Updated Feb. 17
It's called the second half, but the NBA's post-All-Star break schedule more accurately is described as the Daytona 500 after the final pit stop. Weather permitting, of course.
Ladies and gentlemen, the race starts here.
As the NBA's jet-propelled juggernauts jostle for playoff position and the battery-operated jalopies play "Duck, Duck, Goose" for seats at the draft lottery, the regular season's final eight weeks will sort out those playing for home-court advantage throughout the postseason, favorable early-round playoff matchups and simply a spot among the Sweet 16.
At the other end of the spectrum, the favorite in the Blake Griffin Sweepstakes also will be determined.
Here's what to expect in those four regions of the NBA map:
The top seed: Forget the schedule analyzing. The Lakers absolutely, positively have to sit atop the initial CBSSports.com Power Rankings for 2008-09. Why? Two big reasons: They went on the road and, in two nationally televised showdowns during a four-day span, thumped the competition for the No. 1 ranking -- the Celtics and Cavaliers.
Unfortunately for Kobe & Co., they are no sure thing to retain that spot -- nor the home-court advantage throughout the postseason.
You see, even though they went 0-for-the-season-series against the Lakers, the Celtics have had a better season to date than their opponent in last June's Finals. You don't see anything close to a home loss to Charlotte or road defeat at Sacramento on Boston's résumé.
And even Cleveland is more likely than Los Angeles to land the top seed, because, with seven of the league's top 11 teams residing in the West, it'll be much tougher for the Lakers to finish the regular season with the best record.
Tipping off at home: The Hawks trotted out for the "second half" with both eyes on the rear-view mirror because their claim to the No. 4 seed in the East is quite tenuous. The 76ers are among the hottest teams in the league, the Heat were the first to swing a major trade and the Pistons have Allen Iverson. All could catch Atlanta by the time the playoff pairings are announced.
The Western race is much more muddled and starts at No. 2. The post-break began with just a seven-game separation between the teams with the second- (Spurs) and ninth-best (Suns) records.
Just happy to be there: In the rugged West, the Warriors missed the playoffs with 48 wins last season. The Suns, though 14th in the Power Rankings, are the favorite to suffer that sort of disappointment this time around.
In the East, the race is for No. 6, not No. 8. That's because the seventh and eighth seeds face instant elimination against the Celtics and Cavaliers in Round 1, but the sixth seed figures to get a team with far less playoff experience and perhaps without its star point guard -- the Magic. Keep an eye on the Bulls, who won four times on a monster Western trip just before the break.
The last, not the least: Mark it on your calendar: March 15. It's the day the Kings get a chance to avenge their Jan. 21 home loss to the Wizards. Not that it would be in their best interest to do so.
At the time, it wasn't as crystal clear as it is today that Arco Arena visitors were seeing the two worst teams in the league. Going 0-2 against the Wizards, then having to make up ground against Western competition, would assure a seat in the front row of the lottery for Sacramento.
Here's how the 30 teams rate in the 2008-09 debut of the CBSSports.com Power Rankings: