Friday, April 18, 2008

West First Round Predictions

Lakers (1) vs. Nuggets (8)
Denver has the bold offensive-minded athletes and plays at a pace to give Los Angeles some trouble. Problem is, the Nuggets will give back almost all of the good work they do with lapses both in concentration and a commitment to defense. Since Pau Gasol arrived, the Lakers’ offense has found another gear. Ball movement is crisp and high percentage shots are now the norm. In an up-and-down series where fatigue likely be a factor as well, L.A.’s depth will play an important role too. Lakers in 5

Hornets (2) vs. Mavericks (7)
One of the best 2-7 matchups ever. After it briefly appeared that missing the playoffs was a possibility, Dallas asserted itself and posted three quality wins in the final week and a half. The “fragile” psyche of the Mavs, however, has been overblown and won’t be an issue. It’s popular opinion that the Hornets, with less playoff experience, will cave. I don’t buy it. With Chris Paul running the show, New Orleans — No. 8 in field-goal percentage, No. 3 from 3 and No. 3 in fewest turnovers — has a potent offense. And Louisiana fans will give them a boost in the finale. Hornets in 7

Spurs (3) vs. Suns (6)
The best first-round matchup ever. Worthy of a conference final. After having their seasons ended by the Spurs in 2005 and 2007, the Suns acquired Shaquille O’Neal specifically for this showdown. The trade, along with San Antonio’s weakened and injured supporting cast, has further narrowed the gap between these two. But now the Suns run less and that limits Leandro Barbosa, who is a difficult cover. Add it all up, is it enough to get Phoenix over the hump? Not quite. Tony Parker is playing better than ever and Manu Ginobili had his best season. San Antonio will rely on the Big 3 more than ever, but it’s the defense — No. 5 defending field goals, No. 3 on 3s — that once again will get it done. Barely. Spurs in 7

Jazz (4) vs. Rockets (5)
Rematch of last year’s first round series that was won by the Jazz — an introduction of Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams to the mainstream hoop fan — on the road in Game 7. And that was with Yao Ming playing for Houston. Utah is better than a year ago, as evidenced by an efficient offense (No. 2 in field goal percentage, No. 2 in free throw attempts). Without Yao, the Rockets don’t have nearly enough offense. Expect Tracy McGrady to be frustrated in many of these games. It doesn’t take much, even under normal circumstances. Jazz in 5

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