That the San Antonio Spurs would earn the Western Conference's No. 1 seed seemed like such a foregone conclusion for such a long time that it was almost accepted as cast in bronze. As it turns out, the Los Angeles Lakers are just 2.5 games behind the Spurs with a real chance to take over the spot after Thursday's action.
The Lakers destroyed the Dallas Mavericks on Thursday, taking a 1.5-game lead over the Mavs for the No. 2 spot in the West. L.A. effectively has an extra game on Dallas by virtue of being a division winner; if two teams have the same record, but only one is a division champ, the division champ cannot be the lower seed. Since Dallas needs to be a game ahead of L.A. to grab No. 2, the Lakers are effectively 2.5 games in front.
That's the same margin the Spurs have over the Lakers, with one caveat. The Spurs have a 2-1 season series lead on the Lakers, and the teams will meet again on April 12. If the Spurs win that game, they'd have the tiebreaker as both are division champs. If the Lakers win, the tiebreaker would move to conference record -- the Spurs are currently 35-11, the Lakers 33-11.
But to set those tiebreakers in motion, the Lakers have to catch the Spurs first. San Antonio needs six combined wins and Lakers' losses to clinch No. 1. That means that if L.A. wins out -- including the April 12 game against the Spurs -- San Antonio would need to sweep the rest of its games to guarantee the No. 1 seed. The Spurs have seven games left; removing the Lakers' matchup, San Antonio's schedule includes games at the Rockets, Hawks and Suns, and home games against the Suns, Kings and Jazz. The Spurs should be able to beat all of those teams. The Spurs, however, have lost five straight.
The Lakers' schedule is tougher, and has one big ol' stumbling block, the almost-as-hot-as-L.A. Denver Nuggets on Sunday.