The West has been the stronger conference for two decades. This year was no exception. Read on for analysis of the Western Conference matchups.
#1 Houston Rockets vs #8 Minnesota Timberwolves
Season series: 4-0
Redemption: Coach D`Antoni is one of the best when it comes to offence but has never made it to the Finals. Chris Paul, despite all his accolades never made it past the second round. James Harden has fallen just short of the MVP twice in the last 3 years and has taken some of the blame for the Rocket early exits.
Will this be the year that these three reach the promise land? The Rockets have 65 regular season wins which is six more than the next best team. Houston relies heavily on the trio of James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela and is 48-3 when they all play together. James Harden is finally getting his MVP award.
The Rockets dominated the season series against the Wolves, winning by an average of 16 points. But two-way star Jimmy Butler missed the last two meetings, although the Wolves lost the games he played in by 18 point each. Houston shoots a lot of three-pointers (number one in the league), while the Wolves are dead last in both three-pointers attempted and made.
The Wolves had to overcome an overtime game on the final day of the season just to claim the last playoff spot. This is the first time in 14 years they made the playoffs, finally getting a taste of postseason since the glory days of young Garnett. This will be the first playoff experience for young talents Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.
Rockets vs Timberwolves series winner odds
#2 Golden State Warriors vs #7 San Antonio Spurs
Season series: 3-1
The previously dominant Warriors are two and one in the last three NBA Finals. Golden State has shown a chink in their armor this year mainly due to late season injuries. Especially the one to the ankle of Steph Curry.
It is unclear if the Warriors can turn things around or if they might continue what has been a late season drift. Golden State is 17-14 without Curry, although several of those games featured the absence of other Warriors stars who were also rested.
The Curry injury will keep him out of the first round but with the star-studded cast the Warriors possess this would not usually be a big deal in a first round match-up but, up against the great basketball mind of Gregg Popovich, it is more concerning. The Spurs have their own inury problem; All-Star Kawhi Leonard missed all but nine games this season and is fairly doubtful to return in time for the playoffs.
This first round series is a rematch of last year’s Conference Semi-finals in which the Spurs might have given the Warriors a battle if they had not lost superstar Kawhi to an injury in Game one. After clearing the air with Popovich in the off-season they can field Lamarcus Aldridge has been the force keeping the Spurs afloat all season.
The Spurs are making their 21st playoff consecutive playoff appearance which is a record that no other current US professional team approaches. They will need that experience to overcome the champions.
Warriors vs Spurs series winner odds
#3 Portland Trailblazers vs #6 New Orleans Pelicans
Season series: 2-2
Megastar Anthony Davis is putting up unbelievable numbers. Davis is ranked second in the league in scoring at 28.1 and first in blocks at 2.57 to add to fifth position in rebounds at 11.1 per game.
This is fortunate because the Pels needed every ounce of Davis’s peak performance in order to survive the loss of fellow big man Demarcus Cousins. This is just the second time Davis has made the playoffs in his six-year career.
Jrue Holiday has reminded fans that he is one the best two-way players, and Rajon Rondo is a veteran who brings vision pace and leadership despite his shortcomings on defense. Mirotic has been added to the roster and is a great fit with his outside shooting.
The Blazers had a blistering 13 game winning streak which started mid-February. They cooled off down the stretch but closed the season strongly by defeating the white-hot Jazz, securing the three seed in the process.
Damian Lilliard is the undeniable leader of the team and he gets better every season. Coach Stotts has done great job guiding this team and motivating his players.
This will be a fun series which will be played at a high pace.
Trailblazers vs New Orleans series winner odds
New Orleans: 2.710*
#4 Oklahoma City Thunder vs #5 Utah Jazz
Season series: 3-1
The Jazz went crazy running 31-8 to finish the season whilst winning most of their games by double digit scores. During this stretch they were 15-2 on the road.
Utah also has had the best defense in the NBA in the last couple of months powered by "The Stifle Tower’’ Rudy Gobert. While the Jazz were expected to have a strong season Gobert’s absence for 26 games put those hopes in jeopardy. A significant key has been the remarkable all-around performance by rookie Donovan Mitchell.
This Thunder season has been a mixed bag. At times they have looked incredible and others they have looked disjointed. Russell Westbrook finished the season averaging an otherworldly triple-double per game for the second time in a row.
Despite being erratic during the season they are clearly a force to reckon with. Westbrook`s support consists mainly of two-way star Paul George and the animal ferocity of interior stud Steven Adams.
Even though Carmelo Anthony is not that special anymore he can still heat up at times. OKC is scary and could reach a higher gear if they could lower their turnovers and hit their outside shots.
This is a premier matchup on paper and should provide great entertainment for both teams’ incredible home town fans.
Thunder vs Jazz series winner odds