Back to the west coast we go as we look at the remaining teams in this part two. Lets skip the pleasantries and get right into it:
Oklahoma City Thunder vs Memphis Grizzlies
This series is going to be a need to watch. The Grizzlies are a dangerous team because of how good they are defensively and the deadly front court combo of Gasol/Randolph can give a team that does not have that much length an annoying but serious problem. The Thunder should be a little worried because while during the regular season they have been able to handle the Grizzlies, winning their series match up 3-1, the postseason has been a different story. In the last 3 years, the Grizzlies and the Thunder have met two times – once in the 2010-2011 semi conference finals, and last year in the semi conference finals. The first time ended in a 7 game series, pushing the Thunder to the brink but the Thunder coming out of that series a victor. Last year the Grizzlies pulled a gentleman’s sweep, winning four games after the Thunder took game one. Last season Russel Westbrook had been injured early in the postseason and as a result left the Thunder with an offensive size hole that only he could fill. In the series last season the defense of the Grizzlies proved to be too much, as they played a collective team defense and prevented Durant from scoring in the moments when the Thunder needed it, including in the fourth quarters of those last 4 games. The toughness and grit of the Grizzlies is what pushed them past the Thunder, something that the Thunder have lacked at times last season. History has a funny way of repeating itself, and based on the way the Grizzlies have been playing these last couple of games it would seem that history will either redeem the Thunder or glorify the Grizzlies as Durant Stoppers.
What It Boils Down to:
Russel Westbrook We already know what the Grizzlies bring to the table. Toughness, defense at the rim, chasing players away from the 3 point line and rebounding. They are like the Chicago Bulls of the West. And while the Grizzlies may be not be a fun or glamorous team to watch, they are definitely one you don’t want to play in the first round. The key for the Thunder is how going to be what they were missing last year in Westbrook. The ability to alleviate pressure off Durant will be huge for this series because this has a chance of going 7 games as well. These teams match up very well and I find it hard to believe that either will trump the other. It will come down to late game possessions and which teams superstars will go the distance.
Thunder in 6, 4-2
The two-headed beast that is Durant/Westbrook will prove what it has proven all year: to be very good in late game situations. The fact that you have to focus attention on one over the other will prove to be too much of a challenge for the Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies rank 3rd in points allowed, they ranked 27th in points scored. When you play against this high-octane offense there will be times where defense will not be enough. This is most evident in the 4th quarter. The unorthodox method of playing separately together will be most crucial for the Thunder at this time because Durant and Westbrook have learned how to effectively play as a team when needed and when to take over when the other can’t. Memphis is very good at home however, so I seem them winning the two back to back games (games 3 and 4) before the Thunder finishing them off. This series has a chance to go to 7, because the Grizzlies are a one game at a time team and can easily win the third home game as well. Thunder have the advantage with home court but I do not foresee the Thunder getting pushed so far. If they do, they need to be worried for the next round.
San Antonio Spurs vs Dallas Mavericks
Texas has the recipe for playoff teams because all 3 Texan NBA teams are in the playoffs. Pretty cool. What is also cool is the match up of the Mavs and the Spurs, two of the league old timers duking it out in a battle of the Lone Star State playoff series. These two teams have met in the playoffs 3 times since 2004, the Mavs winning 2 of 3 of them. It is actually surprising that they have not met more times, seeing as both teams have made it to the playoffs nearly every year since 2000. While it should be an entertaining series, but let’s be honest. We all know the end result. The Spurs are too deep, too well coached, and too experienced to be challenged by the Mavericks. That is not to say the Mavericks will be push overs; I am not stating that the Mavericks will be swept. I am simply reminding you of the fact that the Spurs are a very good team, and an even better playoff team.
What It Boils Down To:
Execution Something the Spurs do very well and what the Mavericks struggle with. The Spurs are 6th in the league in assists, and 6th in point points allowed and points scored. They run their offense with precision and that is why the spurs are the number 1 team going into the playoffs. The only reason why you don’t hear them in the conversation for winning it all as much as the Thunder, Heat or Pacers is for the simple fact that they have an aged team. The Mavericks have been trying to replicate the basketball culture the Spurs have and in a couple of years I see the Mavericks rebuilding their team with a combo of old and young players. But right now the Mavericks biggest problem is late game defense, and this will come into play in this series.
Spurs in 5, 4,1
Barring a serious injury, this team will have no problem advancing to the next round. The Mavericks are not there defensively to compete and the Spurs are too experienced to allow themselves to fall to the Mavericks. Dirk will play well seeing as he usually does against the Spurs, but the supporting cast will need to step up in a way I don’t see them doing. Ultimately the Mavericks need to continue to retool in order to compete better next year. I will still watch this series because it is two good teams going at it. Its like watching the first Rocky – we know how good Apollo Creed is but it is always great to watch him get challenged once in a while.
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All stats were provided by ESPN.com