NBA Western Conference Finals Preview

By: Andy Weise

This is what playoffs are all about – star power. Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwight Howard. Four of the top 10 superstars in the NBA lead their teams now. Kobe has three rings but has as many as the other three combined when Shaq isn’t on his team: zero.

In the west, it was only a matter of time before the Los Angeles Lakers finished off the Houston Rockets. Ron Artest did everything he could to keep the Rockets going after losing Yao Ming during the series but Kobe and his boys were just too tough. Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals? Wow! After thinking they would be the team to implode this year, a great trade that helped Mark Warkentien win the executive of the year award now has paid great dividends as the Nuggets have become the surprise story of the year.
In the West, Chauncey Billups has brought what Allen Iverson was supposed to: a complimentary guard to Carmelo Anthony. The Nuggets are a completely different team with Billups rather than Iverson, but that’s not the only reason why the Nuggets are where they are now. Kenyon Martin and Nene have remained healthy while only playing a little more than 30 minutes a game during the regular season. Chris Andersen aka BIRDMAN has emerged as a capable defensive big for the Nuggets. The Nuggets gave up Marcus Camby in the offseason and without Andersen’s play this year, they wouldn’t have been here even if they would have gotten Billups.

How do the Nuggets matchup with the defending Western conference champs? Both teams have the dominant playmaker (Kobe/Carmelo), both teams have size on the block, both teams have really good sixth men (JR Smith & Lamar Odom). So where is the advantage? Bryant will be tough to stop whether it’s Anthony, JR Smith or Dahntay Jones guarding him. Trevor Ariza or Bryant will likely guard Anthony, which will make it a tough series for Anthony.

Billups and Anthony Carter are much better than Jordan Farmar and Derek Fisher. This is where the Nuggets have the advantage in the series and need take advantage. Fisher looked badly outplayed by Aaron Brooks in the Houston-LA series.
Andersen will have to be on his game as the energy guy off the bench too with Gasol, Bynum and Odom up front. Gasol is the most talented big man in this series, the Lakers need to take advantage of the Nuggets’ inability to cover Bryant and Gasol. If the Nuggets can slow down these two, they definitely have a shot but it’s much easier to talk about than actually do.

X Factor: Andrew Bynum. His minutes and play have been inconsistent, but all three times he played against the Nuggets this season the Lakers won.

My prediction: Lakers in seven. This series will be a good, back and forth but the Lakers are too tough upfront. It would be interesting to see the Anthony-led Nuggets get into the finals, especially if the Cavaliers also get there, but the Lakers are too tough at every position other than point guard.