble all season has been staying healthy. David Lee gives them inside scoring presence and is an excellent rebounder but won't challenge Griffin much on the defensive end. Their bench is actually shallower with the departure of Jarrett Jack and while this series will be fun to watch, I just don't see a way Golden State can win. I will give an extra game to them because their arena is the NBA equivalent to the 12th man in Seattle.
Prediction: Clippers in 6
Portland Trail Blazers versus Houston Rockets
Out of all the matchups, this may be the best of them all. This is the hardest of them all to call and most balanced. The Rockets, in Dwight Howard and James Harden, have the star power. Portland started out the season white hot and has an great combination of inside/outside game. Terrance Jones for Houston has emerged as a very good player and Chandler Parsons is a sharpshooter and very good defender. LaMarcus Aldridge finally made his first all-star game this year and has been down right spectacular while their little guard Damian Lilliard is living up to his star potential out of tiny Weber State. Both teams can play defense, both can play inside and both can shoot the 3. I could ramble on and on about how evenly matched these two teams are but the truth is, this is going to be an absolutely fantastic series. Rocket fans are hoping that Dwight Howard ushers in another golden era like Hakeem Olajuwon. Portland is a fantastic basketball city and is hoping to resurrect the glory days of Clyde Drexler. Unfortunately, after this series there can only be one winner. I literally am choosing this winner by a margin of 51-49 because I think that overall, they are just a little bit more talented.
Prediction: Portland in 7
Thank you all so much for reading! I will be back periodically throughout to give my thoughts and will try to write one of these with each round until we are crowned a champion. Have a blessed Easter weekend! Please follow me on twitter @weigel_a. Also, if you're a hockey fan, follow fellow TJR writer @DanMountSports as he and I tweet about various hockey games. This is a wonderful time of year to be a sports fan as the NBA and NHL playoffs are both must see entertainment.