Monday, March 9, 2009
East vs West
The NBA regular season ends in a little more than a month, and there seems to be a shift of power and depth between the Eastern and Western conferences. Mathematically, there are absolutely no teams from the Eastern Conference eliminated as of yet, although the magic number for the Wizards lies at three. On the other hand, the playoff race realistically only extends out to the ninth place team, which is Phoenix, who is trailed by Golden State - by 13 games. Although the West has better records from one to eight (at this point, Philadelphia and Chicago are in with sub-.500 records), the East is far more competitive with their own. This does not mean that we will have a back-to-back champion in the Eastern Conference for the first time since the Bulls won three straight from 1995 - 1998. We have seen the Lakers take beatings from and deliver them to the East, as well as San Antonio, Utah, and Denver. LeBron was run out of L.A. and Boston has not repeated their magic against the Lakers in this regular season, so both sides seem to be even. The three best teams in the NBA consist of two Eastern Conference teams, however, with Boston and Cleveland. Lakers may be the best, but if they are outed in the Western Conference Playoffs, the Spurs, Nuggets and Jazz, all virtually out of reach of a number 1 seed, will likely be candidates to play in the Finals, against three likely teams that all look better than the rest of the West, the aformentioned Cavs and Celtics, and the Orlando Magic. The scenarios are many, but unless the Lakers do not find a way back to the Finals, it could be a beginning of the Eastern Empire rebuilding itself.
Scenario 1: Lakers vs any team in the East - more than likely will end in a Laker championship, considering the way they played against Boston and Cleveland, although they have dropped both games against Orlando, the loss of Jameer Nelson would help the Lakers if it came down to these two teams
Scenario 2: Lakers are ousted by the Spurs, Nuggets, or Jazz - The series between the Lakers and Spurs are split, with an upcoming game on March 12, and the Lakers have done well against the Spurs in the playoffs the past ten years, so hoping for such is a stretch. Same situation with the Jazz, although it has been quite some time since the Jazz and Lakers played in the postseason against each other since last year's meeting. The Jazz have had some success against the Lakers, although there is no Mail-man or Stockton. The Nuggets have become quite the team this year with Billups, and would need a big lift from players like J.R. Smith and Nene to even win a game, much less an entire series. Part two of the scenario, any of the top three teams of the East (ORL, BOS, or CLE) make it to the Finals, the East is sure to win, although a few matchups would be interesting (Timmy vs Dwight, Melo vs LeBron, Deron vs Rondo).
Scenario 3: The final scenario I would see possible is that the Lakers and the Big Three of the East (again, CLE, ORL, and BOS) are all out of the picture. That leaves nothing in the East, except the Hawks, at any chance of winning the Finals against the likes of San Antonio, Utah, Denver, or even Houston and Portland. The everyone-but-Lakers tier in the West is much better than the anyone-who-didn't-win-the-division tier in the East, but considering the one really good team in the West against three really good teams in the East, it seems probable that the East will win again.