NBA Playoff Preview: Western Conference

April 17, 2009

The NBA playoffs are about to tip off and there are a number of competitive matchups ready to begin. Here is a quick preview and some predictions of the Western Conference playoff picture.


(1) Los Angeles Lakers v. (8) Utah Jazz

The Lakers are clearly the class of the Western Conference and a big favorite to get to the Finals. Although the fight for seeds 2-7 in the West have been tight all year long, the Lakers were always the clear #1 seed. With Andrew Bynum back, even if less than 100%, the Lakers simply appear to have too much firepower for any opponent.

Where to begin? Kobe Bryant is the best player in the conference, fellow All-Star Pau Gasol may just be the most underrated, Andrew Bynum is a defensive presence in the middle, Derrick Fisher brings invaluable playoff experience, and the bench seems revitalized with Lamar Odom back as 6th man.

The Utah Jazz are clearly a disappointment this year. Many believed they would be one of the few challengers to the Lakers in 2009.

Despite the injuries, a team with Deron Williams, Carlos Boozer, a bench with Andrei Kirilenko and Paul Millsap, and a coach like Jerry Sloan should have done more. After meekly falling to the lakers 125-112 in the final game of the seaon, you have to wonder how much fight the Jazz have left.

Prediction: Lakers in 5. Deron Williams will play his heart out, but unlike last year's tough series, the Lakers should cruise.

(4) Portland Trailblazers v. (5) Houston Rockets

We are about to find out if the Blazers are for real. The Blazers have been all about potential for a year-and-a-half but a solid finish (6-game win streak) has given them the #4 seed. Their best players have no playoff experience and yet many believe they are the greatest threat to the Lakers in the West considering how they dominate LA in Portland.

To continue their ascent as a legitimate future contender, the Blazers must win this series in the 1st Round and give the Lakers a real scare in the second. With Brandon Roy emerging as one of the best players in basketball and a true clutch performer, the Blazers should be able to get through any shaky moments their inexperience might cause.

The Rockets are once again hanging around the playoffs. With Yao Ming and Ron Artest in the lineup, they have the ability to get through to the 2nd round. But this team is good at disappointing and even though McGrady has no great playoff history, he will be a missed option for the Rockets.

Prediction: Blazers in 7. Sure, the Rockets will play tough and expose the Blazer's inexperience at times, but Roy and Co. are ready to take it to the next level.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets

Okay, Denver is the #2 seed and deserves a great deal of respect for that accomplishment. Few would have expected George Karl's team to be in this position at the beginning of the season and the trade for Chauncey Billups is an unqualified success. Billups also brings the playoff resume that makes one believe the Nuggets might finally be able to get over the hump of the first round.

New Orleans conversely must view this season as a failure. Last year they shocked everyone and many expected the addition of James Posey to give the Hornets a fighting chance. But some injuries and confusing management decisions (trading Tyson Chandler, only to luckily get him back after he failed a physical) has to make everyone quesion whether this franchise is committed to winning.

With the addition of Billups I am strongly tempted to believe the Nuggets will have the mental toughness to move on this year. But ultimately I am not convinced. The Hornets have valuable playoff experience and a good postseason coach in Byron Scott. Whatever the disappointments have been during the year, Chris Paul can will his team through.

Prediction: Hornets in 6. Paul will step up big and make the plays necessary after an early win in Denver gets the Nuggets doubting again.

(3) San Antonio Spurs v. (6) Dallas Mavericks

The Spurs have a lot of pride and holding onto the #3 seed despite the injury to Ginobili is an indication of that. However, how far can they go this year? Duncan is not the MVP-type player he once was, and Tony Parker has had to carry a larger share of the offensive burden than ever before.

The Mavericks were typically inconsistent this season but got hot down the stretch and earned the #6 seed. They are actually playing their best basketball right now, and with Josh Howard back and healthy they once again have the offensive firepower to challenge almost anyone. Also, the expectations are low for this team which is good for a franchise that historically disappoints in the playoffs.

On paper, this is a rather easy pick in my opinion: The Mavericks. A hot Dallas team with Novitski, Howard, Terry, and Kidd playing well should defeat the Spurs without Ginobili despite the home court disadvantage. It's only because I have such respect for 4-time champions Duncan and Popovich that this is a close call.

Prediction: Mavericks in 7. Ultimately, Parker will get worn down over the course of the series by the Maverick guards and Jason Kidd turns the clock back one more time.

By Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for

Photographs by Tri Le
Photography Editor for

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