Favorite to win wildest West ever?
Grizzlies versus Thunder. Warriors versus Clippers. Mavs versus Spurs. Blazers versus Rockets. There couldn't be more drama in these four Western Conference playoff series if they were scripted. Our writers weigh in on the wild West.
1. The Grizzlies-Thunder series has been ...
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Repetitive. The Thunder get a four-point play, the Grizzlies win in overtime. How many more times can that scenario play out? Also, how many more shots can Kevin Durant miss?
Andrew Han, Clipper Blog: A rough-and-tumble coin flip. Five games. Four consecutive overtimes. A differential of seven points in the past three games combined. If there are any indicators as to which team may have gained the advantage, Oklahoma City averaged a pace of 97.91 during the regular season. In the postseason? Thunder possessions plummeted to 90.54, which falls much more in line with Memphis' regular-season pace of 92.25.
Aaron McGuire, Gothic Ginobili: Incredible. A few of the improbable stats from one of the best first-round series ever: Kevin Durant is averaging 47.8 minutes per game. Home-court advantage has changed hands in three of the five games. The score has been within five points for 121 of the 260 minutes played -- yes, almost 50 percent of the series can be defined as "crunch time."
Daniel Nowell, TrueHoop Network: An exposure. The Thunder find themselves almost completely figured out by a team that can't match their top-end talent. If they drop this series, it seems that Scott Brooks would be in serious jeopardy, because the Thunder's postseason predictability is becoming more and more damning.
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, TrueHoop: Unreal. Four straight overtimes? OK, who rigged it this way? It's hard to fathom such a sequence actually happening in real life. The series itself has been a fascinating watch, thanks in large part to Tony Allen. Inefficient Kevin Durant is a rare sight, save for when Allen is shielding him from entry passes and staying glued to his hip on screens. Allen is making the probable MVP look like a worse version of Carmelo Anthony.
2. The Warriors-Clippers series has been ...
Adande: Emotionally draining. The Clippers were caught in the sports scandal of the week, the Warriors were dragged in by proximity, and both were worse off for it. Los Angeles paid the price in Game 4, the day after the team began processing the Donald Sterling story. And Golden State was preparing to boycott Game 5 if necessary, only to get washed over by the emotional wave that carried the Clippers and their crowd following Sterling's banishment. By the fourth quarter, there was very little energy left in Staples Center.
Han: A stressful coin flip. Let's just say what everyone is thinking: Without Andrew Bogut, the Clippers are a better team. But the strategic adjustment by Mark Jackson in Game 4 to start Draymond Green, coupled with the Donald Sterling distraction, has thrown the series into tumult. At least these two teams are meeting in the postseason, though; their pointed ire for each other can actually be called a rivalry now.
McGuire: Fast. With four games in the books, these two have given us a faster-paced series than any of the other 14 teams. The defense has been mediocre (at best) with Bogut on the sideline, but the series has been a quick-sprint competitive bout between two distinctly different styles. If it weren't for the other Western wackiness, more people would notice.
Nowell: Surreal. Between the Donald Sterling fiasco and the revelations surrounding the firing of Warriors assistant Darren Erman, this series has been saddled with an inconceivable amount of off-court baggage. The fact that the two viable contenders have played through it is amazing.
Strauss: Draining. So much is happening that it's hard to focus on the basketball. That isn't a complaint, as some things are more important than basketball. The series isn't half bad, either, with the short-handed Warriors putting up a fight against a talented Clippers team.
3. The Mavs-Spurs series has been ...
Adande: A delay of the inevitable. It felt like the Spurs team we saw in the regular season finally showed up in Game 4. That should be enough to carry San Antonio to the series victory everyone predicted. It will get here even sooner if Dirk Nowitzki can't regain his shooting touch.
Han: A surprising coin flip. There's something heartening about seeing Dirk Nowitzki matched up against the Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan troika. It's like two war horses meeting for one of the last times in battle. On the court, it's been an offensive heavyweight fight. Two whirling death machines trying to outexecute each other. Dallas is offering hope to other West contenders, as most thought the Spurs' march to the conference finals would be a foregone conclusion.
McGuire: Unexpected. I thought the Spurs would lose one of the first two games as they kicked off their first-round rust, but the traditionally defenseless Mavericks went one step further and largely outclassed the Spurs over the first four games of the series. The Mavs are a fantastic 8-seed, but their defense hasn't played nearly this well since Tyson Chandler wore Maverick blue. An absolutely shocking series.
Nowell: Confounding. The Mavs have been able to make this series more competitive than anyone imagined by jamming a stick into the spokes of the Spurs' attack. With Dirk Nowitzki yet to take over a single game, this series being a tie may be the playoffs' biggest upset so far.
Strauss: Surprising. I personally didn't expect the Mavs to be this good defensively against the San Antonio machine. Dallas showed us they were saving a little something for the playoffs, and now this series is quite competitive. Even more surprising, the Mavs are tied with the Spurs while getting a poor sequence of games from Dirk Nowitzki.
4. The Blazers-Rockets series has been ...
Adande: Another Dwightmare. Dwight Howard is at risk of losing his fourth consecutive playoff series and not advancing to the second round since 2010. He's putting up some big numbers right now, but it's not translating into victories. He's not the only one coming up short. The list includes James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Kevin McHale, among others. But Howard was the big offseason move that was supposed to be the difference.
Han: An electrified coin flip. The team that supposedly every top-four seed wanted, Portland, is proving all the late-game, regular-season heroics were good practice, with literally every game going down to the wire. And LaMarcus Aldridge has been a revelation. The midrange attempts leader in the regular season is settling less for 18-footers and really forcing the issue, either pushing his way into the paint or stepping out and showing off a heretofore unseen 3-point range.
McGuire: Exactly what the NBA's about. In context of the controversy flooding the NBA's periphery, it's nice to have a clear counterexample of just how beautiful basketball can be. It's been intense, well-played and offensively unassailable. Short series or not, it's one of the best first-round matchups I've ever seen. And it helps that the Blazers are finally making good on the Brandon Roy/Greg Oden/Aldridge promise of yesteryear.
Nowell: Incredible. Three overtime games out of four. Road wins for both teams. Twenty-five-point halves for Howard and 40-point games for Aldridge. This series could end tonight, but it's already had more than its allotment of drama and highlights.
Strauss: Fun. I like talking about how much I enjoy defense more than I like actually watching defense. It's fun to watch two offensively explosive squads trade possessions, and it's fun to watch Aldridge dominate. I didn't expect the Aldridge matchup issue to be such an advantage for Portland, but it's been decisive. Also decisive in the series: Harden's continued awful defense.
5. The favorites to win the West are ...
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Adande: The San Antonio Spurs. Same as it ever was. Things are lining up ideally for them. Instead of facing Houston and Oklahoma City, against whom they were 0-7 this season, they could get Portland (2-2), and Memphis (4-0) or the Clippers (2-1).
Han: A four-sided coin flip? The presumptive favorites were the Spurs or Thunder. But they're either tied or facing elimination. The Sterling fiasco could galvanize the Clippers toward a title run or consume them. Memphis was a conference finalist just last season and seems poised for another run. And Portland was just supposed to be happy to be here. I'll venture that the Grizzlies are the current favorite; the team that is one win away from eliminating a previous co-favorite in Oklahoma City.
McGuire: Spurs. Before the playoffs I picked the Thunder as my Western favorites. It's a bit hard to do that with the Thunder down a game. Of the remaining contenders, I lean toward San Antonio, regardless of its uncanny difficulty dispatching Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle's sorcery. Parker's ankle sprain is concerning, as are the Spurs' fourth-quarter woes. But they have home court and relative health, which slots them a hair over the Clippers.
Nowell: Clippers. With Adam Silver taking the first step to restoring normalcy to Los Angeles, the Clippers are looking like the most complete team and the hardest to take off their games. It remains to be seen whether there is a team that can do anything about Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan playing at this level, and the weaknesses the Clips have seem, currently, to be least fatal.
Strauss: Spurs. Boring, I know. But with the Thunder pushed to the brink, and the Clippers still dealing with nonbasketball events, the Spurs are the logical pick. It also helps San Antonio that the first two teams might have to play each other. Another Spurs helper: The Grizzlies could beat the Thunder, the team that bedevils San Antonio.