1. Chicago (62-20): Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau  told ESPN.com  Derrick Rose  “will continue to get better throughout his career.” That’s a ridiculously scary thought, considering he’s a lock for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player. But the real question remains, Can Rose capture NBA Finals  MVP? Only five other guys under 6-foot-4 have captured that honor in NBA history: Tony Parker  (2007), Chauncey Billups  (’04), Isiah Thomas  (’90), Joe Dumars (’89) and Jerry West  (’69).
2. San Antonio (61-21): I’m not sure if Dr. Jack Ramsay prescribed himself some medical marijuana or what, but he picked Spurs guard Manu Ginobili as his MVP . I’d be surprised if Ginobili is named First Team All-NBA. Take nothing away from what the Spurs have accomplished, including a 2-1 record against the Lakers with Ginobili, Parker and Tim Duncan  in the lineup.
3. LA Lakers (57-25): After losing five straight games, the Lakers got a bit of their swagger back. If you think about it, all signs point to the fact that they’re already in playoff form: They beat the Spurs in the penultimate game of the regular season, Phil Jackson  is getting fined for his comments , Andrew Bynum ‘s health is in question , Kobe Bryant  is screaming homophobic slurs  at referees and Lamar Odom wants to quit .
4. Miami (58-24): Just as Gloria James may not have thrown the first punch  at a Florida valet, LeBron James  & Co. didn’t deliver the first, second or third blow against the Celtics . But the Heat landed the biggest punch in the fight on Sunday, handing the Celtics their worst loss of the year during a game in which Mike Bibby  actually played Rajon Rondo  to a standstill.
5. Boston (56-26): Who holds the key to the Celtics’ figurative playoff switch? I’m guessing it’s not Danny Ainge. And they better hope it’s not Shaquille O’Neal . Is it Rondo? Kevin Garnett ? Maybe it’s Paul Pierce , who told Mut & Merloni on Thursday, “I flipped the switch when I woke up this morning.” Whoever it is, Doc Rivers  should remind him to keep it on Sunday.
6. Oklahoma City (55-27): If the Celtics get back to the NBA Finals, they’d likely face the Spurs, Lakers or Thunder, and there are obvious Shaq storylines for each: a heavyweight title match against Duncan for a fifth ring, a chance to avenge Kobe’s comments after his fifth title  and payback for Nate Robinson dunking on him . Oh, and I almost forgot, a showdown with Kendrick Perkins  (remember him?), who has averaged a whopping 3.5 points and 5.0 boards in his last four games.
7. Dallas (57-25): Outside of the Celtics-Knicks series, I’m most intrigued by the Mavericks-Blazers matchup out West. After getting to the NBA Finals in 2006, the Mavs have been bounced in the first round three of the past four seasons — including the laugher against the Warriors in 2007. Unless Dirk Nowitzki  straps on his MVP lederhosen, I fear they’ll fall again to Portland.
8. Orlando (52-30): As Orlando Pinstriped Post’s Evan Dunlap noted, the Magic actually finished with a higher point differential (5.5) than the Celtics (5.4). Then, I played the NBA playoff predictor game , and my first run through produced the Magic as NBA champions. So, I searched for another reason to continue doubting Orlando. And then I remembered they play Gilbert Arenas  25 minutes a night.
9. Portland (48-34): A decade ago, if you heard the Federal Bureau of Investigation showed up at a Trail Blazers practice, you wouldn’t have batted an eye, perhaps assuming Rasheed Wallace  had a referee trapped in his basement or something. Now, post-Jail Blazers era, the FBI attended a practice  to recruit Gerald Wallace  for future service. The Blazers should hope they don’t waste their resources in the playoffs as much as the FBI just wasted theirs.
injury to Ty Lawson , Raymond Felton  may be playing big defensive minutes against Russell Westbrook ; and 3) flip a coin for Danilo Gallinari or Kenyon Martin  guarding Kevin Durant . I think George Karl  may already have tee times set.
11. New Orleans (46-36): Hornets point guard Chris Paul  edged out Rondo for the league lead in steals per game, becoming only the fifth player to lead the NBA in that category five times (the others: Micheal Ray Richardson, Alvin Robertson, Michael Jordan  and Allen Iverson ). The real question: Can Paul steal a win before the Lakers sweep them out of the playoffs?
12. Atlanta (44-38): Former Celtic and analyst Kevin McHale  said he thought all the Eastern Conference favorites would move on to the second round, and then picked the No. 5 Hawks over the No. 4 Magic. I didn’t realize McHale attended the Michael Vick school of mathematics .
13. Memphis (46-36): In case you missed The Wall Street Journal’s profile of Tony Allen , entitled, “The Most Unlikely Impact Player,” here’s the best line, courtesy of Grizzlies  sideline reporter Rob Fischer, “Everybody used to think it just meant he was crazy.” By the way, I think I just heard Bob Lobel crack a “Why can’t we get guys like that?” joke.
14. New York (42-40): Knicks point guard Chauncey Billups claimed the Knicks were the most dangerous team in the first round. Considering Stephen Jackson  and his 9-mm pistol aren’t in the playoffs, he might be right. Still, Celtics in six.
15. Philadelphia (41-41): Do the Sixers stand a chance against the Heat? Can Andre Iguadola slow down LeBron (after all, ESPN.com’s John Hollinger had Iggy on his All-Defense First Team  along with Kevin Garnett, Dwight Howard , Kyle Lowry  and Tony Allen ). If the 1776ers stood a chance against the British, anything is possible, right?
16. Houston (43-39): The Ming Dynasty has been described as “one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history.” Now that his Rockets contract is officially up, I think it’s safe to say the Yao Ming  dynasty was one of the greatest eras of disorderly movement and injury instability in basketball history.
17. Indiana (37-45): In a Sports Illustrated article  about point guards that highlighted the odds Pacers floor general Darren Collison has overcome, team president Larry Bird  said of Collison, “He’s been OK, he’s been nothing spectacular.” Way to boost your team’s morale heading into a first-round series against Rose and the Bulls there, Larry.
18. Phoenix (40-42): The always classy Grant Hill  tweeted after the Suns’ final game, “Great finish to a tough year. Thanks for all your support Planet Orange. Let’s make it right next year.” As a side note, I was thinking about Hill when Kobe gave his whole “I can’t be blamed for what I say in the heat of battle” defense about his recent comments. Do you think Hill drops homophobic slurs when he’s whistled for a foul? I’m guessing he doesn’t.
19. Utah (39-43): Gordon Hayward‘s 34 points in a 107-103 victory against the Nuggets were more than either Karl Malone  or John Stockton  recorded in their rookie seasons, and his 12 buckets in the game matched Butler’s total field goals in the NCAA  championship game. These are the things Jazz  fans have to take from a season in which their team traded its franchise player after he compelled its legendary coach to resign.
20. Golden State (36-46): I enjoy how ESPN.com still has Monta Ellis  listed as day-to-day on its injury list. For what? Doing chores around the house? “Listen, honey, I was going to clean the dishes, but I’m still day-to-day.”
21. Milwaukee (35-47): Bucks Australian center Andrew Bogut  underwent elbow surgery on Tuesday. Do you think when he saw the doctor’s scalpel, he said, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife! ”
23. Charlotte (34-48): Bobcats forward Boris Diaw  reportedly picked up his $9 million . Did he eat it, too? Have you seen him lately? Is there any truth to the rumor the team hired the Pillsbury Dough Boy as its trainer?
24. Detroit (30-52): After Pistons forward Charlie Villanueva  got into his altercation  with Cavaliers  forward Ryan Hollins , Garnett could probably heard somewhere, saying, “I don’t pay attention to nobodies fighting bigger nobodies.”
26. Sacramento (24-58): Most years, the Kings announcers are probably crying tears of joy when the season ends. Not this season .
28. Toronto (22-60): Raptors power forward Amir Johnson apparently said the team needs a legit center . Toronto’s European big man, Andrea Bargnani, was going to respond face-to-face, but instead just shot back from 26 feet away.
29. Cleveland (19-63): Actual comment from an actual Cavaliers fan in the Oct. 14 NBA Power Rankings : “Last time I checked one person does not make the worst team in the league an instant championship contender. Why think the opposite? Lebron was not the only person on the Cavs that could play. Important, yes, but because he left does not make them a nobody.” I rest my case.
30. Minnesota (17-65): Timberwolves  president David Kahn has been assured his job is safe next season , and why not? Considering he’s pretty much 0-for-6 on first-round draft picks in the last two seasons, he’s due to get one right at some point.