The Lakers would have the home court advantage if they play the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.The Lakers have Andrew Bynum back, a bit rusty but making a difference.These are two important things to know as the playoffs begin this weekend.It is also important to know there’s no guarantee the Lakers will reach those finals and a lot of basketball must be played before they arrive.All you can ask for in the 82-game regular season is to do well enough to position yourself for the playoffs. The Lakers have done that.They’ll have the home court advantage in every Western Conference series and against any Eastern team in the NBA Finals except Cleveland.That one exception could be their fatal flaw because it would leave them exactly where they were a year ago when the Eastern champion (the Celtics) had the home court advantage and used it to beat the Lakers.But the Lakers say they learned a lot from that Finals defeat and would be better prepared this time, so maybe we’ll see.As for the Western playoffs, I don’t see any team that should defeat the Lakers in a seven-game series. But all those teams are pretty good and an injury to Kobe Bryant would give any of them a chance.In some years the bottom few playoff teams barely belong, but this time even the bottom ones are legitimate. The West is so deep that Dallas and Utah, who’ve had impressive credentials in the recent past, are now the No. 7 and 8 seeds. Phoenix, which has plenty of talent, finished ninth and didn’t even make the playoffs.An interesting second round series could match the Lakers against the Trail Blazers, who’ve beaten Lakers teams eight straight times in Portland. It could be the Lakers’ biggest Western test, but the Blazers would have to win at Staples Center. Although they appear to be the next Western Conference power, beating the Lakers in the playoffs this season would be premature in their growth.I expect the Lakers to get through the Western playoffs but not without some tough games. Those three rounds will be a major test for Bynum, who missed three months with a knee injury. I don’t know if the 7-foot center will be able to play consistently well in the season’s most important games following the long layoff.Logically, he’ll struggle at times. But the Lakers advanced to the Finals last season without him.If the Lakers do play the Cavaliers in the Finals it will be a duel of the league’s two best players. The Lakers have an advantage in almost every game because of Bryant’s presence. But LeBron James is just as good and cancels out that advantage.Cleveland didn’t have enough besides James to attain the East’s best record in the past but added quality players and did it this season. Now Boston is chasing them and wondering if Kevin Garnett’s injury will render him less effective. Orlando is another possible East Finals representative, led by Dwight Howard, the NBA’s best center.
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