The Western conference was clearly the stronger conference by far, and there are some really interesting matchups here in the first round.
Houston Rockets (8) at Oklahoma City Thunder (1)
It took a career high 46 points from James Harden, and a team total of 122 points, for the Rockets to beat the Thunder earlier in the year. I just don't see it happening again. The Thunder are healthier and deeper, and can focus more on stopping Harden now that it's the playoffs. Harden will still get his share of points, and I expect high scoring games as Houston knows that that's still their best chance of winning.
Prediction: Oklahoma City 4-0
Possible bets: Bet the over on every game. They can't make the lines high enough.
LA Lakers (7) at San Antonio Spurs (2)
It's been exposed that one of the main weaknesses of the Lakers' roster in recent seasons is that they are very slow. The current roster, with Dwight Howard and no Kobe Bryant, is even worse in that department. Against a high scoring offense like the Spurs', they wont be able to catch up, and they have too many bigs who will be spread thin against San Antonio's array of shooters. The season had already been salvaged by getting a 7th seed, and a sweep here won't really raise any eyebrows as they can blame it on not having Kobe.
Prediction: San Antonio 4-0
Possible bets: Bet the over on every game. Popovich is smart enough to know to press his advantage by making it a high scoring affair, and if the Lakers somehow take control during a game, he will not hesitate to go to hack-a-Howard, significantly increasing the number of possessions in a game.
Golden State Warriors (6) at Denver Nuggets (3)
I think this series is a lot closer than people think. While everyone knows about the Nuggets by now, the Warriors are actually quite deep themselves. I believe their three guard lineup (Curry, Thompson, Jack) can run and gun with anyone. The Gallinari and Faried (much less serious) injuries do matter. It will come down to whether Bogut can do anything. The Warriors have managed to get through the season with so little production out of the center position. There's plenty of scoring in that lineup, so if the Warriors can get some interior/fast break defense out of that center position, they'll be right in this one.
Prediction: Denver 4-3
Possible bets: Bet Golden State to win the series. Even though I think Denver will pull it out, the odds (+400) for Golden State represent really good value.
Memphis Grizzlies (5) at LA Clippers (4)
These are two very even teams in the sense that they each do their own thing extremely well. The Clippers are very deep and have an array of offensive weapons, from pushing the fast break to posting up Blake Griffin to having Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford create shots. The Grizzlies have the best perimeter, interior, and help defenders in the league, and can dominate the boards through positioning if not through height. The only thing I do know is that it will be a fun and exciting series. Because Memphis is not as deep, I do think that for them to win the series they'd have to steal a game early and finish it on their home court. If it goes to 7, I think a healthy and deep Clippers team will have the edge.
Prediction: Memphis 4-2 or LA 4-3
Possible bets: There's not much edge here either way, so you might want to just sit back and enjoy some great basketball with this one. It's hard to imagine the series not going to at least 6 games. If you can find a book with exact series outcome props, bet the two prediction choices listed above.
Please click here for my Eastern conference preview.