With the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets, and Rockets winning their first-round series, we finally move onto the West Semifinals.
Here are my predictions:
Lakers v. Rockets
The LA Lakers have had some time off since their 5 game series win over the Portland Trail Blazers this past Saturday. They looked great after dropping the first game, winning four straight in convincing fashion. LeBron James looks to be in his usual playoff from, averaging 30-11-11 with his sidekick Anthony Davis averaging almost 30 points and 9.5 rebounds per game in these playoffs. With the return of Rajon Rondo from his hand injury looming, the Lakers may really need another playmaker while LeBron is on the bench, or maybe just to give the opposing defense.
The Houston Rockets are coming off a very hard-fought, scrappy seven-game series with the OKC Thunder where both James Harden and Russell Westbrook struggled in game 7, but at the end of the day, stars prevailed and Houston squeaked out a win. The return of Eric Gordon from his injury gave Houston a third scorer and another shooting option on the offensive end, and an underrated defender. But if they want to win this series, they need Russell Westbrook to return to his regular-season form, because 12-5-5 just is not good enough to get past the Lakers.
Houston led by James Harden plays differently in non-win or go home situations, so I don’t think the offense for James Harden and company will be an issue. The biggest question mark is can Russell Westbrook get out of his slump, because if he doesn’t, Houston will be in trouble. I think the absence of any type of big man will be Houston’s downfall, as they will not be able to defend to outrebound the Lakers bigs, so look for Anthony Davis to potentially put up career numbers.
Final Prediction: Lakers in 5
Clippers v. Nuggets
The Clippers are coming off a tough series with the Dallas Mavericks where they prevailed in 6. Paul George struggled in the first round, averaging 18 points on 35.8 FG% and 27.5 3P%. He found his stride in Game 5 with 35 points on 12/18 shooting from the field, but shot 6/19 in Game 6, so they need his production back ASAP. They also missed Patrick Beverly for the last 5 games with a calf injury, so his defense will definitely help them, as it was dearly missed.
The Nuggets came back against the Utah Jazz after being down 3-1, and they looked great doing it. Jamal Murray is playing at another level, averaging 31.6 points on 55 FG%, 53.3 3P% with 6 assists, the dude is just out of his mind. Jokic averaging 25 PPG, 8 RPG, and 5 APG is doing what he does best, just a stat sheet stuffer. If they can get Michael Porter Jr. back to his production level he was during the seeding games, Denver can be a real problem for the Clippers.
Denver is a really nice story, but with the depth that the Clippers have that can get it done on both ends of the floor, I like them better than the Nuggets in this series. The biggest difference between these teams is yes Denver can probably score with the Clippers, but they can’t make that stop the Clippers can make. The Clipper’s third-best defender is by far better than whoever the Nuggets best defender, so I expect Paul George to get easier shots and hopefully find his rhythm going into the conference finals.
Final Prediction: Clippers in 6