The stage is set for an action-packed series featuring two teams with a fierce rivalry and enough heart to eliminate the other even if that means getting swept in the Western Conference Semifinals. Both offenses include a stellar cast of perimeter shooters and rough front courts. If you want to see defense, then you will have to shield your eyes from this matchup. It’s not that both teams are atrocious at defense, it’s just that both teams have an overwhelming amount of offensive prowess.
For you offensive enthusiasts, this series has as much as you can find with thrilling dunks and guaranteed 30-point outbursts from some notable names. The head coaches from the two teams have very different levels of experience with Doc Rivers previously winning a title in Boston and Mark Jackson making just his second playoff appearance. This series is surely to go down as one of the best in this year’s playoffs, if not the best when its all said and done.
Los Angeles Clippers
There is no doubt that Chris Paul is the third best player in the league only after LeBron and Durant. He did not disappoint Clippers fans with averages of 19.1 points, 10.7 assists, 4.3 rebounds, and 2.5 steals. It is as much as his statistics as the intangibles he possesses that makes him spectacular. He possesses leadership and floor general skills that cannot be understated. His assist numbers and teammates can only validate that claim. His numbers against the Warriors are even more better than his regular season averages. In three meetings with Golden State, CP3 averaged 28 points, 12.7 assists, and 3.7 steals per contest. Stephen Curry will probably not guard him in the series, as Curry is a subpar defender. Paul will draw matchups against either Klay Thompson or Andre Iguodala with the former being more likely. They may be able to limit his scoring but there is no chance they can stifle his distributing since Paul has way too many options and scorers on his unit.
The front court has only matured over the last couple seasons. Initially DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin were well known for lob city, but have transformed their games into much more. Jordan has turned into an excellent defender and rebounder. He leads the league in rebounds (13.6 RPG), field goal percentage (67.6%), and is third in blocked shots (1.48 BPG). He collected 4 offensive boards a game in the regular season. If he can have that same production in the playoffs, it’ll give Los Angeles more offensive possessions and opportunities to score. Blake Griffin is a very different player though. He averaged a career high 24.1 points and led the team in scoring to along with 9.5 boards per game. David Lee will draw the assignment of Griffin, which is not great for Golden state. Lee has been burned in the past on the defensive side of the ball, so Draymond Green may be guarding Griffin for some time as well. Griffin will definitely take advantage of his weak matchup which could be a difference maker.
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, also known as the Splash Brothers, need to be more effective than ever against a Clippers unit that defends the three ball well. In fact, the Clippers are the best in the NBA at defending the three with opponents only shooting 33.2% from beyond the arc. Curry will draw an assignment from Chris Paul, who will be pestering him all night. In order for the Warriors to compete until the end, Curry needs to keep his turnovers down, which will be difficult as Paul is one of the best on-ball defenders in the game. Paul, who thrives at stealing the ball, will be less effective if the ball is moving within the offense more. Thompson, who will have Willie Green on him for the majority of the time, will need to step his game up throughout the series as he will be tasked with a greater scoring burden.
Starting center Andrew Bogut is injured indefinitely with a fractured rib. Jermaine O’Neal will take his place in the starting unit, something he has not been tasked with very frequently this season. He needs to adjust quickly to the extended playing time and needs to box out Griffin and stop Jordan from grabbing offensive boards. O’Neal does have experience on his side though as this is his 14th trip to the playoffs in 19 seasons in the league. He may be able to be an asset, but that is yet to be determined. Additionally, David Lee needs to be terrific on both sides of the ball for Golden State to have any shot of winning the series. He averaged 19.2 points and 9.3 boards this season. It would be good enough if he had similar production on offense. However, his biggest task is guarding Blake Griffin. He needs to keep Griffin under 25 points every night, so ball distribution will be greatly limited. Iguodala will come over for the help defense a lot and Iggy is one of the best defenders in the NBA, so it is bound to be effective. Golden State will need to make up on defense for the loss of their anchor in Bogut.
Los Angeles Will Advance in 6 games
The intra-California series will attract some hefty TV ratings. All of Los Angeles will be watching with the Lakers not qualifying, something that has not occurred since 2005. This is only a testament to the fact that the market in Los Angeles is moving towards the Clippers. There will be scuffles throughout this series, but Los Angeles will come out on top. The Clippers have greater depth and the injury to Andrew Bogut only limits the Warrior’s options. Sixth man Jamal Crawford will be a major factor in the Clippers winning the series because he can create his own shot off the dribble. If he and JJ Redick can provide valuable minutes for the second unit, then the Clippers can make it to the Western Conference Finals without a hitch.
After controlling the Pacific for the last few decades, the Lakers are going to have their worst season in years and not make the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Although the Lakers will be bad, the LA fans will not be without good basketball, as the Clippers should be competing for the Western Conference Crown. Along with the Clip, the Warriors have an extremely talented team and will be fighting for the Pacific Division title.
1) Los Angeles Clippers*
For one of the first times in decades, the Clippers are one of the favorites in the Western Conference. Unlike previous Clipper teams, Donald Sterling decided to spend money for a championship caliber team. During the offseason, the Clippers re-signed all-world point guard Chris Paul and traded/signed one of the best coaches in the league Doc Rivers. Although it is incredible that the Clippers might have a chance to win the Western Conference, it is even more incredible that the Clippers are the best team in Los Angeles for the first time since their emergence. This season, the Clippers will be led by superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Although Paul does not score like his peers, he has the ability to improve the level of his teammates on the offensive side of the ball. Paul’s ability to find his players, when they are open, encourages his teammates to play harder on offense and defense. Along with Paul, the Clippers will rely on Blake Griffin, to score and rebound the basketball in close games. Although Griffin is the target of much scrutiny because of his incredible athleticism, he is a fabulous player and has enhanced his game during every season of his career. The Clippers were able to succeed last season because their bench is incredibly deep and effective. During the offseason, the Clippers improved their team by signing and trading for JJ Reddick and Matt Barnes. Last season, the Clippers did not have many three point shooters, which enabled the opposition to clog the lane and double team Paul and Griffin. This season, the Clippers will be better at shooting threes with the addition of Reddick and Barnes. Last season, both of these players shot over 40%. These players will prove incredibly effective for the Clippers because the Clippers will be able to spread the floor. When the defense is spread and on their toes, Paul will have more freedom to run the offense and Griffin will be able to dominate players on the block, without facing a double team. During the postseason, Doc Rivers will motivate his players to play their best basketball, as he did with Boston and Orlando.
2) Golden State Warriors*
After a great postseason display last season, the Warriors have high expectations this season. Even though the expectations were high before free agency, these expectations rose to astronomical numbers when they signed former All-Star and Team USA member Andre Iguodala to a four year – $48 million deal. The addition of Iguodala will give the Warriors one of the best starting rotations in the league. Although the Warriors will have a deep team, they will be led by superstar Stephen Curry. Although many people knew Steph Curry and became aware of him during his run in March Madness for Davidson, every NBA fan realized the true greatness of Steph Curry. Although Steph is fragile and frequently injures his ankles, many believe that he is one of the greatest shooters of all-time because of his stroke and quick release. Along with Curry, the Warriors will be led by David Lee, Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes. The Warriors will have incredible offensive talent this season. Every player on their starting rotation has the ability to score more than 15 points per game. Along with their offensive prowess, their defense will be must improved from last season. The Warriors’ defense will be led by Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala. When healthy, Andrew Bogut is one of the best defensive big man in the league because he is lengthy, but intelligent. Along with Bogut, Andre Iguodala is a good defensive player and has the ability to trouble the opposing team’s best perimeter offensive player. The two major deficiencies for the team this season will be their bench play and health. The Warriors bench is one of the worst in the league, besides for Harrison Barnes. Besides Barnes, the Warriors’ second unit is Toney Douglass, Kent Benzemore, Marressee Speights, and Jermaine O’Neal. The Warriors will have to rely upon their starters to play over 30 or 35 minutes a night, in order to win and stay competitive at the top of the Western Conference. However, Andrew Bogut and Stephen Curry will have trouble playing major minutes this season. Tragically, Bogut and Curry are two of the most fragile players in the world. They are consistently hurt, which will prove fatal for the Golden State Warriors. In order for the Warriors to succeed this season, they must stay healthy and keep their players fresh for the postseason. In the postseason, they will have the chance to defeat any team in the league, as seen from last years postseason when they played Spurs in six tough games.
3) Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers string of postseason appearances will end this season. After greatly underachieving last season and not winning a single playoff game agains the Spurs, the Lakers will try to overachieve this season. Last year, the team came into the season with an incredible amount of hype since they were starting 4 future Hall of Famers. However, from the start, the group was unable to mesh and the season was a disaster. The Lakers had a lot of problems last year such as switching coaches half way through the year, suffering injuries to every starter, and failing to learn how to play as a team. However, this season, the Lakers will have many hurdles to overcome in order to reach 500. Kobe Bryant will miss at least the first three weeks of the season with an Achilles injury, Pau Gasol must return to his All-Star form of three years ago, Steve Nash must stay healthy for the first time in a few seasons, and a few young bench players must step up and prove valuable, in order to stay in the NBA. The Lakers starting lineup this season will not be intimidating until Kobe Bryant returns from injury: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Shawne Williams, and Pau Gasol. The Lakers’ biggest problem will be their defense. The combination of Mike D’Antoni and a few below average defenders will be the major flaw with the Lakers. Besides Shawne Williams, every one of the players in the starting rotation is a horrible defensive player because of age, lack of physical ability, or effort. Also, Mike D’Antoni will not bring out the best defense in each of the players because he has been known to go weeks at a time without talking about defensive strategy. Especially, in the high flying Western Conference, the Lakers will probably have to average 110 points per game, in order to win games against the top teams in the West. However, this team does not have the fire power or scoring touch to frequently output 100 point games. Without Kobe, Pau Gasol must step up and average close to 20-10 and Nash must return to form, score 15-20 points per game, and set up his teammates so they can score easily. Also, the Lakers will need a big year from one of their new free agents, Wes Johnson, Xavier Henry, or Chris Kaman. However, these pieces are only role players at best so it looks like a long year for the team from Tinseltown. Although fans do not want to see their team fail, the Lakers need to rebuild. At the end of this season, they should be able to sign two All-Stars in free agency and grab a good starter in this year’s draft, since it is one of the deepest in the last 25-30 years.
4) Sacramento Kings
As usual, the Kings will be horrible again this season. The Kings are one of the worst organizations in the NBA, which has resulted in their futility the last few years. The Kings will be lead by 6’10” center DeMarcus Cousins. The young big man is an enigma on and off the court. Although he possess the talent to be an absolute stud and one of the best big men in the league, he is the least mature player in the league. Cousins’ play is frequently compromised by his fragile mental state. If Cousins can learn to manage his emotions and play hard in 90% of the games, he should average close to 23 points per game and 12 rebounds. Along with Cousins, Ben McLemore must show that he is a quality player at the pro level, if the Kings are going to be good in the future. As shown from his college performances, Ben has the ability to be a top scorer in the league because he has great physical ability and smooth shooting stroke. The Kings should look to improve the games of Cousins and McLemore, if they are going to succeed in the future and become a possible playoff competitor. Although the Kings future has some sort of brightness, this season the Kings will not achieve much success because they do not have much talent on their roster. The Kings will be sporting Greivis Vasquez, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson, and DeMarcus Cousins in their starting rotation. Besides Cousins, the rest of the starting five has a limited upside. Thornton and Salmons do not have the scoring touch that made them a 20 point scorer in their past. Also, Salmons and Thornton do not pose threats on defense because they are slow and undersized. As usual, the Kings have an extreme amount of average point guards that will not help them win this season. Although Vasquez is a quality player, they could have received a better player at a position that they actually need such as a power forward or small forward. This draft, the Kings will be picking inside the lottery for the ninth straight season. Hopefully for the Kings sake, they will draft one of the few franchise changing players in the this year’s draft.
5) Phoenix Suns
The Suns, like the Jazz, are looking toward the future. Over the past few seasons, the Suns have rid themselves of their aging veterans such as Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, Steve Nash, Luis Scola, and Marcin Gortat. However, the Suns have the assets to make them a playoff team in the next few seasons. Although the Suns do not have many quality players, they have a few young prospects that have the ability to become stars or solid NBA starters in the future. The Suns will be greatly hindered because they do not have a star to lead them through the West. However, the lack of a star will enable the young players to grow faster and play more minutes. During the offseason, the Suns added three young players that should be part of their core in the future, Archie Goodwin, Alex Len, and Eric Bledsoe. As shown from his stint with the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe looks like he can be a future All-Star or border line All-Star in the league. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin, both first round picks, are young, but talented players. Len is a physically imposing player, but has the talent and touch like a small forward. If Len can manage his raw talent, he will become a top center in the league. Along with acquiring young players this offseason, the Suns obtained first round picks, which should hasten the rebuilding process. Through the trades of Marcin Gortat, Robin Lopez, and Luis Scola, the Suns have garnered three future first round picks for this year’s draft. Besides four picks in this year’s draft, the Suns have two in the following draft. The Suns should be able to find at least one or two stars and two or three quality starters in the next two years. The Suns may be able to find more young talent and picks if they trade starting point guard Goran Dragic before the trade deadline. Goran is the best player on the Suns, but they have Eric Bledsoe to replace him and Archie Goodwin to start at shooting guard. Also, by the time the Suns are good, Goran will not be in the prime of his career. Although the Suns will be bad this season, they have a bright future and should have a chance to receive Andrew Wiggins.
The Southwest division will be one of the most intriguing divisions in the NBA with the potential for three different teams to win the division. The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies all have talented teams that made significant runs in the playoffs last season and will look to make even deeper runs this season. The most significant change for the Rockets is the addition of Dwight Howard, who signed a four year $88 million dollar deal with the potential opt-out after year two. With a core of James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets are looking to win a title. But they need to best the Spurs and Grizzlies, two experienced teams with elite players like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. It should be an exciting season, now let’s look at some predictions. *Denotes playoff team
1.) *Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard is a tremendous addition to an already talented Rockets starting lineup, providing a low post presence that will take some pressure off of James Harden and Chandler Parsons on the perimeter. The main issue for the Rockets will be establishing a pace as last year they averaged 106 points per game, good for second in the league, but D12 likes to body his defender in the post and slow the game down. If Kevin McHale can set the tone and find a balance, the Rockets will be tough to beat. Another key will be Jeremy Lin’s growth from last season as the media world focused on him and his play regressed from his days in New York. If he can eliminate some turnovers and improve his 34% 3-PT shooting, the Rockets will have a scoring threat from almost every position. As Jon mentioned before, James Harden has seized the opportunity to lead a franchise as he posted a ridiculous stat line of 26 ppg 5.8 rpg and 4.9 apg, all career highs. Look for him to better his assist numbers as well as efficiency since Dwight Howard will draw some double-teams in the post. This team is dangerous and when they make the playoffs, they have a shot at knocking off the Heat.
2.) *San Antonio Spurs
The only reason why the Spurs are not the top team in this division is their age. Popovich likes to rest his older players during meaningless regular season games, which lowers their seeding. After the disappointment of losing in the Finals last year, it will be tough for the Spurs to get back as so many other teams improved. Last year might have been the last chance for this current Spurs’ core to win a championship, but that has been said for a few years now, and the Spurs have continued to excel. This year the plan will be similar for Pop — give Kawhi Leonard more of Tim’s minutes and hope Tony and Manu stay healthy. It will be interesting to see the growth of Kawhi Leonard, a player who was considered a role player, now being called on to take the reigns from one of the greatest big men of all-time, TIm Duncan. Kawhi has emerged as a tremendous two way player with terrific athleticism, defensive intensity and an underrated 3-PT shot. The other player to watch is Tony Parker, who made a solid case for MVP last season, putting up 20.3 ppg 7.8 apg and shooting an insane 52% from the field. If he can replicate his play then Houston and San Antonio could switch spots come May. For Spurs’ fans, its all about the playoffs. If the Spurs stay healthy, they might have another run left in them.
3.) *Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies are another interesting team that had a shot at the NBA finals last year when the Thunder’s Russell Westbrook was injured. The Grizzlies needed an elite 3PT shooter last year so they added Mike Miller, a stud shooter who is prone to injury and is also a liability defensively. I don’t think he is enough to make the Grizzlies true contenders to represent the West in the Finals. But now let’s look at the positives, they have Z-Bo and Gasol, two elite post players who compliment each other’s game very well as both are good passers and can make a 15 foot jumpshot. They also have Tony Allen, probably the best perimeter defender in all of basketball, but he can’t score, making him a non-entity on the offensive side of the ball. The other player worth noting is Mike Conley Jr, a solid point guard who played well last season, but was eventually overwhelmed by the elite point guard play of Tony Parker in the Western Conference Finals. This Memphis team might need to make a mid-season trade for a perimeter scorer if they have any hopes of making a long run in the West. The Grizzlies are good but not good enough to be a top four seed.
4.) *New Orleans Pelicans
The newly named Pelicans are young, and a sleeper team. The team has a terrific young core with Jrue Holiday 23, Eric Gordon 24, Tyreke Evans 24, Ryan Anderson 25 and Anthony Davis 20. New Orleans’ biggest move was trading away next year’s first round pick to Philly for Jrue Holiday, a surprising move for some as the first round pick in 2014 could be a star, but New Orleans opted for a proven All-Star in Jrue Holiday. NOLA also signed Tyreke Evans, who was in a dreadful situation in Sacramento and although he has regressed since his standout rookie season, with more shooters and playmakers, he should be able to find more ways to score. The key will be Eric Gordon, an oft injured shooting guard who has past history of being a 20 point scorer and could improve the Pelicans’ playoff hopes if he stays healthy. The other integral member of this squad is last year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis, who was the most efficient rookie last year with a PER of 21.86 good for 15th in the entire NBA. He is a menace on the defensive side and his offensive game has clearly improved since his Kentucky season and Davis could be an All-star. The main problem with this team is the lack of girth up front as Davis isn’t your ideal big man with size and strength. Davis is more finesse and quickness than power. If NOLA trades one of their shooters like Ryan Anderson for a defensive big man, the Pelicans would have a solid team at all positions. The Pelicans should improve greatly from last season, and develop nicely as these young, talented players mesh well.
5.) Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks have gone from NBA champions in 2011 to the edge of irrelevance in 2013-2014. Most of this is due to the missed opportunities in free agency including the Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Dwight Howard sweepstakes. Now the Mavericks have constructed a team with Dirk at the helm and Jose Calderon and Monta Ellis as secondary players, a team that will be lackluster defensively to say the least. Mark Cuban won’t settle for medicority and that is why I posed the question, should the Mavs trade Dirk? The team publicly has said they want Dirk to retire a Maverick but if a borderline-championship team offers valuable picks for an aging veteran, the Mavs would be unwise to pass on the opportunity. Dallas is not a serious contender, and they are in a rebuilding mode whether they know or accept the fact. If this is Dirk’s last season as a Maverick, he will probably land with a contender by Christmas, and Dallas will look to get some new talent in the stacked 2014 draft.