You have to give credit to guys like Tracy McGrady and Paul Pierce. There they go, putting up 40-plus points on the road, playing out of their minds to help their teams advance in the playoffs. They work tirelessly, carrying the physical and emotional burden of leading their teams in impressive upsets over Detroit and Indiana, respectively. And you know they will continue pouring their blood, sweat, and tears throughout the playoffs. You have to give credit to these guys, because really, there’s no chance in hell anyone from the East is going to win anything.

You have to give credit to guys like Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki, too. Nowitzki also played out of his mind this weekend, throwing down 46 on the Blazers. Garnett did not fare quite so well, getting pummeled 117-98 by the Lakers, but did you see the effort KG was giving? 110 percent, all game long. Just like Nowitzki, or Tim Duncan, or Chris Webber. These guys sacrifice so much for the team: their egos, their bodies, even their pot sometimes. They’ve gotten over the individual accolades; they just want to win. You have to give credit to these guys, because really, there’s no chance in hell anyone from anywhere in the West besides Southern California is going to win anything, either.

Obviously, I’m not talking about the Clippers here.

Did you see the way the Lakers tore apart the Timberwolves yesterday? Derek Fisher was knocking down 3s, Kobe was throwing up and putting down one-handed, double-clutch, reverse, over-two-defenders, through-the-legs, off-the-backboard, blindfolded shots, Shaq was dominating as always and hitting free throws, and even Mark Madsen pump-faked Garnett into the air a couple times. It’s as if the entire regular season was some kind of afternoon nap, and now L.A.’s woken up, picking up exactly where they left off after sweeping the Nets in last year’s finals.

Please, somebody, put them back to sleep.

As much as it pains me to say it, the way they’re going, the Lakers are going to win their fourth straight title. Who’s going to stop them? Certainly not Minnesota, after Sunday’s whooping. San Antonio? Because they swept the season series from the Lakers? The season series means nothing. L.A. slept though the regular season, remember? It was all just a bad dream for them. And after Phoenix’s stunning upset of the Spurs Saturday, who knows if San Antonio will even get out of the first round. How about Sacramento? Do the Kings have a chance at dethroning the Lakers? Again, not a chance in hell. The Kings are still scared out of their pants by L.A., still reeling from their game seven loss to the Lakers in last year’s conference finals.

And even if all these teams could stand up psychologically to the Lakers, Kobe and Shaq are just too good. They are truly the two best players in the world, and perhaps the greatest duo in NBA history.

I loathe Kobe Bryant. He is arrogant, and he tries way too hard to be like Mike. But he is amazing. He splits defenders with such ease, then spins around a third before putting up a beautiful shot high off the glass over the extended arms of a fourth defender. He hustles for offensive rebounds, tipping in anything that Shaq can not. And he has something that Michael Jordan never really did: range. Kobe is deadly from beyond the arc, even with a man in his face. I loathe Kobe Bryant, but he is so, so good. Tracy McGrady may have to carry an entire team, but Kobe is unquestionably more skilled, more graceful, and for a long time to come, more endowed with championship rings.

Shaquille O’Neal’s greatness needs no explanation.

There is no way to beat the Lakers, because even when you play a perfect game and they sleepwalk through 47 minutes, it’s still going to be close, and they’re still going to have Robert Horry spotting up from downtown. There is no way to beat the Lakers because Phil Jackson has won 24 straight playoff series dating back to 1995. The man has nine championship rings. Nine! There is no way to beat the Lakers because they spent the entire regular season taking a nap while other teams wore themselves out jockeying for playoff position.

Please, somebody put them back to sleep.