Editor's note: We asked our panel of NBA experts, "Who will win the Western Conference?"
1. Los Angeles Lakers: 7 votes
Chris Broussard, ESPN Mag: Kobe will make sure their front line isn't putty again.
Ric Bucher, ESPN Mag: Both the Rockets and the Hornets are right there, but I believe less in their abilities to play with injury. The Lakers' resilience is proven.
Chad Ford, ESPN.com: This is the year Kobe finally takes home an NBA title without Shaq.
Mark Jackson, ESPN: They have unfinished business and realize now that they have to do it on both ends. Andrew Bynum is a difference-maker.
Jackie MacMullan, ESPN.com
Chris Palmer, ESPN Mag
Jalen Rose, ESPN
T-2. New Orleans Hornets: 4 votes
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Learned a lesson from the Spurs in the playoffs. Now they're ready to apply it.
Henry Abbott, ESPN.com's TrueHoop: I literally flipped a coin to pick between the Lakers and the Hornets.
Tim Legler, ESPN: Everyone is gift-wrapping the West for L.A., but the Hornets have the best chemistry in the league and a young superstar at the most important position in basketball.
Jack Ramsay, ESPN Radio
T-2. Houston Rockets: 4 votes
Maurice Brooks, ESPN,com: If Yao or T-Mac is injured come playoff time, pencil the Lakers into this spot. The physical play of the Rockets gives them the edge over the Lakers and Hornets.
Scoop Jackson, ESPN.com
Keith Lipscomb, ESPN.com Fantasy: Team is well built for the challenge of postseason play. They'll need all hands on deck, though, to get by the more accomplished Lakers and Spurs.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: Over the Jazz in the West finals, and McGrady finally gets his props.
4. San Antonio Spurs: 2 votes
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: I'm gullible enough to believe Ginobili will be healthy and rested come April, which would affect a Lakers-Spurs rematch even more than the presence of Andrew Bynum.
David Thorpe, Scouts Inc.: A healthy Manu in the West Finals would have brought a different result last season. The Spurs still play well in every phase, and have many crunch-time weapons.
5. Utah Jazz: 1 vote
John Hollinger, ESPN.com: Deep, young, talented club will surprise