Improbably, almost impossibly, the Golden State Warriors' dream season continues tonight with game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal matchup with the Utah Jazz. The Warriors are into the semis by virtue of their historic six-game stunner over the top-seeded Dallas Mavericks; the Jazz eeked out a game 7 road win over the Houston Rockets.
The Jazz are the fourth seed in the Western Conference, but in our minds, its the Dubs that enter this series as the favorites. The Jazz are undoubtedly mentally and physically drained after their game 7 thriller on Saturday, while the Warriors are riding a wave of emotion that shows no sign of dissipating.
We're taking the Warriors in five. Considering that we were one of the few publications to go on record picking the Warriors to beat Dallas, in six games no less, and considering that we ran the table in first round of the Western Conference playoffs -- we even got the number of games right for every series except San Antonio-Denver (we picked Spurs in six instead of five games) -- we feel totally confident in sending you to Vegas with your life savings and the Warriors in five. In fact, it looks like many of you already have -- Point Spreads.com is reporting that 68 percent of the early spread money and 92 percent of money line bets thus far have been on Golden State.
The Beard is calling all comers, but the Utah Jazz will have no answer for him or the Warriors in their second-round Western Conference playoff series. Photo from espn.com.
This series will be a case study in opposite styles and a fascinating battle of wills between head coaches Don Nelson and Jerry Sloan. Both are stubborn, grizzled grand masters who have more than 2,000 NBA victories (and no titles) between them. Both will try to impose their style of basketball on the series or die trying. Nelson, of course, will seek to overwhelm Utah with the frenetic, madcap run-and-gun smallball; Sloan will try to slow things down to a crawl with suffocating defense, half-court sets, and ball control.
Utah presents somewhat of a puzzle for the Dubs because they are really a team without superstars. Forward Carlos Boozer (24.6 ppg; 11.0 rpg) is a grave and gathering force down low, but beyond Boozer, Utah is really a team built on the idea of being greater than the sum of its parts. That will make it hard for the Warriors to focus on any one player, but it will also make the Jazz game plan extremely limited and highly predictable. Utah has plenty of size in big men Mehmet Okur, Andrei Kirilenko, and Matt Harpring, but the Warriors will counter with speed, speed, and more speed. Matt Harpring against Jax -- who you gonna take? Exactly.
Once again, we expect the Warriors guards to completely overwhelm the Utah backcourt. If healthy, Baron Davis will continue his MVP performance and Stephen Jackson, Jason Richardson, and Monta Ellis are going to absolutely eat former Warrior Derek Fisher and fellow guardsman Deron Williams and Dee Brown alive. Defense stopper Ronnie Brewer might cause some problems, but there's only one of him against what will seem to him like six or seven interchangeable Warriors guards.
Check out our favorite Warriors site, Golden State of Mind, for all the pregame analysis you could ever hope to read.
The Jazz have home court advantage in this series and their fans seem almost as hungry for playoff success as the Warriors' fans. But look for the Warriors to take game 1, take the home court advantage, and take the Jazz' legs right out from under them with a massive, overpowering effort tonight. We've got the Warriors by 20 points.
So, once again, that's Warriors in five. You heard it hear first, again. Oh yeah, and the Spurs in six.