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Posted: Monday March 30, 2009 1:54PM; Updated: Monday March 30, 2009 5:51PM
Paul Forrester Paul Forrester >
INSIDE THE NBA

Projecting the playoff matchups

Story Highlights

The Mavs' reward for winning about 50 games? A first-round date with the Lakers

Look for the Celtics to edge the Magic for the No. 2 seed in the East

More topics: Tony Parker is carrying the Spurs; Suns are a big zero on TNT

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Barring a late move in the standings by the Mavs, Jason Kidd is destined to see a lot of Kobe Bryant in the first round of the playoffs.
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Less than three weeks remain in the regular season. The playoff participants are largely set, but the matchups are not. Let's take a look at how the conferences will likely finish and what that means when the postseason starts April 18 (all records and schedules are through Sunday).

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers (58-15)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 1 seed
Games Remaining: 5 home; 4 away
Games vs. Teams Above .500: 4
Projected Finish: 7-2 (65-17); No. 1 seed. With the Western Conference clinched, the Lakers are focused on gaining home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They trail Cleveland by two games.
What Lies Ahead: A date with a Mavericks team that the Lakers have yet to lose to this season and won't in the first round.

San Antonio Spurs (48-25)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 2 seed
Games Remaining: 4 home; 5 away
Games vs. Teams Above .500: 4
Projected Finish: 7-2 (55-27); No. 2 seed. With the Thunder on the schedule twice, plus games against the Pacers and Kings, the Spurs should have plenty of cushion to reacclimate Manu Ginobili to game action.
What Lies Ahead: A first-round matchup against the dangerous Jazz. Nursing injuries all season, Utah has been playing its best down the stretch. And with Deron Williams matching up with him at point guard, Tony Parker won't find the lane as clear as he often does.

Denver Nuggets (48-26)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 3 seed
Games Remaining: 5 home; 3 away
Games vs. Teams Above .500: 3
Projected Finish: 6-2 (54-28); No. 3 seed. The remaining schedule includes the Knicks, Clippers, Timberwolves, Thunder and Kings.
What Lies Ahead: An attempt to get past the first round, which the Nuggets haven't done in each of the last four seasons. Chris Paul and the Hornets won't make the task easy in the first round, but that's why Denver imported Chauncey Billups, isn't it?

Houston Rockets (48-26)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 4 seed
Games Remaining: 3 home; 5 away
Games vs. teams above .500: 6
Projected Finish: 6-2 (54-28); No. 4 seed. A demanding April schedule features the Lakers, Portland, Orlando and New Orleans. Houston also gets road games at Sacramento and Golden State
What Lies Ahead: Houston will have an excellent chance to win its first playoff series since 1996-97.

Portland Trail Blazers (46-27)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 5 seed
Games Remaining: 4 home; 5 away
Games vs. teams above .500: 4
Projected Finish: 7-2 (53-29); No. 5 seed. Portland plays three of its final four at home, with the road game at the Clippers.
What Lies Ahead: A first-round date with the Rockets, who have learned how to win without Tracy McGrady with a steady dose of Yao Ming inside and ferocious perimeter defense thanks to Ron Artest and Shane Battier.

New Orleans Hornets (45-27)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 7 seed
Games Remaining: 3 home; 7 away
Games vs. Teams Above .500: 7
Projected Finish: 6-4 (51-31); No. 6 seed. With three out of four away from home to end the season (visits to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio), the Hornets will fail to catch the Blazers and will have to fight hard to stay ahead of the Jazz.
What Lies Ahead: Will Tyson Chandler (ankle) and Peja Stojakovic (back) be ready for the playoffs?

Utah Jazz (45-27)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 6 seed
Games Remaining: 4 home; 6 away
Games vs. Teams Above .500: 6
Projected Finish: 5-5 (50-32); No. 7 seed (by virtue of winning season series against Mavs). Circle April 8 on your calendar; that's when the Jazz visit Dallas, which needs a late-season push to avoid facing the Lakers in the first round.
What Lies Ahead: A basketball purist's dream: first-round series against the Spurs. Utah will be hard-pressed to advance without home-court advantage.

Dallas Mavericks (43-30)

If The Playoffs Started Today: No. 8 seed
Games Remaining: 6 home; 3 away
Games vs. Teams Above .500: 6
Projected Finish: 7-2 (50-32); No. 8 seed. The Mavs have lost only nine all year at home, so having six more games in Dallas should be enough to fend off the ninth-place Suns.
What Lies Ahead: A potential 50-win team deserves a better fate than having to meet Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the first round.

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