The Western Conference Playoffs in a Perfect World

Published: March 10, 2011

As we have seen for the last 5 or 6 years, the Western Conference is simply stacked with teams that can compete with anyone on any given night. While the Eastern Conference will have an eighth seed that might only have 34 or 35 victories, the West is likely to have two or three teams that finish the season above .500 but fail to make the playoffs. What that means for NBA fans is exciting playoff basketball. Well, at least it could mean that if you get the right match-ups.

Basketball is a sport that depends greatly on match-ups. Teams are built to play at different paces, they have different styles, they focus on strengthening different elements, and they each have a different fundamental makeup. Some teams play small ball, while others rely on size to dictate match-ups. There are teams that like to get out and run, while others want to keep the possessions to a minimum. As a result, you have the potential for intriguing match-ups that can go in any number of different directions.

What you want, ideally, is for teams to have overwhelming strengths that can be contained somewhat by their opposition, while the moderate strengths of each team are glaring weaknesses of their opponent. This forces both teams to play “left-handed” so to speak and therefore makes it a situation in which any team can realistically win a series. The worst case scenario is that you have two teams match up that can just play their own brand of basketball, per usual. In that scenario, the more talented team will simply win and there will be no drama.

In these playoffs, however, we have opportunity for drama- if we get the right match-ups. And which ones are the “right” match-ups? Well, I am so glad you asked.

(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Denver

I know he is not the offensive force that he used to be, but the key to beating San Antonio is to shut them down at the three-point line, and the key to doing that is to not have to double team Duncan. Denver has two guys that can take Duncan one-on-one without ever requiring help, in Nene and Kenyon Martin. Those guys, along with Chris Anderson, can also keep guys like Manu and Tony Parker from getting into the paint at will. As for Ginobli, Aaron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler are two of the best perimeter defenders that we have in the league, and Tony Parker will have to work on the defensive end of the court to keep up with Felton and Ty Lawson.

If there is one team deeper in the Western Conference than the Spurs, it is the Denver Nuggets, who go 10 deep with no drop off.  A bench of Felton, JR Smith, Gallinari, Al Harrington, and Birdman is as good as some teams’ starting lineups. The X factor would be whether or not Denver can get their shots to fall from the perimeter, but if they did, it is not impossible to imagine that the Spurs could be one and done despite their amazing regular season.

(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies

There are only two or three teams in the Western Conference that I think have even a small chance of defeating the Lakers in a series. The Spurs are not one of those teams, but the Grizzlies are. See- it IS all about match-ups. The Grizzlies have the formula to defeat Los Angeles. They have the frontline size with Gasol and Randolph. They have multiple guys who can cover Kobe with Tony Allen and Shane Battier. And they have the ability to get out and run all over the veteran Lakers.

Los Angeles got a heavy dose of this when Memphis came into the Staples Center and defeated them 104-85 back in January. Memphis had 50 fast break points and the trio of Bynum, Odom, and Gasol were relative non factors. Kobe got his, but the team suffered a humiliating loss at home that saw them turn the ball over 20 times. Which, by the way, is a category Memphis leads the league in this year.

The elements are there, but the experience is not for this playoff inexperienced squad. But that is why the acquisitions of guys like Tony Allen, Leon Powe, Jason Williams, and Shane Battier are so huge. They give this team that element for the first time in a while. All I know is that if I am LA, I don’t want to play Memphis in the first round.

(3) Dallas Mavericks vs. (6) New Orleans Hornets

These two teams have played three times this season, and all three have come down to the final seconds, with the Hornets winning two of them. Both teams are built on a foundation of defense, but they do it in different ways. The Hornets are an undersized team that relies more on grit and determination while Dallas has length at every position and utilizes a lot of zone to take advantage of that.

Offensively, both teams rely on their point guards to get guys the ball in their preferred spots. Dallas has more perimeter shooting while New Orleans has more post options. On the surface the two teams seem similar, but they actually are quite different, and with what we have seen so far in the regular season, this series has the chance to be as epic as the Boston-Chicago first round series from 2009.

(4) OKC Thunder vs. (5) Portland Trailblazers

Kevin Durant is a top 3 scorer in the league, but Portland has a couple of guys that can frustrate him in Nic Batum and Gerald Wallace. LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing out of his mind in the New Year, but Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, and Nazr Mohommad all have the strentgh and size to push him out of the post and get him off his spots. Oklahoma City loves to get out into the open court, but Portland does a fantastic job of getting their opponents to play at their pace.

These two teams play contrasting styles, yet they both play with a lot of intensity and control. Each team’s strengths can be somewhat negated by the other, which would force them to explore other facets of their games. I could see James Harden breaking out in a series like this against a below average defender in Wes Matthews and a hobbled Brandon Roy. Conversely, I could see OKC not focusing their attention on someone like Rudy Fernandez, and him killing them for it.

This series could be one of those series where we have a different hero every game and those series are nice because you never know the script for the next time they meet. In addition, each team has amazing fan bases that give them an incredible home court advantage. During the regular season, each of these teams have a playoff atmosphere in their buildings, so to see that for an entire seven game series would just be exciting for an NBA fan.

Four great series that can honestly go any way. If they set up like this, would you be shocked to see two lower seeded teams advancing? I wouldn’t. And I am not just talking about 5 beating 4 and 6 beating 3. I honestly could see any of those series ending in upsets. And that is why this would be the ideal seeding for me. What’s yours?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.