It took until the very last night, but each and every postseason matchup is now set as the lockout-shortened 2011-2012 regular season comes to a close. It’s hard to believe, but in a span of just about four months, the season is over for a number of teams. For quality western conference teams, such as Phoenix and Houston, it definitely stings to be on the outside looking in. On the other hand, it must be a relief for the struggling Bobcats to not have to play another game until late October. Regardless, playoff basketball is finally here. Let’s take a look at the matchups in the western conference.
San Antonio Spurs (1) vs. Utah Jazz (8)
Regular Season H2H Record: 3-1 Spurs
The Spurs close out the regular season tied for the best record in the league. No longer the defensive juggernaut of years past, the Spurs now win games on the strength of their offense led by Tony Parker. Parker is playing arguably the best basketball of his career and the team is without a doubt his now. Although Tim Duncan has shown flashes of his old self, he is no longer the consistent low post threat that he once was, but is still able to play solid man defense, which will be necessary to slow down one of Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson. This leaves another Spur to be matched up with the other. It will be interesting to see whether Gregg Popovich elects to play Tiago Splitter more over DeJuan Blair for matchup purposes. On the wing, Manu Ginobili should have his way, while Kawhi Leonard will likely check the red hot Gordon Hayward. Expect the Spurs to take this series handily as the Jazz have nobody that can slow down Parker, Ginobili, or the Spurs’ overall perimeter game.
Prediction: Spurs in 5.
Oklahoma City Thunder (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
Regular Season H2H Record: 3-1 Thunder
Although the Mavs are the defending champs, they do not match up well with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is a team that plays its best basketball with Kevin Durant at the four and Serge Ibaka at the five and they will be able to do so for long stretches against Dallas as the Mavs lacks a true low post scoring threat with which to punish them. The loss of a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Tyson Chandler and a change of pace guard in JJ Barea will hurt the Mavs in the playoffs. Shawn Marion will do everything he can to slow down Durant, while Jason Kidd will spend time guarding Russell Westbrook and/or James Harden. Westbrook and Harden both have legitimate size at each guard spot, which will be even more problematic for a Mavs team that utilizes multiple rotations with undersized guards. Though Dirk Nowitzki may single-handedly win a game or two, the star power of Westbrook, Durant, and Harden will be too much for the Mavs to handle.
Prediction: Thunder in 6.