Posted on: April 15, 2011 6:38 pm
Edited on: April 15, 2011 6:56 pm
The NBA playoffs are here. We've previewed the Western Conference. Now here are our picks along with the rest of the CBS NBA staff for you to mock or praise. Be gentle.
Here are the EOB picks for the Western Conference, with a little 'splainin. Leave your picks below.
8 Grizzlies vs. 1 Spurs
Ben Golliver: The Manu Ginobili elbow sprain is a real drag and Memphis will surely give San Antonio all it can handle in the paint, but the Spurs are near untouchable at home and this isn’t their first rodeo. The Grizzlies deserve all the credit in the world for how they played the second half of their season – especially given the absence of Rudy Gay – but disciplined, experienced veterans with a clear system almost always beat out the enthusiastic, aggressive upstarts during the post-season. Look for Tony Parker to introduce Mike Conley to a crisis of confidence. Prediction: Spurs in five.
Royce Young: The Grizzlies wanted the Spurs, well now they're going to get them. It's silly to wish for things, but man, I can't help but think what the Grizzlies would look like with Rudy Gay. Alas, it's not meant to be. The Spurs are proven winners and the Grizzlies are the young, talented kids. It's not going to be easy for San Antonio, but Memphis just isn't ready to move on. Prediction: Spurs in six.
Matt Moore: It wouldn't surprise many to see Memphis take two games in this series. It also wouldn't surprise many to see a sweep by the Spurs. I'll aim for the middle. A five-game gentleman's sweep, which means Memphis wins a playoff game, and that's a step forward for the franchise. Prediction: Spurs in five.
Ken Berger: There are two big health questions for the Spurs: Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan. The Grizz have a lockdown defender, Tony Allen, capable of minimizing Manu's impact. The Grizzlies are a dangerous offensive-rebounding team, and they're second in the league in turnover differential. But the Spurs have the experience and presence to win on the road, they have enough big bodies to contend with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and Tony Parker will be the best player on the floor in this series. Prediction: Spurs in five.
7 Hornets vs. 2 Lakers
Ken Berger: This could get ugly for the Hornets, who I fear will be seeing the Lakers team that won 17 of 18 after the All-Star break, not the team that got bored and lost six straight at the end to nearly squander the second seed. New Orleans is among the grittiest defensive teams in the league, but not against the Lakers; Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combined to shoot 67 percent in the four-game season series, swept by the L.A. Even if Bynum isn't 100 percent, the defending champs should cruise. Prediction: Lakers in four.
Royce Young: With David West being out, I think the Lakers are privately saying it's sweep or bust. Everyone is expected a sweep and it's hard to argue it, but with the semi-uncertainty of Andrew Bynum's knee and the fact Chris Paul is very, very good, the Hornets might be able to sneak up and steal a game. That would be the goal for New Orleans because they are climbing a mountain here and they're barefoot. Lakers in four.
Ben Golliver: Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Sacramento Kings in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in four.
Matt Moore: HORNETS SEASON = OVER; OVERMATCHED = VERY YES. Prediction: Lakers in four.
6 Blazers vs. 3 Mavericks
Matt Moore: When was the last time a three seed was slept on this much? All of a sudden the Blazers, with Wesley Matthews as a key weapon (fine player that he is) are going to knock off a team with playoff experience who shored up their biggest weakness with Tyson Chandler? The Mavs miss Caron Bulter. They're not going to miss him that much. Prediction: Mavericks in six.
Ben Golliver: Mavericks/Blazers has become the hot upset special pick, but I see Dallas eventually pulling it out because Portland has struggled to win on the road, has dealt with inconsistent outside shooting all season and isn’t nearly as deep as everyone thinks they are. The Mavericks have the cohesiveness factor on their side and Portland doesn’t have a good option for defending Jason Terry. The Andre Miller / Jason Kidd and Marcus Camby / Tyson Chandler match-ups are very much toss-ups, and the Mavericks will need to pay extra attention to Gerald Wallace, but it’s difficult to see Dirk Nowitzki and company not taking care of homecourt. Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Ken Berger: What does it mean that this is the only first-round series I'm picking to go seven games? It means that I'm too much of a wimp to pick an upset. There is ample evidence to support the theory that Portland could dump the playoff-fragile Mavs, not the least of which are the Blazers' advantages in turnover differential (No. 1 in the league) and offensive rebounding rate (third). This could come down to a really fun Dirk Nowitzki vs. LaMarcus Aldridge show. But even after the trade for Gerald Wallace, the Blazers haven't won on the road consistently enough to suggest they could pull off a Game 7 upset in Dallas. Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Royce Young: I like the Blazers. It's almost irrational, but I can't help but like them. I see them as a team ready to challenge almost anyone. But the Blazers have almost become too much of a chic pick to be entirely comfortable with it. The Mavs are good. They won 55 games. They have Dirk. But it just seems like Portland is the better team. Blazers in seven.
5 Nuggets vs. 4 Thunder
Royce Young: Why is everyone acting like this will be a high scoring, up and down series? The two games these teams played in the last couple weeks were won by the Thunder by an average score of 102.5 to 91.5. Oklahoma City plays some serious defense now. They match up well with the Nuggets and Denver doesn't have anyone to defend Durant. But getting a healthy Arron Afflalo is a wildcard and as we know, don't doubt the Nuggets. They're dangerous. Thunder in five.
Matt Moore: We have yet to see the Thunder in a series where Kevin Durant just takes over (because they've only been in one series). Durant could choose to end this series if he hits that level. But until he does, you have to believe George Karl will have some tricks up his sleeve, that the Nuggets will continue to play hard, and that the Thunder will have some trouble with dispatching the Nuggets. Prediction: Thunder in seven.
Ben Golliver: Thunder/Nuggets has epic potential given how well each team has played since making massive moves at the trade deadline and how selfless each team’s overall approach to the game is. In a nailbiter, I give the Thunder the edge because both of their stars score efficiently, can get to the line and because newcomer Kendrick Perkins fits in with the rest of the starting unit perfectly. Denver’s depth is second to none but Oklahoma City’s bench is no slouch, either, and when it comes to crunchtime I have a feeling Kevin Durant will add to his legend in a big time way. Prediction: Thunder in seven.
Ken Berger: Along with Blazers-Mavs and Knicks-Celtics, this will be among the most entertaining and competitive first-around series. The Knuggets like to push the pace, shoot threes, and exploit mismatches in the pick-and-roll game by getting opposing bigs on the move and forcing them to make decisions. The Thunder are almost as efficient offensively, though at a slightly slower pace. Both teams are better defensively after their major deadline trades, though the Thunder are more consistent in that area. It could come down to which team has a superstar to make big shots and carry the load down the stretch. The Knuggets traded theirs, Carmelo Anthony; the Thunder acquired a diabolical screen-setter, Kendrick Perkins, to make things easier for Kevin Durant. Prediction: Thunder in six.
Tags: 2011 Blazers-Mavericks, 2011 First Round, 2011 Hornets-Lakers, 2011 Lakers-Hornets, 2011 Mavericks-Blazers, 2011 NBA Playoffs, 2011 NBA Playoffs, 2011 Nuggets-Thunder, 2011 Playoffs, 2011 Spurs-Grizzlies, 2011 Thunder-Nuggets, 2011 WC First Round, 2011 WC First-Round, Blazers-Mavericks, First-Round, Grizzlies-Spurs, Hornets-Lakers, Lakers-Hornets, Mavericks-Blazers, Nuggets-Thunder, picks 2011 Grizzlies-Spurs, playoffs, Spurs Grizzlies, Thunder-Nuggets
Posted on: April 15, 2011 2:32 am
Edited on: April 15, 2011 2:37 am
A preview of the first round playoff series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Hornets. Posted by Ben Golliver.
I. Intro: No. 7 seed New Orleans Hornets (46-36) vs. No. 2 seed Los Angeles Lakers (57-25)
The difference between the two teams in this series is simple. The Los Angeles Lakers think they have it bad. The New Orleans Hornets actually do have it bad.
The Lakers enter the postseason just 2-5 in their last seven games, they lost a backup point guard to chicken pox and nearly lost their starting center to yet another knee injury. Only a Kobe Bryant last-second three-pointer on Wednesday night saved the Lakers from slipping to the West’s No. 3 seed and a much tougher series with the Portland Trail Blazers. The Hornets, though, actually do have it bad. After beginning the season 11-1, the Hornets have played exactly .500 ball (35-35) since late-November. They’ve lost their best interior player, David West, to a season-ending knee injury and their franchise point guard, Chris Paul, has dealt with fluid in his surgically repaired knee, closing the season averaging just 7.3 points per game and shooting 31% from the field in the team’s last four games.
One team's problems are clearly much weightier.
II. What Happened: A look at the season series
It’s fair to say that the two-time defending champs dismantled the Hornets during their regular season match-ups, sweeping all four games. The Lakers averaged 101.8 points per game in the victories while holding the Hornets to just 91.0 points per game, making for a colossal 10.8 point average margin of victory. All four wins came since the end of December so they are fairly representative.
Remarkably, the Lakers have shot poorly from deep – just 29.7% as a team – and yet still managed to shoot 51.0% overall from the field, a testament to how many easy buckets they've generated thanks to the interior advantage LA’s big men possess over the short-handed and undersized Hornets front line. Meanwhile, New Orleans has shot just 43.7% from the floor and really struggled from deep in three of the four meetings. Nothing came easy for the Hornets even though they did a decent job of taking care of the basketball. Add all of those numbers and it just screams "blatant talent disparity."
III. The Easy Stuff: The Laker bigs are overwhelming
First: credit where credit is due. New Orleans’ two best big healthy big men – Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry – have both fared pretty well against the Lakers this season. Okafor slapped up averages of 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds while Landry added 14.8 points and 6.8 rebounds. Combined, that’s pretty solid production for a team that’s lacking a go-to inside scorer now that West is done for the season.
But LA’s three-headed monster of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom makes those numbers look puny by comparison. Together, the trio has averaged an eye-popping 51.8 points and 25.6 rebounds per game against the Hornets this year. Really, that's enough said. Gasol, in particular, has been a tough cover for the Hornets, as he’s put up 22.3 points and 12.8 rebounds per game by himself and figures to be the most difficult match-up for New Orleans given his length, versatility, mobility and skill. The only thing that could possibly stop Gasol in this series is if his teammates forget to pass him the ball.
IV. Secret of the Series: The Lakers need to show up
Los Angeles has every motivation to make quick work of the Hornets as a second round series against either the Dallas Mavericks or Portland Trail Blazers is looming. It’s quite possible that LA could get a significant amount of rest given that Dallas/Portland will likely go six or seven games. Late-season motivation has been a problem recently, as coach Phil Jackson has called out his team’s professionalism and the Lakers nearly blew a 20+ point lead against the Kings on the final night of the season, despite playoff implications being on the line.
Ultimately, the responsibility for showing up falls to Jackson and Kobe Bryant. Not only is that pair familiar with winning, they’re familiar with the boredom that comes from winning often. They also know where the light switch is located. Expect them to flip it sooner rather than later.
V. The Dinosaur Narrative: "Andrew Bynum’s knee injury could be a game-changer"
That particular line of thinking is old and familiar, due to Bynum’s lengthy injury history, but it’s also a bit too early. Against the Hornets, the Lakers could likely win without him, shifting to a smaller lineup that would still possess a talent advantage at virtually every position. At the top of the list of reasons that New Orleans is an ideal match-up for Los Angeles is that Jackson should be able to manage Bynum’s minutes with ease, ensuring he’s fully ready for potential later round match-ups with guys like Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby or Tim Duncan.
Bynum is only said to have a bone bruise, anyway, but it's worth monitoring his progress and playing time in this New Orleans series.
VI. The Line-Item Veto: Who wins each match-up?
PG: The Hornets have one match-up advantage, and it’s a massive one. Even though he’s not playing at the top of his game, Chris Paul is a nightmare cover for any team, especially one who will rely on Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown to play more minutes than usual in Steve Blake’s indefinite absence due to chicken pox. Advantage Hornets.
SG: Kobe Bryant is the best shooting guard in the game and Marco Belinelli is not. No further discussion necessary. Advantage Lakers.
SF: LA’s small forward of the past, Trevor Ariza, faces off against LA’s small forward of the present, Ron Artest. Ariza has better numbers on the season but Artest and all of his antics and physicality will surely make his life miserable. Call this one a push.
PF: As documented above, Pau Gasol against Carl Landry is likely to get ugly in a hurry. Big advantage Lakers.
C: Okafor’s individual numbers against the Lakers are better than Bynum’s individual numbers against the Hornets, but Gasol will spend time at the five to clear minutes for Lamar Odom off the bench. Even a Herculean performance from Okafor won’t help the Hornets keep pace here. Advantage Lakers.
Bench: Odom, a sixth man of the year candidate, plus Brown, an athletic tempo-changer are better than New Orleans’ bench, which is essentially a scrap heap up front with Wilie Green and Jarrett Jack capable of making some noise in the backcourt. Advantage Lakers.
Coach: Phil Jackson has won 11 titles as a head coach and has won 225 playoff games. Monty Williams, as talented and respected a rookie head coach as you’ll find in the NBA, has won zero playoff games as a head coach. Williams deserves some love for Coach of the Year and could become a mainstay on the sidelines for decades, but the two men don’t belong in the same sentence right now. Advantage Lakers.
Los Angeles got its dream match-up – finally – when it put away the Kings away in overtime on the last day of the regular season. The Hornets enter the series without their All-Star forward, David West, and with question marks surrounding Chris Paul, who recently had his knee drained of fluid and was held scoreless for the first time in his career. The Hornets don’t have much of a bench and certainly can’t compete with LA’s monstrous, versatile frontline trio of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. Forget about it. Prediction: Lakers in 4.
VIII. CBSSports.com Video Preview
Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers will look to defend their title as they take on Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets in this round 1 playoff matchup. Ian Eagle and Ken Berger preview this upcoming matchup.