The NBA: 2013 Playoffs: West 1st Round Preview

The journey to 16 wins starts on April 20, 2013
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(1) Oklahoma City THUNDER vs (8) Houston ROCKETS 
Season Series: THUNDER 2-1 

How the THUNDER can win: OKC can score in bunches (3rd in points) and they love to run the fast break with elite athletes like Westbrook and Durant. The Thunder can capitalize on the miscues by the Rockets (last in turnovers) and rack up points fast. Westbrook has a big advantage on Jeremy Lin so expect big numbers from Russ. Thabo, Fisher, Ibaka and Kevin Martin will all get open looks from the perimeter due to Houston helping on KD or Russ. This crew of shooters is more than capable of making uncontested shots.

How the ROCKETS can win: The Rockets are 2nd in points and tops in threes made. Scoring is not a problem for them but defensively, they need to do a lot of work. James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons all need to have big offensive games to keep the Rockets competitive since they got routed in 2 of their losses. Their lone win was a close game where Harden had 46 points, Lin had 29 and Parson with 17. They also need to limit their turnovers to prevent the Thunder from accumulating easy baskets.

What will PROBABLY happen: The Thunder routed the Rockets twice by shooting well and making more threes than Houston. They also out-rebounded the Rockets by an average of 12 even with Omer Asik playing. Houston's poor defense (28th) should produce numerous open shots and easy baskets for the Thunder. Kevin Durant will be guarded by Parsons and that is a tough match-up for the 2nd year player. The same situation arises between Westbrook and Lin. If Parsons or Lin get into foul trouble, the Rockets will be in deep trouble.

X-FACTORS: Kevin Martin (Thunder). He replaced Harden on the rotation so it's up to K-Mart to provide the bench production especially since he's a shooter. Martin should mix in some drives to keep the Rockets off-balanced when defending him.
Jeremy Lin (Rockets). This is Lin's first postseason action and his task is to at least make Westbrook play defense since Lin cant guard Russ on offense. The Rockets cant have Westbrook guarding the passing lanes so J-Lin needs to active with or without the ball.

Prediction: THUNDER in 5

(2) San Antonio SPURS vs (7) Los Angeles LAKERS
Season Series: SPURS 2-1

How the SPURS can win: The Spurs can play uptempo or they can execute half-court sets to methodically to break down the Lakers' defense. They have young wing players in Leonard and Green who can fill the wings for an open transition three or go for a Tony Parker drive to the hoop. They can throw the ball to the post to a rejuvenated Tim Duncan and wait for him to make plays. The Spurs can have TP run a bunch of pick and rolls with Splitter or Duncan to free Parker up for his patented floaters and mid-range jumpers.

How the LAKERS can win: The Lakers dont have Kobe Bryant so playing isolation or hero ball is out of the question. They will need to play inside-outside more with Dwight Howard and a bunch of shooters. They can also run high-low post sets with Gasol and Howard. Pau Gasol needs to be primary decision-maker after he got 2 triple-doubles in their last 3 games. Gasol is still among the best passing big men so it's prudent to run their offense around him. The Lakers need to be more active on defense and they have to defend better in transition.

What will PROBABLY happen: The Spurs have injuries to Diaw, Parker and Ginobili. TP and Manu will play but could be limited which give the Lakers a chance to steal a game or 2. The Lakers were in the bottom third in team defense and they play poor transition defense. The Spurs will exploit that glaring weakness on every turnover or missed shot by the Lakers. Coach Pop will surely employ Hack-a-Howard so the Lakers must be prepared to sit Dwight during that or Howard simply needs to make his free throws. Overall, the Spurs have a deeper bench (T-Mac included) while Parker and Duncan have played well during the season. Expect them to rise to the occasion against the depleted Lakers.

X-FACTORS: Kawhi Leonard (Spurs). Kawhi will have an advantage on whoever is guarding him especially in transition. He needs to be aggressive and decisive with the ball on his hands. Leonard should not settle for perimeter shots, instead he needs to attack the paint more.
Steve Blake (Lakers). Blake had a great final 2 games of the season without Kobe and Nash. He exploded for a combined 47 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Blake needs to keep that up especially since Steve Nash is hurting.

Prediction: SPURS in 6

(3) Denver NUGGETS vs (6) Golden State WARRIORS
Season Series: Tied at 2-2

How the NUGGETS can win: The Nuggets will attack the paint and run on every chance they get. They will also attack the boards with Faried, McGee and Koufos. Ty Lawson is so quick and strong that he can drive to the hoop at will which forces the Warriors' defense to adjust and leave open guys. The Nuggets are a poor perimeter shooting team which allows the Warriors to pack the paint. But if the Nuggets start making their jumpers, the Warriors wont have a fighting chance in this series.

How the WARRIORS can win: While the Nuggets are an interior team, the Warriors are perimeter-oriented and they have a superb cast of shooters led by Steph Curry. The Warriors need to make a bunch of threes to slow the game down and prevent transition baskets by the Nuggets. Both teams are among the top in rebounds so the Warriors need to make multiple efforts to get the upper-hand on the Nuggets. The Warriors also shoot free throws at a higher percentage while the Nuggets are among the bottom 5. If the Nuggets are going for a layup/dunk, fouling would be the best option.

What will PROBABLY happen: This series will have a bunch of points and scoring runs. Defense is not a strong suit for both teams so outscoring your opponent is the best strategy. The Nuggets have a deeper team even with their injuries which means they can keep running and gunning without tiring their personnel. The home-court advantage (38-3, best in NBA) will definitely help the Nuggets especially the high altitude. The Warriors cant keep up with that and they are a foul trouble (or injury to Bogut) away from playing Andris Biedrins. Yikes.

X-FACTORS: Corey Brewer (Nuggets). Without Gallinari, Brewer is expected to get more minutes along with Wilson Chandler. Brewer is a better perimeter defender and he could find himself guarding Curry or Thompson. Brewer needs to be solid on both ends of the floor.
Jarrett Jack (Warriors). Jack will be the first guy off the bench and the 3rd guard on the floor when the Warriors play small ball. Jack has to deliver clutch baskets when called upon and on defense, JJ needs to keep Lawson away from the paint.

Prediction: NUGGETS in 7

(4) Los Angeles CLIPPERS (5) Memphis GRIZZLIES
Season Series: CLIPPERS 3-1

How the CLIPPERS can win: Chris Paul will lead their offense during transition chances and half-court sets. The Clippers are relying on CP3's mastery to provide them with good scoring opportunities while every forced turnover they get could turn into a highlight play. Jamal Crawford is also capable of getting hot quick so this opens up the floor for Paul to penetrate and create. They have capable shooters in Butler, Barnes and Willie Green which prevents the Grizzlies from helping on defense too much. Blake Griffin has added a half-decent jumper to his moves so he should not hesitate to take that shot when open. Blake should continue to attack the paint and draw fouls from Gasol or Z-Bo.

How the GRIZZLIES can win: The Grindhouse ended with the league's best team defense. They will be tough, physical and gritty. Defense wins championships so they need to rely on each other when helping on defense. The Grizzlies should pound the ball in the paint to Z-Bo and Gasol. They are decent foul shooters so being fouled is a good thing. On defense, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol need to patrol the paint and grab every available rebound. Mike Conley has to match the production of Paul to give his team a chance. Jerryd Bayless needs to be solid off the bench to counteract the bench mob of Barnes, Crawford and Bledsoe.

What will PROBABLY happen: This is a rematch of last year's 1st Round series where the Clippers won in 7 games. The personnel aint the same with the additions of Crawford and Barnes for the Clips while the Grizzlies have added Prince, Bayless and Ed Davis. The best players are the same for the Clippers and that's an advantage for them. In the 3 games the Clips won, they had less turnovers than Memphis which limited scoring chances for the offensively-challenged (27th) Grizzlies. Expect Chris Paul to take care of the ball to maximize their possessions. If the Grizzlies double team CP3, he will be more than willing to make that pass to the open player. This series boils down to the role players who can make the open shots. The Clippers have more of that.

X-FACTORS: Matt Barnes (Clippers). At one point in the season, the Clippers were like 20-0 when Barnes scored at least 10 points. His bench production will be crucial when resting Butler and CP3.
Tony Allen (Grizzlies). Allen is playing better this year and much healthier. He is expected to guard Chris Paul often which should limit Paul's ability to run around the court unimpeded.

Prediction: CLIPPERS in 7 

You can find the East 1st Round Preview here.

Also check our FULL PLAYOFFS PREDICTIONS up to the NBA Finals.

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