NBA Western Conference Playoffs: Will The Thunder Return To The Finals?

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Will the Oklahoma City Thunder return to the NBA Finals looking to go one step further in 2013? Or will San Antonio once again represent the Western Conference? With the NBA playoff schedule now set, today on the blog Adam Digby shares his thoughts on the opening round of Western Conference matchups.

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Thanks to the complete dominance of Miami, the NBA’s Eastern Conference is simple to forecast, and it would take a spectacular implosion from the reigning Champions for anyone else to take their place in the Finals. Looking at the West, however, is a very different proposition. Almost every First Round series is difficult to predict, as the fact that all the ties were only decided on the last day of the regular season.

NBA Western Conference Playoff Standings And NBA Championship Odds

RankTeamWin-LossOdds To Win Western ConferenceOdds To Win NBA Championship
1 Oklahoma City Thunder 60-22 2.20 5.50
2 San Antonio Spurs 58-24 4.00 12.00
3 Denver Nuggets 57-25 11.00 26.00
4 LA Clippers 56-26 11.00 26.00
5 Memphis Grizzlies 56-26 23.00 51.00
6 Golden State Warriors 47-35 67.00 159.00
7 LA Lakers 45-37 31.00 89.00
8 Houston Rockets 45-37 71.00 271.00

Even without the injured Kobe Bryant, the West is home to some of the NBA’s greatest players, not to mention coaches and teams. There is everything you could hope for from the Playoffs with exciting match ups across the board, storylines threaded across all four series’ and five of the league’s best records being thoroughly tested. Indeed, those five teams all won more than fifty-five games, and can legitimately hold out hope of reaching the Conference Finals, with perhaps only six-seeded Golden State the only one of the eight for whom that is not a realistic possibility.

(1) Oklahoma City Thunder v (8) Houston Rockets

There may be no greater narrative for the early period of this post-season, than James Harden’s return to face the Thunder in the vociferous Chesapeake Energy Arena. The bearded guard has exploded with the Rockets, upping his offensive production from 16.8 points per game to 25.9 while simultaneously posting career best averages for rebounds, assists, blocks and steals as the cornerstone of an exciting Houston offence.

However, the Rockets defence ranks 28th in the league, and allows an average of 102.5. OKC themselves are not the best defensive team around (10th in the league, allowing 96.5 ppg) but with the NBA’s most prolific duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook lining up against them, there are surely too many weapons on the other side of the ball for Houston to survive. Expect the Thunder to go through in five games.

(2) San Antonio Spurs v (7) LA Lakers

This series is indicative of the unpredictable Western Conference, pitting the incredible surge from the Purple and Gold against a Spurs side, who went from being the best team in the league to limping over the line. Having seemed unlikely to even make the post-season at all, the Lakers not only got in, they managed to earn the seventh seed and, with it, a match up people believe they can win thanks to their current momentum.

That said, as long as Greg Popovich remains in San Antonio, writing off the Spurs is perhaps the biggest mistake any basketball observer could make. Without home court advantage and a vastly inferior coach, the Lakers – 16-25 on the road this year – will surely struggle to overcome a team who beat them two out of three times in the regular season. Without Bryant, the greatest closer in the league, it is hard to see San Antonio not prevailing, although it may go seven games.

(3) Denver Nuggets v (6) Golden State Warriors

The real shame of the last few days of action is that we were denied the opportunity of seeing a dunk-laden Nuggets-Clippers series that could have outdone anything the All Star Weekend has to offer. Instead we see perhaps the West’s two biggest underdogs go head-to-head as George Karl’s relentless Denver unit take on Davidson’s finest in Stephen Curry and the Warriors. Owner of the single season record with 270 three pointers, the prolific guard will have his work cut out against a swarming Nuggets defence led by the superb Andre Iguodala.

In defying common wisdom in thriving without a superstar player, Denver have become a superb collective outfit, sharing the load, and having no fewer than six players scoring in double figures every night. That helped them to the league’s best offence as they averaged 106.1 points per game and that should see them win this series in five games.

(4) LA Clippers v (5) Memphis Grizzlies

A tough match up that pits the Grizzlies incredible defence – the NBA’s best, allowing just 89.3 points per game – against the team dubbed ‘Lob City’ for their highlight reel offence. With Chris Paul running the show, the Clippers won the Pacific Division for the first time in their history, and in the vastly improved Blake Griffin have the kind of tandem on which to build a championship contender.

However, against a team who split the season series 2-2 and have an identical 56-26 record, it is incredibly difficult to choose a winner as you would expect for the four-five seed. It is hard to imagine Griffin and DeAndre Jordan enjoying the freedom they thrive upon when faced with the defensive brilliance of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Indeed, Jordan’s woeful foul shooting (a dire 39%) or the fact that issue sees him sit out the final moments of close games. I expect Memphis to triumph in six tight games.

 

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You can follow Adam on Twitter: @Adz77

And read more of his work at ESPN.com

Italian Football Correspondent for ESPN also contributing to In Bed With Maradona, Sports Illustrated, The Independent, WhoScored.com whilst offering insight here at bettingexpert on both Serie A and NBA Basketball