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Point/Counterpoint: Which NBA team will reach the Western Conference Finals?

BY DI STAFF | MAY 09, 2013 5:00 AM

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San Antonio Spurs — 2-seed

When Russell Westbrook’s season-ending injury was announced, the Western Conference was blown wide open. While the Thunder may have a one-game lead on the Grizzlies, and Kevin Durant is becoming the superstar we all knew he was, his Thunder are a lot weaker without Westbrook.

And the San Antonio Spurs are ready to pounce.

It’s clear to many that the Spurs are one of the best- — if not, the best- — coached team in the NBA. Head man Gregg Popovich knows how to do it all: manage minutes for his aging roster and make necessary adjustments between games and series. He’s also been there and done that, coaching the Spurs to four championships since 1999. Tim Duncan was present for all four, Tony Parker and Manu Ginóbili for three.

What other team playing in the Western Conference has that kind of experience? None.

The team is also peaking at the right time. San Antonio put all speculation about its potential to earn another championship behind after Parker and Ginobli returned from injuries against the Lakers in round one. Parker was even earning MVP talk before injuries sidelined him frequently during the latter half of the regular season.

Against Golden State, Ginobli and his teammates proved just how big of a factor experience plays when they erased the 16-point deficit Stephen Curry created in the third quarter. It may have taken them two overtimes and a late Ginobli 3-pointer to finish the job, but by gosh, they did it.

Experience wins championships. And it helps that the Spurs are also playing like a top-level team, too.

— by Matt Cabel

Memphis Grizzlies — 5-seed

The Eastern Conference is Miami’s to lose. That much is obvious. But the race for the Western Conference crown became wide open when Russell Westbrook went down with a lateral meniscus tear. All of the remaining four teams have a legitimate shot to take conference crown, yet I think Memphis will make it to the 2013 NBA Finals.

Memphis had the NBA’s best defense during the regular season. Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol leads the Grizzly defense, which allowed just 89.3 points per contest. Memphis also has another tenacious defender in Tony Allen, who, along with Gasol, has been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive team during their careers.

Gasol has been a monster in the paint this year as well. Tag his ability with Zach Randolph, and they become one of the most dynamic post duos in the league. Memphis point guard Mike Conley has also stepped up his play during the playoffs — he’s averaged 16.7 points per game with 7.6 assists per game.

Memphis has the grit and mental toughness that’s necessary to become an NBA Finals contender. Without Westbrook, the Thunder don’t have enough offensive firepower to beat the Grizzlies in a seven-game series. Kevin Durant will get his points, no doubt, but can Oklahoma City’s secondary scoring give him enough help? Kevin Martin scored 25 points in Game 1, but OKC can’t expect his production to hold as the series progresses — he’s only shooting 38.6 percent this postseason.

Serge Ibaka is too inconsistent to be relied upon as a steady scoring threat, and Reggie Jackson is inexperienced.

If the Grizzlies advance to the Western Conference Finals, they’ll take on either San Antonio or Golden State. The Grizzlies beat the Spurs in the opening round of the 2011 playoffs, and their defense has the capability to make life very difficult for their high-octane offense. The Grizzlies also swept the regular season series against Golden State. The Warriors have been a nice story this season but they don’t have what it takes to outlast Memphis.

— by Dominick White

Golden State Warriors – 6-seed

Yes, I know the Spurs have won every game against the Warriors in San Antonio’s AT&T Center since 1997. And yes, I know the Warriors blew a 16-point lead to the Spurs in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night. But for 44 minutes, they were the better team. They can win the West.

The Warriors are just the type of team that can beat the Spurs and Oklahoma City without Russell Westbrook. They’re young and fast and have a budding NBA superstar in Stephen Curry.

Curry has been a revelation for Mark Jackson’s squad, scoring an average of 27.1 points per game in the postseason and racking up nearly 10 assists each outing. You can even throw in his 2.1 steals a game.

“Flash” is a player who can single-handedly take over a game, and he has done so on numerous occasions. He has the NBA’s highest scoring games in both the regular season and postseason, scoring 54 points and 44 points, respectively. In fact, he’s scored 22 points in the third quarter of a game alone this postseason — twice.

Last March, the Warriors traded Monta Ellis, a high-scoring guard, for center Andrew Bogut. While fans didn’t like the trade at first, they should thank general manager Larry Riley.

Bogut has stepped up his stats from 5.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game in the regular season to 8.4 points and 11 rebounds. The Warriors were one of the top rebounding teams in the league, averaging 45 rebounds per, which means more shot opportunities for sharpshooters Curry and Klay Thompson.

When you combine Curry, along with his supporting cast of Bogut, Thompson, veteran guard Jarrett Jack, and rookie Harrison Barnes, you have a young, exciting team that could make a run to the Finals. If they keep trending upward, as they have this year, we could be looking at a new power in the Western Conference.

— by Kevin Glueck


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