Saturday, April 18, 2009

West First Round Predictions

Lakers (1) vs. Jazz (8)
Los Angeles won 65 games, is motivated by last year's Finals loss, and healthier/deeper than a year ago with defensive stopper Trevor Ariza and the recent return of center Andrew Bynum. The Lakers ranked third in offensive rating and their defensive numbers are also improved. Couple all of that with an opponent who offers little resistance and just listened to the fatalistic outlook of coach Jerry Sloan. Utah's home crowd might be worth one victory in the series this year (not two). The Jazz's only hope is for Deron Williams to play with a killer, almost selfish, instinct from tip to buzzer every night. Lakers in 5

Nuggets (2) vs. Hornets (7)
New Orleans' depth has always been an issue, which means the starters have to be healthy and on top of their games. That's not the case right now. Tyson Chandler returns from injury, but Peja Stojakovic has not been effective of late. The Hornets will go as far as David West and primarily Chris Paul will carry them -- and Paul is capable of winning a series by himself. But the Nuggets, thanks to the addition of Chauncey Billups and better offensive (No. 5 FG percentage) and defensive (No. 4) balance, are poised to win their first playoff series since stunning top-seeded Seattle 1994. Nuggets in 6

Spurs (3) vs. Mavs (6)
Without Manu Ginobili, San Antonio's odd-year run of championships will most certainly come to an end, but don't count out the Spurs from making some noise. It's a proud group, with a ton of playoff mettle and still very confident and comfortable with what it does best. The offense is now being carried by point guard Tony Parker, who ranked fourth in the NBA in usage (31.7). Parker also hit the Mavs for 22-29-37-37 in four regular season meetings. The Mavs, on the other hand, landed a familiar foe and one they conquered in their greatest playoff triumph (a Game 7 win in San Antonio in 2006). It's going the distance again, but Parker is the difference. Spurs in 7

Blazers (4) vs. Rockets (5)
Portland's late-season flourish -- 10 wins in 11 games, including 4-1 vs. playoff teams -- is no fluke. The Blazers led the NBA in offensive rating and offensive rebounding and were No. 4 in 3-point shooting. They have a rising star in Brandon Roy, are a popular pick to challenge the Lakers, and their home court at the Rose Garden could resemble Oracle Arena during Golden State's upset of top-seeded Dallas in 2007. However ... the Rockets, who were a Roy buzzer-beater away from a season-sweep of Portland, have the size (Yao Ming) and the defensive stoppers (Shane Battier and Ron Artest) to get it done. Rockets in 6

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