Spurs, Clippers new West favorites
For the first time in his NBA career, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook will miss a game -- presumably quite a few games.
And while we don't know how long he'll be out, we do know this: His impending knee surgery removes the Thunder from the driver's seat in the Western Conference playoffs, according to our ESPN Forecast panel.
Here's how the panel sees it:
OUR NEW PREDICTION ENGINE
These Western Conference playoff predictions powered by ESPN Forecast.
First Round: Thunder over Rockets
When we first surveyed the panel, right before the playoffs, 62 percent saw the Thunder knocking out the Rockets in five games, and none saw Houston winning the series.
The Westbrook injury shifts the panel's view slightly, but not enormously. Now 44 percent still think the series is going five, but 51 percent think that the Rockets can get two or three wins before falling. Only 1 percent sees the Rockets advancing.
West Semifinals: Clippers over Thunder
At the start of the postseason, our ESPN Forecast panel picked the Los Angeles Clippers to beat the Memphis Grizzlies in seven games, and the Clips have only helped their chances by taking a 2-1 lead in the series.
But whether the Thunder face the Clippers or Grizzlies in the next round, our Forecast panel is pretty pessimistic about how they'll do, given Westbrook's injury. While only 1 percent sees OKC having a Houston problem, 52 percent think they'll get knocked out in Round 2.
West Finals: Spurs over Clippers
And here we have the Benefactor Finals, with the Spurs and Clippers seeing their chances greatly enhanced by the Thunder's bad luck. Our panel expects the steady Spurs and Lob City to face off in the West finals -- uncharted waters for the Clippers franchise as well as stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.
Our panel also is solidly behind the battle-sharpened Spurs, with 70 percent expecting them to move on to the final round for the first time since 2007.
But the Clippers have believers, too, with 15 percent picking them.
Another 11 percent still like the Thunder to advance to the Finals for the second straight season. After all, Kevin Durant is still on the roster -- and we don't know yet about the timeline for Westbrook's return.
NBA Finals: Heat over Spurs
Our panel is almost all-in on the Heat: 100 percent expect the Heat to make the NBA Finals, and 95 percent think the Heat are going back-to-back, adding another championship trophy after last season's five-game defeat of the Thunder. Five percent think the Spurs will win their fifth title.
If Westbrook returns, ESPN Forecast will take a new look at the postseason.
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