When watching the NBA, we're accustomed to the same teams being in the playoff race every year, with the elite teams adding new pieces, improving, and eventually climbing higher in the playoff tree.
The common notion used to be, "You can't build a champion in one season." But after the Heat did it with Shaquille O'Neal, and after the Celtics did it last season, that theory has now been put to rest.
However, there are no teams that are in the playoff race that made any blockbuster deals that significantly changed their position. In fact, for all intents and purposes, we're right where we should be. The same teams, the same players, and even the same coaches are in these games that will lead up to our eventual champion.
So, where's your money?
Is it on the defending champions, the LeBron James-led Cavs, or how about the Lakers? Take a look at the top eight seeded Eastern Conference teams, as we try to narrow down the possibilities, and separate the meat from the fat.
The Top Eight Seeds
1. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-13)
Despite being led by only an average NBA coach, the Cavaliers make up for it mightily by being guided on the court by the steady hand of James. James draws double teams nightly, opening up shots for Delonte West and Mo Williams, while also allowing Zydrunas Ilgauskas to go to work.
Newly signed veteran Joe Smith will go a long ways in shoring up the Cavs post-game until Ben Wallace returns, but if Cleveland runs into a Boston squad with a healthy Kevin Garnett, they could see a repeat of last year's seven game series.
2. Boston Celtics (49-15)
We know they can mold their team into whatever shape or form they need to win games, but can they do it in the playoffs with a semi-healthy Garnett?
Garnett isn't due back until late March, and possibly longer, depending on how worried Doc Rivers is about rushing his star back.
Still, Paul Pierce has shown all season that he is more than capable of putting the team on his back, while the trio of Glen Davis, Leon Powe, and Kendrick Perkins have kept the Celtics' post-game relevant.
If the Celtics can steal home court away from the Cavs, we may see a rematch with them and the Lakers.
3. Orlando Magic (46-17)
As I stated in my Magic playoff picture article, this team is a jump shot team, and it could result in a fiery run to the Finals, or ultimately lead to their demise.
The main problem for the Magic is their toughness and defense outside of Dwight Howard, and the fact that they have no real post presence outside of their self-proclaimed Superman.
If he gets into foul trouble during crunch time and the three's aren't falling, we will see this team unravel. Still, if anyone can upset either of the teams above, this is the team.
4. Atlanta Hawks (36-28)
If there's anyone out there who still thinks Boston only has Cleveland or Orlando to worry about, think again. The Hawks may not be among the league's elite, but they're a cohesive unit that ran the eventual champion Celtics to an intense seven-game series last season.
And the bad news for the rest of the league is they only keep getting better.
Their record may not show it, but this could very well be the most athletic team in the Eastern Conference, as the Hawks routinely shift from winning games by out-hustling you, or letting Joe Johnson carry the torch.
They may be facing an uphill battle, but something tells me Johnson is crossing his fingers that Atlanta gets to face Boston again.
5. Miami Heat (34-29)
Much like the Hawks, this is another team that is young and athletic, and usually is only as good as Dwyane Wade's jumper.
Wade has been absolutely on fire all season long, leaving fans and writers everywhere to look for an off night. I've got news for the rest of the world, it is not coming.
Wade has the talent and determination to carry this team past the first round, and his supporting cast will be the final factor in whether or not they can get any further.
6. Detroit Pistons (32-30)
The word on the street is the Pistons would love to face the Magic in the first round of the playoffs. Seeing as they are slated to do just that with the current standings, they just might get their wish.
The Pistons have owned the Magic this season, winning three games to none, and winning 17 of the last 20 overall.
This psychological edge will pay huge dividends if this is indeed the matchup in round one, but this team is too inconsistent to get past the second round if they do get that lucky.
7. Philadelphia 76ers (30-31)
The Sixers are another Hawks team, only a little less wise, and not quite as athletic. They play decent defense, but struggle to score the ball consistently.
It seems they're never content with playing within their offense, often switching which players they wish to work the offense through.
If they keep the ball in Andre Miller's hands, they have a chance to open things up and make a run in the first round. However, the fact that they would be facing either Cleveland or Boston right now does not bode well for them.
8. Milwaukee Bucks (30-37)
As inconsistent as the Bucks have been all season, there is no guarantee that they will be in this spot at the end of the week.
However, you'd be hard pressed to find a team doing more with so little natural talent.
Charlie Villanueva can cause matchup problems, and having two natural point guards in Luke Ridnour and Ramon Sessions, is a blessing every team would be fortunate to have.
The funny thing about the Bucks is that they look like a more complete and cohesive unit without Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut, and even though Bogut is good on the boards, something tells me a return for him at this point would ruin things.
If the Bucks can stick to their guns and keep trying to play hard defense and work their offense effectively, we just might see "the little engine that could" weasel its way into a matchup with Cleveland in the first round.
Judging by last week's debacle, though, that may not be something for Milwaukee to be looking forward to.
It's pretty simple; if you have been watching the Celtics and you are not in love with what they have been able to do, you are not a fan of sports.
Even if you do not like their players, it is hard to admit that they out-play and out-coach nearly every team they face. And when they do lose, it seems it's only because they play against themselves more than against the opponent.
If you are honest with yourself, this conference comes down to the Cavaliers and the Celtics, with the Magic being the third wheel that will get ousted by one or the other in the second round. Both clubs play better defense than Orlando, and are deeper in the paint than the Magic could ever dream to be.
Despite pumping up the Celtics' title defense run, as well as hyping up the try-dropping Magic, it's time to ride the coattails of King James, himself.
That's right. No Boston versus Los Angeles re-match. Just little old James trying to become the next Michael Jordan.
Stay tuned for the Western Conference analysis.