The NBA Playoffs: West Semis Preview

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs (5) Los Angeles Clippers
Season Series:  Spurs 2-1

How they got here: The Spurs disposed of an over-matched Utah Jazz over a week ago with an easy sweep. The starters got a lot of rest while the second unit got some more repetitions to prepare for a tougher opponent in the next round. Meanwhile, the Clippers fought a grueling and tough series against the Grizzlies which reached 7 games. In the process, they had injuries to three starters (Butler, Paul, Griffin) and they needed a longer rest instead of just 1 day to prepare for the Spurs. The breakout performance by the Clippers bench could be pivotal vs the strong bench of the Spurs.

How the Spurs will win: The Spurs pummeled the Jazz with pick and rolls from Tony Parker plus Ginobili shredded the defense with his slashing game then he made the right pass to the open man for the three. The Spurs are at the top when it comes to three-point percentage and they have the gunners to prove it. Tim Duncan has played fresh and strong and the long break will only help him get better. The Spurs bench are clicking at all cylinders and if they continue to make their shots, this could be a short series.  

X-Factor for Spurs: Boris Diaw will get minutes defending Blake Griffin. If he can prevent Blake from getting in the paint easily and play him physical, Griffin will get tired and lose gas. Diaw can also be aggressive on offense, maybe get a foul or two from Blake. Griffin is already playing hurt after battling with Gasol and Randolph so it's best to attack him offensively.

How the Clippers will win: The Clippers edged the Grizzlies mainly due to Chris Paul and his superstar abilities. CP3 cruised in the first three quarters then decided to take control in the clutch. That same mentality may not work against the Spurs who have better players compared to the Grizzlies. More importantly, the Spurs have Parker who can stay with Paul and match him point for point. The Clippers need more from their bench to offset the big advantage that the Spurs have when Jackson and Ginobili come of the bench. 

What will probably happen: This is a great series with marquee players having individual battles. The Spurs like to run more and shoot threes while the Clippers are better with half court sets due to the brilliance of Chris Paul. The Clippers are slightly hurting and and tired while the Spurs are healthy and rested. The Spurs can go deep into their bench while the Clippers cannot. The team and bench balance of the Spurs will outlast the Clippers. If Paul or Griffin gets into foul trouble or is fatigued (or injured), the Clippers dont have enough bench players to pick up the slack, unlike the Spurs who can go 10-deep. The coaching match-up between Gregg Popovich and Vinny Del Negro is one-sided. Can coach VDN make adjustments and prepare game plans that can help the Clippers win? I doubt that. 

X-Factor for Clippers: Nick Young has no conscience when it comes to shot selections. If he gets hot, the Clippers can ride his scoring but if he hits clunkers, the starters will be forced to play more than usual. It's very important that he provide offense for the second unit especially when he faces Ginobili or Jackson. 

Prediction: Spurs in 6

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (3) Los Angeles Lakers 
Season Series: Thunder 2-1

How they got here: The Thunder swept the underwhelming defending champs, Dallas Mavericks. They have not played in more than a week. This young and fast team is eager and rested. The Lakers hurdled a scrappy and pesky Nuggets team in 7 games. The Lakers were a better team than the Nuggets but you hardly saw that on the floor. The Lakers played extra games and they are coming to OKC tired. The last time they met in the playoffs was two years ago which the Lakers won in 6 games. 

How the Thunder will win: The Thunder have the highest scoring duo in Durant and Westbrook. If you include Harden, they have the best scoring trio. The Thunder will run and launch jumpers. They have amazing finishers and they will eat you alive in transition. A missed shot can become two points going the other way with Westbrook pushing the ball and initiating the fastbreak. When Harden is on the floor, he can make passes and decisions that make the team even better. 

X-Factor for Thunder: Kendrick Perkins was brought to the Thunder so that he can defend against all the big guys in the West. He will battle Gasol and/or Bynum and if can slow them down, the Lakers will be in trouble. 

How the Lakers will win: This is still Kobe's team but he needs his big guys to score and rebound in the post. The offense has to go through Bynum because he needs his touches to get him more engaged and interested in the defensive side. Gasol has to be aggressive all game long and not disappear for long stretches. If Kobe goes head-to-head with Durant in the scoring department, that could be a bad strategy since Kobe takes away shots from Bynum/Gasol. 

What will probably happen: The Thunder are so much better this time around compared to two years ago. No one can guard Westbrook who is better and stronger than Lawson who ran circles against the Lakers. The Thunder have a deeper bench and they are well rested. The Thunder have Sefolosha who can be a Kobe-stopper and they can put Durant on Kobe for key situations. Ibaka and Perkins can somewhat negate the Lakers' advantage on the post but the Lakers dont have anything or anyone that can slow down Harden and Westbrook. 

X-Factor for Lakers: Ron Artest missed 6 of the 7 games vs the Nuggets due to his suspension. The Lakers need Artest to play excellent defense on Durant or Harden without using violence. If he makes some open shots, then that's a bonus. 

Prediction: Thunder in 6

In case you missed it, Enzo (@hoopnut) has his 2nd round playoff picks HERE

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