The 2021-22 NBA regular season ended with anticipation for a thrilling western conference playoff race. Denver star Nikola Jokic became the first player in NBA history to record 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists. Dallas and Utah were plagued with drama involving who would step up and lead besides their franchise star. No one can underestimate the growth Memphis has undergone while Phoenix has lost under 45 games since COVID-19 disrupted play. Four deeply talented and elite teams will advance to the second round. Time to break down which four have the best chance.
#5 Utah Jazz v. #4 Dallas Mavericks
A lot of people will judge this series by who loses. If it’s Dallas, star Luka Doncic will face heat because he can’t lead the Mavericks past the first round. If Utah loses, it’s because there are locker room problems, Quin Snyder is an ok coach, and they choke when it’s a prime moment to move forward. Both teams want to prove critics wrong.
Let’s start with some basics. Dallas’ second leading team scorer and rebounder was traded mid-season. Doncic will be out game one of the series. Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell looked great against a Memphis Grizzlies team without Ja Morant to clinch their playoff spot, but Utah barely won the Northwest despite nine losses in March.
The series is up for grabs and anything can happen. While I personally don’t base stats (because it’s playoffs and anything can happen), the Mavericks have a lot more issues to address if Luka gets shut down by Rudy Gobert or Mitchell one-on-one. Doncic missing game one could determine who wins the series early.
Prediction: Jazz win series 4-1
#6 Denver Nuggets v. #3 Golden State Warriors
It’s been a cruel, one year since Jamal Murray was on the court. The last time he was, Steph Curry broke Wilt Chamberlain’s Warriors scoring record. Monte Morris is the most reliable guard the Nuggets have versus a rising Klay Thompson. The return of Thompson and Draymond Green are important since Curry should be eased back into the starting lineup, returning for game one.
The added return and expanded role of Jordan Poole could make a difference and be another reason Curry gets needed time off while Green, Andrew Wiggins and Otto Porter Jr. hold down the Golden State defense. If the Nuggets’ forward trio of Aaron Gordon and Jeff and JaMychal Green sputter on offense, this series could end before the Splash Brothers find rhythm.
Prediction: Warriors win series 4-1
#8 New Orleans Pelicans v. #1 Phoenix Suns
New Orleans is one of the hottest teams in the NBA. Their reward is playing the league’s best Phoenix Suns, who won a franchise record 64 games. While not fair, we know records don’t mean anything in the playoffs.
Despite the nice story of Willie Green, Monty Williams and Chris Paul all being on the New Orleans Hornets at one point, Williams is the superior coach. Paul still exceeds expectations in his late 30s and both Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton are playing their best basketball.
There is good news for the Pelicans. Despite being swept handily by Phoenix, they added C.J. McCollum at the trade deadline and could have Zion Williamson at some point in the first round. The Suns haven’t faced a better prepared and stronger starting roster since the trade deadline. Phoenix will win, but the series won’t be boring.
Prediction: Suns win 4-1
#7 Minnesota Timberwolves v. #2 Memphis Grizzlies
This will be one of the nastiest first round series in either conference. Memphis establishes a high scoring physical presence many teams struggle against. Minnesota is hot-and-cold with their shot selection and perimeter play. Regardless of disadvantages, both teams play hard and will establish a bully tone early and often.
Shooting guards Desmond Bane and D’Angelo Russell should have career games with the number of points their teams put up (both average 116 a game), while Patrick Beverley and Ja Morant will be physical and competitive at point guard. Steven Adams is the strongest person in the NBA and has to take on the best athletic center in Karl-Anthony Towns. These three matchups should be watched by fans and analysts to see who become the deciding factor/s. Forwards Dillon Brooks and Anthony Edwards should have their share of opportunities to prove how valuable they’ll be in future series.
The Grizzlies have a major advantage over the Timberwolves: playoff experience. Memphis gave Utah everything they could handle last year and almost took the number one seeded Jazz to seven games. The Wolves are inexperienced and need more time to develop with their new head coach. It’s time the young Grizzlies take the next step.
Prediction: Grizzlies win series 4-3
Original Season Playoff and Play-in Picks Record: 6-4