Jump Ball: Lakers in the West; Magic in the East

The NBA regular season kicks off tonight with two games in the East and two in the West. The Root's Martin Johnson takes a look at how the season is likely to play out.

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David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

THE EAST

Weeks before the Mad Men season premiere this summer, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic engaged in an arms race that recalled the 1960s, when every spring Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics battled Jerry West’s Los Angeles Lakers for the title, and every summer each team vied furiously for additional talent.

The Cavs traded for Shaquille O’Neal. The Magic traded for Vince Carter, signed Brandon Bass and re-signed Marcin Gortat. The Cavaliers added Anthony Parker and Jamario Moon. The Magic signed Matt Barnes. While most NBA teams were trying to find a competent sixth or seventh man, the Cavs and Magic had built teams so deep that their second units are probably better than some starting fives.

It would be thrilling enough if these two teams were engaged in a two-team race for the NBA title, but they have company. The Magic and Cavs are merely battling for Eastern Conference supremacy and the Boston Celtics, if Kevin Garnett is healthy, are almost as good as either of them. And for all of their huffing and puffing, there’s no guarantee that any of these teams are better than the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.

The Magic, Cavaliers and Celtics are all so much better than all other Eastern Conference teams that all three could win 60 games. For the other 12 teams, the ceiling is being able to reach the second round of the playoffs and getting swept by one of the big three.