NBA Playoff Predictions: Can the Lakers Catch Slumping Spurs to Win the West?

Thomas CopainCorrespondent IMarch 31, 2011

NBA Playoff Predictions: Can the Lakers Catch Slumping Spurs to Win the West?

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    The NBA Playoffs aren't that far off and already in both conferences, we're starting to get a clearer picture of what the playoffs are going to look like, not to mention who will be in the postseason.

    In both conferences, it's become more of a race for positioning and seeding than trying to get into the postseason. Although, there are some tight races for the No. 8 seed. 

    Specifically in the West, it looks like it's going to come down to Memphis and Houston for the eighth and final playoff berth while Phoenix has gone cold and is fading fast in 10th. So with that in mind and about nine to ten games left for each team, it's a safe time to start making predictions about who's going to finish where in the Western Conference.

    Here are my predictions for the West's top 10 and their odds of winning the West.

10. Phoenix Suns

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    It's always hard to count out a team that has Steve Nash on it,  but the Suns just don't have the firepower they did in recent memory. Vince Carter has struggled in Phoenix, Mickael Pietrus has been up and down and Hedo Turkoglu was already shipped out of town in the Carter deal.

    The Suns still hung around for most of the season, but their last stretch has made it pretty clear that the championship window is closing for the Suns, if it hasn't already. They're still technically alive in the playoff race, but 4.5 games back this late in the season is too big to make up.

    The bigger question will be now what will Phoenix do with Nash in the offseason.

    Odds: zero percent

9. Houston Rockets

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    The Rockets have made a very strong run at the end of the season to pull back into playoff contention on the shoulders of Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry among others. Considering where they were for most of the season, it's an accomplishment to be even in the postseason race.

    That being said, the Rockets only have seven games left. Making up two games with seven left isn't impossible, but it's also not easy either. Houston has no margin for error left and considering San Antonio is still on the schedule doesn't help.

    Odds: zero percent

8. New Orleans Hornets

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    Having Chris Paul is a nice trump card to have, but the fact remains the Hornets won't have their leading scorer for the remainder of the year in David West. That's a huge loss to a team that doesn't score much to begin with and relies on defense. Carl Landry has the ability to step in and now that move looks better and better, but losing West and his multi-faceted game is a big blow.

    And unless someone else steps up to help Paul, I don't see how the Hornets will survive. They'll make the playoffs, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them passed by Memphis.

    Odds: zero percent

7. Memphis Grizzlies

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    The Grizzlies have very quietly put up an impressive season. The 41 wins as of this posting is already the fourth highest single-season win total in franchise history, and considering the days when they were back in Vancouver, that's saying something.

    But all of a sudden, Memphis has an extremely young core that can score inside with Marc Gasol and vet Zach Randolph, and can score from the outside with Rudy Gay. They could climb as high as sixth, but they'll probably fall here. Either way, this team is talented enough to steal a game or two in the first round.

    And considering this franchise has yet to win a playoff game, that would be a major accomplishment.

    Odds: zero percent

6. Portland Trail Blazers

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    The Trail Blazers will be postseason bound yet again, and doing so without Marcus Camby and Greg Oden up front. Combine that with the fact that Brandon Roy continues to pay for his style of play earlier in the season, it's amazing to think where this team would be without LaMarcus Aldridge, who's carried this team offensively.

    Like New Orleans, it's a group that doesn't score much and relies on defense (the Hornets are fourth in the league in points allowed per game, Portland is sixth). But they also are a bunch who are near the bottom of the league in rebounding, not surprisingly without Oden and Camby.

    Odds: zero percent

5. Denver Nuggets

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    To watch the Melo-less Nuggets set the West on fire these last few weeks have been remarkable. 

    At the time of the Carmelo Anthony trade, the Nuggets were a solid playoff team but you didn't know what they were going to be able to do in the postseason. There just seemed to be too many distractions.

    But since the trade, the club's been on fire. The new additions have fit in remarkably and Arron Afflalo is gaining a reputation for knocking down big shots at big times. Like the bottom teams in the West, they're too far out to grab the No. 1 seed. But as a No. 5, this team could do some damage the way that they're playing.

    We'll see what this team is made of come playoff time.

    Odds: zero percent

4. Oklahoma City Thunder

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    The turnaround in Oklahoma City has been incredible. In the span of a couple of years, we've seen this team go from rebuilding to making the playoffs to now being a contender.

    I'll stop there because I can only imagine how Sonics' fans must feel reading this.

    Regardless, the rise of the Thunder has been remarkable, and this team now expects to compete now in the Western Conference. They're too far out to win the West in the regular season, but they should end up with the No. 4 seed, the Northwest Division title and home court advantage in the first round.

    How will they respond now to the pressure?

    Odds: zero percent

3. Dallas Mavericks

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    The Mavericks do this every year.

    Their core gets older and older, yet they still manage to get 50 wins and end up near the top of the Western Conference. And as much as the Lakers' recent hot streak has been talked about, the Mavericks have very quietly crept back into the West race, sitting just 4.5 back of the Spurs with nine to play.

    They don't have any games with San Antonio left (they do have one left with the Lakers tomorrow night), but they don't have a challenging schedule remaining either. It's not out of the realm of possibility that the Mavericks could win the West.

    It's just not likely.

    Odds: 20 percent

2. Los Angeles Lakers

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    Ever since that loss in Miami where Kobe Bryant shot jumpers after the game, the Lakers have been on fire.

    They've closed the deficit on the Spurs, they're playing some of their best basketball of the season and they're finding ways to win games like defending champions do. Will it be enough to garner the No. 1 seed? That will be the big question.

    The Lakers will have a chance to close the gap, with one game with the Spurs remaining. Outside of that game, the schedule isn't too hard. So it's just really going to come down to who can stay hot.

    Conventional wisdom says the Lakers have to cool down eventually. While they're definitely playing better basketball, it's probably not going to be enough to catch the Spurs. They're going to make it interesting though.

    Odds: 45 percent

1. San Antonio Spurs

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    For the first time all season, the Spurs are slumping.

    And in reality, can you blame them? They have played the last few games with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Antonio McDyess all injured. The Spurs are pretty deep, but that's a tough mountain for any team to climb when four key guys are injured.

    Of course, the only thing the Spurs can do is fight through it and tread water. Unfortunately for them, the Lakers are red hot, closing fast and the Celtics come in tomorrow night. 

    For what it's worth, save for a massive meeting with the Lakers, the Spurs' remaining schedule is pretty easy. Plus, McDyess and Parker are expected back tomorrow night, according to the San-Antonio Express News.

    But still, the Lakers are charging fast, and the Spurs will have to do something to hold them off. I'm not completely sure if they can.

    Odds: 60 percent