WestNo. 1 Lakers vs. No. 8 Thunder
Lakers lead 2-1, Game 4 @ OKC Saturday
Kobe and company held on to win Games 1 and 2 at home, albeit not in dominant fashion. The Lakers just did what they had to do, and it looked to me like they were still waiting for the playoffs to start after two wins. They played in OKC on Thursday, broke out to a big lead and controlled the game for much of the first three quarters. But the Thunder got an outstanding Game 3 out of Russell Westbrook
, while Kevin Durant
switched out to guard Kobe Bryant
in the fourth quarter, which turned out to be key. Kobe hit just 2-of-10 shots in the quarter and was dominated by Durant as he continued to try to go 1-on-5 to no avail. Neither Kobe nor Durant shot it well in this one, but Durant still had 29 points and a whopping 19 rebounds in a thrilling win.
This was the game of the playoffs thus far and the raucous OKC crowd – completely decked out in blue – was a big part of the story. In my opinion, this was the wake-up call the Lakers needed. They now realize they're in the playoffs and are secretly very
worried now that the Thunder have figured out that Durant may be the new 'Kobe Stopper.' I'm still not sure why Scott Brooks
, the coach of the year, didn't figure out that using Durant on Kobe was a good idea earlier, but better late than never. Look for Kobe to pass out of double-teams a ton in Game 4, and look for the Lakers to find a way to win this series, even if it happens to take seven games. They still don't believe a team as young and inexperienced as the Thunder can hang with them, but are at least starting to comprehend that they're not going to go quietly.
Durant hit 12-of-13 free throws and the Thunder shot 33 of them, while Kobe was 0-for-0 from the line and the Lakers shot it just 12 times from the stripe. Phil Jackson wisely blamed his team's aggressiveness and not the refs, but that is an eye-opening statistic, and just one of several problems the Lakers have right now.
Original Prediction: Lakers 4-0 – I'd go with Lakers 4-2 if I could change it. No. 2 Mavericks vs. No. 7 Spurs
Tied 1-1, Game 3 Friday @ San Antonio
I am now pulling for the Spurs simply because of fantasy, and have been quickly reminded that it's sometimes tough for me to get into a game if I don't have any fantasy players involved. I ended up with Tim Duncan
and Tony Parker
in a playoff league, so the farther they go, the more numbers I rack up. The Spurs snuck out a win in Dallas in Game 2 and now have home-court advantage. However, I fully expect the Mavs to get one back in San Antonio, meaning the Spurs would have to win another one at Dallas to take the series – likely Game 7 in Big D next Saturday. This is probably the best rivalry in the league and there's no doubt in my mind that they will play that Game 7, and it should be a classic. Dirk Nowitzki
and Duncan are obviously the keys to how this thing ends, as Dirk was awesome in Game 1, and Duncan the same in Game 2. Tony Parker
finally looks healthy again, while Jason Kidd
has been fairly quiet in both games. If Parker and Duncan stay healthy and dialed in, this is anyone's series.
Original Prediction: Mavericks 4-3 – Sticking with it due to Game 7 being @ Dallas, but not so secretly pulling for the Spurs and my fantasy guys.No. 3 Suns vs. No. 6 Blazers
Suns lead 2-1, Game 4 in Portland Saturday
My original take: The Suns come in cooking, while the Blazers come in without their best player. Brandon Roy will have had knee surgery by the time this series gets underway, and I just don't see how the Blazers have a chance against the Suns. And while I haven't heard anyone talk about the Suns winning it all, they could if they can stay hot and find a way to beat the Lakers and Mavs.
After the Blazers shocked the Suns and the world by taking Game 1 at Phoenix, Jason Richards
on has become the second best player in the playoffs, scoring at least 20 points in the first halves
of Games 2 and 3 – both easy wins for the Suns. J-Rich scored 29 in Game 2 and 42 in Game 3, amazed at how wide-open he was in the latter, when he drained eight 3-pointers. Brandon Roy
, the designated "J-Rich Stopper," is still out after knee surgery, but it sounds like he'll possibly try to play in Game 4. He has a much more realistic chance for Game 5, but it's hard to imagine him being too effective when he does return. The Suns once again look unstoppable, should go on to easily win this series and will give their next opponent a helluva fight. Nicolas Batum
's shoulder injury is still a major concern for the Blazers, as he's their best defender. Given how sore the surgically-repaired shoulder is, and how much pain he was in during Game 3 before being shut down, my guess is he's done for the series. I've got J-Rich and Steve Nash
on the fantasy team, which could end up working out if Phoenix can stay hot. And for those of you who ripped me for being so high on J-Rich coming in? He started slowly and was inconsistent, but turned it on late (when it matters) and is beasting through the playoffs thus far.
Prediction: Suns 4-1 – Sticking with it.No. 4 Nuggets vs. No. 5 Jazz
Tied 1-1, Game 3 in Utah on Friday
The Nuggets came in reeling from the loss of coach George Karl (cancer treatment), but a surprise visit to his team on Thursday should go a long way as far as giving them an inspirational lift. They probably need it after losing at home to a make-shift Jazz team, featuring Kyrylo Fesenko
at center. Wesley Matthews
and C.J. Miles
have also been clutch, while Deron Williams
looks like the best point guard in the league right now. The Jazz have had several days to get Carlos Boozer
(strained oblique) and company somewhat healthy, but Andrei Kirilenko
(calf) isn't likely to play in this series, and Mehmet Okur
is done with a ruptured Achilles. Had we known about Okur's injury beforehand, I probably would have taken the Nuggets.
Denver has gotten solid production from Carmelo Anthony
, but is really going to need to get big games out of Chauncey Billups
, J.R. Smith
and Nene every night if they're going to win this one. Additionally, Kenyon Martin
's bum knee is once again an issue, causing him to miss Thursday's practice. He's a game-time decision for Friday, but my guess is he'll play. Part of the reason the Nuggets struggled down the stretch is that Martin was out for most of March and April – and he appears to be the key straw stirring the Nuggets' drink. If K-Mart's knee becomes a serious issue – and it might already be one – my guess is the Jazz hang on and win this one.
Original Prediction: Jazz 4-3 (upset) – It's going to be tough for the Jazz to pull this off without Okur, but taking Game 2 in Denver was a big first step. If Utah wins at home in Games 3 & 4, they should win it. Round 2 through the Finals
I'll be back with a more detailed version of Round 2 once Round 1 is winding to a close, but here are the predictions I made a week ago. Conference SemifinalsCavs vs. Celtics
: Cavs 4-2Magic vs. Hawks
: Magic 4-2Lakers vs. Jazz
: Lakers 4-2Mavericks vs. Suns
: Suns 4-3 (upset)Conference FinalsCavs vs. Magic
: Cavs 4-3Lakers vs. Suns
: Suns 4-3 (upset)FinalsCavs vs. Suns
: Cavs 4-3 to win it all.