The western conference for the past few seasons was a bit of a paradoxical conference. Despite it being considered the “tougher” conference, the Warriors continued to win every year. Well this year, I believe that the conference crown has been opened wide, and through the incredible performances we have seen, it appears that many teams can contest Golden State for the crown of Western Conference Champions. As promised in my last article here are the major take-aways and points on the matchups in the Western Conference.
Houston Rockets Vs Minnesota Timberwolves Game 1: Clear for Takeoff.
The biggest aspect that I took from this game was that despite not playing their best basketball, Houston was still able to win Game 1. Other than James Harden and Clint Cappella, the Rockets were struggling both offensively and defensively. They made only ten 3-pointers (season average 15), had as a team a total of 15 Assists (21 season average), were not playing great defense and made two bad plays going down the stretch of the game. One was forgetting to return on defense after a foul shot, and the second was Chris Paul turning the ball over late to give the T-Wolves a chance at forcing overtime. Yet they still were able to beat this Timberwolves team. The main reason being that Harden was absolutely phenomenal. He posted 44 points, seven 3-pointers, and 8 assists. Simply put, he was getting whatever he wanted on offense, and simply destroyed the Timberwolves defense. While the lack of support may be concerning, if Harden continues this level of play, then this will be a very quick series. For the Timberwolves, the biggest takeaway I saw was that they need to utilize Towns more on offense. There were too many moments in the fourth quarter in which he’d not even get the ball- as their 2nd best player they need to feed him down low. If they do not do this, and if they do not find a way to stop Harden, it is going to be smooth sailing for the Rockets.
San Antonio Spurs vs Golden State Warriors Game 1&2: Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If you told anyone that the Spurs and Golden state warriors would be playing in the first round, any basketball fan would be excited for that matchup. Yet, without Kawhi Leonard it feels like history is just repeating itself. While the Warriors are also playing without Curry, they’re 3 other all-stars have been able to carry more weight on offense and defense. The last two games have shown that the Golden State Warriors can play extremely well without Steph Curry. Both Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have been impossible to stop and are demonstrating why the Warriors are still considered the favorites heading to the Playoffs. Even the role players are stepping up- with Javale McGee posting solid numbers both games, and defensively stopping Lamarcus Aldridge in Game 1. Speaking of the Spurs, it is just sad to see a team working so hard and just not having the fire power to put up a fight. When Lamarcus Aldridge is your best player there is simply only so much they can do offensively. What puts insult to injury is that he only scored 14 points compared to McGees’ 15. He literally got outplayed in Game 1 by Javale McGee. They can’t rely on Tony Parker or Manu Ginobli to score, and the younger guys, as expected, are struggling keeping up with the pace of the playoffs. Honestly if the Spurs can win one game that would be a victory in it of itself, but in all honestly I expect the warriors to sweep this Spurs team. The only way they could potentially come back is if Kawhi returns to the starting line-up which is highly unlikely. And even if he did return, there will be inevitable issues with his game due to fact that he has not played a full NBA game for a couple of months. All I can say is that everything looks bleak and it might be time for Pop to just experiment and plan for next year.
Portland Trailblazers vs New Orleans Pelicans Game 1&2: Happy Holidays
This was a match-up that I predicted would have a major upset. And so far, the Pelicans under the leadership of Anthony Davis, Rajon Rondo, and Jrue Holiday are doing extremely well. They have been sharing the basketball- getting 25 assists per game, and Portland is unable to guard Davis. It seems that whoever he goes against, its a mismatch that he is going to exploit. But the biggest surprise for the Pelicans has been Jrue Holiday. Not only has he been scoring a lot of points for his team (21 points in Game 1, 33 in Game 2), but he has been putting a lot of pressure on Portland’s backcourt. Speaking of Portland, it is fair to say that their star studded backcourt of Lillard and McCollum has been shut down by Rondo and Holiday. During the season they averaged over 47 points together, but in this series they have averaged just 37 combined. This lack of production means that other guys have to step up, and players like Nurkic and Turner have been playing great. This has not been enough as the Pelicans have taken home court advantage and have the ability to sweep the Blazers on their home court. Simply put, it is going to be up to the Blazer’s backcourt to step up and create for their team.
OKC Thunder vs Utah Jazz Game 1: Welcome Playoff P!
I have no idea how Paul George came up with Playoff P, but I will say that nickname debut was pretty impressive. George scored 34 points with a 65% FG percentage, and a 3point FG percentage of 72%. That is extremely impressive against a jazz team known for playing great defense. Westbrook also helped the cause by nearly getting a triple-double with 29pts, 13rbs, and 8asts. But do not count out the Jazz just yet. Despite losing to OKC there is no need to be worried as a Jazz fan. Despite the loss, ROY candidate Donavan Mitchel still played exceptional in his first ever playoff game scoring 27 points. Furthermore, 6 other Jazz players were in double figures. What really killed this team was turnovers and Playoff P. If the Jazz are able to limit their turnovers, and play better defense, I believe that they can bounce back from this loss. For the Thunder, it’s going to be up to the Big 3 to continue carrying this team both offensively and defensively.
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