Los Angeles Lakers Clinch Western Conference Top Seed

Ryan WardCorrespondent IMarch 28, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - MARCH 27:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with team mates fatre defeating the New Jersey Nets during their game on March 27, 2009 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

It was a forgone conclusion, but now it is officially after their win over the New Jersey Nets on Friday night. The Los Angeles Lakers are the No. 1 seed in the Western conference for the second straight season!

I think we all knew this was going to happen after seeing how the Lakers have just cruised through this season with all sorts of injury problems including another major knee injury to Andrew Bynum. The biggest question coming into this season was if the Lakers could improve on the defensive end of the floor.

When the season began the Lakers were arguably the best offensive and defensive team in the league. They were blowout teams by 20 to 30 points night in and night out, but that kind of dominance on both ends of the floor is impossible to keep up for an entire season.

Even though the Lakers came back down to earth after about about a month or so, they have definitely improved their defense for the long run.

A big move to improve the D was adding Trevor Ariza to the starting lineup. Ariza struggled a bit in a starting role, but he has come into his own as of late.

So if the playoffs were to start today the Lakers would be matched up with the eighth seed Dallas Mavericks who the Lakers have just dominated this season beating them convincingly in the season series 3-0.

There are four other possibilities for first round match ups for LA. First there is the Phoenix Suns who are on the outside looking in at the nine spot, but they have been red hot lately winning five of their last six games.

The second possible opponent is the New Orleans Hornets who the Lakers don't want to play. I think the Lakers will still beat Chris Paul and company to advance to the second round, but they could give LA some trouble.

The third possibility is the Utah Jazz. Last season the Jazz weren't even a challenge for the Lakers, this time around it I believe it would be the same result, but much like Chris Paul, Deron Williams has always been a match up problem for Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar.

Finally there is the Portland Trailblazers who would only be the Lakers first opponent is they just collapse in the final games of the season. An unlikely first round match up for the Lakers, but a possibility.

This would cause problems for the Lakers as they just seem to play terrible at the Rose Garden. Yes, the Lakers would have home court advantage, but it could go seven games against the Blazers due to their problems to play well in Portland.

No matter who the Lakers play in the first round, they will almost certainly advance to the second round and be on their way to winning another NBA title. The only big question for the Lakers now is who effective Andrew Bynum will be when he gets back on the floor.