NBA playoffs: It’s still Lakers

Apr 17, 2003 3:53 AM

The NBA field of 16 teams has been determined but, with a handful of games remaining, none of the opening round matchups have yet to be determined.

Expect the Los Angeles Lakers, the three time defending champions, to be the shortest price on the board.

Sacramento and San Antonio will have short odds attached to their chances as well. San Antonio is on track to secure the league’s best record and top overall seed.

The Western Conference again is clearly superior to the East. It would be a major surprised if the NBA Champion did not emerge from the West. Consider that seven of the eight West playoff teams could have records that equal or exceed the East’s top seed.

San Antonio has a realistic chance at unseating the Lakers. The Spurs are 40-10 in their last 50 games entering the season’s final three days, having just had an 11-game winning streak snapped in Phoenix. San Antonio also swept the four game season series with the Lakers, took 3-of-4 against Sacramento and 2-of-3 against Dallas prior to its season ending contest.

The Spurs may represent the best value (3-1), but the Lakers still have to be favored. The three-time defending champs know what goes into winning a title, as does coach Phil Jackson who is seeking his 10th NBA Title. With Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, it will be hard for any team to defeat the Lakers four times in seven games.

Look for Minnesota to finally win an opening round series if matched up against Portland. The Timberwolves took 3-of-4 games from the Blazers this season and Minnesota’s Kevin Garnett has finally emerged as the team leader.

Eighth seeded Phoenix can’t be easily dismissed from pulling a major upset. The Suns won three of four from San Antonio this season (covering all four) and split their four games with their other potential first round foe, Dallas.

The East is wide open and it would not be a shock if No. 8 Milwaukee upsets whichever team ends up as the top seed. Defending conference champion New Jersey is a very solid and well coached team and should be favored to win the conference.

New Orleans, with a healthy Baron Davis, would be a legitimate longshot among the bottom four seeds. However, Davis will not be 100 percent if he plays. Boston is dangerous with the tandem of Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker.

Keep in mind that there are no less than 10 games separating the top seed from the eighth seed. We could see at least two upsets in the opening round and thus a wager on all four underdogs to win their series should show a profit.