NBA Playoff Preview:The Western Conference 

The Western Conference playoffs are filled with a ton of questions. Unfortunately a few of these questions are injury related. A couple of these series may be defined by if stars are available to play effectively or generally play. Let’s take a look at how these series can and will shake out.

2.) Memphis Grizzlies vs. 7) Minnesota Timberwolves

Tale Of The Tape:  The Timberwolves outlasted the Clippers in the play-in game this past Tuesday night. Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell picked up the slack for Karl Anthony Towns as the pair scored 30 and 29 points respectively. The Clippers were successful in frustrating KAT as he fouled out in 24 minutes with 3/11 shooting. If anything, this might’ve been a great lesson for the Wolves.

Towns should absolutely play better during this upcoming series and this game gives him an idea of what type of defenses he might see against the Grizzlies. More importantly Anthony Edwards came through with a star worthy performance on his biggest stage to date. The Wolves have to be feeling good but they have quite the challenge ahead.

To put into perspective how good the Memphis Grizzlies have been, on November 26th they were 9-10. Since then they’ve been 47-16 and one of the most dominant teams in basketball. Led by dynamic point guard Ja Morant-and even without him-the Grizz have been playing with supreme confidence. They’re 4th in offense and 5th in defense. They have youth, athleticism, toughness, and good coaching on their side. They’re boastful trash talkers, ready for all comers. Now we find out if experience matters as they enter the playoffs.

Key Matchup: The Timberwolves defense vs Ja Morant

Ja Morant exploding to the rim is the most exciting play in the NBA. He’s a powerful finisher with a devastating first step. However, he has had some knee issues and missed a good chunk of time this season. Now that he’s back we’ll find out soon what that’s gonna look like. With his ability to get to the rim, improving jump shot and passing the Timberwolves have a chore on their hands. Cut off the head of the snake, and make the other Grizzlies beat you as good as they’ve been.

Here Ja splits the trap and once he does that he’s a blur to the rim. Minnesota is going to have to trap harder if they’re going to have a chance to contain him.

Even when you fight through the screen like D’Angelo Russell does here, Morant adjusts. Gets another screen from Adams and gets his floater game going.

Prediction: Neither of these teams have a ton of playoff experience, and Minnesota played the Grizzlies tough during the season series. When it’s all said and done, the consistency of the Grizzlies will shine through. There’ll be some hotly contested games, but Memphis will win this series in 6 games.

3.) Golden State Warriors vs 6.) Denver Nuggets 

Tale Of The Tape: Superstar Steph Curry has been out for the last few weeks with a sprained ligament in his left foot. There is no official word on whether he will play in Game 1 on Saturday evening. This injury could fundamentally change the series if Curry is hampered or misses any significant time. When healthy, the Warriors present a lot of different issues for defenses. As Klay Thompson has now been back for awhile and Draymond Green has worked his rust off, we’ll see what this team looks like fully actualized. The Steph part of it is so important.

The Denver Nuggets have done a lot of surviving this season. Without star guard Jamal Murray and sharpshooter Michael Porter Jr, they’ve relied heavily on the reigning MVP Nikola Jokic. Jokic (27.1 ppg 13.8 rpg 7.9 apg)has been even better this season, contending for back to back MVPs as the offensive hub. From a numbers standpoint and an eye test perspective, this is one of the greatest offensive seasons in the history of the league. Jokic has taken steps forward defensively shedding the label of being a sieve. He’s going to need help in this series.

Whether it’s made shots or intangible plays the other Nuggets are going to have to step up. Aaron Gordon and Will Barton are at the top of the list in that department. If the Nuggets get any substantial offensive contributions from those guys it changes the series.

Key To The Series: Denver defending the Warriors off the ball vs how they defend them in pick and roll.

Draymond Green did not play in the season series. His screening and passing allows Steph, Klay, and Jordan Poole to get easy shots in space. How Denver chooses to guard Green will be telling. Will they lay off of him as most teams do? It’s an interesting choice that lies ahead. Assuming Steph plays, there’ll be opportunities to put Jokic in actions in pick and roll. Playing drop coverage against Steph usually means death, so how much can Jokic stay at or get to the level of the screener?

It’s the ability of Curry to move without the ball here that gets him a good look. He just needs a bit of daylight. Your rotations can’t be slow as Jeff Green is here. Once Austin Rivers rotates to the corner Steph is open and you’re cooked.

Here Jokic gets to the level of the screen and this is where rotating and getting back can be an issue for him. Curry gets the ball on the trap to Looney who finds Wiggins cutting to the basket. Those rotations make the difference between a quick series and a long one. With Draymond back, those decisions become quicker and deadly.

The Prediction: Curry’s health notwithstanding this feels like a Golden State victory. Their depth and their defense will be huge here. Guarding Nikola Jokic is a challenge but with Denver not having worthy threats to shift the defense. The Nuggets need to be able to force the Warriors to think and make harder choices and that seems unlikely to happen. Will this change if Jamal Murray plays? Maybe, but the Warriors will win this in 5.

4.) Dallas Mavericks vs 5)Utah Jazz

Tale Of The Tape: The biggest story here is Luka Doncic’s left calf. On the last night of the regular season he hurt it and now his availability for Game 1 is up in the air. As of Thursday there has been no update on his status. The Mavs have played very well and sustained that since January. Their formula is Luka’s drive and kick game and the 6th ranked defense. Ever since they made the mid season trade to add Spencer Dinwiddie, some of the pressure has been taken off of Luka offensively. If Luka is hampered or out, it’ll be on Dinwiddie and Jalen Brunson to provide a facsimile of that production.

The Utah Jazz have had a tough season. Injuries, infighting, and blown leads have pushed the organization to the precipice. The buzzards are circling and this could be the end of this team as we know them. Can Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell show us something different? This is their best opportunity with Luka hobbled. It will take a team effort to get this done.

Key to the series: Luka vs Rudy.

The book is out on the Utah Jazz in the playoffs. With their perimeter defense being suspect as it is, there’ll be a lot of pick and roll switches with Luka (or insert primary ball handler) and Rudy Gobert. If Rudy can hold is own and make those possessions stall or just make the shots difficult this gives Utah a chance for success in the series.

Sometimes Luka is just too good. Rudy’s in drop coverage and the probing from Luka allows Powell to slip to the rim.

Here Luka has a shooting big on the floor in Kleber and because of the attention Doncic gets you have to give up something. In this case its a wide open Kleber 3.

We have a one on one battle! Gobert locks in, stays with Luka and gets a good contest to force the miss. It will be a chess match. Can the Jazz perimeter defense hold up against such a unique talent?

The Prediction: Luka’s calf looms over the series. If he’s healthy I like the Mavs comfortably. If he’s not, then the Jazz definitely have a chance to win. Donovan Mitchell has been a really good postseason player, and he can wreck a series on his own. Official prediction, Mavs in 6.

1.) Phoenix Suns vs 8)New Orleans Pelicans

Tale Of The Tape: Simply put, the Phoenix Suns have been the best team in basketball all season. Double digit winning streaks, a deep roster, and a dominant offense and defense have the Suns primed to make a title run. After a 64 win season, their time is now. They have home court throughout the playoffs, and everyone is healthy. 

Guards Chris Paul and Devin Booker lead a fantastic starting lineup, which arguably is the best in the league. Ace defender Mikail Bridges is a Jack of all trades defender, Jae Crowder is a dependable small ball four and emerging center Deandre Ayton continues to evolve every season.

The question here is, do the Pelicans have a chance to win this series? The odds would say no, off of a quick turn around on the road Friday night to start this series in Phoenix. What can they do to make this series more difficult?

Key Matchup: Pelicans bigs vs Deandre Ayton

Ayton this season has added more tricks in the bag. He can roll to the rim, he has a jump hook, and he’s even stepped out to hit threes above the break. We expect the guards and wings on both sides to have offensive impact in this series, but the bigs will be fun. If Jonas Valanciunas and Larry Nance can at the minimum make Ayton work, perhaps the Pelicans can make this competitive.

This is not how you make things competitive. A Devin Booker led pick and roll is hard enough to defend, now you have Ayton rolling to the basket. These slips are so simple yet deadly.

Ayton now works better in traffic too, as he gets a jump hook off in a bit of a crowded space. These are things he couldn’t do a couple of seasons ago.

Jonas is able to catch Ayton here rolling to the rim. There will be so much attention devoted to CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram that they’ll need that pressure release valve. Jonas can be that if he can have an impact against Deandre.

The Prediction: The Suns will take this seriously but the Pelicans can definitely get a game. They’ve been playing very well for quite awhile and it’s amazing they’ve gotten to this point. The Suns however will win this. Too balanced, too ready, too good. Suns in 5.

Previous Post
The Fall of the House of Usher

Netflix’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ Will Recast Frank Langella Following Misconduct Investigation

Next Post
hawkeye deaf

‘Hawkeye’ and ‘Eternals’ Officially Recognized For Authentic Representation of Disability

Related Posts