No. 1 Thunder vs. No. 8 Rockets
The Thunder are pretty healthy with the exception of Kendrick Perkins, who they may need to deal with Omer Asik and Greg Smith. Game 1 is Sunday at OKC.
The Rockets lost a tough one in overtime to the Lakers last night and will have to face the Thunder as a result. James Harden struggled with his shooting and TOs, but still scored 30 points for the 23rd time this season. They’re pretty healthy, although Harden looks a little banged up, and Harden vs. his old team puts an interesting angle on this series. I think Houston will battle them, but it’s hard to see the Thunder going down in Round 1.
Prediction: Thunder in 6
No. 2 Spurs vs. No. 7 Lakers
The Spurs saw the return of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili last night, but neither player looked all that great. In my opinion, Manu is still not close to 100 percent. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard have been pretty quiet lately, and Tim Duncan is the anchor of this team, as usual. He missed too many games, but still had a fantastic season and could get some MVP votes. The Spurs have been horrible lately at defending 3-pointers, and the Lakers will shoot a ton of them. Game 1 is Sunday at San Antonio.
The Lakers are obviously missing Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, but there’s a chance Nash could be ready for Round 1, although he’s not a lock for Game 1. Metta World Peace (knee) and Antawn Jamison (wrist) are both banged up, but they played well last night. The Lakers are going to give the Spurs everything they can handle and Blake went off for 24 points, seven boards, seven assists and four 3-pointers last night, while Pau Gasol triple-doubled again for the second time in three games with 17 points, 20 rebounds, 11 assists and two blocks. Dwight Howard’s defense was a key to the win that secured them the No. 7 seed, and the Lakers may take out the reeling Spurs, who have lost three straight and not looked right in weeks. Hack-a-Dwight could really come into play in this one.
Prediction: Lakers in 7
No. 3 Nuggets vs. No. 6 Warriors
The Nuggets have to be worried about the health of Kenneth Faried, who is very iffy for Game 1 with a severely sprained left ankle. Wilson Chandler has been filling in nicely for him, while Anthony Randolph is even making some noise in his absence. JaVale McGee could be the key for the Nuggets off the bench, while Ty Lawson looks like he’s 100 percent healthy. Andre Iguodala has been every inconsistent and has struggled with his free throws all year, and the Nuggets will need “good Iguodala” to show up immediately. Game 1 is on Saturday at Denver.
The Warriors are pretty healthy, although Andrew Bogut is basically playing on one leg. As long as Stephen Curry, who set the single-season record for 3-pointers made last night, Klay Thompson and David Lee are all hot and playing well, the Warriors are capable of beating any team on any night. But the Nuggets don’t lose at home and home-court advantage should be the key to them advancing here.
Prediction: Nuggets in 7
No. 4 Clippers vs. No. 5 Grizzlies
Blake Griffin tweaked his back last night but played through it, so hopefully he’ll be ready to go in Game 1. The Clippers have a tough matchup on their hands and they’ll need strong play out of Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler and Matt Barnes if they’re going to win. Chauncey Billups is back (sort of), but I don’t think that Vinny Del Negro can count on him right now. Game 1 is Saturday at L.A.
Zach Randolph went off for 25 & 19 last night, and the Grizzlies are hoping there’s more where that came from this weekend. This is a great matchup. Chris Paul vs. Mike Conley, Crawford vs. Tony Allen, Butler vs. Tayshaun Prince, Griffin vs. Randolph, and Jordan vs. Marc Gasol are the key matchups and both teams have pretty solid benches. But the Clippers have home court, as well as the better point guard, so I’m going with it, but the Grizzlies could very easily win this series.
Prediction: Clippers in 7
As for the Finals, I’m going with the Heat over the Thunder, although I wouldn’t be shocked if the Kobe-less Lakers somehow find a way to get there instead of OKC. I'm sure I'm sleeping too hard on the Spurs, but it just kind of feels like father time and injuries may have finally caught up with them.