NBA Playoff Predictions: Ranking Lakers, Heat and All 16 Playoff Teams

Rich FernandesCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2011

NBA Playoff Predictions: Ranking Lakers, Heat and All 16 Playoff Teams

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 27:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks is guarded by LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat during a game at American Airlines Arena on February 27, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that,
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The thrilling 2010-11 NBA season has gripped fans like an anaconda from the starting gun, and now that the trades from the Bizzaro World are finally all said and done, the league is about to enter the month of March like the proverbial lion—ready for it’s playoff run.

    Super-teams have sprouted up like weeds before spring is officially declared, as Big Threes prolifically litter the landscape from coast to coast.

    The rising beasts in the East boast several super-teams including  the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, and arguably, Orlando Magic. 

    And the best in the West can still be found in perennial superpower favorites that include the L.A. Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and now even Oklahoma City Thunder.

    All of these teams are sure to make the playoffs this year, and yet, there is room for several dragon slayers too, as the playoff format allows for 16 teams to make a desperate run for the blazing sun.

    Two important statistical measures have been used to gauge the strength of each team in this ranking and they include Player Efficiency and Team PPG Differential.  The required data has been extracted from NBA.com’s database. 

    How do NBA coaches measure a player’s efficiency?  They use the Player Efficiency Formula as shown below, courtesy of NBA.com:

    [(Points + Rebounds + Assists + Steals + Blocks) - (Field Goals Att. - Field Goals Made) + (Free Throws Att. - Free Throws Made) + Turnovers)]

    So the guy who scores the most points is not necessarily the team’s most efficient player and as you can see from the formula, a wide array of important statistical criteria (both offensive and defensive) have been taken into account.

    The other performance measure is Team PPG Differential. The higher the score the more consistent a team is at outscoring and/or defending their opponents. 

    A team like the Miami Heat lead the league in this category with a score of 7.62 points.  This simply means that the average margin of victory over all the Heat’s games is 7.62 points. 

    Compare this with the Indiana Pacers who are the worst playoff team with a minus-0.21 points per game, meaning that their opponents actually get the better of them more times than not.

    So which teams will enter the playoffs, and once there, how will new player additions gained from recent trades affect their final drive to stay alive?

    This is a playoff ranking of all 16 NBA playoff teams from the East to the West, and the rest of the best.

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East—No. 8: Indiana Pacers

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    OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 19:  Danny Granger #33 of the Indiana Pacers in action against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on January 19, 2011 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or us
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    The Pacers are a putrid team which doesn't say much for the seven teams in the East that don't make the playoff cut, but they really shouldn’t be so bad. 

    They have a versatile 7’2” center in Roy Hibbert, a fringe superstar in Danny Granger, and an up-and-coming PG in Darren Collison. 

    The Pacers will likely crawl into the Eastern Conference Playoffs as the eighth seed and if Larry Bird suits up, they might have a chance to make it past the first round. 

    They are currently four games ahead of the atrocious and underachieving Milwaukee Bucks, who are hoping and praying for Michael Redd’s return to the lineup. 

    The Pacers PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is minus-0.21, which is the only negative score among the Eastern playoff teams and a statistic that surely guarantees their early exit in the first round.

    The Pacers have three representatives in the Top 50 Eastern Conference Player Efficiency Rankings. They include Granger (ninth), Collison (39th) and Hibbert (44th).

    With the right moves, the young Pacers could be a top contender in the not-so-near future.

East—No. 7: Philadelphia 76ers

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    CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 21: Andre Iguodala #9 of the Philadelphia 76ers tries to move against Loul Deng #9 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on December 21, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 121-76. NOTE TO USER: User expressl
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Remember this pathetic team?  They are now playing at a .500 clip as Elton Brand has awakened from his deep slumber.

    The 76ers started the season even worse than expected and the annoying rumors regarding Andre Iguodala were almost as annoying as the Carmelo Anthony ones. 

    But things have changed in a hurry in the land of cream cheese and the 76ers now boast three players in the Top 50 Eastern Conference Efficiency rankings.  They include Elton Brand (14th), Andre Iguodala (18th) and Jrue Holiday (30th).

    The 76ers are 7-3 in their last 10, including a four-game winning streak.  Iggy and Jrue are pretending to be friends, which is icing on the cake.  This bodes well for next season, as the young club has some nice pieces to build with.

    The 76ers' PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is plus-1.92 (ranked fifth among Eastern playoff teams), a stat that while fairly low, must have been lower than Indiana's during the first couple of months of the season, before Philly began to turn it on. 

    Even so, it’s hard to imagine the 76ers making it out of the first round.

East—No. 6: Atlanta Hawks

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    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 16:  Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks on the court against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on February 16, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or usin
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    People don’t give the Hawks the credit they deserve.  They are a dragon slayer among the fringe elite teams and have their own Big Three in Al Horford, Josh Smith and Joe Johnson. 

    The Hawks' PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is plus-1.09 (ranked sixth among Eastern playoff teams), a stat that is almost a whole point lower than Philly.  Not very good to say the least.

    When it comes to Player Efficiency in the Eastern Conference, the Hawks have three players in the top 50 with Al Horford (fifth), Josh Smith (12th) and Joe Johnson (21st). 

    The Atlanta trade with Washington was as dimwitted as they come.  While Kirk Hinrich represents an upgrade over the aging Mike Bibby, he is simply not good enough to help Atlanta’s crew even though he would do wonders for Miami’s enormous talents.    

    Throw in Hilton Armstrong from the Wiz for a 2011 first-round draft pick, Maurice Evans and Jordan Crawford, and it’s easy to see how the Hawks ripped themselves off.

    A trade for a solid center moving Horford to his natural PF spot would have also bolstered the club.

    Without that elite quarterback to anchor this club, this Hawks' team will be out in the first round.

East—No. 5: Orlando Magic

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 20:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Orlando Magic and the Eastern Conference dunks the ball in the 2011 NBA All-Star Game at Staples Center on February 20, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Will the real Superman please stand up?! 

    Dwight Howard has recently passed LeBron James for first place in Player Efficiency in the Eastern Conference and Jameer Nelson (47th) joins Howard as the only other Magic in the top 50 players in this category. 

    That’s a very poor showing for the Magic, especially when you consider that the top team in this East ranking has more than double the players in the same efficiency category, not to mention that even the 76ers and Pacers have at least three players in the top 50.

    The Magic's PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is plus-6.03 (ranked third among Eastern playoff teams), a stat that attests to the Magic's ability to play competitive ball. 

    Yet the Magic's trades still represent an inconsistent bunch of underachievers including Agent Zero, who should be reaching for the Degree to mask his rotten twenty-million dollar stench.

    Add to this, Howard’s exasperating tendencies to completely disappear from games and you have an enigma wrapped up inside a conundrum, especially given his amazing play over the last month that has vaulted him over LeBron James in the efficiency rankings.

    The only explanation?  Somebody is injecting a Kryptonite solution into Howard's system during key games, and the most likely culprit is Agent Zilch.

    This team will certainly not be able to beat the Celtics, Heat or Bulls in a seven-game series.

East—No. 4: New York Knicks

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    NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 23: (L-R) Carmelo Anthony #7 and Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the New York Knicks discuss tactics on the court against the Milwaukee Bucks at Madison Square Garden on February 23, 2011 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly ackn
    Chris Trotman/Getty Images

    The Knicks are a question mark at this stage of their newly formed roster.  The trades that gutted the team in exchange for Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups came at a cost of depth.

    Forget all the draft picks and the money that also went to Denver, because losing Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton in itself has got to hurt.

    But the recent win against the Miami Heat was impressive, even if Chris Bosh threw the game away with a bad pass in the final minutes.

    Can the Knicks establish that important synergy that will enable them to look better than their former selves?   Billups has the championship experience this club sorely needs and the fact that he’s also Mr. Clutch doesn’t hurt at all. 

    Anthony is fifth in the league in scoring, while Amar'e Stoudemire is third, and if the last couple of games are any indication, it appears that Anthony will resume his role as the number-one scoring option on the Knicks.

    If the two bigs can get along it will be a huge step in the right direction (Remember that Stoudemire left the Phoenix Suns because he didn’t like Steve Nash’s shadow).  Perhaps Stoudemire should remove the No. 1 from his jersey and give it to 'Melo.

    The Knicks' PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is an abysmal 0.51  (ranked seventh among Eastern playoff teams), a stat that is almost a whole point and a half lower than Philly and a direct result of the team's poor defense—something that the 'Melo trade is unlikely to fix. 

    The Knicks now have four representatives in the Top 50 Eastern Conference Player Efficiency Rankings (only three teams have at least four).  They include  Stoudemire (third), Anthony (eighth),  Billups (26th) and Landry Fields (37th).

    In fact, over the last month,  Anthony has vaulted himself into the No. 18 spot of most efficient players in the entire league (he was not previously in the top 20).

    Hmmm—18th best in the NBA doesn't sound like a superstar.

    Only time will tell if the Knicks’ one-two scoring punch is enough to overcome their gutted bench in this year’s playoffs.    

East—No. 3: Miami Heat

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    MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 25:  LeBron James #6, Dwyane Wade #3, and Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat talk during a game against the Washington Wizards at American Airlines Arena on February 25, 2011 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges a
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    The Heat have two of the top five players in the league and when they are both on their game in the same game, they are very hard to stop.  Unfortunately this is a rare occurrence versus elite teams such as the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks who need to see it to actually believe it.

    The Heat's PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is a league leading 7.62 (ranked first among Eastern playoff teams), a stat that speaks volumes of the team's offensive and defensive dominance versus non-elite teams.

    The Heat have three representatives in the Top 50 Eastern Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include LeBron James (second), Dwyane Wade (fourth), and Chris Bosh (15th).

    While James and Wade are certainly earning their hefty paychecks, the verdict is still out on Chris Bosh who threw the game away versus the Knicks with a bad pass, and was a rotten 1-of-18 from the field versus Chicago. 

    To add to this, Bosh is the32nd most-efficient player in the entire league—not bad, but not worth LeBron James-type pay.

    Can the Heat get over their hump to close out elite teams?  One thing is for sure, the easy schedule is over and the Heat are on a two-week grind against winning teams.  They’ve lost the first two battles against the Bulls and the Knicks, courtesy of Chris Bosh's bad passing and bad shooting.

    The Heat are rumored to be interested in Mike Bibby’s contract, and if a deal lands the PG in Miami, the Heat will become the team to beat.  While Bibby is certainly not elite, he is a tremendous upgrade over Miami’s current offerings at the quarterback slot.  He is a good ball handler and a thee-point threat that would relieve the intense pressure now facing both Wade and James. 

East—No. 2: Chicago Bulls

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    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 28:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls passes the ball between his legs back to teammate Joakim Noah #13 as John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards guards him at the Verizon Center in Washington on February 28, 2011 in Washingt
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Yes, the Chicago Bulls are ahead of the Miami Heat and it’s not hard to see why.  This is because through much of the Bulls' season, they have been missing at least one of their three stars. 

    First it was Carlos Boozer who was lost for two months, followed by Joakim Noah for another extended period. 

    Given that both these players are leading rebounders as well as major offensive contributors in the Bulls' offense—plus the fact that Chicago has done pretty well in their absence—the potential of the Bulls has yet to be realized.

    Also consider that Chicago has lost only two games with all three of its stars in the starting rotation—and they just beat Miami.

    Chicago traded James Johnson to the Toronto Raptors for a future draft pick.  The talented Johnson was expendable in Chicago, but will be a welcome addition to the Raptors.  The trade front did not affect the Bulls and they did not pick up the SG that they had been searching for.

    The Bulls' PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is plus-5.79 (ranked fourth among Eastern playoff teams), a stat that would almost assuredly be higher with a healthy Boozer and Noah in the lineup.

    Chicago is one of only three teams that have at least four representatives in the Top 50 Eastern Conference Player Efficiency Rankings, and the only team with at least three players in the top 10 and the only team with at least four players in the top 25. 

    They include Derrick Rose (seventh), Noah (ninth), Boozer (10th), and Luol Deng (24th).

    You simply cannot ignore four efficient players on the same team when predicting team success.

East—No. 1: Boston Celtics

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    BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 06:  Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics is congratulated by teammates Paul Pierce #23,Glen Davis #11,Kevin Garnett #5 and Ray Allen #20 after Rondo drew the foul in the second half agianst the Orlando Magic on February 6, 2011 at t
    Elsa/Getty Images

    The Boston Celtics stunned the NBA world by trading behemoth center, Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder for PF Jeff Green. 

    Most NBA purists consider Perkins' absence due to injury as the major reason the Celtics lost to the L.A. Lakers in last year’s finals, and they would be partially right, especially given the closeness of the series.  But people forget one thing, and that is Kevin Garnett had not recovered 100 percent from his injury, and his performance was abysmal. 

    On the bright side, Garnett has fully recovered and the Boston Celtics’ successful season for the most part has had little to do with Perkins, who has spent much of the season on the injured list.

    The Celtics' PPG Differential versus their opponents this season is plus-6.65 (ranked second among Eastern playoff teams). 

    The Celtics are the only team in the East with at least five representatives in the Top 50 Eastern Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include Garnett (11th), Rojan Rondo (13th), Paul Pierce (17th), Ray Allen (28th) and Green (42nd).

    So there you have it…the Perkins trade has landed Boston an efficient player in Jeff Green, who will likely be a strong boost coming off the bench.

    And Boston will need it, as they win the Eastern Conference title again this year—unless of course, Miami makes that deal for Bibby— then you will have the first half of the Heat-or-3-Peat equation instead.

        

West—No. 8: Denver Nuggets

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    DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 24:  Nene #31 of the Denver Nuggets contests Glen Davis #11 of the Boston Celtics for control of the ball during NBA action at the Pepsi Center on February 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Nuggets defeated the Celtics 89-75. NOTE TO
    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    Whew!!  The ‘Melo Drama has finally left town and what a sordid melodrama it was.  In the end, it seems that the Nuggets used Anthony’s selfish nature to rob NY of some very important assets.

    And ‘Melo was certainly not going to sound the burglar alarm, because it would delay his arrival in the Big Apple, possibly till he became a free agent.

    And now without ‘Melo, the Nuggets are a deeper club, but the only question is: Can they get their chemistry down ASAP?

    The Nuggets’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is 2.73 (ranked fourth among Western playoff teams), yet much of that stat was a result of a different Nuggets' team. 

    The Nuggets have four representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  The only original Nugget is Nene Hilario (20th), and the other three are former Knicks players including Raymond Felton (24th), Wilson Chandler (33rd) and Danilo Gallinari (43rd).

    With the haul the Nuggets have received including all the picks, they are in a good position to rebuild their club quickly.

West—No. 7: Memphis Grizzlies

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 02:  Zach Randolph #50 of the Memphis Grizzlies is defended by Ron Artest (L) #15 and Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on January 2, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER:
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Memphis has been chugging away all season and they are a young team that have a good cornerstone in both Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph.

    Memphis did well on the trade front by shipping little used Hasheem Thabeet and DeMarre Carroll to Houston for defensive stalwart Shane Battier and Ish Smith.

    The Grizzlies’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is 1.78 (ranked seventh among Western playoff teams). 

    Memphis also has four representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They are Zach Randolph (fifth), Rudy Gay (21st), Marc Gasol (35th) and Mike Conley (41st).

    The Grizzlies are a team with potential that certainly won’t be realized past the first round of the playoffs.

West—No. 6: New Orleans Hornets

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    NEW ORLEANS - MARCH 22:  David West #30 and Chris Paul #3 of the New Orleans Hornets celebrate near the end of the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the New Orleans Arena on March 22, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  The Hornets defeated the Mavericks
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    The New Orleans Hornets are an excellent defensive team that is so predictable to beat.  If you can score more than 90 points against them, you have a good chance of winning.  If you can score 100, the game is definitely in the bag for you.

    Yet, the Hornets have been the dragon slayers of the NBA and have beaten tough teams during a tough schedule.  They have put several winning streaks and losing streaks together this season that have been confounding to say the least, and because of this, they haven’t given anyone any reason to take them seriously.

    The Hornets traded away promising young SG Marcus Thornton to the Sacramento Kings for PF Carl Landry.  It’s not clear how this trade will affect the Hornets, but Thornton has shown that he can provide the sorely needed scoring the team lacks in spades, but was given little chance to do so under new coach, Monty Williams. 

    Landry will most likely be coming off the bench in support of David West at PF.

    The Hornets’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is 2.15 (ranked fifth among Western playoff teams). 

    New Orleans has three representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include Chris Paul (seventh), David West (13th) and Emeka Okafor (30th).

    It is not beyond the Hornets' abilities to pull an upset in the playoffs and if the timing is right, they may well run off another winning streak.  But one thing is for sure, this team will go as far as Chris Paul takes them.

West—No. 5: Portland Trail Blazers

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    PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 14:  LaMarcus Aldridge #12 of the Portland Trail Blazers in action during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on January 14, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Trail Blazers 115-111. NOTE TO USER:
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Has any team faced as much adversity this season as the Trail Blazers.

    First Greg Oden is out for the season (again) and then Brandon Roy follows suit, and that would be enough for any team to throw in the towel and call it a year.  But no, the young thunder have persevered under the leadership of LaMarcus Aldridge and are certain of a playoff spot.

    On the trade front, the Blazers picked up a productive Gerald Wallace from the Charlotte Bobcats for meaningless players and a couple of conditional first-round draft picks—a fantastic acquisition for Portland.

    The Blazers’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is just 0.53 (ranked last among Western playoff teams). 

    Portland has four representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include LaMarcus Aldridge (sixth), Gerald Wallace (28th), Andre Miller (31st) and Marcus Camby (34th).

    With Wallace coming in and both Camby and Roy back in the fold, the Trail Blazers have the potential to make a real go of it and pull some major upsets all the way to the finals.  But in order for that to happen, all the stars will have to align.

West—No. 4: Oklahoma City Thunder

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - DECEMBER 21:  Teammates Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma Thunder warmup before the start of their game against the Charlotte Bobcats at Time Warner Cable Arena on December 21, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOT
    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    The Thunder have shocked the NBA by trading Jeff Green to Boston for Kendrick Perkins.  While critics are questioning the Celtics' ability to repeat their finals appearance without Perkins, the Thunder have bolstered their playoff chances all around. 

    How will Perkins' play be affected without the 7’ Garnett by his side?  That has to be a factor, and now with the Thunder, Perkins will be expected to put forth some heavy minutes—another big question mark.  But all in all, Perkins presence should prove to be a boon for the Thunder. 

    The Thunder’s PPG Differential versus opponents this season is a low 1.98 (ranked sixth among Western playoff teams). 

    Oklahoma has three representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include Kevin Durant (fourth), Russell Westbrook (9th) and Serge Ibaka (46th).

    After last year’s Western Conference Finals, the Thunder have to have the Lakers in their sights, and this year they have Kendrick Perkins. 

West—No. 3: Dallas Mavericks

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    WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: Dirk Nowitzki #41 of the Dallas Mavericks puts up a shot in front of Rashard Lewis #9 of the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center on February 26, 2011 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agree
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    The Dallas Mavericks are back to quietly winning basketball games under the radar as Dirk Nowitzki reinstates himself back into the thick of the MVP race. 

    Caron Butler is gone, but that’s OK because Shawn Marion has his spot covered. 

    The Mavericks’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is 3.18 (ranked third among Western playoff teams).

    Dallas has three representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include Nowitzki (eighth), Tyson Chandler (29th) and Jason Kidd (38th).

    In the end, the Mavericks depend on the scoring of just one player, and that player is Nowitzki.  This was apparent when Nowitzki was injured earlier this season, and as the Mavericks immediately fell flat on their collective faces.

    As a result, it’s highly unlikely that the Mavericks will get past the Western Conference Finals, if they make it that far.

West—No. 2: San Antonio Spurs

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    SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 23:  Forward Tim Duncan #21 and Tony Parker #9 of the San Antonio Spurs react during a 94-90 win against the Dallas Mavericks in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 23
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The best team in the NBA just lost Tony Parker for two-to-four weeks because of injury and they are coming up against a tough stretch of ground. 

    The Spurs are deep, but can they overcome the loss of their playmaker?  If not, the Spurs will be in for a string of unfamiliar losses.

    The Spurs’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is 7.12 (ranked first among Western playoff teams and only second behind the Miami Heat). 

    San Antonio has three representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include Tim Duncan (22nd), Manu Ginobilli (25th), and Parker (27th).

    If the Spurs can win this year, Duncan will receive his fifth championship ring, tying him with Kobe Bryant, and if any team can beat the Lakers in the West, it’s the Spurs.

West—No. 1: Los Angeles Lakers

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers and teammate Pau Gasol #16 celebrate after a play against the Miami Heat during the NBA game at Staples Center on December 25, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. The Heat defeated the
    Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

    What a season the Lakers are having.  Every time they lose a game, the panic buttons are pressed unleashing a high pitched siren scream that can be heard across the country. And the Lakers are so many games above .500, it’s not funny.

    The Lakers’ one and only problem is their unwillingness to play defense as a team for any meaningful period of time.

    The Lakers’ PPG Differential versus opponents this season is 6.22 (ranked second among Western playoff teams).   

    L.A. has four representatives in the Top 50 Western Conference Player Efficiency Rankings.  They include Pau Gasol (second), Kobe Bryant (11th), Lamar Odom (16th), and Andrew Bynum (37th).

    If the Lakers can just start playing team defense, the NBA title could be theirs for the taking, especially since Boston has given up Perkins, but if they don’t, they may not even make it to the Western Conference Finals.

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