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Wild West Is Wide Open | The Sports Report Girl

Wild West Is Wide Open

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

NBA Western Conference Playoffs

If an NBA team wins 50 games it usually means you’re part of the elite. Unless that team plays in the Western conference. Only seven games separated the top seed, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the No. 8 team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers, last year’s top team, finished 11 games better than the No. 2 seed. This season, all eight playoff teams are jumbled together and the Lakers’ aura of invincibility has vanished.

A look at the first round match-ups:

1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Oklahoma City Thunder

The defending champs have underachieved all year long, but they still finished with the West’s top record and will have home court advantage in every series unless they play Cleveland or Orlando in the NBA finals. The Lakers have the most talent in the league, but that matters little to the upstart Thunder.

Led by scoring champion Kevin Durant (30.1 points per game), Oklahoma City won 27 more games than it did in 2009. The Thunder has very little playoff experience and their two best players, Durant and former UCLA guard Russell Westbrook, have none.

Oklahoma City will play the Lakers tough, but their lack of frontcourt depth and inexperience will doom them in the end. Even though the Lakers played poorly down the stretch, it shouldn’t matter to a team loaded with players at every position. Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and the rest of the champs should win in five or six games.

4. Denver Nuggets vs. 5. Utah Jazz

Both of these team showed flashes of brilliance this year, but when every Western conference playoff team wins 50 games or more, somebody has to take the dreaded No. 4 vs. No. 5 slots.

Denver has the frontcourt depth to be a West power and has fantastic skill players in Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups. The Nuggets held their own against the Lakers in last year’s Western conference finals, but with coach George Karl’s absence the past few weeks because of cancer treatment the team has faltered. They just don’t look as threatening as last year’s club.

Point guard Deron Williams, the most complete player in the league at that position, leads the Jazz. Power forward Carlos Boozer is a bruising player in the paint and coach Jerry Sloan’s teams always play tough. This is a difficult series to call, especially since both teams, at times, looked as if they could make a run at the conference finals. Utah in six games.

2. Dallas Mavericks vs. 7. San Antonio Spurs

Is this the last stand for the Spurs? They have gotten older and wiser, mostly older, but they eeked out a 50-win season. Age and injury have slowed them down while their opponents, the Dallas Mavericks, have upgraded.

This is Dirk Nowitzki’s best supporting cast, even better than the team that went to the 2006 finals. With Jason Kidd running the show and newcomers Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood stepping in at small forward and center, the Mavericks are poised to go deep in the playoffs.

San Antonio’s top players — Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli — still carry the team, but not as often. Parker and Ginobli were injured often this year and Duncan isn’t the all-world player he used to be. The Spurs and all their playoff experience will push the Mavericks, but in the end, Dallas should prevail. Mavericks in six games.

3. Phoenix Suns vs. 6. Portland Trail Blazers

The Suns got hot at the end of the year and the Blazers had a spectacular season despite losing a ton of players to injury. But the series is a no-brainer since Portland’s star player, Brandon Roy, is out of the entire series because of a knee injury.

Phoenix would be a tough out for any team with Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire playing their best ball at the end of the season. Portland won’t go without a fight, but without Roy to steady the team, Phoenix should win in five games.

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