In this fourth and final installment of the Fantasy Postseason NBA playoff preview, we’ll look at the five through eight seeds in the west. While I indicated yesterday that I was not optimistic about the first round of the eastern playoffs, it should be stated that I am often wrong and, as they say, there is a reason these games are played on the court and not on paper. Now that the western match ups are set, there are some intriguing pairings. While the teams with home court advantage should be favored, these series might continue past four games. There are values among the bottom four teams.
5. Denver Nuggets (vs. 4. Oklahoma City Thunder)
No Carmelo? No problem. Despite trading their somewhat disgruntled superstar at the end of February, the Nuggets finished the season by winning 17 of their last 24 games without Anthony. The post-trade Nuggets faced the Thunder twice in the last two weeks and lost to Oklahoma City both times. Nevertheless, coach George Karl’s team has an intriguing combination of talent. Ty Lawson, who left the regular season finale with a sprained ankle, finished the season on a flurry. He averaged more than 15 points and 6.5 assists in the last two months. Lawson will make for a nice value, even if he is matched up against Russell Westbrook. With Kenyon Martin and Nene, the Nuggets have size in the starting lineup to match up against the Thunder’s thunder. Martin averaged 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds against Oklahoma City, and Nene provided another 15.5 points and 8.8 rebounds. The wildcard, as always with the Nuggets, is guard J.R. Smith. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 12.3 points off the Nugget bench and hit 39.0% of his threes.
6. Portland Trailblazers (vs. 3 Dallas Mavericks)
If there is one series in which people are going to pick an upset, it is this one. The Blazers have beaten the Mavericks twice since March 15 and seem to have some individual match ups working in their favor. Even though their star, Brandon Roy, has looked like a shade of his previous self. He has only averaged 8.0 points after the All Star break and should not be drafted. Wes Matthews, however, has moved into the starting slot and averaged 15.9 points this season. He hit 57.1% of his threes against Dallas. The new ingredient in the Portland mix is Gerald Wallace who has averaged 15.8 points and 7.6 rebounds since joining the Blazers. Without Roy leading the way, LaMarcus Aldridge has an opportunity to shine. He has averaged better than 20 points in every month since November and burned Dallas for 27.8 points. Finally, Marcus Camby returned for the season finale after struggling with a neck injury. The 14-year veteran averaged 10.3 rebounds this season.
7. New Orleans Hornets (vs. 2. Los Angeles Lakers)
Against the Lakers, the Hornets have an advantage at one position: point guard. Granted, the difference between Chris Paul and anyone the Lakers put on him is cavernous, but Paul will have to play above his usual greatness to help the Hornets be competitive against the two-time defending champions. In the regular season, the Lakers swept the four games. Paul did play well against the Lakers: He shot 56.1% from the field, averaged 15.8 points and 10.3 assists, and made 55.6% of his threes. With David West on the sideline with a torn ACL, Carl Landry has stepped in. He had 24 points and ten rebounds in his one appearance as a Hornet against the Lakers. If your league requires a center, Emeka Okafor could be a possibility. The former Connecticut Husky averaged 12.3 points and 10.3 rebounds against Los Angeles. Keep an eye on former-Laker Trevor Ariza who played well in the playoffs for Los Angeles in 2008-09.
8. Memphis Grizzlies (vs. 1. San Antonio Spurs)
The Grizzlies feel like the feel-good story of the west. They beat out teams like the Suns and Rockets for the eight seed and the right to meet the Spurs. Memphis split the season series against San Antonio and power forward Zach Randolph is a load for any team. Randolph made the most of his time against the Spur frontline and averaged 23.0 points and 14.8 rebounds in the four games against San Antonio. He is almost guaranteed you to get four double-double bonuses. Unfortunately, Randolph’s great play has caused Marc Gasol to quiet down. The Spaniard averaged 8.0 points and 7.3 rebounds, and probably should not be drafted. In the backcourt, the Memphis surprise has been Tony Allen. The former Celtic averaged 17.0 points against the Spurs and made 71.1% of his shots. In other words, that rate is unlikely to continue. Mike Conley Jr. also played well against San Antonio with 15.5 points and 5.5 assists. The Grizzles could steal a game or two and make Randolph a decent draft pick.