This article is part of our NBA Roundtable series.
Welcome to another edition of the RotoWire NBA Roundtable. This week, the NBA staff lays out its picks for both Western Conference Semifinals series.
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 4. Houston Rockets
James Anderson: Lakers in 7. This is a matchup of contrasting styles, and it's possible the Rockets had the Lakers in mind when they made that massive stylistic shift mid-season. JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard probably shouldn't play at all in this series, but then there'd be a lot of Markieff Morris, which isn't ideal under any scenario. Luguentz Dort to Danny Green is a pretty big downgrade in terms of a James Harden stopper, and Russell Westbrook looked much better and was making better decisions in Game 7. The Lakers have a better top two, but the theory behind this Rockets team makes more sense, and they have better depth. This should be one of the best series of the playoffs.
Ken Crites: Rockets in 6. The Rockets were 2-1 against the Lakers in the regular season. The first loss came in January, when Houston still had Clint Capela, so let's throw that one out. In February, after going full small-ball, the Rockets won by 10 at Staples Center. Westbrook blew up for 41-8-5 and the Lakers still had Avery Bradley as a starter. Houston beat the Lakers by 16 in the bubble, but admittedly that was a pretty meaningless game. With the Lakers' bigs, this is the ultimate test for Houston's small ball experiment. The bubble seems to have helped shooters, but Houston might be gassed for Game 1, while the Lakers will have nearly a full week of rest. Even so, can the Lakers guard the perimeter with Danny Green, Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope? I don't think they can.
Alex Barutha: Lakers in 6. While the Rockets nearly falling to the Thunder wasn't especially encouraging, I don't think the Lakers have a defensive answer for James Harden. It will be interesting to see how the Rockets deal with the Lakers' size on the other side of the matchup, as they don't have a clear answer for Anthony Davis. Ultimately, I think the top-end talent of the Lakers will win out. The Davis-LeBron combo is better than the Harden-Westbrook duo.
Mike Barner: Lakers in 6. The Lakers are the vastly superior team here and are going to have a big advantage with Anthony Davis taking on all of the Rockets' small lineups. James Harden can will the Rockets to a couple of wins, but I don't think they have enough to get past LeBron James and company.
Nick Whalen: Lakers in 6. The rest advantage should be huge for the Lakers over the course of the series, but at the same time, there's some concern that a six-day layoff could result in a sluggish Game 1. If the Lakers play even their B-game offensively, they should win the series with relative ease. But if LA's outside shooting issues resurface, the door will be open for Houston to pull the upset.
Alex Rikleen: Lakers in 6. I love Russell Westbrook. I root for him. I don't want the criticisms of him to be true. So it brings me no joy to say that I thought he was awful during the crucial last five-ish minutes of Game 7 vs. the Thunder. It was everything his detractors have said about him: inconsistent effort, taking over possessions with a predetermined I'm shooting this time no matter what mindset, poorly thought-through three-point attempts, etc. If that's the Westbrook who emerges in crunch time against a LeBron James-led team, then the Rockets are not winning any close games. Their style of play should get them two wins by meaningful margins on nights when they go 40 or 45% from behind the arc, but the whole team would need to go Jamal-Murray-hot to actually win the series.
2. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 3. Denver Nuggets
James Anderson: Clippers in 5. I think the extra rest for the Clippers will be a big edge early in the series. Assuming they take care of business in the first couple games, I don't see the Nuggets rallying back for a second time this postseason. Kawhi should continue to do whatever he wants on offense and the Nuggets don't have anyone to tire him out on the defensive end.
Ken Crites: Clippers in 6. The Nuggets are 0-2 versus the Clippers this season, which includes a bubble loss on Aug 12. That is surprising, considering Jokic should be a serious challenge for Ivica Zubac and Montrezl Harrell to guard. Denver looked gassed in its Game 7 win over Utah, so I suspect the Nuggets will struggle on short rest. Can a combo of Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, and Torrey Craig slow down Kawhi Leonard? Maybe, but I wouldn't count on it. I trust in Doc Rivers (no matter how many outrageous quotes he has about Marcus Morris intentional fouls).
Alex Barutha: Clippers in 5. The Nuggets are talented, but their defense is beyond repair, allowing 123.2 points per 100 possessions – the worst of any team in the playoffs. And while the Nuggets' offense is only mildly worse than the Clippers', that won't be enough to carry them to victory. The Clippers managed a 120.2 offensive rating with Paul George throwing up a 36/28/96 shooting line, while the Nuggets needed Jamal Murray to average 31.6 points on 55/53/92 to squeak by the Jazz in seven games.
Mike Barner: Clippers in 6. The Clippers are clearly the better team. The Nuggets had to dig out of a 3-1 series hole just to beat a Jazz team that was playing without Bojan Bogdanovic (wrist). Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray might be able to will the Nuggets to a win or two, but look for the Clippers to advance with relative ease.
Nick Whalen: Clippers in 4. I know the Mavs were depleted, but it felt like the Clippers began to find a groove on both ends by the conclusion of that Round 1 series. With Denver coming in already running on fumes, I see the Clippers jumping on the Nuggets early on and never looking back.
Alex Rikleen: Clippers in 5. The extra days off for the Clippers matter. Just look at Jamal Murray's reaction when he learned he'd only get one day off before Round 2 begins. The only way the Nuggets push the Clippers to six – let alone actually win – is if Murray resumes his supernova hot streak from Games 4 through 6 against Utah. Jerami Grant, Gary Harris and Torrey Craig are about as strong a set of wing defenders as any Western Conference team can throw at Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but the Clippers' wings still enjoy a massive advantage there. Jokic is, of course, a lot better than any of LA's bigs, but I like Montrezl Harrell's ability to make things hard for Jokic.