- San Antonio
- LA Lakers
- Golden State
Wow, the West playoffs are going to be incredible again this year. Just look at that first round. You’ve got two of the fastest and highest-tempo teams in the league in Dallas and Golden State. This would be an ass kicking, but it would be the most entertaining ass kicking you’ve ever seen. Additionally, we have two big-time rematches of first round matchups from last year in Phoenix-LA and San Antonio-Denver. Don’t forget about the Kobe Bryant – Raja Bell fiasco from last season as well as the Lakers blowing that 3-1 series lead. And I believe the Nuggets pushed the Spurs to the brink last season before finally succumbing to elimination. We all know that this is Dallas’ tournament to lose, but with an absolutely loaded Western Conference, nothing is taken for granted.
Also noteworthy are two seed battles. First, the chase for #6 between surging Denver and fading LA Lakers. Getting a #6 seed means that a can avoid a first round matchup with either Dallas or Phoenix, and both clubs will be pulling out all the stops to stay away from the 7th and 8th spots. Also fun to watch will be the battle for that 8th and final spot. It’s a two-hourse race, and here’s how it looks now, along with remaining schedule:
8. Golden State (38-40): @Sac, vs Min, vs Dal, @Por
9. LA Clippers (37-39): @NOK, @LAL, vs Por, vs Sac, @Pho, vs NOK
Let’s give the Warriors 3-1 in those last four games; I think they beat everyone but Dallas, and even that game could be easier than it appears if the Mavs are resting any of their studs. The Clippers have a slightly tougher road — they’ve probably got two losses between the Lakers and Phoenix. So for now, we’ll say the Warriors have the upper hand, but not by much.
All season we’ve said that the West is simply a Dallas and Phoenix collision course, which I still believe to be true. The only difference is that the Western Conference Finals (also known as the “real NBA championship”) is Dallas’ to lose instead of Phoenix’s.
- New Jersey
Things don’t get too interesting until the second round (as you’d expect from a terrible conference). You might think that Orlando matches up well with Detroit given their front-court talent, but they simply don’t have the perimeter scoring to keep up with Detroit, and as much as I love the Magic they might get swept. I suppose a Dwyane Wade – LeBron James Miami/Cleveland matchup will be interesting, but Chicago and Toronto will wipe the floor with their opponents. Oh how we’ll miss you, Gilbert! In the second round, though, that Chicago-Toronto matchup sets the stage for what I believe will be the East’s best rivalry in the next five years.
As for seed battles, there are plenty going on. Toronto is one game behind Chicago for the #2 spot; Orlando is a half-game behind New Jersey for the #7 spot, and Indiana is 1.5 games behind Orlando for the 8th spot.
Detroit, Miami, Chicago, Toronto, with a Pistons-Bulls Eastern Conference finals, pitting Ben Wallace against his old mates.