NBA Playoffs, Part 2

Saturday, April 28, marks the first day of the 2012 NBA playoffs.  The matchups and seedings are set, and all that is left to do is dissect each series, evaluate performances, and enjoy the show.  Now that the Eastern Conference has been broken down, it is time to head West.  From the first seed to the eighth seed, no team is incapable of making a strong run.  The fact that the defending champions are the 7th seed speaks for itself.  For the past decade or so, the conference has been increasingly competitive.  Each team has a unique mix of star talent and production that can compete with any other team.  But there are some teams that draw slightly more attention.  San Antonio, Oklahoma City, and both Los Angeles teams each have proven themselves worthy of a title run at some point in the season.

San Antonio is firing on all cylinders right now.  Their offense is powered and led by Tony Parker, who is having an MVP-like season.  Although the team is older than it was when they won the championship in 2007, the veterans are undoubtedly poised and experienced enough to lead their team to another championship.  Aside from the all-star veteran presence of Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan, players like DeJuan Blair, Matt Bonner, and Stephen Jackson will have to come in and produce.  They have shown that bench production is not a problem, but will that transfer over to the post-season?  With a great coach and respectable team leaders, San Antonio has the maturity and experience necessary to compete with any team.

I believe that the most dangerous team in the entire playoff bracket is the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Although their play was a little shaky towards the end of the season, they have the talent and energy to beat anyone.  When Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are able to go out and produce like they are capable of, Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka dominate the post and hold their ground, and the bench players such as Fisher, Harden, and Cook put up numbers, they are virtually unstoppable.  Not to mention a veteran presence like Derek Fisher, who knows what it takes to win a championship, is incredibly valuable to have at this point in the season.  With that said, Durant and Westbrook need to step up their games from the level they were playing at in the latter part of the season.  Granted, Durant is the first player since Michael Jordan to win 3 scoring titles in a row, he needs to prove that he can deliver in the post season.  This post-season push will be led by Durant, because he has more to prove.  Ever since last year when the Thunder lost in the Western Conference Finals, Durant has noticeably been on a mission to get his team back and beyond last year’s accomplishment.  While scoring titles, all-star teams, and MVP candidate talks are impressive, Durant has his heart set on a title.

Lastly, which Los Angeles team stands a better chance against the two teams mentioned above?  The Lakers have Bryant, Gasol and Bynum, while the Clippers have Paul, Griffin, and Jordan.  These players are each team’s respective star power.  Both Chris Paul and Kobe have the ability to take a game over in the fourth quarter and get their team the win.  Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum are the weights of the Lakers’ offense and defense down low.  Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are the two pillars of the Clippers’ offense and defense.  Gasol’s range goes beyond the post and even the three point line if necessary, while Griffin has proven that he has the ability to step back into mid range and knock down a shot as well.  Andrew Bynum may very well be the best Center in the game today.  If he can control his emotions and put the team before himself this post season, the Lakers will flourish and maximize their chances of advancing.  For the Clippers, if Chris Paul can facilitate and get the most out of the offense, and Griffin and Jordan can shut down their opponents’ big men down low, they will have a real shot at making a championship run as well.  I believe the Lakers have the best chance, simply because they have the smartest and most detailed player in the league on their side.  The Black Mamba will make his mark this post season.

And there you have it.  The breakdown of the East and West right before the post season starts.  It is difficult to say which teams will meet in the Finals.  Given the talent and high potential of each team, it is smart to take the post season one series at a time.  Miami and New York will be an interesting first round matchup, to say the least.  In the West, the Clippers will have their hands full with the Grizzlies.  Simply sit back and enjoy the 2012 playoffs, because it may be one of the most competitive and exciting postseasons in quite some time.