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NBA: Western Conference Playoff Preview

NBA Playoff 2015

Fadeaway World's writers break down the playoff match-ups in the Western Conference.

Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)

Regular Season: Golden State leads 3-1

Warriors Strengths

An unbelievably good shooting team. In a few minutes of rhapsody, they can win every game. It is very difficult to slow them down and they play very unselfishly, with a lot of extra passes.

One of the best defense in the league, they switch everything and can cover every inch of the floor on time, mainly because of Draymond Green’s versatility.

They will have the home court advantage all the way. In the case of Oracle, that can be the crucial finesse in close series.

Warriors Weaknesses

They will probably struggle if someone can hold them out of rhythm for most of the game. It is really hard but not impossible- San Antonio has proven that twice. In these situations they can become nervous and rush some bad shots.

Pelicans Strengths

The biggest strength of this team is the process of learning. They have rapidly improved in the last few months. With Anderson and Holiday back in the lineup, they have bodies for some solid rotation. Anthony Davis is sensationally good and, what is scary, every night he's getting better and better.

Pelicans Weaknesses

Inexperienced team, very bad rotation, coach Williams rarely mixes starters with bench guys and they can be disastrous.

They lack reliable shooters and perimeter guards. Pondexter was awesome last month but I'm not sure he can continue the streak in the playoff.

X Factors

Davis will be a tough matchup for the Warriors. Green will start on Davis but Davis’ height advantage and mobility can be a problem and Bogut is not fast enough to stay in front of him. Everyone saw what he did to Tim Duncan in the last game of the regular season. Nobody in the league has that package of skills. On the other hand, we will see how Green will use his speed advantage and 3 point shot.

Expect big games from Curry and Thompson. Gordon, Evans and Holiday can’t follow them.

New Orleans will have a big problem to follow the high pace of the game, especially in the electrified atmosphere of Oracle Arena.

I can hardly imagine they can score enough to be competitive, but I think they can get one game on Anthony Davis’ talent.

Fadeaway Prediction by Steph: Warriors in 5 games. 

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) vs Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Regular Season: Memphis leads 4-0

Blazers Strengths

The Silent Assassin and LaMarcus Aldridge. A two men team. With Batum, they have a great combination of point guard - small forward - power forward balance. The Trail Blazers have the top 10 offense in the league with 102.8 points per game. If anybody loves to play thrillers, buzzer-beaters, and other heart shocking basketball moves, that is Damian Lillard. Who can stop The Silent Assassin in the playoff game? He must prove that he is good enough to bring Portland to the 2nd round in the playoff.

Portland is in the top 3 rebounds teams. In the playoff,

It all depends on Aldridge and Lillard. Those two All-Star players must play on the elite level if they want to win this series. They must combine 50 points per game. Batum should take a bigger role than he has in the regular season. The Trail Blazers should play with fire and with a lot of energy. If Lillard and Aldridge want to play in the 2nd round, they must defend the home court.

Blazers Weaknesses

History. In the last 14 years, they have won only one series in the playoff (last year vs. Rockets). The Second problem is Memphis, because they lead 4-0 this season. Portland's bench is on the 3rd place. They don't have a player with points. And they must find one versus Memphis’ defense. If Aldridge or Lillard don't have a good game or if they are in the foul trouble, Portland can't beat Memphis Grizzlies. Can they beat history?

Grizzlies Strengths 

The Great Logistic. One of the best basketball analytics teams in the league. Memphis doesn't have a superstar, but they have a team. With Marc Gasol, who is the brain of the Grizzlies’are playing smart, with patience and good basketball movement. Conley is the captain of the ship, but Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are the biggest fish in the paint. You can't stop them, because they have domination all season long. Memphis have only 13 turnovers per game and with that style of basketball, their opponents should play with fewer turnovers, but that is a big problem for Portland Trailblazers.

Memphis Weaknesses

They don't have many weaknesses, beside the 3-points shoot. Against Portland, we'll watch two different kinds of basketball philosophy. If they play without Conley and Allen, Portland will have a chance. Memphis will feel pressure in the first two games, because they play in the home court, but if they are not complete, Portland can make a surprise.

X Factors

Home court advantage. Memphis’ smart basketball with the playoff defense can stop Lillard and Aldridge. The X Factor for Memphis is the team. The X Factor for Portland is Lillard and Aldridge.

The Bench can resolve the series. If Portland can't find someone and Memphis defend their home court, they can beat Portland very .

I believe that Portland can bring basketball fire and energy on another level. With The Silent Assassin and L-Train, they can beat Memphis.

Fadeaway Predictions by Alonzo Warond:Portland in 7 games.

Houston Rockets (56-26) vs. Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Regular Season: Houston leads 3-1

Rockets strengths

James Harden is the second leading scorer this season and the only person aside Stephen Curry that can win MVP. In a season in which his teammates were affected by numerous injuries, the Beard has shown what he is made of. Harden is the heir to Kobe and Wade as the league’s best shooting guard. Howard missed almost half of the season, while Beverley, Motiejunas, Jones and Terry had their own issues. But with Harden, the Rockets were capable of beating anybody anywhere. Dwight Howard is not dominant like he was in Orlando, but he is still the best rim protector in NBA when healthy. He can correct almost every mistake and omission of his teammates and put double-double on a nightly basis. Trevor Ariza is among the best 3&D options in the league, Josh Smith is useful off the bench and he has regained his shooting touch. Brewer is a glue guy who can score 20-25 points when heated, Terry brings veteran leadership and razor-sharp spot-up shooting, Jones proved that he is a starting material and Beverley (if he returns in time) can slow down the opposing guards, release Harden from some defensive duties and score in double-digits. The Rockets don’t play with amusing style, but they are winning. That is a product of their GM’s obsession with advanced stats and Synergy system that favors corner three-pointers, free throws and easy and safe shots for centers. The Rockets finished first in three-pointers made, second in free throws attempted, third in steals, sixth in total points scored, ninth in assists and tenth in blocks.

Rockets Weaknesses

As a team, they produce way too many turnovers (third worst in NBA) and commit lots of fouls. If Beverley doesn’t return in time for the playoffs, the Rockets will have troubles on the point guard spot. Jason Terry, due to his age and lack of size and athleticism can’t guard his own shadow right now, but that can be expected from a 37-year old veteran. How will the backcourt consisting of Terry and Harden fare against duos of Rondo/Ellis, Conley/Allen, Curry/Thompson remains to be seen.

Mavericks Strengths

The high-powered offense with three players capable of 20+ outbursts in Nowitzki, Parsons and Ellis. Rondo and Chandler also hold double-digit scoring in their hands. The Mavs finished second in field goals made this season.

More importantly, they score efficiently (fifth best FG accuracy in the league). They are also in the Top 10 in assists, three-pointers made and turnovers produced, which is a bit weird considering their fast tempo and pace. Nowitzki is showing signs of regression but he will be good in the postseason. Rick Carlisle is one of the best coaches in NBA, possibly the second best behind Popovich and he can create mismatches like few others can. He was a nightmare for the Spurs last year when the Mavericks pushed them to the limits. No doubt that he has a few tricks ready for Kevin McHale. If Rondo turns on his famous ’playoffs mode’ the Rockets (and potentially other rivals) are in trouble. Monta Ellis is the key for this series. If he contains Harden, Dallas will have a realistic shot of advancing to the Western Conference semifinals. The Mavs are a great pick n roll and pick n pop team.

Mavericks Weaknesses

They are poor in rebounding and blocking shots. Their defensive rating was in the bottom 10 in the league. Ellis and Nowitzki played worse than in the previous season. Rondo and Ellis need the ball in their hands to be productive, and the same goes for Chandler Parsons, though to a lesser extent. Carlisle must hide Nowitzki on defense. Chandler’s anchoring and rim protecting is vital for Dallas. Tyson has been one of the premier defenders in NBA for years and his prowess on that side can be crucial for his team. Rondo will certainly get the job of guarding Harden in some periods, even if Ellis succeeds guarding Houston’s superstar, and that will leave the space for Terry and his well-known shooting sequences.

X Factors

For the Rockets that would be the health of their players. If Howard and Jones remain prepared and Beverley returns, they are favorites against the in-state rivals. Also, Terry’s role in floor spacing will be important, no matter if he starts or not.

Dallas will need big scoring from Dirk and Monta and rock-solid defense from Rondo and Chandler. We are curious to see what Stoudemire has in his tank and how he can help the Mavericks. Devin Harris may have a big impact off the bench as a slasher and a good passer.

Everything is bigger in Texas. This series has a potential to become something special and memorable, even by Texas standards. Houston and Dallas have enough firepower to start the new world war. Because of the home court advantage and fantastic James Harden, the Rockets have the edge here.

Fadeaway Predictions by Marlon:Houston in 7 games.

Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs San Antonio Spurs (55-27) 

Regular Season: Series tied 2-2

Clippers Strengths

One of the most dangerous attacks led by Chris Paul who finally played 82 games for the first time in his career. They have a great combination of athleticism and outside shooting. Blake Griffin’s game has really evolved lately and has become a legit threat in the post and when his mid-range jumpers are falling he's almost unstoppable. They are killing their opponents with fast pace and various ways of pick and roll which is repeated till they get the best position.

Clippers Weaknesses

Defensive lability- their perimeter defense is the biggest concern. You have to play every night against players like Thompson, Harden, Leonard etc., so it's really tough when your best defender in the whole roster is Paul (his defense is outstanding, but he doesn't have the size to match up, for example, Leonard).

Bench - If Jamal is not 100% healthy that will be a big blowout for them. I really don't believe in Austin Rivers. It's pretty amazing they haven't found a decent backup point guard for the whole year, and the rest of the bench with Hedo and Baby Davis looks sad. Starters will definitely need to continue playing heavy minutes and that is usually not a good sign.

Spurs Strengths

The system- in every moment in the game they know exactly what they are running and what to exploit. In the last moment of the season Leonard caught up his MVP final form and gave them another dimension alongside Boris Diaw who started playing his usual facilitate role.

Their defense will step up as usually whenever they need it the most.

Coach Popovich factor- not only is he the best, but every time he finds something new to offer.

Spurs Weaknesses

They do not have a lot of them. Davis has shown that they can be vulnerable in the paint. When Tiago Splitter is absent they don't have a shot blocker apart from Duncan. Tony Parker also needs to be consistently hidden on the defensive end of the floor, so teams which can share the ball and attack the rim have some chances.

X Factors

Stopping Kawhi Leonard should be the biggest challenge for the Clippers. I'm not sure that Barnes can hold Leonard out of the paint, so it will be very interesting how they will adjust. Danny Green must be ready to punish any kind of conceptual risk. On the other side, Spurs will have a big problem with Griffin and that is the reason they need Splitter so badly to box out Deandre Jordan.

Expect a lot of hack a Jordan tactics and long, long games.

Fadeaway Predictions by Steph: Spurs in 6.

Read the Eaestern Conference Playoff Preview.