The NBA regular season is in the books and now our attention turns towards the highly anticipated playoffs series! Yesterday we took a look at the Eastern Conference first round and today we’ll be previewing all four matchups in the Western Conference!
You can check out our Eastern Conference series previews here.
The Golden State Warriors will face off against their old rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1 vs 8 matchup in the Western Conference starting on Sunday.
After a tight race throughout the regular season, the Golden State Warriors claimed top spot in the Western Conference, ensuring that they’ll have home court advantage throughout the Western side of the NBA Playoffs bracket. They finished with a 57-25 record on the season, winning eight of their last 10 games to secure the top spot over the Nuggets.
It was yet another fantastic year from super-star duo Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, who will both earn All-NBA nods for their individual seasons, while Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Igoudala and first year Warrior DeMarcus Cousins continue to be the best supporting cast in the entire league.
Golden State can’t be blamed for having lapses in form throughout the year, three championships in four years must have some effect on motivation. However, despite their form in previous regular seasons, the Warriors have always found a way to flick the switch in the playoffs.
The Clippers had one of the more surprising years in the NBA this season. They have traded away their best player in each of the past three seasons in Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Tobias Harris but still found a way to remain competitive this season and finish with a 48-34 record.
The Clippers don’t exactly have the star power of the other teams in the Western Conference playoffs, however, they play ferocious team defence and play at an extremely high pace. Those two aspects of their game might be hard to maintain over a potential seven game series, and someone will likely need to step up big in the scoring department if they want to be competitive against the Warriors.
Danilo Galinari is the obvious selection to take on the bulk of the scoring responsibility. The forward averaged 19.8 points per game this season and shot a fantastic 43% from three point territory.
Tough to see an upset here. The Warriors are just so deep, so talented and so hard to beat over seven games. Golden State went through the motions in the regular season and still won 57 games. There’s no doubt that they have another gear to go to in the playoffs and should take care of the Clippers comfortably.
The San Antonio Spurs continue their record run of playoff appearances this season with their 22nd straight in 2019. They will face the Denver Nuggets in the first round, with Game 1 scheduled for Sunday afternoon.
The acquisition of guard Isaiah Thomas was the talk of the town in Denver in the off-season, as it should have been. Acquiring a former MVP candidate to play as your 6th man should make you an instant contender, however, the Nuggets proved to be a contender with Thomas playing a fairly limited role throughout the season.
Instead, they famed their own MVP candidate in Nikola Jokic. The centre was arguably the best at his position in the entire NBA this season, averaging 20.1 points, 10.8 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game.
Along with Jokic, the Denver starting five of Jamal Murray, Gary Harris, Paul Millsap and Will Barton have been fantastic throughout the season, heloing the Nuggets to a 54-28 record, their best since the 2012-13 season.
San Antonio Spurs
It seems as though coach Greg Popovic could have a team full of D-League players at his disposal and still reach the NBA playoffs. Granted, he did have some talent to work with this season, but to make the playoffs in the same season you traded away your best player is a fantastic effort.
Many thought the Spurs would finally fall out of the playoffs this season after they traded away Kawhi Leonard to the Toronto Raptors, however, with DeMar DeRozan coming to the Spurs and forming a great 1-2 punch with LaMarcus Aldridge, the Spurs racked up a 48-34 record.
What set the Spurs apart, as it so often does, was their dominance at home. They had just a 16-25 record on the road but were able to win a ridiculous 32 out of 41 games at the AT&T Centre, a home record that was bettered by only the Bucks.
This is a great first round matchup for Jokic. In times throughout the regular season we saw him exposed by bigger centres who like to get physical down low. While we don’t think much defence will be played by either centre in this series, Jokic should have his way with Aldridge down low.
The Spurs will be tough to beat at home, and they generally have another gear they slip into in the playoffs. Tough to call but we think the Spurs snatch at least two at home. This series should end in six games either way.
The Blazers will face off against the Thunder in the 3 vs 6 matchup of the Western Conference finals, beginning on Monday in Portland from 5.30am.
The Blazers were dealt a massive blow late in the season as star centre Jusuf Nurkic went down with a horrific broken leg. They were fantastic to round out the season by winning 8 of their last 10 games and holding onto the third seed over the charging Rockets in the process.
The Rockets were led all season by superstar point guard Damian Lillard, who will likely be rewarded for his season with his second straight All-NBA first team selection.
The Blazers supporting cast has been another major reason for their success this year. Young players the likes of Zach Collins, Seth Curry, Meyers Leonar and Jake Layman have all been fantastic for the Blazers and will all need to lift in Nurkic’s absence.
The Thunder will consider themselves lucky that they get to face a Blazers team sans Nurkic in the first round. They had an extremely up and down season that was highlighted by winning their last five games in a row to jump all the way up into the sixth seed.
Paul George was the catalyst for the Thunder when they were winning this season. The star forward was in contention for MVP earlier in the eyar before injury put the brakes on his season. He looks back to his best now, however, and should be the barometer for the Thunder this postseason.
Russel Westbrook averaged a triple double for the third straight season this year and will bring plenty of playoff experience to the Thunder line-up. While Westbrook’s intensity can work against him on a night to night basis in the regular season, it really suits the playoffs, and he usually becomes a different beast when they start.
Steven Adams will be a massive factor in this series. With no Nurkic in the line-up, the OKC centre should be able to have his way with the likes of Enes Kanter and the other Blazers back up bigs.
As good as Damian Lillard is on offence, he should have a tough time guarding Russel Westbrook. CJ McCollum will likely take the lively point guard as much as he can, but with it being so easy to manipulate matchups in the NBA, the Thunder just look to have too much firepower here.
The final matchup in the Western Conference first round sees the Houston Rocket facing off against the Utah Jazz. This series begins on Monday at 11.30am with the Rockets holding the home court advantage in four games.
The Rockets battled their way through an injury riddled season to finish fourth in the Western Conference with a 53-29 record. Injuries to Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and Chris Paul was a hindrance on the Rockets form but the play of star guard James Harden kept the entire season together.
The reigning MVP averaged a league best 36.1 points per game this season, a mark that has been bettered by only Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan in the history of the NBA. Harden is a contender to win his second MVP this season and will be the barometer for the Rockets success in the post-season.
Harden’s running mate Chris Paul has had a slow season but he has proven in the past he can find another gear in the playoffs as he did last season against the Warriors.
After being bounced in the second round of playoffs in the previous two seasons, the Jazz will be looking to go one step further this season and make the Conference Finals.
The Jazz finished the regular season with an impressive 50-32 record; winning 8 of their last 10 games to jump into fifth place in the conference standings.
They were led once again by their star centre Rudy Gobert. The reigning defensive player of the year played 81 games for the Jazz in the regular season and along with young guard Donovan Mitchell, combines for a lethal 1-2 punch.
We think this will be a much closer series than many are predicting. So much relies on James Harden’s form for the Rockets and the Jazz have shown the ability to defend him in the past. Utah are also extremely good at running teams off the three point line and forcing them to go inside against big Rudy Gobert.
We think the Rockets have the slight edge but we are predicting this series to go to seven games.
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