Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst Steve Kerr predicts how far each team will go in the Western Conference playoffs.
More Kerr: Eastern Conference predictions
Who knows what will happen with this club? The Nuggets are deep and talented but flawed, if that makes sense.
Denver has great athleticism with Kenyon Martin, Ruben Patterson and Carmelo Anthony and is one of the league's best shot-blocking teams, led by the long-armed Marcus Camby. When the Nuggets force turnovers and get out in transition, they're amazing. They led the league in fast-break points this season. Add the thin air in Denver, and the Nuggets are a tough team to beat. But they have their issues.
Aside from Anthony, Denver doesn't have a low-post threat that warrants a double team. Camby and Martin aren't good scorers on the block. Also, the Nuggets – other than Anthony – don't have three-point shooters, ranking dead last in the league from beyond the arc. So that means for Denver to advance in the postseason, Anthony will have to be its inside threat and outside threat, and his team will have to force turnovers and run the floor. That's easier said than done, particularly when you're playing good teams in the playoffs.
Oh, did I mention the Nuggets don't have home-court advantage in the first round? This is a tough road they have in front of them. Maybe things will go their way, but it's tough to see this club doing major damage.
Prediction: Eliminated by the Clippers in the first round.
LOS ANGELES LAKERS
Kobe Bryant has had a brilliant season and could possibly win the league's Most Valuable Player award, but it was the late-season play of two teammates – Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown – that transformed this team into a playoff club.
Brown's interior defense and Odom's playmaking skills turned the Lakers into more than a one-man show, and now all of a sudden, L.A. is in the playoffs with a legitimate shot to make some noise.
Bryant, who missed the playoffs last season for the first time in his career, is salivating at the thought of playing the Suns, whom he averaged 42 points per game against in four meetings this season. He's capable of winning games all by himself. But to expect him to do so four times against Phoenix is unrealistic. That means it's up to Brown and Odom to continue their solid play for the Lakers to have a shot.
Keep an eye also on Luke Walton, who has played brilliantly the past month. In a wide-open game against Phoenix, his passing skills will be crucial.
Prediction: Eliminated by the Suns in the first round.
The Grizzlies have very quietly put together an excellent season behind a guy who has very quietly become a superstar: Pau Gasol. But Memphis has a major concern on its hands with Gasol's foot injury, which kept him out of the team's final regular-season game. He'll have to be healthy for Memphis to have any chance at all against the Mavericks in the first round.
The Grizzlies do have help for Gasol, however, and his supporting cast will be critical. Shane Battier will be asked to cover Dirk Nowitzki. Chucky Atkins and Eddie Jones must make perimeter shots to take pressure off Gasol. And Mike Miller – the league's likely Sixth Man Award winner – needs to provide firepower off the bench.
The Grizzlies are a solid team that ended up with a lousy draw. But I think they're good enough – health permitting – to give Dallas a good series. But can they beat the Mavs four times? I doubt it.
Prediction: Eliminated by the Mavericks in the first round.
The "Queens" – the word Shaquille O'Neal once famously used to refer to Sacramento's basketball team – are suddenly the Kings again, thanks to Ron Artest's arrival. He has totally changed the look of this club with his fierce defense and low-post offensive game.
Sacramento was lurching towards the lottery when Artest arrived from Indiana via trade, but the Kings have gone 26-14 since becoming the Team That No One Wants to Play. Suddenly, there is talk that perhaps Sacramento can even upset the mighty Spurs in the first round.
For that to happen, the Kings will need more than just Artest's brilliant play. They will need Mike Bibby and Brad Miller to shoot the ball well, and they'll need their young wing, Kevin Martin, to contribute. They'll also need Shareef Abdur-Rahim to provide an interior scoring threat off the bench and their loud Arco Arena crowd to carry them through adversity.
This is a tough team with a shot to do some damage, but Sacramento received the toughest first-round draw in the West.
Prediction: Eliminated by the Spurs in the first round.
The Mavericks won 60 games this season and were rewarded with the West's fourth seed, which goes down as one of the all-time injustices in league history. Still, Avery Johnson will have his team ready to play and Dallas will make no excuses.
The Mavs draw a tough Memphis team in the first round and then face the prospect of seeing the Spurs in the second round should they advance. But this is a very good, versatile Dallas team that has a shot to go a long way.
Dirk Nowitzki is – in the words of Celtics coach Doc Rivers – "the toughest matchup in the league," and he'll need a better postseason than last year's to help his team advance. Still, thanks to their defense, the Mavericks are better prepared for playoff basketball than any Mavs team in recent history.
The one-two combination of Erick Dampier and DeSagana Diop gives Dallas two shot-blockers, and the wiry strong wing athletes – Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels and Jerry Stackhouse – are versatile enough to cover multiple positions.
Jason Terry was huge in last season's playoffs, hitting key shot after key shot, and old vets Darrell Armstong and Adrian Griffin give the Mavs grit, experience and defense. Dallas has a chance to have major success in the playoffs, but it'd be in better shape if it was in its rightful place with the No. 2 seed.
Prediction: Eliminated by Spurs in the West semifinals.
LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS
I am about to write six words that have never been penned before in the history of mankind: The Clippers can make the Finals.
Am I crazy? Maybe. But take a look at their bracket.
They open up against a struggling Denver squad, and if they win that series, they'll face either the Lakers or Suns. Neither team is invincible, and in fact, both clubs are vulnerable against big strong teams like the Clips. When you consider the fact Mike Dunleavy's squad has one of the league's best interior games with Elton Brand and Chris Kaman to go along with clutch shooters Sam Cassell and Cuttino Mobley, you can see why they have a shot. As the cliche goes, "These aren't your father's Clippers."
On top of that, L.A. possesses one of the NBA's best defenses, and it also takes care of the basketball and has players who can get to the free-throw line – particularly Brand and Corey Maggette.
OK, if the Clippers get to the conference finals, can they beat San Antonio or Dallas? Probably not. But once you're there, you've got a shot. And I know one thing: If there's a game-winning shot to be made, I want Cassell to take it.
Prediction: Eliminated by the Suns in the West semifinals.
When Amare Stoudemire got injured in training camp, Mike D'Antoni said, "We can still figure out a way to win 50 games." Most people thought he was nuts, but the reigning Coach of the Year was right – the Suns won 54 games to earn a second straight Pacific Division title.
The question now is whether or not Phoenix can advance in the playoffs without both Stoudemire and Kurt Thomas, the team's best low-post defender who missed the final 29 games with a stress fracture in his foot. The Suns led the league in scoring at 108.4 points per game and set an NBA record for made three-pointers, and for much of the season they were pretty good defensively. But once Thomas went down, Phoenix's defense took a rest, which is why the Suns finished just 5-5 in their last 10 games.
Phoenix figures to have some trouble with a powerful front line, but its first-round matchup – the Lakers – don't have much strength inside. And being on the other side of the playoff bracket from Dallas and San Antonio, the Suns have a clear path to the conference finals.
If they get great play from Steve Nash, Shawn Marion and Boris Diaw, Phoenix has a shot to repeat last season's run to the third round. But it's tough to see the Suns advancing any further. Without the All-Star Stoudemire, though, it'd still be a pretty good run.
Prediction: Eliminated by the Spurs in the West finals.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The Spurs are vulnerable, so say the experts. Manu Ginobili can't penetrate like before because of various ailments. Tim Duncan just doesn't have the same lift due to a foot problem. The team relies on old, crusty veterans off the bench for much of its scoring. And yet somehow, San Antonio won 63 games and earned the No. 1 seed in the West – again.
So what's the deal? Are the Spurs good enough to win a second straight NBA title, or are they ripe for an upset? One thing that hasn't changed is that San Antonio is the NBA's best defensive team – the Spurs ranked second in the league in points allowed (88.8 points per game). They have so much experience playing Gregg Popovich's system together that it's tough to see them breaking down in the playoffs despite the ailments of Ginobili and Duncan.
San Antonio will grind it out, make it difficult to score on every possession and not beat itself. Then the Spurs will rely on Tony Parker's penetration to create enough offense to beat whoever is in their way in the West. It won't be easy, particularly with a first-round matchup against Sacramento and a probable date with Dallas in Round 2 – but look for the Spurs to find a way. They're just too tough.
Prediction: West champions.