NBA Playoff Picture: Spurs Can't Be Caught; Lakers, Mavericks Fighting For No. 2

The 2011 NBA Playoffs are now less than a month away, and the NBA playoff picture remains muddled. But there's one thing that's perfectly clear: The San Antonio Spurs will be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.

The Spurs, at 56-13, have an insurmountable 6.5-game lead on the No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers (50-20) with 13 games to go. The Lakers have been exceptionally hot since the All-Star break -- 12-1, with the only loss a very notable one to the Miami Heat. But given how well the Spurs have continued to play, progress has been minor.

There is a reason to press for the Lakers, though, as L.A. has been unable to separate itself from the Dallas Mavericks, who at 49-21 sit one game behind the two-time defending champs. In reality, the Mavericks need to make up two games on the Lakers. By virtue of being a division champion -- something impossible for the Mavericks, thanks to the Southwest-leading Spurs -- the Lakers will have the first tiebreaker on Dallas. In order to finish with the No. 2 seed and home court advantage in a prospective second-round series with the Lakers, Dallas must finish a game ahead of L.A. in the standings.

The Lakers have a somewhat tougher schedule through the end. In addition to a March 31 game against the Mavericks at Staples Center that could very well decide the race, the Lakers have home games against plus-.500 teams the Suns, Hornets, Nuggets, Jazz, Thunder and Spurs, and away games against plus-.500 teams the Jazz and Blazers. The Mavericks face Nuggets, Suns and Hornets at home, and the Jazz, Suns, Blazers and Rockets on the road. Plenty of potential pitfalls for each team.

The Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24) appear to remain safe in the No. 4 spot. There's little chance the Thunder makes up the 3.5 games necessary to capture the No. 3 seed to avoid the Spurs in the second round; there's similar little chance after this past weekend that the Denver Nuggets will catch the Thunder for No. 4. OKC has a 4.5-game lead on Denver.

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