NBA Playoff Preview: Western Conference First Round

NBA Playoffs: Western Conference

With the regular season and Play-In games over, we have entered the most thrilling and highly anticipated part of the basketball calendar. It’s the time of the year when all the pieces of the playoff standings fall into place and each qualified team can now see who their opponent will be. Let’s see what lies ahead in the opening round of this year’s NBA Playoffs.

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Phoenix Suns (1) vs New Orleans Pelicans (8)

Remember when basketball fans said that the Suns might not make a deep playoff run again after the Milwaukee Bucks beat them in last year’s NBA Finals? Well, those same fans are eating their words right now. Chris Paul just showed the whole world why he is a Hall-of-Fame-type of player, leading the Suns and helping them grab the best record in the NBA. They will now face the Pelicans who just survived the Play-In Tournament by beating the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

Phoenix Suns X-Factor: Devin Booker

One of Phoenix’s best shooters can also make plays when he has to, and his defense is underrated. He can guide this team and already proved that he can be a solid leader when Paul missed several games during the season. Booker can make shots that are hard to guard so don’t be surprised if he somehow becomes the best player in this series.

New Orleans Pelicans X-Factor: CJ McCollum

A mid-season trade brought McCollum to this moment and what a moment it will be. Playing against the best team in the NBA is no joke. The Pelicans will need McCollum’s scoring and assists in order to make this a respectable series. He is having one of his best seasons, maybe his best. Fans are hoping this trend will continue in the postseason.

Series Prediction: Phoenix Suns 4 – New Orleans Pelicans 2

Memphis Grizzlies (2) vs Minnesota Timberwolves (7)

When the season started, no one expected anything exciting about these two teams who finished their season series against each other tied at 2-2. No one certainly envisioned them to face each other in the first round but the rise of Ja Morant of the Grizzlies and Anthony Edwards of the Timberwolves made this battle possible. Now we get to see Morant and Edwards in a seven-game series. These two, who are not afraid to express their thoughts in social media and display their high level of swag, will be the main attraction on and off the court.

Memphis Grizzlies X-Factor: Dillon Brooks

Lost in the hoopla surrounding the rise of the Grizzlies is Dillon Brooks. While everyone was talking about his more popular teammates and how the team kept on winning, Brooks was on the sideline for most of the season trying to heal up from an injury. If he plays in this series, people will eventually remember how good of a scorer he is.

Minnesota Timberwolves X-Factor: Patrick Beverley

Love him or loathe him, Beverley’s impact on the court has been outstanding since the season started. He was a member of the Grizzlies for at least a week last offseason before Memphis sent him to Minnesota in a trade. Now he gets to face the Grizzlies as the enemy and will surely be a pest on defense. If there’s one thing that Beverley can do, it is making any opponent he is guarding play with a bad temper. That is how irritating he can be.

Series Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies 4 – Minnesota Timberwolves 2

Golden State Warriors (3) vs Denver Nuggets (6)

Both teams were without their main players throughout the year so one could say it wasn’t a smooth ride on the road to the postseason. The Nuggets won the season series, 3-1, but Klay Thompson and Draymond Green were out in at least two of those games. The Nuggets also won one of those games because of a Monte Morris game-winning buzzer-beater.

One matchup that could be forgotten here is coach Michael Malone of the Nuggets facing assistant coach Mike Brown of the Warriors. Malone used to be Brown’s assistant coach during their days with the Cleveland Cavaliers. This instantly makes the battle of the coaches a must-watch as both will try to outsmart each other even if Malone will have the disadvantage of not having a complete squad.

Golden State Warriors X-Factor: Kevon Looney

Sometimes, one accomplishment is enough to shape a player’s season. For Looney, it came when he played all 82 games of the NBA regular season. He saw every opponent and their set plays this year. All that knowledge will be valuable in the postseason. His availability and ability to man the paint will be counted on as he faces Nikola Jokic under the basket in both sides of the court.

Denver Nuggets X-Factor: DeMarcus Cousins

The Nuggets, without Jamal Murray, will need all the help they can get in this series. Even a little inside information about their opponent will do wonders for the team. That is precisely where Cousins can help. Cousins, the former Warrior, will dispense all the knowledge he can muster from his mind when it comes to preparing for the Warriors. He will know how coach Steve Kerr manages his players and how the squad operates as a team.

Series Prediction: Golden State Warriors 4 – Denver Nuggets 2

Dallas Mavericks (4) vs Utah Jazz (5)

The Mavericks did not have a great start to the season but gained momentum when Luka Doncic started putting up MVP-like numbers. The Jazz, on the other hand, had a fast start and at one point had a 26-9 record before slowing down in the last few months. The Jazz will have an opportunity though as Doncic, who suffered an injury (calf-strain), might miss a portion of their first-round showdown. Both teams were tied at 2-2 during their season series but the upper hand could belong to the Jazz if Doncic stays out.

The ailing Mavericks have other things to prepare for like stopping Rudy Gobert. Gobert, the Jazz’s All-Star center, made at least 70 percent of his field goal attempts, grabbed around 14 rebounds per game, and can block or alter any shot. Dallas has players with height in Dwight Powell and Boban Marjanovic but can both of them really hold their ground against a player like Gobert?

Dallas Mavericks X-Factor: Jalen Brunson

While certainly not the most exciting player in the league, Brunson has been very valuable for the team. He’s one of those players who can fill up the box score without making the highlight plays. He is a two-time NCAA champion so playing in high-pressure games won’t bother him. If Doncic will be slowed down by his injury, look for Brunson’s numbers to go up.

Utah Jazz X-Factor: Jordan Clarkson

Clarkson is such a streaky shooter. He has to be on fire in order for the team to have success. He can’t have one of those bad shooting nights and those bad shooting nights have happened regularly during the NBA season. If trigger happy Clarkson does his job off the bench while the starters maintain control of the games, the Jazz will be able to win this series.

Series Prediction: Utah Jazz 4 – Dallas Mavericks 3

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