Through the first round of the NBA playoffs, the teams in the West have done an excellent job showing up and playing hard. Even the Golden State Warriors showed that they could be beaten after losing to the L.A. Clippers in two of their six games for the series. Entering the second round the Warriors will face off against the Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazer will play the Denver Nuggets.
The Nuggets have struggled so far in the playoffs, however, they were still able to get the victory at home in game seven. The second-seeded Nuggets played the seventh-seeded San Antonio Spurs. This would have been a huge upset and extremely disappointing for the Nuggets, who weren’t treated with the respect typically given to a second-seeded team. During the regular season, the team came out of nowhere, winning through competitive effort and strong team chemistry. However, during the first round of the playoffs, they’ve struggled to play with the necessary intensity for some of their games. Not only that, but the Spurs were an underrated team, to say the least, being the true exemplars of team chemistry. Under the direction of head coach Gregg Popovich, the Spurs were able to move the ball fluidly and keep the Nuggets on their toes. Power forward LaMarcus Aldridge and small forward Demar DeRozan led the charge for San Antonio, but their efforts weren’t enough to overcome the Nikola Jokic led Nuggets. For Denver, in their matchup against the Trailblazers, it will be interesting to see how they choose to handle their opponents’ unstoppable force in Damian Lillard.
The Trailblazers just ended their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, who were led by none other than point guard Russell Westbrook and small forward Paul George. Many are now discussing Westbrook’s game, with his shooting percentage ridiculously low for the number of shots he took throughout the series. On his best night of the series, the Thunder’s lone victory, Westbrook shot 11-22. In all of the other defeats for the team, Westbrook had games of 5-21, 5-20, 11-31 and 8-17. For a man fixated on holding the record as the only player to average a triple-double during the regular season, for three consecutive seasons, his inability to understand that he can’t shoot hinders his team. George, meanwhile, has been phenomenal throughout the regular and postseason, but sat back and watched Westbrook rack up terrible shots.
Lillard carried his Trailblazers to victory against the dysfunctional Thunder, including a buzzer beater in game five from 10 feet behind the arc to send Oklahoma City back home. This shot clinched the win and gave Lillard 50 points for the game, a feat that has only been done in the playoffs by a handful of the best scorers in the history of the sport.
Another player was able to score 50 points this playoff round, and that player was small forward Kevin Durant for the Golden State Warriors. The team struggled more than they are used to in this series, losing two games to the Los Angeles Clippers, including in a 31-point comeback by the Clippers that stunned the Warriors. Clippers point guard Patrick Beverly was relentless on defense and did a great job at shutting down some of the Warriors strongest scorers in Durant and point guard Steph Curry. The domination and consequent trash talking done by the Clippers enraged Durant, and he showed the Clippers that the “Slim Reaper” wasn’t going to be knocked out by a mere eighth seed. On the horizon for the Warriors now are the Houston Rockets
Last year Houston took Golden State all the way to game seven. This was an intense series, but in the end, the Golden State Warriors came out on top. This year could play out much differently, however. With Rockets’ point guard James Harden playing better than ever, and a solid team around him, there is no reason why they shouldn’t put up a huge fight. Harden is shooting better than ever, and he proved his talent against the Jazz in the first round. In this game, players from the other team had to guard behind him just so that he couldn’t use his dangerous stepback shot. It will be interesting to see how the Warriors will defend this, either deploying shooting guard Klay Thompson on Harden for the entire series or continuing to rotate per their usual play style.
The NBA West is sure to heat up in the second round, and an upset is certainly possible. Now the question is who will be the Western Conference Champions; it’s anyone’s game.