By John Schmeelk
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#1 San Antonio Spurs vs. #8 Utah Jazz
Does anyone else want Karl Malone and David Robinson to walk out on the court for this one? If they did the series would be a lot more competitive. Al Jefferson is an underrated player, but he and Pau Millsap won’t be enough to take down the hottest team in the NBA. With Tim Duncan playing a supporting role, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli have carried the Spurs on this great run. The team’s greatest strength might be its depth with a myriad of journeymen vets and D-Leaguers anchoring a very strong second unit. Their emergence has allowed the Spurs to give much needed rest to their veteran stars in a strike shortened season, so they can be fresh for the playoffs. Gregg Popovich, in my opinion, is the best coach in the NBA. The Spurs take down the Jazz in five.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks
I want to say the Mavericks will give the Thunder real problems in the first round. They have Dirk Nowitzki and are the defending NBA Champions. Unfortunately, they just haven’t played well all season long. With so many pieces from that title team gone, they are a different group that simply isn’t as good. Without Tyson Chandler, JJ Barea, and company, they can’t beat the Thunder, with or without James Harden. Despite being the two seed, most teams consider the Thunder the best team in the Western Conference. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and the aforementioned Harden (if healthy), they have four young players that either have been or can be NBA All-Stars. The Thunder cruise past the Mavericks in five games.
#3 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #6 Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets are finally getting healthy and they will try to see if speed and quickness can beat size in the NBA playoffs. Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo are both good young guards, and Danilo Gallinari is playing better in the last few games since returning from his thumb injury. The question remains whether or not Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov can handle Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum down low. Their post play will hurt but their defensive presence and rebounding will hurt even more. Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned Kobe Bryant, have I? That being said, the Nuggets push the Lakers, but Los Angeles takes it in five games.
#4 Memphis Grizzlies vs. #5 Los Angeles Clippers
The Grizzlies jumped into the 4th spot in the finals days of the regular season, and they are a very dangerous team in the playoffs. Dealing with injuries all year to two of their best players in Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies are probably better than their record. They are a well rounded team with a sold point guard in Mike Conley and a top notch center in Marc Gasol. Tony Allen is still a premier defender in the league. The Clippers turned it all around this year, mostly thanks to point guard Chris Paul. Blake Griffin throws down nasty dunks all over the place but he still has to develop his post game. The Grizzlies know how to defend and should be able to shut him down. Grizzlies in Seven.
In the second round, I think Memphis upsets San Antonio, but then loses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who head to the NBA Finals. Check out my Eastern Conference Preview Blog later for who wins it all in the NBA finals.
You can follow Schmeelk on Twitter for everything Knicks, Giants, Yankees and New York sports @Schmeelk.