FWDB #4a: Western Conference Semifinal Predictions

  • By John Comey, Day 186, 2022

1) Seattle vs 5) Phoenix
Season Series: Seattle 2-1
91: @Seattle 107, Phoenix 100
130: Phoenix 122, @Seattle 110
144: Seattle 142, @Phoenix 128

Phoenix is riding a high after shocking Kansas City in double overtime. But they are also tired, and have to travel to Seattle to face the rested Thunder.

This feels like an uphill battle.

The one thing the Vultures can hold onto…well, two things…is that they have a hot hand. And they have a win in Seattle.

That win, on 130, was punctuated by 30 points by Kendall Nash, and a 47-41 rebounding edge.

In the most recent game, a 142-128 win in Phoenix, Seattle shot 57% from the field, hit 15 threes, and held a 49-42 rebounding edge. It also needs noting that, in a bit of The Beautiful Game, the two teams combined for an absurd 95 assists in this one.

Phoenix definitely wants to slow things down against Seattle. In the win in Seattle on 130, there was a 92.0 pace. In the 144 Seattle win, the game was played at a 107.5 pace. The question is, can they do that on tired legs? They could come up to the PNW and be forced to run at the get-go. At least, that should be expected. Phoenix is going to have a hard time dictating game flow with the battle they just went through.

In short, Jamaya Sprinkle has to have the series of his life. Above Drayton Banks and Rasheem Fisher, Sprinkle has to be the one who steps up and has a stellar series. At least, Games 1 and 2, he has to be the X-factor.

This series, from where things sit, is not specifically about defense. Sure, getting consistent stops is key, and Phoenix is going to have to do that against the high-powered Seattle attack. But the Thunder is going to have to do the same to the Vult’s offense. But this is more than that; this comes down to whether Phoenix can slow Seattle down to a grind. It is a game the Thunder do not want to play.

Can they do that? It means their season.

Prediction: Honestly, this feels like the Vultures made their season in beating the Knights. That is not to say they are not capable of beating Seattle. They are. But the method of their journey is cruel. Having gone through the series they just went through, against arguably the most difficult bruising team in the league in the Knights, to have to get into a track meet with the Thunder. Phoenix is going to have a hard time catching its breath early in this series. By the time they do…well, this feels like a gentlemen’s sweep. Seattle in five.

2) Houston vs 3) Las Vegas
Season Series: Houston 3-1
31: Houston 109, @Las Vegas 107
96: @Las Vegas 112, Houston 105
102: @Houston 124, Las Vegas 113
157: @Houston 113, Las Vegas 104

This shapes up as the antithesis of the Seattle-Phoenix series. Las Vegas was first in DRtg, and Houston fourth. Of course, they didn’t exactly play like that. One also has to wonder how Wesley Sherman and Dontay Sowder will play at the beginning of this series, as both are recovering from injuries.

The truth is, this is a game that should play in the low 100s. The higher this game scores, the more it benefits Houston.

The key to this series is the matchup of Sowder vs Derrick Griffin. Griffin had a DRtg of 100.6, which ranks him at the top of the defensive small forwards in the league. Griffin only had one such effort against Sowder this year, that being on 157, which ended up being a nine-point loss anyway. A 79.0 ORtg, one of three Scorp starters with ORtg lower than 87 (including a lovely 60/116 split by Mehdy Brown) contributed more to that loss.

So, the for Vegas is, what worked? In the win on 96, the Scorps shot 44%, but held the Lightning to 38%, and a 9-30 mark from three. They also moved the ball around; four scored in double figures, including 21 from Griffin. In short, the Scorpions may be better served to move the ball around and try to find good shots for guys who aren’t Lamar Francis or Omar Grant. If the Lightning know what’s coming, it is easier to defend the Vegas attack.

Vegas is capable of doing this, as is evidenced no better than Griffin’s 42 in Game 7’s overtime win. They’ll need more of that if they’re going to disrupt the defensive flow of Houston, and force them to defend all the spots.

It is absolutely imperative that Las Vegas force a slower narrative during the series. If Houston is able to play faster, as they did in the third and fourth games this season, it was disastrous for Las Vegas. As the Tank works his way back into the lineup, it is even more imperative that they play at a pace they are comfortable with. If they can do that, and force Houston to be uncomfortable on their own end, they definitely have a shot.

Prediction: In full disclosure, in the initial overview of this playoff, we took Vegas over Houston in six. Given how the narrative has changed for Vegas, and how Houston matches up with them, we are shifting this. This feels more like Houston being a very difficult nut for Vegas to crack. The Lightning can make Vegas one-dimensional, especially with Griffin having to focus more on the defensive end to neutralize Sowder. That recipe is one too bitter for Vegas. Houston in five.