There were times during this season when it looked as if no team other than the Cavs, Celtics and Lakers would crack the top three. And there were times when it looked like no one other than those three, the Magic and the Spurs would crack the top five.
Those walls have been broken down, more so by the frailties of the teams listed above than by a big run from any of the other 25 teams. These days, with Kevin Garnett's return boosting the Celtics back to elite status, it's the Spurs who aren't looking very top-fivish.
The top two teams, though, are looking impenetrable. Each has an insurmountable lead atop the conference and, together, they are competing only against each other for home-court advantage .
It has been predicted in this space multiple times that Cleveland-L.A. will be the matchup in the 2009 NBA Finals, and that possibility is looking stronger than ever. Not only will the Lakers have the No. 1 seed in the West, but they also have a winning record against every Western Conference team except one. (They're 1-1 against the Jazz, with one game remaining.)
The only Eastern Conference team with a head-to-head edge on the Cavs is the Celtics, who visit Quicken Loans Arena on April 12. Cleveland also has split its first two games with the Magic and visits Orlando on April 3. But of course, the Cavs are 32-1 at home, 21-0 against the East. And even though Ben Wallace is out, Cleveland is looking much more healthy than the Celtics these days.
Meanwhile, the Elimination Watch is on. They're still mathematically alive, but put former partners Larry Bird (Indiana) and Donnie Walsh (New York) on the guest list for May 19 in Secaucus. Then pencil in Rod Thorn (New Jersey), John Hammond (Milwaukee) and Steve Kerr (Phoenix) as well.
It looks like the eighth spot in the East will come down to the Bulls and Bobcats. They play once more (April 11 in Chicago) and Charlotte already has the tiebreaker, with wins in the first two games between the two teams.
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