At the top would be every lazy sports columnist’s dream finals matchup — the Lakers versus the Bulls in Phil Jackson’s final year. (Well, final year for now, anyway). But do you really think the recent struggles of the Celtics and Spurs tell you much about those teams in the playoffs?
1. Lakers (53-20, LW #1). They’ve won seven in a row, only one loss since the All-Star break, and are now just four games back of the Spurs (losers of three in a row). That leaves the Lakers are four games back with nine to play, it would still take a miracle to catch the Spurs, but you can start talking about it now.
2. Bulls (53-19, LW #3). Winners of four in a row and gaining a lot of confidence heading into the playoffs. Which as a team entering its first playoffs as a unit matters more than it does for some of the veteran units that are contenders. We had questions about the Bulls offense but it has been improved lately.
3. Heat (51-22, LW #5). Winners of five in a row, eight of their last 10 and the big three are playing well together. Six of those wins came against playoff teams, but seven of their final nine are against teams below .500 so don’t be shocked if they push the Bulls for the top seed.
4. Thunder (48-24, LW #6). Kendrick Perkins made some plays against the Blazers Sunday. OKC is coming together at the right time but are poised to face Denver in the first round. Denver will be a tough out.
5. Mavericks (52-21, LW #7). Odd stat of the week, the Mavs are 15-0 when Peja Stojakovic plays at least 15 minutes.
6. Magic (47-26, LW #8). Five straight wins and the best center in the game, solid four seed, but nobody mentions them among the contenders in the East. You’ll see more Gilbert Arenas this week, which may not be best for then Magic.
7. Spurs (57-16, Last Week #2). Three straight losses with no Tim Duncan (and they lost Manu for much of Sunday, even though that is not as serious). What matters is getting both healthy by the playoffs, but that may costs them games now. Doesn’t matter because the Lakers can’t make up four games in the remaining nine… can they?
8. Celtics (51-21, LW #4). They are struggling coming into the playoffs. Fooled us once with that trick, we’re not falling for it again. But, they need to get Shaq back with a few games under his belt before the playoffs.
9. Nuggets (44-29), LW #11). He’s not going to win it (Tom Thibodeau is with the Bulls), but George Karl has to move on to your Coach of the Year ballot now.
10. Blazers (42-31, LW #9). Damn that Gerald Wallace trade was brilliant. He can score and with him and Nicolas Batum they can defend the forward spots very well. There are going to be no easy outs for the West’s top teams in the first round.
11. Grizzlies (41-33, LW #10). They went 2-1 against the Spurs, Celtics and Bulls last week. They are going to make the playoffs, and read the Blazers note about tough outs in the West.
12. Sixers (37-36, LW #12). There was a time a couple weeks ago when the Sixers looked like a dangerous team in the first round. Not so much any more.
13. Rockets (38-35, LW #13). They are 7-3 in their last season and playing with a real push for the playoffs, but nobody in the west is coming back to them at all. They are 2.5 games back of Memphis, which has an easy schedule from here on out.
14. Hawks (42-32, LW #15). The Hawks are coasting to a five seed in the playoffs. Which should last about one round for them.
15. Hornets (42-32, LW #14). No David West the rest of the way, and that makes for an undersized front line of Emeka Okafor and Carl Landry. That is an anagram for “we’re in trouble now.” (Well, it should be an anagram of that.) They are 3.5 games ahead of the Rockets.
16. Suns (36-36, LW #17). This summer, we are starting a “free Steve Nash” campaign. Vince Carter has gone to the bench, as it should be.
17. Jazz (36-38, LW #18). Their defense has been a disaster since the trade. Disaster.
18. Knicks (35-34, LW #16). They are 3.5 games ahead of the eight-seed pacers and 4.5 ahead of the nine-seed Bobcats, they are almost certainly not falling out of the playoffs. But their defense remains terrible and now the offense is joining it.
19. Bobcats (30-42, LW #23). They beat the Celtics and Knicks last week to keep their playoff hopes alive, but they need to beat the Bucks Monday to make sure they stay alive. They remain one game back of the Pacers for the last spit.
20. Warriors (32-42, LW #19). Of the teams on the bottom third of this bracket, this is the one we can recommend watching. They are very, very entertaining right now, with Monta Ellis leading the way.
21. Pacers (32-42, LW #20). About the only thing that is consistent about them is a good game from Tyler Hansbrough.
22. Clippers (29-45, LW #22). Eric Gordon is back and it makes you wonder: Is this really a playoff team with him healthy? There are still a lot of questions.
23. Bucks (29-43, LW #21). They are not out of the playoffs mathematically, but six of their next seven are on the road and they are 10-24 this season away from home.
24. Kings (20-52, LW #27). They just went 4-1 on their latest road trip. I’m sure that is generating a lot of excitement in Anaheim.
25. Pistons (26-47, LW #24). You know Detroit, if you had played Rip Hamilton more before the trade deadline, and he played like this, you might have been able to move him.
26. Nets (23-49, LW #25). Fun game Wednesday in New York. What is the over/under on Brook Lopez rebounds against the weak Knicks front line? Seven?
27. Raptors (20-53, LW #26). The worst defensive team in the league. Just wanted to reiterate that.
28. Cavaliers (14-58, LW #29). Joe Tait was back in the radio broadcast booth this week. That is a win for Cleveland.
29. Wizards (17-55, LW #30). JaVale McGee is getting his blocks lately. Rebounding be damned.
30. Timberwolves (17-57, LW #28). Losers of seven straight and no Kevin Love for the remainder of the season. Anthony Randolph teased with his talents for a game then ran into the reality of Kevin Garnett.