As of press time, the NBA playoff matchups hadn't yet been decided but, what the hell, let's break down the insanely competitive Western Conference team by team, including the (non-Vegas) odds of each squad to win the conference.
Denver Nuggets (50-1): The Nuggets don't even pretend to play defense and are too reliant on jump shooting. Don't expect a repeat of last season's first-round miracle authored by Golden State.
Houston Rockets (25-1): The Rockets are starting to roll again, finally emerging from the letdown that followed the end of their 22-game winning streak. This team might lead the league in chemistry and hustle, but they're severely lacking in, um…talent. That's not good. Tracy McGrady's playoff misery won't end this year.
Dallas Mavericks (15-1): It speaks to the strength of the West that a team as good as Dallas can be considered only sixth-best in its own conference. The Mavs will be a dangerous first-round draw for some unlucky team, but their recent surge can't hide the fact that they feature an aging point guard (Jason Kidd) incapable of defending the likes of Chris Paul, Steve Nash and Deron Williams. Oh, and he can't shoot, either. If Dallas again flames out early, you'll know who to blame.
New Orleans Hornets (12-1): Just when you start to think the Hornets are ready for the big stage they promptly take a few bad losses, lose their grip on the top seed and have their second-best player (David West) saying things like, "We can't guard anybody. Our defense is nonexistent." Good times!
Utah Jazz (10-1): The Jazz has been getting a lot of dark horse talk, but consider this: Utah is nearly unbeatable at home (36-4), and disturbingly mediocre on the road (17-23). You need to win road games to advance in the playoffs; at this point it would be a bit of a shocker if the Jazz can do so.
San Antonio Spurs (8-1): If it weren't for their experience and propensity to come up big when it matters, there's no way the Spurs would be this high. Manu Ginobili, Robert Horry and Brent Barry are banged up; their recent losses have been absolute laughers; and Tim Duncan is playing like the bottoms of his shoes are covered in pine tar. Ah, but that experience…
Phoenix Suns (4-1): Following an admittedly ugly adjustment period after the Shaquille O'Neal acquisition, the Suns have been playing their best ball of the season and look to be peaking at the right time. Shaq at long last gives them the low-post presence to defend the West's other bigs, and the self-labeled "Big Cactus" also affords Phoenix the opportunity to play slow when necessary. One problem: They probably can't get past the...
Los Angeles Lakers (2-1): Well, let's see: The Lakers boast the NBA's best coach (Phil Jackson); their frontcourt, if healthy, is second to none; their bench is the league's deepest; they have home-court advantage throughout the conference playoffs… am I leaving something out here? Oh, yeah: L.A. has the league's best player, Kobe Bryant, who doubles as the most lethal end-of-game closer alive and just so happens to have an insatiable desire to win a title without Shaq and secure his legacy. You do the math.