If you thought the first round of these NBA playoffs have been spectacular, just wait until the conference semifinals begin on Monday night.
In a stacked Western Conference, the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder will meet the third-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
It will be a matchup between two of the top five offenses in the NBA. The Clippers (107.9 PPG) were the top scoring team during the regular season while the Thunder ranked fifth (106.2 PPG).
Both teams are coming off seven game series in the first round. The Clippers were able to keep their emotions in check and focus on winning during a controversy involving team owner Donald Sterling that revealed itself last week, ultimately leading to Sterling’s lifetime ban from league by new commissioner Adam Silver.
Here’s a preview for the series.
PF- Blake Griffin vs. Serge Ibaka
SF- Matt Barnes vs. Kevin Durant
PG- Chris Paul vs. Russell Westbrook
Regular season series
The teams split the season series 2-2. The Clippers won the first game in November 111-103, with Griffin showcasing his overall skills, finishing with 22 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists and three steals. Durant had 33 points for the Thunder. For the second game in Oklahoma City, Durant scored when he wanted to and created for others at will as the Thunder won by 14.
In the third matchup, Durant scored 42 points and had 10 assists but the Clippers were able to overcome that thanks to Jamal Crawford, who started in place of the injured J.J. Redick and scored 36 points. Westbrook was the MVP of the final matchup scoring 30 points, snatching 11 rebounds and dishing out six assists in a Thunder win.
Griffin vs. Ibaka- Here’s a quick video of what Ibaka did to Griffin last season. Ibaka is one of the few power forwards who can match Griffin’s physicality and athleticism inside. Griffin has played at an MVP caliber level this season, averaging 24.7 PPG in the four games this season against the Thunder. He will need to attack Ibaka early and often to try and get him into foul trouble. The Thunder have other bodies to throw at Griffin like Nick Collison, Steven Adams and at times Durant. Griffin’s effectiveness could be the key to the series.
Paul vs. Westbrook- Two of the top five point guards in the game. Paul is a master of controlling the tempo and creating shots for others in the flow of the offense while Westbrook is an explosive athlete who can take over a game in transition and play above the rim. Both guards are very good defenders but Westbrook has the size advantage and will look to post up the smaller Paul. Against Memphis, Westbrook switched from being a scorer and became a facilitator, and the Thunder won the last two games because of it. If he plays the role of facilitator, the Thunder will be in prime position to win the series.
Prediction- Thunder in six games. Durant will be the difference maker and the overall matchups are more favorable for the Thunder than the Clippers.