NBA Western Conference Round 2 preview and picks

NBA Western Conference Round 2 preview and picks

NBA Western Conference Round 2 preview and picks
By ASHTON GREWAL

Houston Rockets (+670) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (-870)

After winning their first playoff series since the Spice Girls were relevant, the Rockets were rewarded with a second-round date against the Lakers.

Houston lost all four matchups against Los Angeles during the regular season and failed to cover the number each time too. I don’t usually take too much stock from what happened in the regular season, but it’s apparent that the Lakers match up well with this Houston group.

Phil Jackson has three skilled big men that will work the paint and try to draw fouls from Houston’s Yao Ming. (Can you picture Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes trying to stop Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum?) The Rockets will struggle to keep up offensively with Kobe Bryant and Co. if Yao gets in foul trouble.

The Rockets are a significantly better defensive team than the Jazz but that shouldn’t slow Los Angeles’ scoring. Even if Shane Battier and Ron Artest limit Bryant’s offensive output, the Lakers have enough firepower to keep on scoring.

The story of this series will be if Houston can keep pace offensively with the Lakers.

Houston’s guard situation is in much better shape with Tracy McGrady in street clothes and Rafer Alston in an Orlando jersey. McGrady only hindered his squad’s offense and hoisted far too many bad shots while Alston didn’t get the ball to Yao enough.

There’s no question this is a better Houston club than years past, but it won’t be enough to stop the Finals-bound Lakers.

Pick: Lakers 4-1

Dallas Mavericks (+195) vs. Denver Nuggets (-215)

Dallas backers might want to stop reading right now because the following paragraphs won’t include many positive points about the Mavericks.

Dallas’ second-round appearance has more to do with how incredibly awful the San Antonio Spurs were than how brilliant the Mavs played.

Mark Cuban’s group zigzagged through the regular campaign, winning most games it should and losing plenty of games it shouldn’t have (see Feb. 26 loss to the Kevin Durant-less Thunder).

A healthy and active Josh Howard helps the Mavericks offense, but you still see them chuck up contested jump shots early in the shot clock – something you don’t usually see with Jason Kidd-led squads.

Dallas will struggle to find any flow offensively unless Dirk Nowitzki starts to post up more often.

I don’t see that happening.

When Dallas used to go deep in the playoffs, Dirk would attack the rack and get to the free throw line as a result. He’d back down defenders and do more than just turn and shoot a fadeaway.

I watch him now. He looks like a glorified Chuck Person.

Denver, on the other hand, is the real deal. If you haven’t chugged the Chauncey Billups Kool-Aid, grab a cup. The Nuggets don’t waste possessions, they get out on the break when needed and they have a knack for getting timely defensive stops.

Sending J.R. Smith to the bench was the best move coach George Karl made all season. Look for Smith to match Mavs super-sub Jason Terry point for point in this series.

Pick: Denver 4-1

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