Monday March 29th, 2010

Last week we took a sneak peak at the East's first-round matchups. This week, we go across the country to preview the Western Conference playoffs based on Monday's standings:

No. 1 Lakers vs. No. 8 Portland: Not an ideal matchup for L.A., which finally snapped a nine-game losing streak in Portland last month. But it's hard to see how the Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard center rotation will be able to hold up against the Lakers' superior size. Brandon Roy steals two games. The Lakers take four. Take the Lakers in six.

No. 2 Dallas vs. No. 7 Oklahoma City: The old Mavs own two wins over the Thunder. The new, post-trade Mavs lost by 13 points in Caron Butler's and Brendan Haywood's first game. Dallas' edge in playoff experience is a big factor, but so is OKC's superstar just itching to break out. Take the Thunder in 7.

No. 3 Denver vs. No. 6 San Antonio: Health (Tony Parker in San Antonio, George Karl and Kenyon Martin in Denver) is an enormous unknown right now. The Nuggets have a dynamic offense and no D while the Spurs have a steady offense and playoff-tested defense. For now, take the Spurs in 7.

No. 4 Utah vs. No. 5 Phoenix: Phoenix's offense is explosive but you can't sleep on Utah's D. With point guards a wash, it could come down to who plays better small ball: Mehmet Okur and Carlos Boozer, or Channing Frye and Amar'e Stoudmire? Take Utah in 6.

(All stats and records are through March 28.)

NBA Power Rankings
1Cleveland Cavaliers
Last Week: 1
Big Z's return shores up the Cavs' frontcourt and a resurgent Delonte West has fortified the backcourt. West has played his best basketball in March, averaging 12.6 points and 3.7 assists on 49.5 percent shooting. "It makes a huge difference because he's really a starter," Mike Brown said. "When you have a starter coming off the bench, it makes it a really deep ball club."
2Orlando Magic
Last Week: 3
How valuable is J.J. Redick right now? With Vince Carter (toe) and Mickael Pietrus (ankle) banged up, Redick has become the Magic's only healthy option at two guard. Fortunately, Redick continues to deliver: He's making a team-high 39.8 percent of his threes and is averaging 13.0 points in nine starts.
3Los Angeles Lakers
Last Week: 2
Tough week for Kobe Bryant, who was ripped by Rolling Stone and outscored 26-11 by Kevin Durant in a 16-point loss to the Thunder. He can take his anger out on the Hornets and their 28th-ranked shooting defense (48.2 percent) get Kobe on Monday.
4Utah Jazz
Last Week: 5
Utah Jazz (48-26)
Utah hasn't scored less than 100 since March 12 and is on pace to finish among the top eight in points per 100 possessions for the fourth year in a row. The typically streaky Mehmet Okur is on a roll, having scored 49 points and grabbed 23 boards against Indiana and Washington last week.
5Boston Celtics
Last Week: 8
Is the sticky-fingered Rajon Rondo becoming a better defender? Doc Rivers thinks so. Rondo picked up his 171st steal last week to break the Rick Fox's franchise record of 167 in a season, but Rivers has been more impressed by his on-ball defense. "You can lead the league in steals and not gamble all the time," Rivers said. "You can be solid and still get a lot of steals. That's what he's done."
6Phoenix Suns
Last Week: 9
Phoenix Suns (47-26)
News that Robin Lopez will miss at least the next two weeks is the last thing the Suns wanted to hear. Not just because Lopez has thrived (11.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks) as a starter; but because Amar'e Stoudemire has as well. With the burly Lopez at center, Stoudemire's scoring has risen by 6.4 points since the All-Star break.
7Atlanta Hawks
Last Week: 4
OK, now Mike Woodson deserves a contract extension. The Hawks matched last season's win total with a W over Indy, putting them on the cusp of an improved record for their fifth straight season. Woodson, meanwhile, continues to work on the last year of his contract. What gives?
8Denver Nuggets
Last Week: 6
There are bad weeks and there are the Nuggets last week. Denver dropped three out of four last week, including an ugly loss to the Knicks and a double-digit L to Boston. Defense has always been a big problem for the Nuggets (they're tied for 21st in the league for points allowed). "They switch everything," said a scout. "And they are not athletic enough to do it."
9Portland Trail Blazers
Last Week: 11
Give an assist to Blazers assistant coach Dean Demopoulos for Portland's low turnover play this season. The Blazers rank second in the NBA in fewest turnovers per game (12.4). Before committing 11 against New Orleans last week, Portland held a five-game stretch of committing 10 or fewer TOs. "Dean hates turnovers," Brandon Roy told The Oregonian. "He will turn red over them. I mean, he counts them in practice."
10Dallas Mavericks
Last Week: 7
Think rookie Roddy Beaubois has earned more playing time? Beaubois dropped 40 on the Warriors last week, punctuating a season-best (14.4 points) month. With the point guard position well-stocked, coach Rick Carlisle has put Beaubois at the two. "He's earning minutes that he's gotten," said Carlisle. "Make no mistake, if there are opportunities to play him where I feel he can help our team, he'll be out there."
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