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WEDNESDAY WIRE

Breaking Down the Western Conference Playoffs


This is absolutely my favorite time of year. The weather is pristine, wild flowers are in full bloom in the Texas Hill Country, and the Spurs are locked in another great playoff matchup. Unlike past seasons, the San Antonio Spurs find themselves entering the chase with more questions than answers. Can Richard Jefferson finally deliver? Will the Silver and Black stay healthy? Can Tim still dominate younger, more athletic talent? The Eastern Conference picture is pretty cut and dry, but the Western Conference is wild and completely unpredictable. When the dust settles, who will be the last team standing in the wild wild West.

The Western Conference playoffs were shaken up with an infusion of new blood. Kevin Durant has put together one of the most memorable seasons in recent history; leading the embattled Seattle wash outs from the quiet city to the bright lights of Los Angeles. Durant, despite his youth, picked up the reigns and now leads the playoff charge for the Oklahoma City Thunder. Unfortunately for this year’s Cinderella, a lack of depth and no post presence will spell doom against Kobe Bryant and the stacked L.A. Lakers. When Kobe and company show Durant’s upstarts the door, at least they can hit the beach and catch some waves. An early exit is inevitable, as the young squad will be the only team in the West to be swept off the big stage. The Lakers win in four.

There may be rain in the forecast in the Arizona desert when Portland comes to town. After a miserable experiment with defense last year, the Suns threw up the throttle, and are once again one of the most prolific offenses in the league. Steve Nash and Stoudemire remain one of the deadliest pick and roll combinations in the NBA, and they now have outstanding support from fellow starters Grant Hill and Jason Richardson to spread the floor. However, they lack significant bench depth and without a bonefied post presence, the Suns do not have the necessary pieces to make a deep playoff run. Matching up with Portland’s capable and deep front court will be a series long concern for the Phoenix brass; look for Portland to force Phoenix into a war of attrition in the half court. The Blazer’s blatant absence of a true playmaker will eventually lead to their demise, as Phoenix sends the Blazers due north in six.

Rocky Mountain neighbors square off as the Utah Jazz clash with the Denver Nuggets. Both teams enter the playoffs riddled with injuries. Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson, and even hall of fame coach, George Karl, all come into this series weakened by injury. While Denver appears to be ascending from the plague, the Jazz find themselves hopelessly buried under an avalanche of unfortunate events. AK-47 and Okur are both out, leaving the Jazz without many weapons on either end of the floor. Both teams are lead by two of the best point guards in the NBA in Deron Williams and Chance Billups, while Boozer and Nene fill up the paint for their respective squads. This series will not be won by the superstars; the bench will be the deciding factor for the victor. Denver’s depth and offensive diversity will send the Jazz packing, and once again Jerry Sloan will exit the playoffs without a ring. The Nuggets win in six.

It is high noon in Texas, and an old-school revenge style beat down will be the highlight of the first round. Our San Antonio Spurs go to war with the Dallas Mavericks one more time. Dallas drew first blood on Sunday with a close win in Big D, and it was their big D that ultimately brought them to victory. The Spurs don’t lose many games when they shoot 50% from the floor, but Dirk’s 12 for 14 from the field sealed the Spurs’ fate in the loss. The Spurs’ weaknesses were in full array as Dallas proudly displayed their late season acquisitions. The additions of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood bring not only much needed depth to the Maverick’s front court, but it also added much needed defense to offensive-minded team. Pouring fuel on the fire, the Spurs have struggled to defend quality guards all season, and managed to be mostly mediocre on the road. The Spurs’ staple defense was weakened under the weight of twenty-eight fouls leading to thirty-four free throw attempts for the Mavericks, twenty more than the Spurs were able to rustle up.

San Antonio must sure up the defense, swarm Dirk on every possession, and force Dallas to play from the perimeter. The Spurs also lacked offensive intensity, not just in Sunday’s loss, but throughout season. The Silver and Black must limit costly turnovers, they must attack the rim forcing the refs to make some calls, and Richard Jefferson needs to be much more aggressive (only taking four shots in Sunday’s loss). The Spurs must attempt to isolate Dirk on defense and push the ball at him, frustrating him on defense will lead to poor offense, and possibly put the German in foul trouble. My heart tells me the Spurs can win this series, but the Dallas’ new-found focus on defense and newly acquired depth, is too much for the Spurs to overcome in the end. Dallas wins a hard fought series in seven against San Antonio.

Approaching the Western Conference, finals L.A. beats Denver in five, while Dallas goes rodeo on Phoenix in six. In a classic showdown, Dallas upsets the Lakers in a seven game series leading them to the NBA finals for a second time.

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