If the playoffs started today, here is a look at what the Western Conference seeding and matchups would look like...
No. 1 Phoenix (34-15) vs. No. 8 Denver (29-19)
If you are the No. 1 seed, do you really want a piece of AI, 'Melo, Camby, and K-Mart in Round 1? No, you don't. Are you even favored by that much? Probably not. Is Denver one of those teams that can beat you at your own game, dropping 135 to your 132? Yes, it is.
This could be another amazing, highly contested No. 1 vs. No. 8 battle in Round 1.
No. 2 Dallas (33-15) vs. No. 7 Golden St. (29-19)
A rematch of last years No. 1 vs. No. 8 upset special, I would probably pick GST to do it again. Dallas is not clicking right now and has shown an inability to get tough wins on the road, something they thrived at last year before bowing out quietly in Round 1.
Golden St. still poses the same matchup problems to the Mavs as they did last year. This series would go 7 and Dallas would certainly not be a favorite by any means, not after last year. That tells you how good these playoffs could be.
No. 3 New Orleans (33-15) vs. No. 6 L.A. Lakers (31-17)
N.O. is the surprise team of the year, but they have some definite play-makers and Chris Paul is my MVP thus far. David West, Peja, and Tyson Chandler represent a more-than-capable supporting cast as well.
L.A., on the other hand, is well equipped to win it all after adding Pau Gasol keeping Kobe and Bynum in tact. Furthermore, role players Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton are blossoming into key cogs out in Hollywood. Again, this series has 7-game classic with no clear favorite written all over it.
No. 4 Utah (32-18) vs. No. 5 San Antonio (31-16)
A rematch of last years Conference Finals, this series is the only one in which I think a clear favorite exists. The Spurs would lean on their triple crown of studs in Duncan, Parker, and Ginoboli to ensure victory. And yet, you can't ignore Boozer, D.Williams, and Utah's other role players as a more than formidable opponent. This series only went 5 last year, so the question is: Has Utah bridged the gap significantly since last June?
I don't think so.
Logic would suggest that S.A. will rise in these seedings once Parker gets healthy, and L.A. might do so as well once Gasol gets fully integrated into the Zen master's system. The possibility of Houston (28-20) or Portland (28-20) sneaking in as the No. 7 or No. 8 seed is by no means out of the question either. There are essentially 10 playoff-caliber teams in the West this year.
Bottom line: The Western Conference playoffs are going to be conference finals quality throughout all three rounds. By my estimation, you have four MVP-caliber studs (Duncan, Nash, Paul, and Kobe) going at it within this eight-team tournament.
And lastly, if you enjoy exceptional point guard play, you don’t want to miss a game in which Paul, Nash, Baron Davis, Parker, and D.Williams are running the show.
Buckle up. This year could be mighty special.