The Lakers are going down in the NBA playoffs.

This year’s playoffs will be the like taking a deep breath inside a new car – it smells fresh, but inhale too often in and you’ll have a bigger headache than a delusional Dodger fan. The Lakers’ early exit will inaugurate a new age of professional basketball where all teams swagger for the banners. Every team, except the cap-strapped New York Knicks and the awful Memphis Grizzlies, will have the potential to make noise in the postseason in the future.

If Los Angeles holds on to the third seed in the West, then that would mean a matchup with Portland. The Trailblazers, losers of three straight, are not impressive especially after a 102-99 loss to the Grizz on Thursday.

L.A. caught a break, even though the Blazers are versatile and learning to play with each other because of coach Maurice Cheeks’ responsiveness.

Portland’s problem is a lack of retaining any comfortable continuity in the frontcourt. Scottie Pippen served a one-game suspension, and Portland crumbled last night – not exactly a promising premonition. What happens if Rasheed Wallace blows his top?

Ruben Boumtje Boumtje is not going to bail you guys out.

In the second round L.A. could face either Dallas or Minnesota, the four and five seeds. The Timberwolves looked like the hottest club in the league midseason and they rode high at 30-10. For the last month, however, the T-Wolves resembled an unstable El Duce of The Mentors on a late-night bender rather than a quality basketball team. Though Minnesota has lost two in a row, including a blow last night from the Lakers, the squad is built to win a seven-game series.

Dallas should not last long because they thrive on running. The West elite will not let them speed the game up, but opponents will have trouble keeping pace with them. Minnesota can keep pace with the Mavericks: Minnesota has won the two most recent meetings. Give the Mavs another year. This means that Minnesota will win its first ever playoff series this year.

Though the Lakers save their best ball for the end, Minnesota’s quality additions and its ability to recapture some composure will be the difference. A great example is the UCSB men’s basketball team, who fell 0-4 during the regular season to Big West top dogs Utah State and Irvine only to defeat both of them on back-to-back nights in the conference tourney in March.

Anything can happen and the Lakers should win. But with Kevin Garnett, Wally Szczerbiak, Gary Trent, Joe Smith, Chauncey Billups, and late pickup Marc Jackson, Minnesota is deep enough, smart enough and talented enough to dismantle L.A. this year. Minnesota wins in six games.

And I haven’t even thought about the rest of the playoffs. I hear there’s this other conference, but I’ve heard only the Least amount of fuss out of there.