Now that the regular season has concluded, the 2011 NBA playoffs get underway Saturday. There are several questions in the Western Conference, like will the Lakers advance to their fourth straight NBA Finals even though they aren't the top seed? Will the San Antonio Spurs, who have the best record in the conference but are 12-11 in their last 23 games, ride home court advantage to a fifth Finals berth? Can Dirk Nowitzki lead Dallas any further than the second round? Does the addition of Kendrick Perkins make Oklahoma City a legitimate title threat? Will there be any upsets in the first round?
Here are the first round matchups for the Western Conference. For the full schedule, be sure to check out SB Nation's NBA playoff coverage.
No. 1 San Antonio Spurs (61-21) vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (46-36): The Spurs were just 2-2 against the Grizzlies this season, with both teams winning twice on their home floor. In fact, one of San Antonio's home wins over Memphis came in overtime, so this series may be closer than we think. For the Grizzlies to win, they need Zach Randolph, and probably Marc Gasol, to go off, exploiting San Antonio's soft middle. However, San Antonio is a veteran crew who didn't win 61 games for nothing.
No. 4 Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. No. 5 Denver Nuggets (50-32): This features a battle of two teams that were hot after big deadline trades. Oklahoma City had a 19-4 stretch with Perkins before losing its final contest, while Denver flourished after trading Carmelo Anthony, going 18-7 after the All-Star break. This might be the most fun first round matchup to watch, with two young, exciting offensively-minded teams.
No. 3 Dallas Mavericks (57-25) vs. No. 6 Portland Trail Blazers (48-34): The Mavericks came very close to nabbing the No. 2 seed from the Lakers, but a Kobe Bryant three-pointer extended L.A.'s game in Sacramento Wednesday night, a game the Lakers won. Dallas will have to deal with a different L.A. in this series, as LaMarcus Aldridge (21.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg) will try to lead the Blazers to the upset. Portland has dealt with several injuries all season and was languishing at just over .500 in early February, but ended the season 22-10. These two teams have split four games this season, with each team winning two home games.
No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers (57-25) vs. No. 7 New Orleans Hornets (46-36): The Lakers plan to have Andrew Bynum back by Sunday, and hope to play like the team that was 17-1 immediately after the All-Star break rather than the team that lost five straight games last week. The Lakers beat the Hornets all four times they played this season. Be sure to follow our coverage of the Lakers vs. Hornets matchup for a more detailed breakdown.