Revel in it Bay Area NBA fans: this year the Western Conference playoffs mean something, because for the first time in 13 years, the hometown Warriors are part of the party.
So let's take a quick drive down the lane and see what the Warriors are going to have to deal with as they knife their way to the Finals. (Yeah, we know, but just roll with the sentiment. It's been 13 years and there's an abundance of pent-up enthusiasm to be dissipated.)
8. Golden State Warriors (42-40) vs. 1. Dallas Mavericks (67-15)
Their gaudy record may be the best in the Association, but Dallas has a major, major weakness heading into this year's playoffs: the Golden State Warriors. The GS Dubs have won six of the last seven matchups between the two squads, including five in a row and all three games this year. What's the Warriors' secret? It's their backcourt. In a league of matchups, the Mavericks find themselves facing their evil twin. Both teams are soft up front (the Mavs are so desperate they signed 44-year old Kevin Willis out of retirement earlier this month -- ouch), which cancels out the Warriors primary deficiency, but the Warriors' guards are far superior to anything the Dallas backcourt can muster up. Look for Baron, JRich, Monta, and SJax to dominate Jason Terry and Greg Buckner. Prediction: Warriors in six.
Playoff bracket graphic from NBA.com.
2. Phoenix Suns (61-21) vs. 7. Los Angeles Lakers (42-40)
OK, the story lines here are 1) with a healthy Amare Stoudamire back in the lineup, the Suns feel that this is their year. 2) This series is a rematch of last year's exciting seven-game first-round series. That series, which featured the dogged defense of Raja Bell on the not-to-be-denied Kobe Bryant, stirred bad blood between the two clubs, so expect things to get chippy. 3) The aforementioned Veinte Cuatro. How many points a game will Kobe average for the series? On ESPN's Pardon the Interruption yesterday, Mike Wilbon joked that the over/under for Kobe's ppg in this series is 45. Take the over and enjoy the show, but don't put your money on the Lakers. Phoenix is a much more complete team this year, with Stoudamire and Kurt Thomas bringing depth and breadth to the interior, while two-time MVP Steve Nash, high-flying Shawn Marion, and super sixth man Leandro Barbosa might as well be running on a 440 relay team. The Lakers finished the season on life support and Phoenix will have no trouble pulling the plug on them this year. Prediction: Suns in five.