The NBA Playoffs: West 1st Round

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (8) Utah Jazz
Season Series: Spurs 3-1

How the Spurs will win: The Spurs finished strong and have the number 1 seed in the West. They are not the Spurs of before who were boring and slow. These guys run and score in bunches (2nd in PPG). Tony Parker is their leader and they run their offense through him. They have a balanced team and a very strong bench (Jackson, Diaw, Splitter). They shoot and make a lot of treys (Manu, Neal, Bonner, Green) but their best option is to run Parker in pick and rolls where he normally frees himself for a jumper or floater in the lane.

How the Jazz will win: The Jazz have an excellent 1-2 frontcourt with Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. It's not a surprise that they are 2nd in rebounding and they need to exert their presence in the low post. The Spurs are undersized with Bonner and Blair plus Duncan is not the same player defensively. If the Spurs collapse into the post and double team, this gives the Jazz shooters all the space they need.

What will probably happen: The Spurs can score in transition and they can score in half-court sets. If the Jazz load up on offensive rebounding and do not get the rebound, the Spurs have great finishers in Parker, Manu and Jackson. Defensively, the Jazz give up many open looks (and points) so the Spurs will have all day in shooting treys.

X-Factor: Gordon Hayward. He is blossoming into a good two-way player in his second year. If he can match-up well with Ginobili, the Jazz could steal a game or two.

Prediction: Spurs in 5

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (7) Dallas Mavericks
Season Series: Thunder 3-1

How the Thunder will win: They have the scoring leader of the last 3 years in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook who was fifth in the NBA. They are 3rd in PPG so offensively, they are tough to stop. The Mavs took a step back this year defensively without Chandler. The Thunder can run and both Westbrook and Harden can attack the paint at will especially without the Mavs having anyone to protect the rim.

How the Mavericks will win: They will need Dirk, Jason Terry and the rest of the supporting cast (West, Carter, Marion) to score and be productive to match the firepower from the Thunder. If the Mavs get the vintage Dirk from last year, they have a chance to be competitive. Mavs need to make their treys to open up the post for Dirk to work his magic.

What will probably happen: The Thunder is better this year while the Mavs are worse. Serge Ibaka will be the primary Dirk Stopper with Perkins and Collison providing additional help. Meanwhile, the Mavs have no one to check Westbrook so expect him to run wild. When Durant, Harden and Westbrook are all on the floor, the Mavs will sacrifice their offense to put a defensive player on the floor.

X-Factor: James Harden. How effective will he be after his concussion? He anchors the second unit of the Thunder and he is their best playmaker. If he cant perform, maybe the Mavs could eke out an upset.

Prediction: Thunder in 5

(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs (6) Denver Nuggets 
Season Series: Lakers 3-1

How the Lakers will win: Contrary to belief that Kobe will carry the Lakers to victories, the play of big man Andrew Bynum is the key. He is the best center in the playoffs and his numbers this year showed his growth on the court. The Lakers need to feed him in the post to keep Bynum involved on defense. If the Nuggets decide to double team him, then Kobe can start taking his 24 shots per game.

How the Nuggets will win: They are first in scoring with 6 players averaging in double figures so the scoring balance is uncanny. The Nuggets can push the pace with Ty Lawson among the fastest in the NBA. Danilo Gallinari needs to be more than a spot up shooter and expand his game by attacking the paint to get fouls from Gasol and Bynum. Kenneth Faried (rookie) has to attack the glass and get attention from the Lakers' bigs to create more space for the Nuggets' shooters.

What will probably happen: The lack of a superstar who can take over in the clutch will hurt the Nuggets. They dont have a go-to-guy that can easily create his own shot when the Lakers' defense clamps down. Bynum and Gasol will dominate the paint and gobble up rebounds that will limit the Nuggets from going in transition often. Kobe will get his 25-30 points and his late season rest should amplify his competitive spirit for the playoffs.

X-Factor: Arron Afflalo. He will be on Kobe often and if Afflalo can make him take tough jumpers, that's the only strategy to play. On defense, Afflalo should try and attack Kobe to make him work.

Prediction: Lakers in 7

(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs (5) Los Angeles Clippers
Season Series: Clippers 2-1

How the Grizzlies will win: The Grizzlies have a good complement of inside (Gasol & Randolph) and outside (Mayo, Gay, Conley) scoring and they use these to their advantage often. The Grizzlies are 5th best in defensive PPG and they have a defensive stopper in Tony Allen. Their bench includes Mayo and Gilbert Arenas who both are able to make treys.

How the Clippers will win: Chris Paul is a MVP candidate. He needs to play like that every game for the Clippers to win. Blake Griffin is a great player but his jumper and post game needs work so having Paul create for him helps a lot. Randy Foye, Caron Butler and Mo Williams need to make the open shots that they receive to help Blake operate more in the post.

What will probably happen: A very tough series to predict. It may be up to home-court advantage to decide the winner. The Clippers have a big time player in Paul but his team has limited playoff experience (first time for Griffin and Jordan) while the Grizzlies are battle tested from last year's run. The Clippers are not a good freethrow shooting team and that will hurt them in the clutch.

X-Factor: Tony Allen. He will be guarding Chris Paul during key moments of the game and if Allen slows down CP3, the Clippers' offense becomes stagnated.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 7
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