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NBA Western Conference previews

A caspulized look at the semifinal series between the Spurs-Clippers and the Lakers-Thunder.

May 13, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Lakers forward Metta World Peace, with one game under his belt following his suspension, and Thunder big man Nick Collison will play key roles during the Western Conference semifinal series beginning Monday night.
Lakers forward Metta World Peace, with one game under his belt following… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

1. San Antonio

(def. Utah, 4-0, in first round)

vs. 5. Clippers

(def. Memphis, 4-3, in first round)

Season series: San Antonio, 2-1.

Key stat: San Antonio has won 14 consecutive games and has no intention of slowing down even though it leans heavily on the aging Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.

Outlook: This is a matchup between a franchise with serious pedigree … and the Clippers. The Spurs have won four NBA titles since 1999. The Clippers have never made it out of the second round of the playoffs. The gap between the organizations may be narrowing, but it's still considerable. The Spurs can win in many ways, thanks to Tony Parker's playmaking, Ginobili's shot-making and Duncan's ability to make players a decade younger look foolish. San Antonio also has a plucky rookie in former Riverside King High star Kawhi Leonard and a bench that sprung for 57 points in the Spurs' series-clinching victory over Utah. Perhaps it's no wonder San Antonio hasn't lost in more than a month. The Clippers lost the season series with the Spurs but proved they can win in San Antonio, ending a 17-game losing streak there that dated to 2002 with a 120-108 triumph in March. And Clippers point guard Chris Paul, one of the game's best closers, is probably eager to erase the memory of his pass directly to San Antonio's Gary Neal in the final seconds of regulation in a February game the Spurs won in overtime.

Prediction: The Clippers' playoff joy rides tend to be short. Spurs in five.

2. Oklahoma City

(def. Dallas, 4-0, in first round)

vs. 3. Lakers

(def. Denver, 4-3, in first round)

Season series: Oklahoma City, 2-1.

Key stat: The Thunder will have had eight days of rest after sweeping Dallas in the first round. That's fine with center Kendrick Perkins, who needed the additional recovery time for a strained right hip muscle sustained in Game 4 of the Mavericks series.

Outlook: Expect a big Oklahoma City welcome for Metta World Peace in Game 1. Not really. Thunder fans will unleash plenty of vitriol on the Lakers small forward who viciously elbowed James Harden in the head last month, earning a seven-game suspension. Assuming he remains on his best behavior, World Peace will play in the entire series after the Denver Nuggets forced a Game 7 in the Lakers' first-round series. He'll probably spend most of his time defending Kevin Durant. Like the Nuggets, the Thunder will try to push the pace and generate easy fastbreak baskets. Unlike the Nuggets, the Thunder have a pair of stars in Durant and Russell Westbrook who could make things miserable for the Lakers. Durant and Westbrook averaged a combined 51.6 points during the regular season, more than any other duo in the NBA. The Lakers still hold an advantage inside with 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, presuming they decide to show up after disappearing for stretches in the first round.

Prediction: The second round will again be the place where the Lakers' title aspirations go to die. Thunder in six.

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