With Kobe, Shaq and the three-time defending champion Lakers out of the picture, the New Jersey Nets see an NBA title there for the taking. Of course, every team left in the playoffs feels the same way.
"I think this is good for basketball," Nets coach Byron Scott said Friday. "Obviously, I am a little saddened. I'm a guy who played for the Lakers, and I still have close friends in the organization. But I think it's good for basketball. You are going to have a new champion, and I think that's great."
The Nets, who were swept by the Lakers in the NBA Finals last season, have already reached this year's final four, along with the San Antonio Spurs, who ended the Lakers' reign Thursday night by eliminating them in six games.
New Jersey will face either Philadelphia or Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals. The Pistons lead that series 3-2, with Game 6 Friday night.
San Antonio will face either Dallas or Sacramento, whose series is tied 3-3.
The Nets realize the significance of having the Lakers gone. New Jersey didn't match up well against the one-two tandem of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal.
"If it didn't work out for them, I said teams would be licking their chops," Nets forward Kenyon Martin said of a finals without the Lakers.
Jason Kidd was a little more conservative, as usual.
"I don't know how much the road is clear," Kidd said. "The favorite is still going to be the Western Conference. The good thing is we only have to play one of them. Maybe there isn't so much of a traffic jam, and we can go the speed limit. Whoever gets there from the East or West is going to have their hands full."