Lakers still the team to beat

Next week, the NBA regular season comes to an end. This year’s playoffs are set to be one of the best we’ve seen in awhile.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the most impressive team all year, but the defending champion Lakers will be the favorites heading into the playoffs. The Lakers have experienced struggles over the past few weeks and look beatable this year. Other teams like Orlando, Denver and Dallas are strong as well.

So with things looking rather close, let’s take a look at how the playoff teams are ranked going in.

  1. Los Angeles Lakers – The Lakers are the reigning NBA champions. They have the league’s best player in Kobe Bryant. With Paul Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum inside, Bryant has the best supporting cast in the NBA. While the Lakers haven’t been playing their best basketball as of late, every team fears them.
  2. Cleveland Cavs – Cleveland has been the best team in basketball this season. Lebron James looks to be the MVP, and the Cavs will have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. The acquisition of Antawn Jamison makes them even better. When Shaquille O’Neal returns, will anyone be able to beat this team in a seven game series?
  3. Orlando Magic – The Magic surprised everyone last season beating the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals and challenging the Lakers in the finals. There were some struggles earlier in the year trying to work Vince Carter into the offense, but now Orlando looks good.
  4. Dallas Mavericks – The Mavs lead the next wave of teams. Ever since trading for Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, the Mavs have shown the toughness needed to make a playoff run.
  5. Denver Nuggets – Last season the Nuggets played strong in the Western Conference Finals. With Carmelo Anthony’s scoring and Chauncey Billups playoff experience, the Nuggets are dangerous. Health issues with head coach George Karl and the injury to Kenyon Martin may hurt.
  6. Phoenix Suns – The Suns are the hottest team in basketball. Since the All-Star Break, they have the best record in the league and have soared into the top four in the Western Conference. Not trading Amare Stoudamire was the best thing that could have not happened, as he is playing some of the best basketball of his career. The Suns have put themselves among the best in the West.
  7. Utah Jazz – Over the last two months the Jazz have kept pace with the Mavericks and Nuggets. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer have been solid all season and Jerry Sloan has his offense rolling. The real test will be protecting the paint.
  8. Boston Celtics – No team is aging faster than the Celtics. Kevin Garnett is not the player he once was and Rasheed Wallace looks even worse. This is a team who, with experience alone, is capable of winning playoff games. The best player all season for the Celtics has been Rajon Rondo. He is the league leader in steals and is among the leaders in assists.
  9. Atlanta Hawks – The Hawks were a team that was expected to take a big step forward this season among the elites. While they are likely to win 50 games, they are still behind the top three in the West. They may be capable of beating the Celtics, but Orlando and Cleveland are too good.
  10. Oklahoma City Thunder – Everything the Thunder has accomplished this season was expected; next year. Kevin Durant is the MVP this season if there is no Lebron James. Russell Westbrook is one of the best point guards in basketball. While this young team is playoff bound, they are not ready to make an impact in a seven-game series just yet.
  11. Milwaukee Bucks – The Bucks were on pace to possibly upset some team in the first round of the playoffs. That was until Andrew Bogut took a bad fall and suffered a horrible injury to his arm. As good as John Salmons has been since the trade from Chicago, they can only go as far as Bogut takes them.
  12. San Antonio Spurs – The Spurs are not the same team that won championships over the past few years. Tim Duncan is starting to wear down and Tony Parker has health issues. If not for Manu Ginobili, this team is possibly on the outside looking in.
  13. Portland Trail Blazers – Portland has endured injuries to both centers Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla, as well as swingmen Rudy Fernandez, Martell Webster and even Brandon Roy. And right now they stand among the bottom three in the West.
  14. Miami Heat – The Heat have Dwayne Wade. That’s about it.
  15. Charlotte Bobcats – The Bobcats are a team capable of an upset as well. At times they play like they belong with some of the better teams in the league. Other times look like they don’t belong in the playoff hunt.
  16. Toronto Raptors/Chicago Bulls – The last spot is between two teams fighting to get swept in the first round by the Cavs. Unfortunately, the last lottery spot in the draft might be more valuable here. The Raptors just lost Chris Bosh for what will likely be the rest of the year. The Bulls are not really any better.
  17. The loser will be the real winner here.
The Lewis Flyer

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