Our days of NBA fantasy leagues may be over, but I’m catching NBA fever again.
With less than 10 games left in the regular season, the Lakers have locked in the top spot in the Western conference and will almost certainly pound Mark Cuban’s Dallas squad in the first round. The six other Western-conference playoff-bound teams - Spurs, Nuggets, Rockets, Trailblazers, Jazz, and Hornets - are only separated by two games in the loss column. While all of them would love to have the two seed, they should be careful not to get the fifth seed, which would mean not having home-court advantage in the first round and then getting the Lakers in round two. Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if some teams start eyeing the sixth and seventh seed, where they give up home-court advantage in the first round, but then miss the Lakers in round two.
The Lakers are the clear favorite, but there are three other contenders: Spurs, Jazz, and Hornets. The Spurs look as good as they ever have. Parker now has a reliable jumper that makes him unguardable, and Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan. The Spurs are one of the few teams that haven’t been showing their full hand during the regular season. Even with injury problems this season, the Jazz have the second best record against teams in the Western conference, and they have the second best home record. The Hornets have Chris Paul, who is the best point guard in the league and one hell-a-smart competitor (although he’s not giving me credit for his new moves).
The East is no longer the push-over conference it has been recently, although it is easy to miss this fact. Do not focus on Phoenix, whose record could get them a 5 or 6 seed in the East, but isn’t good enough to even get them into the playoffs in the West. Instead, focus on the following: the East has a winning record against the West this season; the West doesn’t have a middle, i.e. teams are either good or they are bad; the East is almost all middle; last year’s NBA champs, the Boston Celtics, needed seven games to get out of the first and second round last year, and only six games to beat the Lakers in the finals.
Team Lebron looks close to earning home-court advantage through the entire playoffs. The other seeds are still up for grabs. Quite incredibly, only one team in the Eastern conference is mathematically out of the playoff race. The Celtics are hoping that Garnett can get back on his horse soon, so that they can steal the 2 seed away from Orlando. Atanta, who almost upset the Celtics in the first round last year, are in position to get the 4th seed, but their upcoming games will be tough and they are missing Marvin Williams, who is hoping to be back by the Playoffs. It doesn’t help the Hawks that Dwayne Wade’s Heat are on their backs.
Even as a Hawks fan, I must say that there are really only three contenders in the East: Cavs, Celtics, and Magic. I don’t know that the Dwight Howard is mentally ready to win four playoff series. He can really stink it up when he gets frustrated. The Celtics are almost unbeatable with Garnett, and about a .500 squad without Garnett. He’s still missing games with knee pain, so I’m thinking he won’t be in championship shape in time to make a playoff run. That leaves one clear favorite: Team Lebron. What’s scary about the Cavs is that Lebron is playing fewer minutes per game than ever before, and he usually doesn’t start putting the pedal to the metal until the fourth quarter. Anyone who has witnessed his playoff wizardry in the past knows that he can go full blast for four quarters and beat teams practically one-on-five. The Cavs have only lost one game at home this entire season, but it was to the Lakers, who swept their series with the Cavs this season.
My championship prediction: Hawks over Jazz!
Back-up prediction: Cavs over Lakers in 7