When the NBA's best and brightest headed to Atlanta for All-Star Weekend in February, a changing of the guard among the league's elite teams seemed like a very real possibility. Not only did the three-time defending champion Lakers have a 24-23 record (ninth-best in the Western Conference), but New Jersey, Indiana and even Detroit of the much-maligned Eastern Conference were keeping up with the top teams in the West. Both the Nets and Pacers sported a 34-15 record at the break, second only to Dallas (38-10) among all NBA teams.
However, the second half of the season has seen the top contenders in the West assert themselves with authority, while those in the East have wilted. As many expected, the Lakers came on strong with a 24-9 record after the break, but they have been outdone by two of their conference rivals.
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