The San Antonio Spurs remain in the driver's seat of Planet Earth; sources say Gregg Popovich actually picked Barack Obama's sterling bracket for him. In the meantime, the Miami Heat kinda survived its brutal 11-game stretch, and is rewarded with an easy run leading up to the final week of the season. Can they catch the Bulls or Celtics?
1. San Antonio Spurs (57-13, Previous: 1) -- If Tim Duncan's injury lingers into the postseason, all bets are off. And hasn't that always been the fear with these Spurs, that the impeccable health was too much to ask for? In the interesting of a rollicking NBA playoffs, let's hope Duncan follows Tony Parker's comeback model.
2. Miami Heat (48-22, Prev: 3) -- Miami could very well win its next nine games by an average of 15 points. Philadelphia and Houston are the only decent teams on the docket before the Heat meet Boston on April 10. Consider this a predictive ranking.
3. Chicago Bulls (50-19, Prev: 2) -- Chicago's defense is literally second to none, but that offense leaves much to be desired. The Bulls are No. 13 on offense, and while the 2007-08 Celtics proved you can win like that -- league-best defense, almost average offense -- it's not optimal. But at least the Bulls do have an identity.
4. Los Angeles Lakers (50-20, Prev: 5) -- The tight loss to the Heat remains the Lakers' only hiccup since All-Star Weekend, with impressive wins over the Spurs, Mavericks, Thunder and Magic in that span. Quietly, and thanks in part to Miami's huge win over the Spurs, L.A. now has a better margin of victory than S.A., too.
5. Boston Celtics (50-19, Prev: 4) -- That famous Celtics cinched-in-the-fourth defense is still here, in case you were wondering. The Knicks found out all about it on Monday, as Boston held New York to 17 in the fourth, and just four over the final seven minutes. Will the C's ramp up before the playoffs, or be content with a No. 2 seed and a second-round match with LeBron James?
6. Orlando Magic (45-26, Prev: 7) -- Dwight Howard is averaging more than 16 rebounds a game over the Magic's last 10 games. His 14.3 rebounds per game would be a career high if he keeps it up. Reminder: this kid's only 25.
7. Dallas Mavericks (49-21, Prev: 6) -- The Mavericks have quietly lost five of nine, and now face having to make up two games on the Lakers and face a potential second-round meeting in L.A. Luckily for Dallas, the Mavericks are 24-10 on the road vs. 25-11 at home.
8. Denver Nuggets (42-29, Prev: 8) -- Another crushing victory keeps the Nuggets flying high. As it turns out, George Karl wasn't crazy when he claimed his post-trade team could challenge for home court advantage. They won't make it, but they very well could be favored in a prospective first-round match-up with the Thunder.
9. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-24, Prev: 9) -- Lest we overrate Kendrick Perkins' impact a little, Toronto did a solid job scoring on OKC on Sunday, and the Thunder's West foes certainly have big men who can step out like Andrea Bargnani did. A bigger concern is that the Thunder don't seem dialed in quite yet. When's the razor focus Kevin Durant has become famous for going to return?
10. Houston Rockets (37-34, Prev: 12) -- The Rockets are tired, but given how well they've been playing, a one-game week might not be the respite the team wants. Kyle Lowry, in particular, has been incredible since the Rockets traded Aaron Brooks. In his last 10 games, Lowry is averaging 20 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game.
11. New Orleans Hornets (40-31, Prev: 10) -- Perhaps no team in the bottom-half of the West's playoff bracket will rely more on match-ups than the Hornets; New Orleans is so focused on defensive intensity and Chris Paul's otherworldly creation ability that against a team like the Mavericks, it'd be hard not to get excited for the opportunity for fireworks.
12. Memphis Grizzlies (39-32, Prev: 11) -- The Grizzlies seem to be the only team the Knicks can beat these days, but Memphis has done a good job against everyone else. That could change, though; the Grizzlies' next three games are against the Celtics, Heat and Spurs. Gulp.
13. Portland Trail Blazers (40-30, Prev: 14) -- The Blazers were crooked on Sunday, and despite the NBA's No. 11 offense, shooting is not a strength of this team; Portland ranks just No. 22 in effective field goal percentage. That the Blazers can score so efficienctly -- thank offensive rebounds and a paucity of turnovers -- is a good sign when the playoffs arrive.
14. Philadelphia 76ers (36-34, Prev: 13) -- Louis Williams has perked up in March, and Philadelphia needs a strident gunner like him given the team's inherent offensive struggles.
15. New York Knicks (35-35, Prev: 15) -- My concerns with the .500 Knicks have been documented in this space all season. But let me say this: you want your favorite team facing the Knicks in the first round? I didn't think so. Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire can score on anyone, and while they are very obviously struggling to figure it out, they can each turn a game on a dime.