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James Harden vs. OKC, Lakers-Spurs, and Western Conference nirvana

A look at the Western Conference Playoffs in all their insane, utopian glory.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The NBA Playoffs are always great, but what's happening in the Western Conference this year is above and beyond. It's perfect. Eight weeks ago if you'd asked basketball fans to come up with their dream scenario for the Western Conference playoffs, this is pretty much exactly what we would have come up with:

  1. Thunder
  2. Spurs
  3. Nuggets
  4. Clippers
  5. Grizzlies
  6. Warriors
  7. Lakers
  8. Rockets


I have no idea what we did to deserve this, but somehow we wound up with the best slate of first-round matchups I can remember. Which is great, because it's going to be much harder to enjoy the East knowing Miami could and should run through the entire conference without losing more than two games. But hey, we're not here to dwell on the negatives. Instead of previewing the entire playoffs today, let's just take a quick look at the kaleidoscope of awesome waiting in the west these next few weeks.

We'll take it one-by-one.

(1) Thunder vs. (8) Rockets

THE FINAL RECKONING IS HERE. Kinda. The whole revenge, grudge match angle would be much better if James Harden played for a better team like the Grizzlies. But if we can't get a battle to the death in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, this is a solid alternative.

Any 1-8 matchup is supposed to be lopsided and more-or-less unwatchable. This series is only one of those things. Yes, the Thunder should destroy Houston over the course of five or six games, but having Harden involved and haunting OKC means every game will be fun to watch. Because it's still weirdly transfixing watching Harden battle Durant and Westbrook, and watching Harden and the rest of the Rockets is irresistible no matter who they're playing. Let's hope both teams 250 points a game here.

(Also, watching Jeremy Lin try to guard Russell Westbrook for an entire series should be its own sort of nightmare porn, if you're into that sort of thing.)

(3) Nuggets vs. (6) Warriors

These teams could play every night and it would never get old. Denver has the advantage because they're so unstoppable at home, but if you remember the Warriors last playoff run in '07, the games at Oracle should be nice and batshit crazy, as well. Every game here will be played at 150 MPH, defense will be rendered irrelevant, and between Steph Curry and the Nuggets endless collection of toys, we're getting a handful of the most fun players in the league. This series is like taking a bunch of fireworks and lighting them all at once.

Let's do it!

(Note: Chris Kaman actually did that a few years ago.)

(Note: Chris Kaman is the American Dream.)

(4) Clippers vs. (5) Grizzlies

And here we have the matchup that's most likely to end in a brawl! It's like Knicks-Heat in the '90s, only this time it will be Vinny Del Negro clinging to Z-Bo's leg while Grant Hill tries in vain to stop the violence and Austin Daye has a heart attack at the end of the Memphis bench.


And while Memphis would seem to have the advantage if this series turns uber-chippy with Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, I think Chris Paul on a basketball court might actually be crazier and chippier than the three of them put together. With the added bonus that he gets practically every whistle and is the most talented player on the court at all times.

I want to pick LA because of Paul, but then, Memphis' defense and Vinny Del Negro trying to juggle a ten-man rotation in the playoffs both make Memphis kind of impossible to pass up. Throw in Mike Conley and Jamal Crawford as complete wild cards, and you have the most evenly-matched, insane series of the first round. For the second year in a row.

(2) Spurs vs. (7) Lakers

... Okay, so if we're talking through dream playoff scenarios, there are some out there who might have wanted the Lakers playing the Clippers this weekend. Annnnd... WRONG.

The Clippers would've run the Lakers off the court in a seven-game series. The Spurs, though? With gimpy Manu and rusty Tony Parker and creaky Tim Duncan? Who knows! Duncan vs. Dwight should be the most fascinating individual matchup of any series in the first round, and the Spurs are just vulnerable enough elsewhere to give LA a chance here.

Then again, best part about this year's Lakers is that it doesn't matter. They are fun whether they play well (because LOL somehow this is actually working) or play like crap (because LOL this the most dysfunctional basketball team ever assembled). The nice thing about the Spurs (as opposed to the Clippers) is they leave both options open.

Pau and Dwight have looked better the past ten days than they've looked all season, Steve Nash might come back from the dead for this series and ... (1) either they're all getting LA fans' hopes up one last time before twisting the knife even deeper and going down in four or five games, or (2) it's all setting up for a first-round upset of the fossilizing Spurs, which would be karmic revenge for cutting Captain Jack five days before the playoffs.

Either scenario will be pretty much perfect.

Just like everything else in the West the next few weeks.

And now, we end with this sappy TNT intro from last year, which -- next to Dennis Scott's summer camp meltdown -- is probably my favorite NBA-related video on YouTube. Because there's never a bad time to remember everything that's awesome about the NBA:

And hey, time for the Playoffs!

Everything awesome about the NBA gets even cooler now.

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