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NBA PLAYOFFS

NBA Playoffs: Western Conference previews

Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Nuggets are given first-round nods by NBA writer Ben Bolch.

April 18, 2013|By Ben Bolch
  • The Lakers grabbed the seventh seed and earned the right to play the San Antonio, but writer Ben Bolch says the Spurs will win in five games.
The Lakers grabbed the seventh seed and earned the right to play the San Antonio,… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

LAKERS VS. SPURS

2. San Antonio

58-24 (Home: 35-6; Road: 23-18)

7. Lakers

45-37 (Home: 29-12; Road: 16-25)

Season series: San Antonio, 2-1.

Key stat: Kobe Bryant will play zero games in the series after tearing his left Achilles' tendon April 12, taking his averages of 27.3 points and 6.0 assists off the board. His presence may be even more irreplaceable.

Outlook: The Lakers unveiled a template for beating San Antonio in their most recent meeting, playing lockdown defense to disrupt the Spurs' precision passing game while holding them to 37.1% shooting in a 91-86 victory. But San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, who didn't play in that game because of a tight hamstring, will be back for the playoffs.

Prediction: Even if Bryant calls, texts and tweets his teammates between every quarter, one message should quickly sink in: San Antonio is simply better. Spurs in five.

CLIPPERS VS. GRIZZLIES

4. Clippers

56-26 (Home: 32-9; Road: 24-17)

5. Memphis

56-26 (Home: 32-9; Road: 24-17)

Season series: Clippers, 3-1.

Key stat: The Clippers' bench averages 40.1 points a game while the Grizzlies' reserves combine for only 27.6 points. Big advantage, Clippers.

Outlook: This is a rematch of the breathless seven-game series the Clippers won a year ago after overcoming a 27-point deficit in Game 1 and winning Game 7 on the road. Memphis hasn't exactly improved since then, jettisoning Rudy Gay in a midseason trade that brought it defensive stalwart Tayshaun Prince.

Prediction: The Grizzlies are angry about last season's playoffs and they'll be even more miffed after these are over. Clippers in six.

THUNDER VS. ROCKETS

1. Oklahoma City

60-22 (Home: 34-7; Road: 26-15)

8. Houston

45-37 (Home: 29-12; Road: 16-25)

Season series: Oklahoma City, 2-1.

Key stat: Oklahoma City has lost consecutive games on only three occasions this season, showing remarkable consistency. The Thunder is 17-4 in the games following a defeat, and it lost its regular-season finale.

Outlook: The gang's back together again, though the reunion will be short-lived and bittersweet. Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may need former teammate James Harden to win the Finals, but they have more than enough for this matchup. Houston gives up an average of 102.5 points a game, 28th in the league.

Prediction: The misty eyes will belong to players wearing Rockets uniforms. Thunder in four.

NUGGETS VS. WARRIORS

3. Denver

57-25 (Home: 38-3; Road: 19-22)

6. Golden State

47-35 (Home: 28-13; Road: 19-22)

Season series: Denver, 3-1.

Key stat: Denver's Wilson Chandler has averaged 20.2 points in the six games since Danilo Gallinari suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Outlook: Chandler's late-season emergence highlights the depth of a team that remains vigorous despite hemorrhaging players in recent weeks. Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried is expected to return from the severely sprained ankle that sidelined him the last two games. Golden State has essentially been a .500 team since opening the season 30-17.

Prediction: The young, athletic Warriors match up reasonably well with the young, athletic Nuggets. But Golden State's success is overly dependent on hot shooting by Stephen Curry, who will be a focus of Denver's defense. Nuggets in six.

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