It’s weird that the Jazz lost two at home in the last series and still managed to win. They had to win Game 1 in LA after Rudy Gobert went down in the opening seconds and then Game 7 with Gobert in foul trouble (he played only 13 minutes). But, they lost 2 games at home, one of which Blake Griffin didn’t play at all, and the other being the game he went down in. But, while playing in their arena might not be a huge advantage to the Jazz, they’re certainly mentally tough enough to step up to a challenge and won’t be scared, even when the Warriors go on big runs. The talent gap is too wide for the Jazz to have any real shot at the series, but I won’t be surprised if they’re able to take one, which is more than I could have said for the Clippers.
Warriors in 5
San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
There are so many X factors in this series, it’s hard to say how the Rockets as a team will shoot, how James Harden, specifically will play after not being great in the last series against the Thunder, despite beating them in 5. On the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard has been the only reliably great player so far. Tony Parker has had flashes of his previous greatness and LaMarcus Aldridge has been good at times. I think Kawhi Leonard has another great series the Spurs dominate Rockets unless Harden comes back into his early-mid season form.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder – Spurs in 6
I want to pick the Thunder to win this, so bad. The Westbrook–Durant duo are so much fun to watch, and, as much as a Spurs–Warriors (or Spurs-Blazers?) Conference Finals should be enjoyable, watching the Thunder is just so entertaining, that I would much rather see them advance.
All that aside, this series is interesting because it’s another study in coaching talent and depth vs. superstar player talent. The Spurs obviously have incredible talent in Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge; Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Boris Diaw, Patty Mills, Danny Green, and David West still play at an extremely high level when needed; and, the rest of their roster can always compete. But, Kawhi is the only player on that team that (in 2016) can hold a candle to Durant and Westbrook. The problem for the Thunder is, the rest of the guys on the floor, including their coach, can be inconsistent. Serge Ibaka, usually the obvious 3rd best on the team, hasn’t been as good this year. Enes Kanter has had some great moments this season and post-season. But, he his defense is usually weak and his offense only makes up for it on his best nights. The biggest mismatch with the Spurs is the coaching. While not many coaches can compare to Gregg Popovich, Billy Donovan has really struggled adapting to the NBA, and now he’s headed to a playoff series against one of the best coaches in the league (many would argue, THE best). My hope is that Donovan can make the right adjustments and avoid 4th-quarter meltdowns, but I’m not optimistic for the Thunder.
Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trail Blazers – Warriors in 5
It’s tough to say how this series goes without knowing when Stephen Curry comes back from injury and how he’ll play upon his return. That said, I think this is a great matchup for the Curry-less Warriors. Klay Thompson can be inconsistent without Steph to draw the attention of the best defenders on each team. But, the Blazers rely so much on their offense, that Klay (and others on the team) will likely do well against their weaker defense. The Blazers had such a bizarre season that it’s tough to say how good they really are. But, seeing as the Blazers were able to win one against a fully healthy Warriors in the regular season and one against a (reasonably) healthyClippers team, I think the Blazers take at least one game in Portland, likely charged by a mega-game from CJ McCollum and Damian Lillard. But, ultimately, with Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Andrew Bogut, and Shaun Livingston on the floor, the Warriors defense can do a lot to contain the Blazers most nights. The Blazers will get one, but definitely not 4, even without Curry.