Playoff picture finally taking shape in West

It sure is funny to watch the Western Conference playoff race pan out this year. 11 teams, up until the last three weeks of the season, had a shot at being in the playoffs. Here’s a look at what the playoff pairings would be if the playoffs began today.

San Antonio vs. Minnesota

The Spurs look like the team who should win the West. Derek Anderson is a big reason for this. If Tim Duncan and David Robinson play even sub-par basketball, this team will beat Minnesota in four games. If they rebound and defend like they can, this is an easy series for San Antonio. For Minnesota to win, they must get scoring from the role players, not just from Kevin Garnett and Terrell Brandon. The Timberwolves have been the hottest home team in the league the last month of season. If they steal one in the Alamo Dome, look out.

Prediction: Spurs in four.

Sacramento vs. Phoenix

The Kings look real this year, and Chris Webber looks like the MVP. They finally played some defense and if they take care of the ball, nobody will be able to beat them. Doug Christie is the guy to watch in this series. The Suns are small at the shooting guard spot and Christie should take advantage of his size. Clifford Robinson and Shawn Marion will give Webber some different looks, but Vlade Divac should have his way against whomever the Suns play at center. For the Kings to win, they must believe they are this good now. For the Suns to win, they must get some big numbers from somebody other then Jason Kidd and Robinson. Phoenix still lacks a big man, so the Kings should win this one.

Prediction: Kings in four.

Los Angeles vs. Portland

How ironic would this be? The best thing you can say for Portland is that this team has been assembled to take down the Lakers. The bad thing is that Shawn Kemp won’t be around, and neither will Bonzi Wells after tearing his ACL. These two losses are huge in the Blazers’ playoff picture. Big enough to where I don’t see this team getting out of the first round. On the other hand, the Lakers still don’t know if Kobe Bryant will be healthy for the playoffs. His injured ankle has kept him out of action for about two weeks. In that span though, the Lakers have actually won more games. Everybody knows the Lakers offense runs through Shaquille O’Neal. Finding energy and intensity shouldn’t be hard for the Blazers in this one. If anything, this may be the perfect cure for their sudden drop off in the last month. But that’s in a perfect world.

Prediction: Lakers in five.

Utah vs. Dallas

By far this is the most intriguing match-up in the West. The Jazz are still the senior citizens of the NBA, while the Mavericks are a young and youthful bunch with a lot of upside. Michael Finley has proven to be one of the top five guards in the league this year and Steve Nash has finally stayed away from the injury bug long enough to put up good numbers. Then there’s Dirk Nowitzki. This guy may be the most underrated power forward in the league. His excellent shooting ability make him almost impossible to guard when the outside shot is falling. For Utah, the addition of Donyell Marshall was huge. This guy is so versatile in the Jazz offense; he can get any open shot he wants. The Jazz easily have the experience in this series. It should be interesting to see if Dallas is just content to make it to the postseason, or is greedy and wants more. Unfortunately, the Jazz still get the calls.

Prediction: Utah in five.

Now all this is speculation with more than a week left to play in the regular season. Seedings can change and matchups can change. But with the way the season is playing out right now, this looks to be the way things will go. One thing is for sure: Michael Jordan or not, the NBA might finally see their ratings move back up. The excitement of the playoffs in the Western Conference this season should be second to none.