Western Conference: Up in the air The LA Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference.
After that, there is no consensus.
"I think it's going to be extremely hard to predict what is going to happen, because two through eight are very evenly matched for the most part when they're healthy," New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. "I don't see a whole lot of scenarios where the home team or so-called best team is going to win every one of those series. I think there are going to be some dog fights.
"The playoffs this year in the Western Conference will probably be the most interesting they've been in a long time."
LA Lakers VS. UTAH Season: Lakers, 2-1
Fast break: There was a time when this appeared to be the best matchup in the West. Now, it appears it will end quickly.
DENVER VS. NEW ORLEANS Season: Tied, 2-2
Fast break: The Nuggets are bound to get out of the first round one of these years. Will Chris Paul delay that celebration?
SAN ANTONIO VS. DALLAS Season: Tied, 2-2
Fast break: The Mavericks won't be able to stop Tony Parker. But can the Spurs stop Dirk Nowitzki?
PORTLAND VS. HOUSTON Season: Rockets, 2-1
Fast break: Portland is young, athletic and new to the playoffs. The Rockets are old hands at losing in the first round.
Eastern Conference: Top heavy
We'd like to give a shout out to Phoenix.
We know the Suns haven't gotten much love this season. They didn't make the playoffs. But look at it this way: if Phoenix was in some muggy spot on the East Coast instead of the desert, the team's 46-36 record would have made them the No. 5 seed. The Suns would be getting ready to play Atlanta rather than talking about what they need to do this off-season.
That being said, the East isn't as weak as some would lead you to believe. The top three teams in the conference have better records than anyone in the West - other than the Lakers.
CLEVELAND VS. DETROIT Season: Cavaliers, 3-1
Fast break: The Pistons failed to win 50 games for the first time in eight years. The glory days are gone.
BOSTON VS. CHICAGO Season: Celtics, 2-1
Fast break: The Celtics can still get past the Bulls without Kevin Garnett. But how much farther can they go?
ORLANDO VS. PHILADELPHIA Season: Magic, 3-0
Fast break: Orlando had some disturbing losses to end the season and isn't healthy. But the Magic do have Dwight Howard.
ATLANTA VS. MIAMI Season: Hawks, 3-1
Fast break: Dwyane Wade can win a series by himself. Ask Mavericks fans. But Atlanta has more athletic ability and depth.
Some believe this game reveals aspects of the subconscious mind. Others will tell you that's hooey.
I'm scared to think what the word hooey says about my subconscious, other than the fact I'm really old. But hey, if you wanted a Dr. Phil moment you'd be watching afternoon TV.
Here is our word association game for the Association, playoff edition. Feel free to substitute your own responses.
The team to beat
The player who can keep the Lakers from the title
Looking for his
first title without Shaquille O'Neal
Looking for ... Hey wait, he's not in the playoffs.
He doesn't belong in this edition
Can't win in first round
Please see above
No Kevin Garnett
No Boston championship
No Manu Ginobili
No San Antonio championship
No Tracy McGrady
No big loss
Quicken Loans Arena
Good luck trying to win there
Portland Trail Blazers
It's nice to have you back
It was nice while it lasted
Soon to be one behind the Zen Master in titles
The match game
It's not always about the teams. Sometimes, the game within the game is more interesting. Here are some head-to-head matchups that pique our interest:
Cleveland's LeBron James
vs. Detroit's Tayshaun Prince
This won't be a fair fight. Anyone who goes against James will come up short. But Prince will frustrate James in stretches.
Houston's Yao Ming vs. Portland's Greg Oden
These last two years haven't unfolded the way Oden or the Blazers hoped. Chances are, Joel Przybilla will spend as much time on Yao (left) as Oden. The Rockets center will win this matchup, but it would be nice to see Oden flash some of the promise that made him the No. 1 pick.
New Orleans' Chris Paul (above) vs. Denver's
Paul rates the edge in speed and athletic ability. Billups knows how to control the game's tempo and is a strong defender.
The D-League has come up with a creative approach to the playoffs.
The NBA's development league allows the three division winners to pick their first-round opponents. The division winner with the best record picks first, then down the line. The two teams that aren't selected are automatically paired in the first round.
"How great would that be," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said. "Whoever thought of it is a genius.
"It's like being the last kid picked. It either motivates you or makes you run away. In this league, it would motivate the hell out of guys.
"It makes it a whole lot more interesting. I wish we would do it in the NBA.
I think it's a great idea."
So, does he ever see the NBA adopting that approach?
"No," Cuban said. "Never."
Does that mean the NBA is where amazing happens, but not genius?
You may recognize a few of these teams in the playoffs. They've made the playoffs every year for quite some time now:
Upsets fuel the imagination. There's a chance some will occur in the Western Conference. But how likely is it?
If you look at how these series have played out through the years, the team with the higher seed usually wins. And remember, coaches and players in the West said the same thing last season and none of the bottom four seeds won.
1-8 / 47-3
2-7 / 46-4
3-6 / 36-14
4-5 / 25-25
Lakers over Jazz
Nuggets over Hornets
Spurs over Mavericks
Blazers over Rockets
Lakers over Blazers
Spurs over Nuggets
Lakers over Spurs
Cavaliers over Pistons
Celtics over Bulls
Magic over Sixers
Hawks over Heat
Cavaliers over Hawks
Celtics over Magic
Cavaliers over Celtics
Lakers over Cavaliers