Roundtable: Is Cavs' sweep of Lakers a sign of things to come?
The Cavaliers' regular-season sweep of the Lakers reveals a lot about both teams
Expect upstart surprises Grizzlies, Thunder to make strong pushes for playoffs
More topics: Tim Duncan's limited minutes, Knicks' lack of a solid point guard
SI.com's NBA writers analyze the latest news and address hot topics from around the league each week. (All stats and records are through Jan. 25.)
1. What do you take away from the Cavaliers' two-game regular-season sweep of the Lakers?
Ian Thomsen: With its length up front and strong team defense, Cleveland matches up well with the Lakers. Plus, the Cavs undoubtedly are, as Kobe Bryant suggested, hungrier than the Lakers right now. But the lesson of this highly fluid season is that it's too early to reach conclusions. It started with the Celtics looking like the team to beat, then the Lakers, and now there is reason to believe Los Angeles will have trouble defending its championship should Cleveland reach the Finals -- all of this with the second half of the season still to come.
Frank Hughes: If the Cavaliers and Lakers met in a seven-game series, I'm not sure Cleveland would beat them. I still think L.A. is the best team in the league when healthy. But at the very least, it puts LeBron James on a Kobe level, if he wasn't already there. He will not be his complete equal until he wins a title and removes any doubts, but LeBron has effectively established himself as the best player in the league.
Jack McCallum: Besides the fact that LeBron is pretty good? Mainly this: The Cavaliers believe they can beat anybody. Their confidence is as high as any team, and no matter what they've said in the past, they never felt like this before. That hauteur, along with James and the experience of Shaquille O'Neal, will get them to the Finals.
Chris Mannix: If I'm the Lakers, I'm most disappointed in the play of Ron Artest. Much has been made about Artest's decision to play for the Lakers on the cheap. But he has to, you know, still play. Artest has offered little resistance for James, who averaged 31.5 points (on 50 percent shooting) and 9.0 assists in the two meetings against L.A. Artest is not playing like the championship-caliber defender the Lakers thought they were getting.
2. Do you see Western Conference upstarts Memphis and Oklahoma City staying in the playoff race all season?
Thomsen: These being the league's two youngest teams, I never thought either of them would be in this position. So I'm not going to count them out now. But I give the edge to the Thunder based on their superior team defense, which can keep them in games and create easy baskets if they go through a scoring slump.
Hughes: I don't see why not. There is an unusually large grouping of teams from 7-12 in the Western Conference, and realistically, any of them can pick up the final two postseason slots. The biggest thing I see is Phoenix losing confidence and the Thunder and Grizzlies picking up confidence. That may be enough to offset the inexperience.
McCallum: They will stay in the race, but I don't think both will make it. Neither will be able to get by experienced San Antonio or Utah, but I can see the Thunder supplanting either Phoenix or Houston for the eighth spot.
Mannix: Memphis has a chance to rocket up the standings. Look at some of the teams around the Grizzlies. Houston is overachieving, Phoenix is fielding offers for its second-best player (Amar'e Stoudemire) and the Blazers' injury woes have to catch up to them eventually. The Grizzlies' phenomenal interior strength -- Who would have thought before the season that Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol would have formed perhaps the best 1-2 inside punch? -- will prevent any sustained droughts and long losing streaks. Remember, throw out the 1-8 start and Memphis has won nearly 68 percent of its games. That's a better winning percentage than all but two teams (the Lakers and Nuggets) in the conference. My prediction: The Grizz lock up the No. 6 seed by April.
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