Let’s talk about the Western Conference today…
DALLAS vs. GOLDEN STATE
Who didn’t see this coming? This is the most intriguing and most exciting series in the first round. The Warriors swept the season series playing small ball and totally frustrated the Mavs. There is not a coach on the planet knows more about an organization, and owner (Mark Cuban) and its MVP player (Dirk Nowitzki) better than Don Nelson. He has totally outsmarted and outcoached Avery Johnson this series. Like the Heat, this is the team that the Mavs didn’t want to play in the playoffs. Baron Davis is looking dominant and has that All-Star swagger back and every player on the Warriors roster is contributing to the beat down of the Mavs. The Warriors are frustrating Dirk on both ends of the court, and if Dallas loses this series, it would put a big question mark next to Dirk to say if he is a bona fide superstar who can carry his team to the promise land.
PHOENIX vs. L.A. LAKERS
What a difference a year makes. Kobe is still Kobe, but his supporting cast has taken a big step backwards. The sad part is it’s the same players that had the Suns down 3-1 last year in the playoffs. The big differences are that the Lakers have no team chemistry and look lost playing with each other and the man in the middle for the Suns, Amare Stoudemire, is dominating the Lakers frontcourt. He is the missing piece for the Suns to make a serious championship run. With Steve Nash looking like a two-time MVP, Leandro Barbosa running circles around the Lakers guards and more commitment to playing defense thanks to Shawn Marion, Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas, this team has a chance to get to the Finals.
SAN ANTONIO vs, DENVER
After Game 1, everybody thought the Spurs where in big trouble and the Iverson/Anthony combo would be too much for the Spurs. Knock, knock? Who is it? Wake-up call! That’s what Game 1 was for the Spurs. Remember in the 2005 playoffs, the Nuggets won Game 1 in San Antonio and the Spurs promptly ran off four straight wins and silenced all the critics. I don’t know if the Spurs can run off four straight this year, but with the experience, talent and championship pedigree, the Spurs don’t get worried about losing a game. They just do what they need to do to win games. Watching Iverson and Anthony is fun but the Spurs are just a well-oiled machine who understand what this time of the year means.
HOUSTON vs. UTAH
The old saying in the playoffs is that a series doesn’t start until someone wins on the road. Well, I guess this series will never get started. This series comes down to home-court advantage in the worst way. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady looked good at home in Game 1 and 2. Utah looked more confident and aggressive team in Salt Lake City and that’s why they won 31 games at home. T-Mac has struggled with his shot and Yao has been dominating at times, but they need other players to score and take some of the burden off them. For the Jazz, Carlos Boozer has been a monster, but Andrei Kirilenko has not been the big factor you would expect. Mehmet Okur found his shot in Game 4 but was struggling trying to guard Yao and be a factor on the offensive end. They key to this series is the role players. The team whose role players step up and fill that gap between the star players will move to the next round.