What a great time to be a basketball fan.
Most of you are still definitely on a high from Kobe Bryant’s epic 60-point farewell game performance. You might have also realized that you can no longer use the “can he do that against the 95-96 Chicago Bulls” argument now that the Golden State Warriors have broken the best NBA regular season record with their incredible 73-9 season finish.
But now that the Kobe Farewell tour is over and GSW has etched themselves as the new best team in (regular season) history, it’s now time to get serious.
On Sunday, the NBA's 2016 Playoffs will officially begin. We have come to the point where the best teams have risen to the top and we're just all ready to see them collide against each other.
Here's our preview of the Western Conference match-ups.
Click here to check out the battle for the Eastern Conference
Regular season record: October 30: GSW 112 - HOU 92; December 31: GSW 114 - HOU 110; February 9: GSW 123 - HOU 110
It’s quite funny to imagine that we’re only a season removed from the time these two teams faced each other in the Western Conference Finals. Now, we’re seeing a rematch, but don’t expect too much competition here, especially with the Houston Rockets instantly dropping from contender status to a mediocre playoff team at best.
The Warriors, on the other hand, are enjoying the atmosphere in the upper echelon and have just finished sipping champagnes after punctuating another dominant and historic season.
Chef Curry and The Beard are the top two guards in the planet. Both can light up the basket in a hurry and also put their teammates in a position to score every time they are on the court.
Just like the rest of the Association, the Rockets are still looking for the solution to slowing down the reigning league MVP (or figuring out his real range). During their last match of the season, Steph shot down the Rockets with a game-high 35 points (seven out of 16 from three) and dished nine assists.
The Bearded One might have started the season in a funk but it didn’t take long before he regained his usual hot-shooting, euro-stepping self. After waking up from his shooting slump early in the season, Harden has dropped 30 and 35 points in his last two games against the Warriors.
Make sure to remember how to count by threes, because these two will definitely make it rain from the perimeter come Sunday.
Prediction: The only reason why the Rockets almost nabbed a W against the Warriors was because Curry didn’t suit up. Aside from GSW's explosive offense, they have also figured out how to totally disrupt Houston’s offense. They limited the Rockets to only 17 fourth quarter points while they poured in 30 in a blowout during their last regular season match-up. GSW wins series 4-1
Regular season record: November 21: SAS 92 - MEM 82; December 3: SAS 103 - MEM 83; March 25: SAS 110 - MEM 104; March 28: SAS 101 - MEM 87
The Spurs missing the postseason is a computer glitch, a data error. It’s not normal. And with a more able (and healthy) lineup with the addition of LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, and key mid-season acquisitions Kevin Martin and Andre Miller, San Antonio has not only bolstered their squad for a deep post-season run, they’re ready to win it all.
Despite having so many injuries and almost entirely depleted roster, the Grizzlies organization has done an awesome job remedying the situation by picking up players that will help in the postseason. We’re just happy that they paired up troublemakers Lance Stephenson and Matt Barnes together.
Players to watch for: LaMarcus Aldrige and Lance Stephenson
L.A. has completely integrated himself in Coach Popovich’s smooth-flowing offense. Believing in the system has got him almost 19 points and 8.5 boards per game, earning him his fifth All-Star berth.
So why should you keep an eye for LaMarcus? That’s because he’ll be spending most of the first round of the postseason banging bodies with the bear-like Zach Randolph on the block. Will he draw out Z-Bo out from the paint and make it rain with his flat-footed jumpers? Or will he battle the Memphis’ bruiser on the low block?
Lance Stephenson, despite all this antics and failed crossover attempts, has been surprisingly effective for Memphis. Though Born Ready really has not produced much (he’s just averaging eight points against San Antonio) when facing the Spurs, we all know how he loves to perform when he’s in the spotlight.
Prediction: This is just too much for the Griz. They have completely lost their starting five to injuries and have assembled a ragtag team of misfits to get them through the season. If that’s not enough, they will be facing a loaded and well-rested Spurs. Don’t worry guys, vacation is almost here! San Antonio sweeps Memphis, 4-0
Regular Season Record: November 22: OKC 117 - DAL 114; January 13: OKC109 - DAL 89; January 22: OKC 109 - DAL 106; February 24: OKC 116 - DAL 103
Together with the Warriors and the Spurs, the Thunder have been on cruise control for most of the regular season. Their two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, have been filling the stat sheets in their own awesome way. Westbrook has become a legitimate triple-double machine (17 triple-doubles this season) who’s constantly angry at the rim, while KD continued his snipe-happy “Easy Money” mode.
The Mavericks, on the other hand, have not been able to really get it going throughout the season. Injuries have kept their chemistry at bay and their most important player on the roster not named Dirk Nowitzki has been constantly plagued by knee injuries. Yes, we’re talking about you, Chandler Parsons.
Players to watch for: Westbrook, Nowitzki
It's a toss-up between KD and Russ if you’re talking about OKC. But then again, we all know that the Durantula can slay any team with his shooting.
Westbrook is a different kind of beast. He has wreaked havoc on opposing teams in almost every category. His 17 triple-doubles tied Magic Jonhson’s NBA record for most triple-doubles in a season. Besides, how many players can easily record a triple-double in a single half?
The 37-year-old German has done a good job leading his team to the postseason once again. He’s currently averaging 18 points a game while also grabbing six rebounds per contest. With Parsons out and Deron Williams being a shell of his former All-Star self, the Mavs have no one else to rely on but Dirk.
Hopefully, Kobe’s epic 60-point swan song can reenergize Dirk’s basketball hormones and turn him back to his 2006 MVP form so he can lead his squad to contention once again.
Seeing Dirk swishing every one-foot fadeaway jumper against KD or Ibaka would definitely be a sight to behold. He scored 35 on them last March after all.
Prediction: Oklahoma has just too much firepower compared to Dallas. They can simply outrun and outgun the cowboys from Texas for a clean sweep. Oklahoma sweeps Dallas, 4-0
Regular Season Record: November 18: POR 102 - LAC 91; November 30: LAC 102 - POR 87; January 6: LAC 109 - POR 98; March 24: LAC 96 - POR 94
Portland shouldn’t be in the Playoffs. But thanks to the brilliant coaching of Blazers’ Coach Terry Stotts, the emergence of Most Improved Player of the Year favorite C.J. McCollum, and Damian Lillard NOT being an All-Star, The Blazers have challenged fate itself and got the fifth slot on the postseason, and not the fifth pick in the next Draft Lottery.
The Clippers are well, right on schedule. After a few bumps and scandals, Los Angeles is once again on the bid for making a deep run for the playoffs. Chris Paul is still an elite guard, DeAndre is still a force on the glass, and J.J. Reddick is a high-faded pompadour three-point assassin.
Players to watch for: Liilard, Redick
If you’re a big fan of the Clippers or just simply a hardcore basketball addict, then you’re pretty familiar with the damage Redick can do to opposing teams in a flash. He finished the season leading the league in three-point field goal percentage (59 percent accuracy). He has also emerged as one of the most lethal catch-and-shoot players in the game.
CP3 will make big plays, DJ And BG will supply the highlights, but more often than not, J.J. will be the one responsible for putting the game away. Something the Blazers are quite familiar with:
Lillard is now playing with an even bigger chip on his shoulders. After getting snubbed on this year’s All-Star team, Dame Dolla cashed in on his credentials as he delivered high-scoring games one after another.
With his proven tenacity, Dame will definitely take over some games, mixing it up with his cold-blooded shooting and sharp cuts to the basket. We won’t be surprised if he averages 35 points per game during the first round.
Prediction: The Clippers’ weakness is their morale. Looking at Los Angeles’ lineup, they have a roster that can compete with the NBA-best Warriors. However, only CP3 and Paul Pierce are proven competitors in this roster. Yes, their other stars, Blake and DeAndre, will provide stat-stuffing numbers but it’s pretty obvious that they don’t have the same fire like Paul and Pierce have.
And speaking of fire, Dame has a ton of it burning inside of him. He’ll do whatever it takes to score an upset, but then again, there’s a limit on what a lone wolf can do against a talented team. Clippers win the series in seven games, 4-3