Tuesday, March 15, 2011

As I See It: No More Mr. Nice Guy ( Western Conference Playoff Outlook )

Still the Champs....

  In the last edition of "As I See It", we broke down the playoffs picture as it is concerned in the Eastern Conference. Today we will look at the Western Conference as it stands for the playoffs, and what that means for the Chicago Bulls.

  The Chicago Bulls have fared well in the West this season. Posting an 18-7 record against the Western Conference teams. They have not only dominated, but also beat the teams that matter the most. Having at least one win against the top three teams in the west. Playing a more uptempo style against Western Conference teams, the Bulls are shooting a higher field goal percentage (46), despite taking more shots in fewer games compared to the East.

  To the contrary, the Bulls have suffered a significant drop in defense against the west. In every statistical category the Bulls have a drop in production against teams in the west coast. Mostly, due to the up and down style of play. Which in part strays from the hardnosed halfcourt defense that Coach Thib's loves.

  All in all, I feel confident in saying that I believe the Bulls could best any team in the West, except the Lakers and Spurs currently.

With that being said, let's break down the Western Conference playoff situation. Of course, if the playoffs were to start today ( I know, I know.....)

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. Dallas Mavericks
  3. Los Angeles Lakers
  4. Oklahoma City Thunder
  5. Denver Nuggets
  6. New Orleans Hornets
  7. Portland Blazers
  8. Memphis Grizzlies

  To speak bluntly, anything after Oklahoma City is a Cinderella. After this recent summer's changing of the guard, as it concerns to matching up with L.A., players abandoned ship and headed East to build a new super conference. Leaving Denver, Phoenix, and Utah looking to rebuild to contend the bottom half or the seating.

  Let's break down each team as they stand up to the rest of the NBA realistically to win the NBA Championship:

San Antonio Spurs

  The San Antonio Spurs have proved that old dogs not only learn new tricks, but they teach the young dogs how it's done along the way. Sitting at an NBA best 54-12 and dominating against all divisions. Adapting a more uptempo style of play and decreasing veteran and future HOF'er Tim Duncan's minutes subtly and effectively have made them the most dangerous team to upset L.A.'s throne. Only leading the NBA in one category ( 3-point percentage - .401, ) the Spurs are still using what made them great by when slowing down to a half court set, they make other teams make the mistakes and capitalize.

  San Antonio without a doubt is the most playoff tested team in the NBA. Approaching their 14th straight playoff appearance and seeking a 5th NBA Championship in 12 season, Vegas and the NBA alike can't overlook the Spurs.

Dallas Mavericks

Last chance for Dirk?
  The Dallas Mavericks are a complicated team. With age and window of opportunity appearing to close, this seems to be the "all in" season for Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, and even enigmatic owner Mark Cuban. Continuing to shoot at high percentages ( T-3rd in NBA - .475 ), the Mavericks can score with any team in the NBA, the Achilles for years past has been the lack of defensive intensity. They rank at the bottom of the league in steals (24), and blocks (22), while fairing to make the top part of the league in rebounding (17). The acquisition of Brandon Haywood and Tyson Chandler, the Mavs have made their best efforts to deepen the frontcourt for a matchup with L.A.

  I wouldn't be surprised if they made the Western Conference Finals depending on the seating breakdown. If they have to play L.A. or San Antonio to get there, then I see another great season down the tubes in an early round again for Dallas.

Los Angeles Lakers

  The 2-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers. Are a 3 seed. Seems on the surface that they do not appear to have the same caliber of hunger that propelled them past Oklahoma City, when it seemed as if their chips were down. And even more the perseverance that outlasted a gritty Boston in seven games for it's second back-to-back NBA title.

  You could also chalk it up to boredom, looking at the fact that they went 57-25 en route to title #2, going 12-10 in the final two months leading into the playoffs. With a rejuvenated Andrew Bynum, a consistent domination on both sides of the ball from Pau Gasol ( 18pts, 10reb, 1.6bpg, ) the length and versatility of X-Factor Lamar Odom, Zen-Master and Daniel-son puppeteering from Phil and Kobe, and trying to get Ron Artest to do his best on court Dennis Rodman impersonation, the Lakers can make the regular season an afterthought with another championship. Much like last season.

  As I See It, the Lakers are still the team to be beat in the NBA. Period.

Oklahoma City Thunder

  Which makes the next team, Oklahoma City Thunder, a difficult case in the way things shake down in the west. With the undoubted best scorer in the league in forward Kevin Durant ( 28ppg ) and easily argued top 5 point guard in Russel Westbrook ( 22ppg, 8.2apg, ) the Thunder bode to be the biggest pest for the big 3 teams in the West. Trading Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson, OKC has now added depth in the backcourt and beefed up the frontcourt

Denver Nuggets

  Which segway's nicely into the 5th seed, the Denver Nuggets. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard at least a aesthetics of the Melo' drama that stunk up the NBA until after the all star break when he was traded to New York for Raymond Felton, Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, and Timofev Mozgov. Losing their perennial scorer and the most underrated point guard in the NBA, Denver to the outside seemed to be doomed to slide out of playoff contention and into rebuilding oblivion. Not the case, the Nuggets have gone 7-2 since trading Melo away and are the scariest team for anyone to face in both the first and second rounds.

  P.S. Do you think that Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson aren't getting a kick out of playing with each other? And George Karl HATES superstars, this might just be a blessing in disguise...

Bottom of the Heap...

  •   The New Orleans Hornets would be the most scrutinized team in the NBA if they win past the second round. Partially because they have no team, and the other is they are owned by the NBA. Point Guard Chris Paul is undoubtedly on his way out of N.O. in this upcoming free agency period and the status of the franchise in general could quite likely be in jeopardy. But a miraculous playoff could change all that. 

  • The Portland Trailblazers have been the most heartbreaking story in the NBA for the past decade. Seeming to be annually plagues by injury and  missing expectations, doubled by busted draft picks and being burned by the picks they missed. But for some reason throughout all it's adversity they seem to be somewhere around the helms of playoff contention consistently. The declining physical health of All-Star guard Brandon Roy, with the burst onto the spotlight of replacement Wesley Matthews, plus the acquisition of double/double machine Gerald Wallace, makes the Blazers the most confusing team in this playoff race. As I See It, the Blazers should comfortably assume the 7th seed in the West and exhaust either the Lakers or Mavericks before making an early exit.
  • The Memphis Grizzlies are young and talented. They are not a complete basketball team however, depending on 1-on-1 play and hoping Z-Bo picks up the garbage. They will more than likely play the Spurs in the 1st round. So the story for the Grizzlies pretty much ends there.

  As I See It, the west will shake down traditionally. The Spurs will play the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers will win in 7. Come in an emotionally and physically drained team against a young and hungry Chicago Bulls team. They take it to six games, and Phil Jackson will be hoisted by his own petard when the team he won his first six titles with ( Chicago ) takes his second sixth away.

  All in all, greatness is made in the postseason. The Bulls have yet to prove worthiness of beating L.A., not even San Antonio. But by the way they have played both teams this season and the way the seating seems to be playing out in the NBA, it's not a far fetch to say this might be the series that gets dealt. You might say it's a dream, but it's the most realistic dream that has yet to end. Keep holding good teams to low scoring and that's all the recipe you need to win in April.

  As Charles Barkley said best.. " I may be wrong, but I doubt it!"

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