(1). San Antonio Spurs (50-16)
1st round foe: (8) Utah Jazz (36-30)
Biggest concern vs. Jazz: With big boys Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson, Utah can cause the Spurs problems in the paint.
Last 10: 10-0 (Won 10)
Strengths: The hottest team in the NBA, the Spurs have great chemistry, Tony Parker is playing at a very high level and they’ve got one of game’s best coaches in Gregg Popovich.
Weaknesses: Still wondering if this regular-season success is a product of the schedule? Are they really as good as they appear to be? What happens if Parker gets in foul trouble early?
First option: Parker. He’s breaking the defenses down by scoring and passing.
Second option: Manu Ginobili. Back to his old self. Getting to the rim. Finishing on the break. Perfect complement to Parker.
Key reserve: Stephen Jackson. Back with Popovich, Jackson gives Spurs toughness and clutch shooting.
Series prediction: Spurs in 5. The Jazz fought and clawed just to get in the playoffs. Now they must take on the hottest team in the NBA. No chance.
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19)
1st round foe: (7) Dallas Mavericks (36-30)
Biggest concern vs. Mavericks: They’re still the defending NBA champions, have Dirk Nowitzki and enough complementary players to give the Thunder trouble.
Last 10: 6-4 (Lost 1)
Strengths: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the best 1-2 punch in the West. James Harden is a proven scorer. Serge Ibaka protects the paint with shot blocks. Kendrick Perkins does it with muscle and intimidation.
Weaknesses: Seem indecisive on who gets the ball at the end of close games. Durant tends to bail the defense out with jump shots. Westbrook goes to the rim, but can be reckless. Bench not very deep.
First option: Durant. Next to Carmelo Anthony, Durant is the toughest player in the NBA to guard.
Second option: Westbrook. When he’s not out of control, Westbrook makes opposing point guards pay with his ability to slash. When he’s jumper is on, he’s unstoppable.
Key reserve: Harden. If he’s overcome the concussion sustained from taking an elbow from Metta World Peace to the dome, Harden is a 20-plus scorer.
Series prediction: Thunder in 5. Dallas isn’t playing with the edge it had a year ago and doesn’t have an answer for Durant and Westbrook
(3) Los Angeles Lakers (41-25)
1st round foe: (6) Denver Nuggets (38-28)
Biggest concern vs. Nuggets: With Ty Lawson, the Nuggets push the pace. They’ve got depth, are active and can catch fire from deep.
Last 10: 6-4 (Lost 1)
Strengths: Kobe Bryant is still the game’s best closer. Pau Gasol seems to be coming alive down the stretch. Has improved defensively under Mike Brown.
Weaknesses: Rely too much on Bryant to bail them out. Bench is suspect and Andrew Bynum is on the down slide of a season in which at times he’s been super. Plus they’re without Metta World Peace, who is serving a 7-game suspension for the elbow on Harden.
1st option: Bryant. Next question.
2nd option: Gasol. Needs to be more aggressive, but he’s still a nice option for Bryant.
Key reserve: Steve Blake. He’s not out for his defense. Must shoot the ball.
Series prediction: Lakers in 6. If Denver can split the first two games in Los Angeles, the series will go seven games, but the Lakers, even without World Peace, will gut it out.
(4) Memphis Grizzlies (41-25)
1st round foe: (5) Los Angeles Clippers (40-26)
Biggest concern vs. Clippers: Chris Paul can dictate pace and is hard to check on pick-and-roll. If Clips can get out and run, Blake Griffin becomes an even bigger problem.
Last 10: 8-2 (Won 6).
Strengths: No one team plays harder and more physical than the Grizzlies. Have a rising superstar in Rudy Gay, great bench and Marc Gasol is one of the league’s best bigs.
Weaknesses: Goes through dry spells in terms of scoring. As good as Gay is, he hasn’t fully emerged as the go-to player. Zach Randolph still trying to find role.
First option: Gay. Can score in a variety of ways. Athletic. Is improving as a playmaker.
Second option: Gasol. Big man has all the low post moves and can knock down the jumper. When he gets post position, no one moves him off the block.
Key reserve: O.J. Mayo. Instant offense. Has found role.
Series prediction: Grizzlies in 6. With Paul, the Clippers are no longer a joke, but can’t handle the talent, depth and hunger of the Griz.