With just two weeks left in the regular season, the Lakers have emerged as the consensus favorite to win their third consecutive championship. Along with being 15-1 since the All-Star break, the Lakers are relatively healthy and their attitude is well-honed for the postseason grind.
By contrast, problems have arisen among a couple of Los Angeles' chief rivals. The Spurs enjoyed a long stretch of remarkably good health but are now enduring a spate of injuries, including the absence of Tim Duncan, whose sprained ankle is cause for concern with the playoffs looming. And in the East, the Celtics (8-7 in March) are coping with five new faces on their roster and lingering injuries to Shaquille O'Neal and Jermaine O'Neal.
Ironically, the Lakers may also benefit from being beaten out for the No. 1 seed by San Antonio. If all the Western teams maintain their current playoff seedings and form holds, the Lakers' path to the conference finals would start with the David West-less Hornets and continue with a Mavericks team with disappointing playoff failures in their recent history. Meanwhile, the top-seeded Spurs would face a rugged, fearless Grizzlies team that has already beaten them twice, followed by the dangerous Thunder, who have added the interior defense of Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed to the scoring of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Bottom line: Things are breaking favorably for the Lakers, who remain atop the Power Rankings for the fourth straight week.
(All stats and records are through March 28 unless otherwise noted.)
NBA Power Rankings