04/27/2012 02:13 AM
San Antonio averaged about 103.6 ppg and captured the overall #1 seed out West thanks to a 10 game winning streak and a record breaking 13 seasons of 50 wins or more. This is by far the most experienced team in the league thanks to veteran leadership up and down the roster. In the past they did it with defense, but in 2011-12 it began with Tony Parker who led the Spurs in scoring (18.2) and assists (7.8). An Aging Tim Duncan who arguably is one of the best power forwards in league history still averaged about 15.5 ppg while leading SA in rebounds (9.0). While Manu Ginobli was limited to just 34 games, they have an extremely deep bench and a solid backup for Duncan in Tiago Splitter. Gary Neal andDanny Green averaged nearly 10 points off the bench, as did DeJuan Blair. The addition of Stephen Jackson and a stacked bench only adds to their already dangerous and versatile depth. Utah battled and battled before finally capturing the 8th seed in the West defeating Phoenix this week by 12 at home ending the regular season with a 5 game winning streak. Al Jefferson and Paul Milsap led the way for the Jazz, who also like to play at an up tempo averaging about 100 a game. Gordon Heyward and Devin Harris also had solid seasons while CJ Miles has looked sharp in a reserve role. However other than Jefferson they don't have much of a low post threat and aren't much for converting beyond the arc not to mention the free throw line being a rarity. The Spurs veteran exerience and leadership should lead them to a first round sweep although the Jazz will not go down without a fight.
It may have been difficult not to notice, but despite Oklahoma City holding the edge for much of the season out West as the top seed, they did split their final 14 games falling to the 2nd seed. Scoring champ Kevin Durant could also be the top candidate for MVP averaging 28 ppg while shooting 86% from the charity stripe and leading the Thunder hauling down 8 rebounds per contest. Russell Westbrook (23.6) is coming off his best season second in scoring while leading OKC with nearly 6 dimes. However, James Harden, who received a blatant dirty elbow to the head in a double OT loss to the Lakers last week, has been cleared to play despite a concussion. He has averaged about 16 ppg, makes about 50% of his shots including nearly 40% from beyond the arc. Serge Ibaka is a pestering defensive presence and can score on the break, and Kendrick Perkins can board while playing a low post game in the offense. Their bench isn't very deep, but with Durant and Westbrook leading theway, it shouldn;t be difficult to dethrone the defending champions. Dallas seemed to be in the playoff hunt all season but never really in danger despite a world of inconsistency. Dirk Nowitzki battled injuries and despite his scoring being slightly down (21.4) still shot nearly 90% from the charity stripe and hauled down 7 rpc. Jason Terry is coming off another solid season (15.1) as is Shawn Marion (10.7) who leads the Mavs in rebounding (8.0). Problem with Dallas is that they are aging with Vince Carter who doesn;t see half the playing time when he was a regular, Jason Kidd, who missed 18 games and averaged only 7 ppg, and Delonte West who has been somewhat of a disappointment. Not enough weapons to take down the Thunder in round 1 though they are scrappy on defense around the perimeter. OKC plays a lot faster as evident by their 103.1 PPG (3rd in the league) and will dethrone Dallas in 5.
The Lakers wound up holding off their interstate rivals by a game earning the 3rd seed and the Pacific Division crown. While Kobe sat out the final game against Sacramento and finished second in the league in scoring at 27.9 ppg, the MVP flashes remain despite some fairly anemic 'when he's off, he's off' statistical nightmares. He made just 43% of his shots including a career low 30% from beyond the arc. However, his athleticism continues to flourish as one of the best in the business while continuing to build on his rebounding (5.4) and dishing in transition (4.6). Andrew Bynum (18.9) earned his first Al Star appearance and has been a major factor down low on both sides of the ball. He leads the Lakers with recording nearly 12 rebounds a game and shoots nearly 56%. Together with Pau Gasol (17.4) or alternating on the floor in the middle, their presence presents fear in opponents due to a sizeable edge. However, with controversy surrounding Ron Artest last week as his elbow on James Harden earned him a 7 game suspension, the Lakers are yielding a defensive presence as well as a threat from beyond the arc inthe halfcourt set. The addition of Ramon Sessions (11.2) was a major upgrade in PG over Derek Fisher, and he has the ability to dribble drive in transition while getting to the free throw line or to kick it out to the open man as evident by his 6 assists per game. They also hav some size off the bench with Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy who can prove to be scorers if the starters get in foul trouble. Denver wound up earning the 6th seed and led the league as expected in scoring with nearly 104 ppg led by Ty Lawson (16.4) who shared the team lead in assists (6.6) with Andre Miller. Aaron Affalo (15.5) can create his own shot off the dribble and catch, and is extremely quick around set picks while drainging nearly 40% of his trifecta attempts. Danilo Galinari missed 25 games due to injury but still averaged nearly 15 ppg despite struggling from beyond the arc. Al Harrington and Javal McGee have shot the ball well all season and provide a multitude of balance on offense for the Nuggets. McGee also averaged nearly 8 rebounds per contest as did Kenneth Faried, but the achilles heel for Denver is their inability to defend in transition and around the perimeter. They certainly don;'t match up well with the Lakers due to a lack of size and trading seldom used Nene to Washington didn't help fill that void. If you are going to live by the three or die by the three LA will keep up the tempo by burying the Nuggets from all areas. The Lakers had trouble scoring out of the gate this season especially at home, but found their niche with an inside game and off the break which Denver will not be able to overcome. Lakers in 6.
The 4-5 matchup features Memphis and the LA Cippers in yet another closely contested battle. Rudy Gay leads the Grizzlies averaging about 19 ppg and possesses unlimited range from the perimeter. Marc Gasol (14.5) combines size and finesse together complementing various facets to his game also leading Memphis with 9 rpc. Mike Conley (12.9) averages about 7 assists and shows quickness driving to the basket with the ability to give opponents fits finding teammates freed up. OJ Mayo plays like a warrior on both ends of the court and the return of Zach Randolph for the final 27 games of the season gives Memphis the size they need though we've seen the former Trail Blazer's range from outside while showing tenacity on the defensive end. Memphis is scrappy and have plenty of balance with 6 players averaging double figures. For the 5th seeded Clippers, Blake Griffin (20.7) is a monster when he drives to the basket or prepares for alley oop lobs dunking the ball with extreme authority. He leads the Clippers in rebounding at nearly 11 per game. If there's anything he needs to improve on, it's his free throw shooting (53%), and should cut down on his jump shot attempts especially in the halfcourt set which has plagued LA in various one and done situations. MVP candidate Chris Paul (19.8) is shooting about 48% overall and leads the Clippers with 9 assists per game. However losing Chauncey Billups to a season ending torn ACL injury proved costly, but the addition of Nick Young to complement Mo Williams has more than picked up the slack. Caron Butler and Randy Foye can go on shooting sprees when left open on the baseline or around the perimeter as well while Deandre Jordan provides even another scoring option. This is probably the toughest series to call. If the Clippers can feed off the momentum that carried them to success in the regular season, they will be able to outlast Memphis led by Paul and Griffin. Otherwise Memphis can just as easily advance behind their quickness and scrappy transition guard play. They have Gasol who could match up well with Griffin one on one while Mayo and Gay can match Williams and Paul as the court generals. The Grizzlies got off to a great start early and fed off that momentum through the final game earning the home court advantage. Despite the Clippers winning 2 of the 3 in the season series, I'll go out on a limb and predict Memphis in 7.
Best of luck to all in the NBA postseason.
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