The NBA's Western Conference once again is top-heavy, but will it be heavy enough to steal the crown away from King James and the Miami Heat come June?
Eight of the league's top 10 teams reside in the West.
The Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and Golden State Warriors have weighed in early as contenders, ready to challenge last season's final conference pairing of the San Antonio Spurs and the Thunder.
The Houston Rockets are raising eyebrows as the league's highest-scoring team after being projected as cellar-dwellers prior to trading for James Harden.
The Denver Nuggets finally are off their Globetrotters tour and after Sunday will play 13 of their next 15 games at home.
Meanwhile, high expectations continue to weigh heavily upon the Los Angeles Lakers, who inexplicably continue to tread water with four Hall of Famers in their starting lineup.
Even readjusted projections for the Lakers still leave them in our top 10 (see chart below).
The Portland Trail Blazers, under the direction of former Oklahoma player Terry Stotts, are playing well.
If their roster can manage to stay healthy, the Minnesota Timberwolves should get to the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons.
What, besides the Heat, does the Eastern Conference have to offer?
The New York Knicks have become a .500 team since an 18-5 start. The Atlanta Hawks can't be trusted. The Chicago Bulls are still missing Derrick Rose. The Boston Celtics' high-water mark this season was 12-9 and they're now sub-.500.
Believe it or not, the East's second-best team might be the Brooklyn Nets, who have gone 5-1 since firing their coach.
The Eastern Conference playoffs figure to be little more than a right of passage for the Heat to repeat as champs a third straight year, but the wild, wild West should be one heck of a gunfight.
Eight teams each from the Western and Eastern conferences advance to the playoffs, but right now it appears 10 of the top 16 teams hail from the West. Our current NBA Sweet 16:
1. San Antonio Spurs: Tim Duncan has turned back the clock, and the Spurs simply need to stay healthy. Coach Gregg Popovich will prepare his team accordingly.
2. Oklahoma City Thunder: Thunder already has played a league-high 20 home games (17-3). Stiff challenge has arrived with 11 of next 13 games on the road.
3. Los Angeles Clippers: The streaky Clippers have looked scintillating at times and vulnerable at others. Does league's deepest roster have all the answers?
4. Miami Heat: Defending champs are getting everyone's best shot and also appear to be a bit bored. Has only a 7-6 road record, but clearly is best in the East.
5. Golden State Warriors: The run-and-gun Warriors used to simply try to outscore everybody, but guess who ranks second in field-goal percentage defense?
6. Memphis Grizzlies: After a 14-3 start, the Grizzlies have cooled considerably and gone 6-7 since. Despite offensive weaponry, Memphis is just 23rd in scoring.
7. New York Knicks: Not convinced the Knicks belong this high, but must give props for what they've achieved so far riding Carmelo Anthony's shoulders.
8. Denver Nuggets: Having to endure 22 of their first 32 games on the road, the Nuggets get to play 15 of their next 18 in the rarefied air of the Pepsi Center.
9. Houston Rockets: James Harden's shoulders might be even broader that Carmelo's. Former Thunder sixth man has become an All-Star leading the Rockets.
10. Los Angeles Lakers: Still wallowing around .500 mark, even with the returns of Steve Nash and Pau Gasol. Where would they be without Kobe Bryant?
11. Chicago Bulls: Fresh off an impressive victory at Miami on Friday, the Bulls somehow manage to keep plugging along without MVP Derrick Rose.
12. Atlanta Hawks: Their ability to win tough games on the road (at OKC, Portland, Memphis) makes the Hawks dangerous, but no warm fuzzies in the ATL.
13. Portland Trail Blazers: Led by scintillating rookie point guard Damian Lillard, the Trail Blazers just posted a big win at Memphis, but have little depth.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves: After opening a M*A*S*H unit earlier this season, Timberwolves slowly are getting healthy and will end their playoff drought.
15. Brooklyn Nets: Pretty quick trigger firing Avery Johnson. Nets could still be the second-best team in the East. Perhaps it will click under coach P.J. Carlesimo.
16. Indiana Pacers: Have warmed up lately thanks to a friendly schedule and protecting home court, but this is a much better team when it has Danny Granger.