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Bet on the NBACan the Los Angeles Lakers claim the first seed in the Western Conference? Going into the All-Star Break, observers were doubtful that this team had any gas left in the tank. But since then, they have won 15 of 16 games and are in second place in the West, one game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks, and within striking distance of the No. 1 spot.

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The San Antonio Spurs, currently in first place, have dropped three straight games, and have experienced the loss of veteran Tim Duncan to a sprained ankle. The Spurs are four games ahead of the the Lakers in the West, but that is not an impossible lead. Los Angeles has nine games left, and if they keep playing they way they have been, and if the Spurs continue to struggle, a No. 1 seed is definitely in the realm of possibility.

First, though, the Lakers have to secure the No. 2 spot in the conference. They are a game ahead of the Mavericks, but the tie-breaker for the season series will be played this Thursday in Los Angeles. The two have split the series so far this season, so the Thursday night game will be an important achievement for either, especially as the two may meet in the second round of the playoffs.

Both the Lakers and the Spurs have similar schedules left before the playoffs start. They each have five games at home left, and four on the road. The Spurs play four playoff caliber teams, while the Lakers play five. The key difference is that the Spurs are injured and faltering at the moment, while the Lakers are on fire. While knocking the Spurs out of the No. 1 spot is unlikely, it is not impossible.

And let's not count out the Mavericks, either. They have four home games left, five on the road, and four against playoff caliber teams. The battle for the top of the Western Conference – and especially the No. 2 and 3 spots – has gotten a lot more interesting this late in the season.


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