NBA: Western Conference Playoff Preview, Picks and Predictions

Steph CurryThe Western Conference playoffs kick-off on Saturday with first round match-ups between the top-seeded Golden State Warriors and #8 Houston Rockets (3.30pm ET) and the #3 Oklahoma City Thunder and #6 Dallas Mavericks (9.30pm ET).

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: There’s Golden State and then there’s everybody else. In the 2015-16 NBA postseason this is undoubtedly the case, because not only are the Warriors defending their Western Conference and NBA Championship from last season but they are doing so on the heels of an 82-game campaign which saw them win 73. That set a new record as the best team in the history of the league.

Odds from the sportsbooks: Golden State Warriors -190, San Antonio Spurs +230, Oklahoma City Thunder +800, Los Angeles Clippers +1600, Portland Trailblazers +7500, Houston Rockets +12500, Dallas Mavericks +12500, Memphis Grizzlies +25000.

Just take a moment to notice the absolutely and utterly insane drop-off that occurs from the Clippers to the Trailblazers in terms of the bookies’ betting odds. That’s how good Golden State and San Antonio are. That’s how big of a challenge they pose to any team that ends up in their path. It’s a daunting task for any of the remaining six teams, even the ones whose odds aren’t essentially off of the map.

I won’t spend too much time here praising the Warriors because well, we know the book on them. The team won 73 of 82 regular season games. It’s hard to pinpoint anything the team did poorly, even in their nine losses. No team is ever going to go perfect so of course these would be bound to pop up every now and again.

No playoff team this year or any other finished the season with more than one victory over Steve Kerr’s history-making squad. Why? Because from top to bottom, on offense and on defense, there really was no one better.

Steph Curry (pictured) shattered his own record and made 400 three pointers this year. He averaged 30.1 PPG, the highest in the NBA, while also shooting 45 percent or higher from the floor and beyond the arc as well as just under 91 percent from the free throw line. He defined himself as the best player in the league by far.

That’s not to forget about his Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, who averaged 22.1 points, 12th best in the NBA, as well as shooting over 40 percent from both the two and the three point range. Add to this the 9.5 rebounds and just all around consistent production from Draymond Green and you have a Warriors big three that was just as good as any.

There may be one team and one team only that can unseat the defending champs and even then, it’s a bit of a stretch. But given how the Spurs operate and how Gregg Popovich as drawn both ire and praise for how he’s able to rest his veterans for a stretch run like the postseason requires, a seven-game series does give San Antonio the slightest chance.

As far as odds to win the title go, Golden State’s edge on San Antonio isn’t as large as one would expect from a team that just accomplished what they did. The Warriors enter at -150 favorites with the Spurs the next best option at +375. Aside from the East’s Cleveland Cavaliers in at three with +400, the top five is rounded out by two other West teams in the Thunder (+1000) and the Clippers (+2800).

But even then, as good a Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are with OKC and as good as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are with LAC, these teams don’t hold a candle to what the Spurs and Warriors were this season and what they’ll continue to be.

They’ll likely win their first round match-ups against the Mavericks and Trail Blazers, although, LA has a history of early postseason exits and Portland, with Damian Lillard (25.1 PPG, 6.8 APG) and CJ McCollum (20.8 PPG), has shown itself to be a dangerous team on more than one occasion. But even if the Clippers do get past that tough match-up, what awaits them is a date with one of the league’s two best teams, one that LA has no chance to win.

This might seem shortsighted but I’m not even going to entertain the possibility that the Western Conference Finals are decided between any two teams other than the Warriors and Spurs. Not this year, not after the season we witnessed from these two.

San Antonio has somehow managed to do it again, quietly amassing 67 wins and meeting or surpassing the 50-win mark for the 14th season in a row. Consistently speaking, in the Popovich/Tim Duncan era, which began in 2001, no team has been better than the Spurs.

In any other year the squad led by Kawhi Leonard (21.2 PPG, 6.8 RPG) and LaMarcus Aldridge (18 PPG, 8.5 RPG) would likely enter in as favorites. But such is not the case. The Spurs did defeat the Warriors on one occasion this year and on the other two, came within striking distance. That’s more than most teams can say. However, their win came at home, a place where San Antonio was all but perfect this year. In the eventual Western Conference Finals, Golden State, as good at home as on the road, will have the advantage.

The Match-Ups

  • Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs
  • Portland Trail Blazers vs LA Clippers
  • Houston Rockets vs Golden State Warriors
  • Dallas Mavericks vs Oklahoma City Thunder

The Spurs and the Grizzlies are an interesting pairing if only for the recent history between the teams. But that was when the Grizzlies were among the top in the West and such is not the case this year. My pick is Spurs in five.

Portland is going to make a series out of this one and will challenge the Clippers. This could go either way but I’m leaning Trail Blazers when the dust settles. So my betting pick is Portland in seven.

Is it possible for the Warriors to win a four game series in three or even two? Golden State in four and I’d bet the house and literally everything else of value I own on it.

Mavericks/Thunder is another interesting one but OKC is rounding into form and Westbrook and Durant are both healthy and playing great. I think Thunder in six.

So this Western Conference playoff preview’s idea of the Final Four are OKC Thunder, San Antonio Spurs, Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers.

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