2016 NBA Playoffs Preview: Western Conference — Can the Warriors Be Stopped?
The 2016 NBA Playoffs started on Saturday. Most pundits have the Warriors and Spurs meeting in the Western Conference Finals. Find out which team could keep that from happening.
WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFF PREVIEW
The Team To Beat: Golden State Warriors
The prevailing wisdom is that Golden State and San Antonio will meet in the Western Conference Finals. Hell, they should probably just play for the NBA title right now. Well, one of them will: the Warriors.
Golden State set the NBA record for regular-season wins with 73 and are good enough to beat every other team, even if the ankle Steph Curry injured in Saturday’s opening game against Houston continues to nag him. It would take injuries (plural), a shooting slump and a supreme effort by another team for the Warriors to fall. Possible, but not probable.
Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green are more than Curry’s supporting cast, and Golden State's depth stretches to its bench. Houston, L.A. and Portland have little chance of stopping the Warriors' march to the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs or Thunder? We’ll just have to wait and see.
The Dark Horse Pick: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder has become the forgotten team in the West thanks to the rise of the Warriors and the Spurs. Russell Westbrook (23.5 ppg, 10.4 apg) and Kevin Durant (28.2 ppg, 8.2 rpg) are still a dangerous duo capable of fueling their team to a deep playoff run. Oklahoma City has the offense most able to match Golden State’s — and certainly one that’s too much for Dallas in the first round. If the Spurs can’t keep up, it could be an OKC-Golden State finals. They might need to add a digit to the scoreboard.
Most Likely To Disappoint: Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers ended the regular season on a 9-1 tear and look to be in prime playoff shape. Still, Los Angeles can’t feel great about drawing a scrappy Trail Blazers team with a high-powered offense and nothing to lose. For the Clippers' fifth straight postseason appearance to not end in tears this soon, Blake Griffin (21.4 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and DeAndre Jordan (12.7 ppg, 13.8 rpg) need to dominate Portland’s no-name frontcourt.
Players To Watch: Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets; Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder; Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers
Houston’s Dwight Howard (13.7 ppg, 11.8 rpg) isn’t the franchise player he once was, but he must perform at an All-Star level for the Rockets to somehow compete with Golden State… San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (21.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg) might have won an MVP if not for Steph Curry. He should lead the Spurs past injury-plagued Memphis and into a clash against OKC’s dynamic duo…Speaking of which, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook is a stat-sheet monster. He’s also athletic enough to challenge the best defenders and shooters…Portland’s Damian Lillard (25.1 ppg, 6.9 apg) has found a backcourt mate in C.J. McCollum (20.9 ppg, 4.3 apg). Between them, the Blazers can challenge any team in the West. They probably don’t have enough talent to win more than one series, though.
NBA Western Conference Playoff Schedule & TV Times
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) Houston Rockets
Sat, April 16: Golden State 104, Houston 78
Mon, April 18: Golden State 115, Houston 106
Thu, April 21: Houston 97, Golden State 96
Sun, April 24: Golden State 121, Houston 94
Wed, April 27: Golden State 114, Houston 81
Golden State wins series, 4-1
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies
Sun, April 17: San Antonio 106, Memphis 74
Tue, April 19: San Antonio 94, Memphis 68
Fri, April 22: San Antonio 96, Memphis 87
Sun, April 24: San Antonio 116, Memphis 95
San Antonio wins series, 4-0.
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks
Sat, April 16: Oklahoma City 108, Dallas 70
Mon, April 18: Dallas 85, Oklahoma City 84
Thu, April 21: Oklahoma City 131, Dallas 102
Sat, April 23: Oklahoma City 119, Dallas 108
Mon, April 25: Oklahoma City 118, Dallas 104
Oklahoma City wins series, 4-1
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers
Sun, April 17: L.A. Clippers 115, Portland 95
Wed, April 20: L.A. Clippers 102, Portland 81
Sat, April 23: Portland 96, L.A. Clippers 88
Mon, April 25: Portland 98, L.A. Clippers 84
Wed, April 27: Portland 108, L.A. Clippers 98
Fri, April 29: Portland 106, L.A. Clippers 103
Portland wins, 4-2
All series best-of-seven
* if necessary