Heading into the post-season I talked about how the Western Conference playoff field was perhaps the most talented group from top to bottom of all time. If ever there were a year that seeding meant nothing more than home court advantage, this would be it.
Four games into the opening round, all but the Portland-Houston series (3-1 in favor of the Blazers) is tied at two games apiece. Not only is every series still up for grabs, but both the #1 Spurs and #2 Thunder had to come up with clutch wins on the road in Game 4 to even up the count.
To further exemplify how close these Western teams truly are, every single club has won at least one playoff game at their opponent’s arena.
But could the lack of one or two dominant teams wear the conference winner down en route to the Finals?
With Miami recording the only sweep of the first round (4-0 over the Charlotte Bobcats), it’s got me wondering if the tightly contested race out West might wind up hurting the conference’s chances of dethroning King James and the Heat.
How would Memphis or Dallas stack up against the two-time World Champs should they sneak all the way through the bracket as a bottom seed? The West is tough from top to bottom, but LeBron’s chances of a Three-Peat will increase dramatically should San Antonio and OKC wind up watching from home.
There’s still a lot of basketball left to be played, but if Atlanta knocks off Indiana, Miami’s road to the finals could very well end up to be a less-than-bumpy ride. There’s a fairly strong possibility that the winner of the Western Conference bracket will have played four to six more playoffs games than the Heat.
Of course before we can hand the East to Miami they have eight more wins to collect. It will be interesting to see how much of a challenge the winner of the Toronto/Brooklyn series can present to Erik Spoelstra’s squad.
Manu Ginobili leads all Spurs in scoring with 79 points off the bench.
Manu Ginobili may very well be the NBA’s top sixth-man since Detlef Schrempf played for the Pacers back in the 1990s. It’s been a few years now since Manu was officially dubbed with the 6th Man of the Year crown (2007-8), but judging by his contribution thus far in the playoffs, San Antonio would be lost without him.
Ginobili not only topped all scorers with 23 versus the Mavs in Game 4, he leads the team with 79 points for the series. Only Tim Duncan, Leonard Kahwi, and Tony Parker have logged more minutes in the four contests against San Antonio’s cross-state rival.
Ginobili is finding success in attacking the rim off the dribble. He’s shooting just under 50% for the series and when he’s not hitting tough layups driving through traffic, he’s drawing fouls and heading to the line for free throws. Over ¼ of his points have come from the stripe (22FTM-28FTA).
The Mavericks will need to find a way to slow down #20 if they hope to complete their upset bid.
Considering the fact that Dirk Nowitzki has hardly been a dominant force, Dallas must really like their chances should their big man finally have a breakout game or two. He’s still second on the team in scoring for the series (Monta Ellis leads with 81), but 16 points per night are hardly superstar numbers. He’s shooting a paltry 25 of 65 from the field and 1 of 5 from downtown. The good news for Mavericks fans is that Nowitzki is due for a dominating performance.
The Spurs and Mavericks battle again in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
Zach Randolph leads the Grizzlies in their quest to once again knock off the Thunder.
Zach Randolph tops all Memphis scorers with 18.3 points per night, but what the lay man might not notice is that he’s having to work a lot harder for his buckets than he did during the regular season. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are doing a bang-up job of defending the big man and forcing him to take tough shots. Randolph is shooting just 36% on the series and his rebound numbers are down as well to just 8.5 per game.
In spite of Randolph’s struggles, Memphis has twice beaten the heavily favored Thunder. This puts a lot of pressure on Perkins and Ibaka to continue disrupting the Grizzlies’ big man. If Randolph can get rolling tonight in Oklahoma City, his team’s upset bid will be given a huge boost.
Memphis’s approach to defending Kevin Durant has been to bend but not break. What else can you do when guarding a player who’s simply capable of scoring at will? Durant is averaging 28.5 points per night and should continue to do so.
For Memphis to win tonight in Oklahoma City, they’ll need to concede Durant’s points and work on keeping the score close until the waning moments. Sometimes the best defense is an attacking offense, especially when defending the league’s scoring champion is so ridiculously difficult.
Clippers drop Game 4 amid controversy; need to right the ship before once again finding themselves eliminated in the opening round.
The Donald Sterling hullabaloo may very well have shot his team’s chances right in the foot. Sadly, the issue is not something that players will be able to sweep under the rug and deal with in the off-season.
Coach Rivers had this to say about how challenging this all has been for players to deal with: “These last 48 hours or so have been really hard for our players and everyone. I’d just like to reiterate how disappointed I am in the comments attributed to our owner. I can’t tell you how upset I am, our players are.”
Game 5 takes place tonight in Los Angeles and unless the Clippers escape with a win, there’s no question that the outcome of the game will be clouded with an asterisk.
That’s not to say that the Golden State Warriors are to blame for wanting to seize this opportunity to take a 3-2 lead in the series. They’ve worked equally hard to get here and dream of advancing to the conference semi-finals as well.
My concern for the Clippers is whether or not they’ll be able to get into a groove offensively with so much else on their minds. Their offensive production relies heavily on flow and rhythm and not so much on half court sets.
Houston’s got their backs against the wall.
On Wednesday night the Portland Trailblazers will get a shot at being the first Western Conference team to progress to the next round. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since the 1999-2000 season when they advanced to the Conference Finals and lost to the Lakers in seven.
Back then the Blazers were led by power forward Rasheed Wallace. These days it’s another big man leading the charge from the wing. LaMarcus Aldridge has been beyond phenomenal in this series. He’s averaging a league-high 35.3 points per game in the post-season and leads his team with 11.5 boards to boot.
The Rockets have yet to provide an answer defensively for Aldridge, leaving the team no choice but to counter with points at the other end of the court.
James Harden leads his team with 27.5 per night, but he’s taking a lot of shots to get these points. In the Game 4 overtime loss, Harden made just 9 of 21 shots from the field and 3 of 11 from beyond the arc. Across the formation Patrick Beverley shot 2 of 7 and went “oh-for” four on three pointers. If the Rockets hope to pull off the miracle and win three straight, they’ll need much more efficient play out of their guards.
Looking into a murky crystal ball.
Portland seems more than poised to take the next step and eliminate Houston tomorrow in five, but for the rest of the West, each and every series is far too close to call at this point.
I’ll stick with home court advantage as the deciding factor for the time being, but the results of tonight’s and tomorrow’s games should do a lot towards clearing up a foggy playoff picture.
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