The regular season ended with the two-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers defeating the Sacramento Kings in overtime and securing the second seed in the Western Conference Playoffs. For 14 teams the season is over, but for the 16 teams still standing, the real season is just beginning. One team will win 16 games and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in mid-June. Here is a ranking of the 16 playoff teams based on their chances of doing just that.
Possible Conference Finalists
Rank 1: Los Angeles Lakers (Record: 57-25, West’s Second Seed)
Sixteen wins, just 16 wins separate the Lakers from their third consecutive championship. Since 2008, only the Boston Celtics have defeated Los Angeles in a seven-game series; and until someone beats them again, the Lakers will remain NBA Champions.
Rank 2: Orlando Magic (Record: 52-30, East’s Fourth Seed)
Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic are looking to make their third straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. To get there they will have to upset the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the second round.
Rank 3: Boston Celtics (Record: 56-26, East’s Third Seed)
The Celtics core of Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo has never lost a playoff series to a team without a Kobe Bryant or a Dwight Howard; and both Kobe and Dwight needed seven games to get over the Celtics hump.
Rank 4: Oklahoma City Thunder (Record: 55-27, West’s Fourth Seed)
The addition of Kendrick Perkins gives the Thunder a low-post defender who can guard Tim Duncan one-on-one in a probable second-round matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
Rank 5: Chicago Bulls (Record: 62-20, East’s First Seed)
Probable Most Valuable Player Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls have home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. How they handle the adversity that they will eventually face will determine how long their playoff run will last.
Rank 6: Miami Heat (Record: 58-24, East’s Second Seed)
Neither LeBron James nor Dwyane Wade has ever gotten over the Celtics hump; and unless they do so this year, the Miami Heat All-Star Trio will fail to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, let alone the NBA Finals.
Other Likely First-Round Winners
Rank 7: San Antonio Spurs (Record: 61-21, West’s First Seed)
Even if Manu Ginobili misses a game or two, the Spurs will be able to get by the Memphis Grizzlies in the first round.
Rank 8: Dallas Mavericks (Record: 57-25, West’s Third Seed)
If Dallas gets by the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, they will face the defending champion Lakers in the playoffs for the first time since the 1988 Western Conference Finals.
Lower Seeds Who Might Pull Off the Upset
Rank 9: Denver Nuggets (Record: 50-32, West’s Fifth Seed)
Twenty-four of the Nugget’s 32 losses occurred on the road; and without home-court advantage, beating a Thunder team who won 30 games in Oklahoma City will be a tough, but not impossible, task.
Rank 10: Portland Trail Blazers (Record: 48-34, West’s Sixth Seed)
LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Camby and Gerald Wallace will all spend time defending Dirk Nowitzki during the Trail Blazers first-round matchup with the Mavericks. If the four of them can contain Nowitzki, Portland just might get four wins and pull off the upset.
Rank 11: Memphis Grizzlies (Record: 46-36, West’s Eighth Seed)
The Grizzlies, who are 0-12 in the playoffs, are seeking their first postseason victory in franchise history.
Rank 12: New York Knicks (Record: 42-40, East’s Sixth Seed)
The Knicks now have their two All-Stars and are in the postseason for the first time since 2004. The next step is for Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to produce a playoff win.
Rank 13: Philadelphia 76ers (Record: 41-41, East’s Seventh Seed)
If the 76ers had a second wing defender to help Andre Igoudala defend LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, they might have had a chance at making this series interesting. But they don’t so they won’t.
Rank 14: Atlanta Hawks (Record: 44-38, East’s Fifth Seed)
The Hawks head into the postseason with a six-game losing streak, and now face the Magic, who demoralized them in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
Rank 15: New Orleans Hornets (Record: 46-36, West’s Seventh Seed)
Even with Chris Paul, the Hornets simply do not have enough to make their first-round series with the two-time defending NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers competitive.
Rank 16: Indiana Pacers (Record: 37-45, East’s Eighth Seed)
Twenty-five wins separate the Pacers and their first-round opponents, the Chicago Bulls. Honestly, the difference between the two teams is not even that close.
2011 NBA Playoff Conference Previews and Predictions
Preview and Predictions for NBA Eastern Conference Playoffs
2011 NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Preview and Predictions
Information from ESPN’s 2010-2011 NBA Regular Season Conference Standings, Yahoo! Sports’ Orlando Magic Playoff History, Boston Celtics Playoff History, Dallas Mavericks Playoff History, Memphis Grizzlies Playoff History and Basketball-Reference’s New York Knickerbockers Team Index was used for this article.