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Armstrong: Many good battles in Western Conference

Jack Armstrong
4/15/2011 6:19:34 PM
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It's been said 'Go West, young man!' Well it's a pretty good place to look for action and adventure this playoff season in the NBA and there are lots of issues that teams need to work through to come out of the pack.

Can San Antonio replicate their regular season success with the home court advantage they hold in the conference? Can the Lakers muster up enough to win another title?  Are the Mavs the real deal or another regular season tease that flames out under the bright lights of the playoffs?  Which style wins out in the OKC-Denver matchup? Is this it for Chris Paul in New Orleans? The Grizzlies and Blazers are two tough-minded teams led by coaches who've done a terrific job this season; does it end here? Lots of things to consider yet I think this will be a dramatic race with an upset or maybe two along the way. Enjoy!    

# 1 Spurs vs. # 8 Grizzlies (Spurs in 6): The two teams split during the season and the Grizzlies are a load to deal with inside with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and they find a way in spite of being without Rudy Gay. They guard you and play a disciplined style. The Spurs have ramped up the offense this season and have taken every precaution with Tim Duncan to have him ready for the home stretch. Well, here we are. I think the Spurs depth, 3-point shooting, experience and home court advantage will be the difference. Nice season of improvement for the Griz but it ends here.                      

# 2 Lakers vs. # 7 Hornets (Lakers in 4): Lakers have looked totally disinterested down the stretch and only play at their best when challenged. Might not be in this series. No David West for Hornets means no shot. Chris Paul looks like he's on cruise control some nights yet when he wants to be the best guy in the gym, he can be just that. Well, he'll have to be that four times for this miracle to happen. Too much Lakers size and savvy to overcome. Kobe Bryant won't allow his club to let up now that the real season has started.                         

# 3 Mavs vs. # 6 Blazers (Blazers in 7): Upset special here! Dirk, J-Kidd and Co have had a wonderful year. Rick Carlisle is a top-notch leader but I really think they're going to miss Caron Butler in this series. You need an elite wing guy this time of year and the Mavs are getting a bit old with Jason Terry and Shawn Marion (still good players but a bit of slippage here). I love the Blazers pick-up of Gerald Wallace and Andre Miller is an underrated point guard. LaMarcus Aldridge has been a beast this year and Brandon Roy is coming along nicely. Marcus Camby and Tyson Chandler are similar players, respectively and I just like the resiliency of the Blazers. Just a gut feeling here.                       

# 4 Thunder vs. # 5 Nuggets (Thunder in 6): Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohamed have fortified the OKC front line and improved the team defence. Tempo is huge for George Karl in this series. Gotta get the scores and pace of games in the 100's range. Denver has great depth and they have wonderful chemistry since the departure of Melo. Need to create open space mismatches and get into their 'draw and kick' game. Kevin Durant is the real deal and Russell Westbrook is not far behind. They are both, in my opinion the best two players in this series. Gotta play that way. Both home courts are wonderful; fans are great and the emotions will be evident throughout. OKC will find a way to slow the pace and beat the Nuggets in the 5 on 5 half-court game. James Harden needs to make dagger shots off the bench for OKC. This series can swing easily if the referees allow for loose play and end-to-end action with limited fouls which favors the style Denver wants. Entertaining series for sure.

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