While interviewing a half-dozen NBA scouts for their
Here is the final word from them on how the Western Conference will assemble itself over the six months ahead (average rating of the six voters in parentheses):
1. Los Angeles Lakers (1.0)
Note the large separation for the Lakers from the rest of the conference, with the next four teams bunched tightly. The same eight playoff teams appear on every ballot, suggesting a big drop-off to the bottom half of the conference. The scouts vote unanimously that the Lakers will finish No. 1, the Nuggets No. 9 and the Grizzlies dead last.
Here is their poll for the East:
1. Boston Celtics (1.0)
They see a clear hierarchy developing along the top of the conference, with the Pistons maintaining their status as No. 2.
A couple of additional teams receive postseason votes: Two scouts forecast the Bobcats to finish No. 8, and one scout picks Milwaukee for the final playoff spot.
Notice, too, how little there is to choose between teams 9-13. Many of those teams are going to be competing for the playoffs late in the season, and I think we're going to find the East to be more competitive top to bottom than the West this year.
Here are all six of their predictions for the Eastern finals:
Celtics beat Cavaliers
The Celtics are the unanimous choice to reach the conference finals, and all but two scouts like them to return to the NBA Finals.
Like the rest of us, the scouts are divided on the main challenger to Boston. Two of them believe the improving Cavaliers will emerge. "
I'm not surprised that someone picks the Pistons to beat Boston; I made the same prediction last year. But other picks point to the unpredictability of the East this year. One scout likes the Wizards to win two playoff rounds because of their trio of All-Stars (though he chose them before center
No surprise that
Lakers beat Hornets
Five scouts envision the Lakers reaching the conference finals, and two votes each go to the Rockets and Spurs.
"It's one hell of a risk to pick Houston,'' admitted the scout who picks them to reach the NBA Finals. "Because what has [
The other surprise finalist here is the Mavericks, who hired coach
Three of the six pick the Lakers:
Lakers beat Celtics
"I say the Lakers beat the Celtics this time,'' one scout said. "But then I thought the Lakers were better last year. Add [
"The Lakers are too long, too big, too much,'' said the scout who likes them to beat Cleveland in the Finals. "When you have Kobe and LeBron matched up, I think Kobe can equalize if not exceed him. The Lakers are bigger and better in the other spots.''
The bottom line? According to these half-dozen experts, four teams can win the championship: Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Pistons.