Western Conference 1st Round Playoff Predictions

Despite being the tougher conference for the past decade, and producing 7 of the last 10 NBA champions, the Western Conference playoffs have become stale with the Warriors dominance of late. The individual series excluding the Warriors are often competitive, but the predetermined outcome of the Warriors winning the West takes the excitement away from watching the West. It is no different this year as the Warriors are expected to run through the West yet again, but there are some interesting matchups and storylines to follow, starting here in round 1.

(1) Warriorsvs (8) Clippers

Much like every 1 seed vs 8 seed matchup, everyone knows the outcome of this series before it tips off. However there are some things to mention.

The Warriors can use this series against its divisional foe as a warm up. Despite the huge talent gap between the Warriors and every other Western Conference team, there are still things that the Warriors need to work on. While DeMarcus Cousins is in the rotation, the defense suffers. In this series with the Clippers, who feature both small ball centers in Montrezl Harrell and conventional bigs like Ivica Zubac, Cousins and company can get some reps in to build upon their defensive chemistry.

The bigger story in this series is the Clippers making the playoffs at all. After trading away Tobias Harris at the deadline, NBA executive and fans thought the Clippers were going to tank the season away, but that wasn’t the case. Coach Doc Rivers had his team ready to compete night in and night out, and the grit and grind showed. The mixture of vets and young guys shocked everyone by winning 48 games after being projected at 33 wins. Although they are going to get run out of the gym this series, it is a good building block for the future in attracting free agents.

Prediction: Warriors win 4-0

(4) Houston (5) Utah

This might be the most competitive matchup out West. Houston is heavily favorited to win this series with good reason. James Harden and Chris Paul are the two best players in the series, and have been hard to beat when both are in the lineup. But this series will be a dog fight.

The Utah Jazz are arguably a top five team in the entire NBA. Head coach Quinn Snyder is regarded as one of the best in the game as he gets the most out of his role players. Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert are good counters to the Rockets’ Harden and Capela, while the Jazz run deeper than the Rockets. Guys like Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio, Kyle Korver and Derrick Favors will all have impacts on the series at some point. The Jazz team defense with Gobert in the middle can be stifling at times, so James Harden and Mike D’Antoni will have to adjust their game plan.

With that said, I have the Rockets advancing to the second round to face the Golden State Warriors. The Rockets fire power on offense, particularly shooting the three and simply having James Harden will be too much for the Jazz to overcome. Plus the basketball gods have to bless us with a Warriors Rockets matchup after last years 7 game conference finals.

Prediction: Rockets win 4-2

(3) Portland vs (6) OKC

This matchup was robbed of its full potential when Blazers Center Jusif Nurkic went down with a season ending injury. Enes Kanter is a viable back up, but Thunder Center Steven Adams has owner Kanter in previous matchups. I still believe the series will be competitive, as Damian Lillard does his best to carry the Blazers to a win or two. But with the injury to Nurkic and CJ McCollum not fully back from his own injury, the Blazers lack the fire power to match up with Russell Westbrook and Paul George.

The Thunder are dealing with their own issues as Paul George continues to struggle with his shoulder injury. It has caused Westbrook to take more of a scoring lead as of late, and that’s never a good thing. As long as George can manage with his shoulder, and Westbrook distribute the ball while refraining from taking 20 plus shots, the Thunder will find themselves advancing to round 2.

Prediction: Thunder win 4-2

(2) Denver vs (7) San Antonio

The Denver Nuggets had an impressive season, surprising many on their way to the number two seed in the Western Conference. But the regular season and playoffs are two completely different beasts. Winning in the playoffs takes a few things: a go to scorer in the half court, team defense, an elite head coach, and experience. It is very rare for a young team to jump straight into a deep playoff run without first taking down bumps and early round exists. The Nuggets have little to no playoff experience on its roster, including their two best players in Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. I’m not sure they will be able to get it done in their first taste of playoff action, especially with the GOAT Head coach Greg Popovich leading the veteran Spurs.

Remember those qualifications to winning in the playoffs? Well the Spurs check the box on all of them. Both LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar Derozan can get you a bucket in the half court, while veterans like Patty Mills and Marco Bellineli are certain to hit tough shots down the stretch. Not to mention, Greg Popovich has seen it all in the playoffs as he has participated for the last 20 years or so. All signs here point to an upset, especially if the Spurs grab either game one or two.

Prediction: Spurs win 4-2

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