With the first round of the NBA playoffs starting on Saturday, J. Michael and Ben Standig make some picks including the Western Conference first round. Click here for their Eastern Conference thoughts.
No. 1 Spurs vs. No. 8 Mavericks
J. Michael: Dallas tends to play everyone tough, except San Antonio, which swept the season series by winning all four games. This isn’t even close to the same roster the Mavericks had when they won the NBA championship in 2011. It has been completely overhauled with SG Monta Ellis having his best season as a pro. The Spurs still have their Big Three and the best record in the league and a never-ending cast of role players who produce on coach Gregg Popovich’s whim. Even if Dallas plays a near-perfect series, it likely won’t be enough to win.
Pick: Spurs in 5
Standig: Kudos to the Mavericks for making the playoffs with that roster. Dirk Nowitzki rules, Monta Ellis improved lots this season and Dallas finished second in offensive rating, but those other guys aren't scaring anyone. This is why Rick Carlisle is once again a Coach of the Year candidate. Of course, the other coach, Gregg Popovich should/will win the award this season. The Spurs swept the Mavs 4-0 this season. Whether it's the usual starry play from Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard rim-running or one of bench mob random hitting big shots, San Antonio keeps the dominance going.
Pick: Spurs in 5
No. 2 Thunder vs. No. 7 Grizzlies
J. Michael: These teams usually have knock-down-drag-outs because of the style contrast. Expect every game in this series to be on the line in the fourth quarter, with Memphis pounding the ball inside to C Marc Gasol and PF Zach Randolph and Oklahoma City trying to get into the open-court to make their foot speed a liability. The Thunder won three of four meetings, and Friday's 20-game suspension of G Nick Calathes erodes Memphis' chances.
Pick: Thunder in 6
Standig: Size versus speed highlights this intriguing matchup. Nobody wanted to face the Zach Randolph-Marc Gasol led Grizzlies in round one. Nobody ever wants to contend with leading scorer Kevin Durant. If the Thunder go big to counter Memphis' power, they lose their open-court edge. If the Grizzlies go with a defensive lineup against Durant and Russell Westbrook they won't have enough offense on the court. Meanwhile losing Nick Calathes to a 20-game suspension hurts Memphis' backcourt options. Good thing OKC has the home court edge.
Pick: Thunder in 7
No. 3 Clippers vs. No. 6 Warriors
J. Michael: Until C Andrew Bogut’s playoff-ending rib injury, this appeared to be a series that could go either way because of Golden State’s improved defense that complemented its ability to score with anybody. Now that anchor is gone, PG Chris Paul is in good position to do surgery for L.A. with the pick-and-roll. Warriors SG recently accused PF Blake Griffin of being a serial flopper and it’s clear that these teams, based in the south and north sections of the state, don't like each other after going 2-2 during the season.
Pick: Clippers in 6
Standig: For those who just watched the "Bad Boys" documentary and wish some level of bullying basketball returned, this should be the series for you. Lots of hating developed as the two sides split four games this season. Blake Griffin remains a constant target for physical takedowns and Golden State's Klay Thompson gave a verbal one this week on Griffin's flopping ways. Last year the Warriors advanced into the second round despite David Lee's injury. This year it's Andrew Bogut's turn to suffer an injury before the postseason tips. Can't see the shorthanded Warriors repeating their upsetting ways against Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, not to mention Chris Paul and Doc Rivers.
Pick: Clippers in 7
No. 4 Rockets vs. No. 5 Blazers
J. Michael: Houston can score with any team, but their perimeter defense can be leaky. The same can be said for Portland, which isn't strong in the middle defensively so expect a high-scoring affair. Because of SG James Harden and C Dwight Howard, the Rockets gets almost 40% of their points at the rim, which was a big factor in them winning the season series 3-1. Blazers PG Damian Lillard should make a major impact in his first playoff series.
Pick: Rockets in 6
Standig: Evidence of Houston's offensive potency: The Rockets averaged an NBA-best 111.6 points and 10.6 3-pointers over the last 20 games. Whether it's James Harden slashing, Chandler Parsons shooting or Dwight Howard powering inside, the Rockets keep the scoreboard operators busy. Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge do the same for Portland. The combination of Aldridge of Robin Lopez might actually keep Howard honest on the boards. It would however be dishonest of me to suggest Houston will have a problem advancing.
Pick: Rockets in 6