9. Memphis Grizzlies
8. Indiana Pacers
7. Los Angeles Clippers
6. Denver Nuggets
5. San Antonio Spurs
4. Boston Celtics
My favorite group of the five levels is Level 4 because all six teams are completely different from one another, but find ways to win basketball games.
Of the Level 4 teams listed, Memphis has the most potential to win the Western Conference if everybody stays healthy, and if they regain the confidence that carried them in the 2011 playoffs. One injury to Zach Randolph or Rudy Gay would effectively end their chances of doing anything big in the playoffs, however.
Indiana is a very good and feisty team in the East but does not seem to have what it takes to get it done in the postseason. The Pacers are basically a second-round lock save for if they play the Bulls in the first round and Derrick Rose is completely acclimated to the speed of the games.
It is hard to read Los Angeles and Denver because both teams are elite, but I would be shocked if they made the NBA Finals. Don't get me wrong. Both teams have the depth to make a deep postseason run, but they lack the weapons to top the best in the West. (We'll get to that in a second).
Then there's the two veteran teams, Boston and San Antonio. They got outed by the young guns last season in the Conference Finals despite outplaying them for long stretches at a time. The Celtics made their bench infinitely deeper this season and will be a threat to the Heat, especially if everyone stays healthy.
I have learned to never count the Spurs out, and I do not plan on doing so now. With Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili returning, San Antonio will be just as lethal a year ago, but they might not perform as well in the playoffs simply because the stiff competition in the West.