Clearing up the NBA playoff picture As the regular season comes to a close, the real competition for the NBA Championship begins

By Edwin Blebu

This year’s NBA Playoff race has been the topic of many discussions over the past few weeks. Although the Eastern Conference playoff race is not nearly as competitive, the playoff seeding in the West is far from set as the positions of various teams will be determined at the very end of the regular season.

One of the biggest reasons the Western Conference playoff race is particularly noteworthy this year is because the historically dominant Los Angeles Lakers could potentially miss the playoffs for the first time since their dismal season in 2004-2005.

Before the start of this season the Lakers were considered the team to beat in the West after they acquired All-Star center Dwight Howard and two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash. However, their inconsistent play persisted throughout most the season resulting in their recent last minute push to earn a spot in the NBA postseason.

The Lakers are currently fighting to beat out the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. Currently the Lakers are leading the Jazz, however Utah holds the regular season tie breaker over Los Angeles.

With only two games left in the regular season every game is crucial for these two franchises with playoff aspirations.

The Houston Rockets and the Golden State Warriors occupy the sixth and seventh seeds in the West respectively. The Warriors recent loss to the Lakers on Friday night was a pivotal game in their effort to strengthen their grasp on the sixth spot in the West. Their loss was largely overshadowed by the untimely injury of Kobe Bryant when he tore his Achilles tendon in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Bryant’s torn Achilles immediately casts a cloud of questions not only about the Lakers’ playoff hopes, but the remainder of his career as well.

If the playoffs began today, the Lakers would face the Oklahoma City Thunder, who recently overtook the San Antonio Spurs for the number one seed in the West.

After a convincing win against San Antonio on April 14, the Lakers would prefer to play the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. The Lakers do not match up well against the Thunder’s youth and speed, and with Kobe Bryant out of the playoff picture the Lakers cannot rely on their superstar to combat the NBA’s second leading scorer Kevin Durant.

Positions three through five in the Western Conference is also a tight race between the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers own the season tiebreaker for the fourth seed in the West, after having clinched the Pacific Division for the first time in franchise history.

Barring any drastic changes to the three seed in the west, the Clippers and Grizzlies will be scheduled for a rematch of last year’s first round series that went seven games.

The Grizzlies, now without forward Rudy Gay who was traded to the Toronto Raptors, will look to rectify last year’s defeat in the first round. The Clippers, on the other hand, will be looking to show improvement from last year by advancing to the Western Conference Finals.

No matter which teamsare participating in this year’s postseason, the 2013 NBA playoffs will without a doubt provide a lot of excitement and anticipation as the top 16 teams in the league faceoff to determine the next NBA Champion.