Put the methadone down. You’re not going to need it anymore. NBA basketball is back today! And with the return of hoops, we will finish off our “one big storyline” capsule look at each playoff team by running through the Western Conference. In case you missed yesterday’s look at the East… here it is.
1: San Antonio – Can these guys make ANOTHER run?
Manu Ginobili has played in 117 playoff games. Tony Parker has played in 132. Tim Duncan has played in 170. This is the price you pay for sustained excellence. Each deep run you make is added miles on the legs. So Tim Duncan might be finishing his 14th season, but it’s really his 16th when you consider the added playoff games. This year, the Spurs actually went UPTEMPO to storm out to a big lead out West and hold on for the top spot. Now the question is, do the Spurs have enough left in the tank to be a serious title contender?
2: Los Angeles – Will Andrew Bynum continue to beast?
Kobe Bryant, as much as Lakers fans hate to admit it, doesn’t have a lot of time left. Continuing the theme from the Spurs… Kobe is finishing his 15th season. 1103 games. And then tack on 198 playoff games. One Hundred Ninety Eight. It’s amazing that he’s still performing at this level. But without Andrew Bynum doing what he did post-All Star break, the Lakers are beatable. However, if Bynum CAN be the beast he was for most of the second half, the Lakers are going be damn near impossible to beat. The team got a scare with his bone bruise. Can he stay healthy the rest of the way… and can he continue his high level of play?
3: Dallas – Is this Dirk’s last chance?
Dirk will finish his 13th season this year. He’s also had international competition and long playoff runs on HIS legs. And his team? Well… his point guard Jason Kidd is almost 40 and happens to be 20th ALL TIME in games played (and the active leader, by the way) and 10th ALL TIME in minutes played. Shawn Marion is in his 12th season and has seen better days (though he’s playing well lately). DeShawn Stevenson, now starting because Roddy Beaubois isn’t quite panning out as hoped, is in his 11th year. And Jason Terry, Mr. 6th man, is in his 12th year. Meanwhile Tyson Chandler, Caron Butler, JJ Barea, and Stevenson are all in the last years of their contract and the Mavs STILL have $61 million committed to next year’s roster. If the Mavs don’t win it all this year, how much chance do they have at building a contender in the few years Dirk has left?
4: Oklahoma City – Are they ready to make “the leap?”
Kevin Durant took a slight step back statistically this year. He set the bar pretty damn high by averaging 30 a game last year, but that just means he’s another victim of inflated expectations. Russell Westbrook has taken a huge leap (he’s my most improved player) and he gives OKC a great #2 option. But will the rest of the guys (Jeff Harden, Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins) be enough to take this team from “best of the rest” status up to “elite”?
5: Denver – Will they rebuild, or reload?
Everyone expected (we can’t shake that word, can we?) the Nuggets to fade away after the Melo trade. Instead, they captured the 5th seed and were a 50 win team. It’s a great story of bonding and excelling in the face of adversity. But that only lasts so long. A deep, albeit improbable, run in the playoffs puts pressure on the team to reload. And that makes you wonder if Kenyon Martin and JR Smith, both free agents, will be back next year. They both have been around long enough to know how much money great playoff performances, and wins, can earn you. So will that help or hurt? And will that mean they stick around to breathe that thin, mile-high air, or move on as Denver figures out a new approach?
6: Portland – Will Gerald Wallace lead an upset?
Portland over Dallas is everyone’s darling upset pick in the first round. They play at that ugly-slow playoff pace. and they have the matchups to get the job done. That is, if Gerald Wallace can play up to his standards. He scuffled a bit after the trade but now says he’s more comfortable as a Blazer. His 17.3 ppg in April was his highest of any month except for October where he played 3 games and averaged 18.7. Can Gerald Wallace be a matchup nightmare and be the difference in a Portland upset over the Mavs?
7: New Orleans – Can they do enough to keep Chris Paul?
The Hornets face the defending champs without their second-best player, David West, who is out for the playoffs after tearing his ACL. Chris Paul, the subject of on-and-off trade rumors, will have to go into full CP3 mode just to keep the Hornets competitive. Next year is the last year on his contract before he can opt out, and then New Orleans will have to make its decision… and it’s a decision based on what Paul wants. Will the rest of the Hornets rise up and show him that he’s got some complimentary pieces that will turn the Hornets into a winner? Can Trevor Ariza somehow find past success against his former team? Can Emeka Okafor somehow protect the paint against the Lakers’ trees? Will Chris Paul look around and think “I like our direction… I can go to war with these guys”?
8: Memphis – Is Tony Allen ready to be a playoff leader?
Tony Allen’s time on the Celtics was, shall we say, up and down. In 2007, when Paul Pierce went down with a stress reaction in his foot, Tony Allen became Boston’s go to guy… even rattling off six straight 20+ point performances. Then he tore his knee to shreds when he pinned himself on an uncontested dunk about two full seconds after a whistle. That pretty much sums it up. There was equal part brilliance and buffoonery in Boston. Last season, he accepted his role as the defensive stopper off the bench and he earned himself a nice little paycheck in Memphis where he became… of all things…. a team leader. Now Tony’s the veteran who younger guys will look to as the spotlight grows brighter against the West’s best team. Can TA rise to the occasion and lead the Grizzlies to a surprising performance? Or will we see the Tony Allen we saw in Boston that tries to do too much in these situations and ends up hurting his team?
There they are… one big storyline for each playoff team. Of course there are more, but this is enough to get you started. Happy playoffs, everyone.