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NBA PLAYOFFS : WESTERN CONFERENCE

Fates hang in the balance

Spurs have the best record, but just about everyone (OK, maybe not Mavericks) has a legitimate chance

April 18, 2014|Ben Bolch
  • Don't be surprised if Tim Duncan (21) and the top-seeded Spurs meet Kevin Durant and the second-seeded Thunder in the Western Conference finals. Then again, don't be surprised if the Clippers, Rockets, Blazers, Warriors or Grizzlies make it there instead of the two favorites.
Don't be surprised if Tim Duncan (21) and the top-seeded Spurs meet… (Sue Ogrocki / AP )

Pick a champion, any champion.

You could make a case for any of the eight playoff teams to win the wonderfully wild Western Conference.

San Antonio has the best record in the NBA and features more precise movement than Cirque du Soleil.

Oklahoma City has the hardest player to stop in the game, Kevin Durant, and a home crowd that makes the Thunder roster seem 18,203 deep.

The Clippers are capable of being more than a tease under Coach Doc Rivers, who has molded his stars into new and improved versions of themselves.

Houston can outscore just about anyone with James Harden driving for easy baskets and Dwight Howard somehow averaging 18 points a game without any legitimate post moves.

Portland has perhaps the Next Big Three with LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Nicolas Batum.

Golden State's Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have never met a shot they wouldn't take -- or make.

Memphis has played as well as anyone the last two months, going 23-9 since the week before the All-Star break.

Dallas has ... um ... well ... All right, so the eighth-seeded Mavericks probably aren't going to win the conference title.

But everyone else has to feel as if they have a legitimate shot.

Sixth-seeded Golden State has the toughest path, potentially having to beat the third-seeded Clippers, second-seeded Oklahoma City and top-seeded San Antonio to reach the Finals.

The Warriors' first-round series against the Clippers might as well be played on a square canvas surrounded by ropes because there's the potential for uppercuts and jabs when these teams get together.

Houston versus Portland also looks as if it could go seven, with the first team to play defense winning. The Trail Blazers haven't made it past the first round since 2000, when they suffered an epic Game 7 collapse against the Lakers in the conference finals.

Of course, there's always hope. This year, in the West, it's everywhere.

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*--* 1. SAN ANTONIO 62-20 (Home: 32-9; Road: 30-11) 8. DALLAS 49-33 (Home: 26-15; Road: 23-18) *--*

Season series: San Antonio, 4-0

Key stat: The Spurs' legendary ball movement can be seen in their league-leading 25.1 assists per game.

Outlook: San Antonio is probably glad Dallas lost on the final day of the regular season, slotting the Mavericks into this series instead of the more dangerous Memphis Grizzlies. Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis are tremendous shot-makers, but the Mavericks are below average defensively and not particularly athletic with four starters 32 or older.

Prediction: This should be a relatively stress-free series for San Antonio, though Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich probably will find something to complain about. Spurs in five.

*--* Game 1 Sunday at San Antonio, 10 a.m. Game 2 Wednesday at San Antonio, 5 Game 3 April 26 at Dallas, 1:30 Game 4 April 28 at Dallas, 6:30 Game 5 April 30 at San Antonio, TBD Game 6 May 2 at Dallas, TBD Game 7 May 4 at San Antonio, TBD *--*

Games 5-7 if necessary; times PDT

*--* 2. OKLAHOMA CITY 59-23 (Home: 34-7; Road: 25-16) 7. MEMPHIS 50-32 (Home: 27-14; Road: 23-18) *--*

Season series: Oklahoma City, 3-1.

Key stat: Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant never seems to have an off night, scoring at least 25 points in 46 of his last 47 games.

Outlook: Oklahoma City should give thanks in its pregame prayer for Russell Westbrook, whose absence doomed the Thunder last season in the conference semifinals against the Grizzlies. Having Westbrook around means Durant won't have to carry his team on his spindly shoulders.

Prediction: The Grizzlies' nice run the last few months will grit and grind its way to a quick halt. Thunder in five.

*--* Game 1 Saturday at Oklahoma City, 6:30 Game 2 Monday at Oklahoma City, 5 Game 3 April 24 at Memphis, 5 Game 4 April 26 at Memphis, 6:30 Game 5 April 29 at Oklahoma City, TBD Game 6 May 1 at Memphis, TBD Game 7 May 3 at Oklahoma City, TBD *--*

Games 5-7 if necessary; Times PDT

*--* 3. CLIPPERS 57-25 (Home: 34-7; Road: 23-18) 6. GOLDEN STATE 51-31 (Home: 27-14; Road: 24-17) *--*

Season series: Tied, 2-2.

Key stat: The Clippers lead the NBA in three-point defense, holding teams to 33.2% shooting from beyond the arc. That could come in handy against the Warriors, who made 774 three-pointers, second-most in the league, and shot 38% from distance.

Outlook: Andrew Bogut's rib fracture could sideline him for the duration of the playoffs, forcing the Warriors to go with a smaller lineup whenever replacement center Jermaine O'Neal isn't on the court. This could prompt Clippers Coach Doc Rivers to call plays for center DeAndre Jordan for the first time all season.

Prediction: The Splash Brothers duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson won't be able to keep Golden State from going kerplunk against a deeper and hungrier team that also happens to hate the Warriors. Clippers in six.

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