26 October 2012

2012-13 NBA Predictions

It is that time of year, folks, so pump up the NBA Street Vol. 2 soundtrack because the 2012-2013 NBA season is right around the corner, and lockout free! The Heat finally put it all together and won the NBA title but the Lakers stole the show in the offseason by swinging trades for Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Are Miami and Los Angeles due for a clash in the Finals? I think the Thunder may have something to say about that. Can a retooled Mavericks club make a run? Could an aging Celtics club have enough juice to challenge the Heat? Can San Antonio put together another excellent season? Can the Knicks finally put it all together? And what should we expect from Brooklyn?

It is time for my 2012-13 NBA predictions.

1. Miami Heat
Miami finally broke through last season to claim the Larry O'Brien Trophy and they remain the favorites to do so once again this spring. A pair of shrewd moves to sign veteran three-ballers Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis gives the team a pair of guys who have made threes in critical situations in the playoffs. And the move to embrace the small-ball that wreaked havoc last season with Chris Bosh at the five and LeBron James at the four poses even more danger for the rest of basketball. Make no bones about it, this is James' team now and his realization that his post game is making him even more dominant has taken his game to another level (and if he harnesses a rumored sky hook that Bob McAdoo has been teaching him, my god). And now with Dwayne Wade healthy now for this season, it is hard to see this club fall short of the Finals.

2. Boston Celtics
The Celtics are the club that everyone every year says that this will be the year they fall off, and every time they put together a strong year. This year they will continue this trend after a productive offseason as well as the fact that the East is messy outside of South Beach. Rajon Rondo is now in charge of this club and he put together another awesome season last season, and he even flashed a shot in the playoffs and if he consistently hits shots, it's all over. Ray Allen departed for Miami but the team arguably upgraded by bringing in Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, as well as holdover Avery Bradley, who is out for the first few weeks, who impressed last season. Status quo remains at small forward with Paul Pierce and at power forward with the underrated Brandon Bass. Both are backed up by the overrated Jeff Green, who I certainly am not a fan of. Kevin Garnett is in the twilight of his career and the team needs good contributions from rookies Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo.

3. Indiana Pacers
Unlike a lot of folks, I really like this Pacers team. Frank Vogel found a system that worked with this unit last season and while they do not have any star players, they have a good crop of very good players like Danny Granger, David West, Roy Hibbert and a solid backcourt with George Hill running the point and Paul George playing at the two. Of course this team does have a ceiling as George can be enigmatic at times, Hibbert still every now and again struggles with foul and the team looks somewhat disjointed at times on offense. They did make an odd move in dumping Darren Collison and Dahntay Jones in order to sign-and-trade for Ian Mahinmi but the core of the club that gave a legitimate scare to the Heat in the postseason returns and in a weakened East without a second elite club, they have a good chance to get to the Eastern Conference finals.

4. New York Knicks
It is a fact that the 2012-13 Knicks are the oldest team in NBA history at an average age of 35 years old. While I thought the Marcus Camby was a solid one for frontcourt depth, plus Kurt Thomas is still a tough defender down low, Jason Kidd has nothing left and Rasheed Wallace will off the roster by January. This is still an oddly put together roster as Amar'e Stoudemire (who is already hurt by the way) is not a good fit with either Carmelo Anthony nor with Tyson Chandler and he may the odd man out on lineups when the Knicks go small with Anthony at the four, a lineup from which they found a lot of success last season. New York made headlines by deciding not to match Jeremy Lin's offer from Houston (thus beginning the revisionist history) and will have Ray Felton be the point man, which could be a question mark if Felton plays like he has since leaving the Knicks and not like he did when he was the Knicks under Mike D'Antoni. All that said, this team has too much talent to continue to flounder, plus somehow Mike Woodson found a way to make everything work late last season after Mike D'Antoni was fired by Anthony resigned. Also, don't underestimate when Iman Shumpert returns from injury, as he is and Ronnie Brewer give Woodson options with two great defending guards.

5. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia certainly caught a break in the postseason when Derrick Rose went down in game one but the 76ers did did pull off a rare eight-over-one upset and that gave them momentum into the offseason. That momentum was able to carry over towards the start of this season when they acquired Andrew Bynum in the Dwight Howard trade from Los Angeles, a deal that saw them give up Andre Igoudala after he had an awesome season, but with the team's depth at the wing, it was a hit the team was willing to take to bring a strong upgrade in the paint. The 76ers also look to have some solid play on the wing and at guard, although I think Nick Young and Doug Collins could be a disastrous pairing, and they should remain strong defensively. And Thaddeus Young is one of my favorite players in the league and you could see him, rather than Spencer Hawes, playing the bulk of the minutes at the four.

6. Brooklyn Nets
The Nets have been pointed to 2012 as the season they were building for. The Barclays Center would be opening up, the club would be moving to Brooklyn, keep Deron Williams and field a competitive club. While they did strike out in trying to deal for Dwight Howard, they did pull off a stunning trade for Joe Johnson with Atlanta and look to make waves in the Eastern Conference. That they should do as the starting five of Williams-Johnson-Gerald Wallace-Kris Humphries-Brook Lopez as well as MarShon Brooks off the bench looks to be an elite offensive club. But their projected struggles defensively will hold them back from going deep in the postseason, but after this club has been so bad for so long, they will be happy to be there.

7. Chicago Bulls 
As anybody who knows basketball and has a brain will tell you, the Bulls this season will be defined by Derrick Rose. After tearing his ACL in game one of the NBA Playoffs against the 76ers, Rose is not expected back until February at the earliest and who knows how good he will be when he does come back. But in the meantime, Chicago will be looking at Kirk Hinrich to help carry the load at point, Rip Hamilton to stay healthy, Luol Deng to take a bigger load of the offensive pie, Carlos Boozer to actually be useful, Taj Gibson to continue to get better and Joakim Noah to be his usual defensive force. What will keep the Bulls in the playoffs will be coach Tom Thibodeau and his elite defensive system.

8. Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks will fall out of the playoffs to the eighth seed but that is not a bad thing, actually it could be considered progress. Ever since they made that inane contract offer to Joe Johnson, the Hawks were limited to the middle of the pack and now after dealing Johnson to Brooklyn, they now have a large amount of flexibility. Add to that the fact that Josh Smith could very well be traded as he is in the last year on his contract and if Danny Ferry gets some solid pieces or picks in return for J-Smoove, he'll earn a pat on the back. They will get some decent play from the point in Jeff Teague and Al Horford is a top-flight center has been for a few years now plus Larry Drew is a solid coach and there are some intriguing players in their backcourt, including Lou Williams, who they got for nothing and is a player I like a lot.

9. Milwaukee Bucks
I really think the Bucks could sneak into the postseason, although I am predicting that they just will miss the playoffs, and the reason is because of their defense. The Bucks project to be pretty good down low defensively as I think Epke Udoh is developing into a real force down low, the acquisitions of Samuel Dalembert and Joel Pryzbilla toughen up the center position and while I did not love the John Henson selection since he is rail-thin, very similar to Udoh and pretty raw offensively, he has a real talent for shot blocking. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis project to form a very solid backcourt and Ersan Illyasova brings some quality shooting to spread out defenses.

10. Toronto Raptors
Toronto is looking like a sneaky club this year and do not be surprised if they make it to the playoffs. They went hard after Canadian legend Steve Nash but when they were unable to do that, they made a wise move to acquire Kyle Lowry, who is a player I am pretty fond of. The club did overpay Landry Fields, who I am not particularly fond of, although getting out of New York could be beneficial to him, but the wing play will be better after the smart selection of Terrence Ross and the returning DeMar DeRozan. The key will be how well Jonas Valanciunas develops at center in his rookie season next to Andrea Bargnani and if coach Dwayne Casey can maintain the positive defensive gains.

11. Cleveland Cavaliers
This team will go as far as Kyrie Irving takes them as he was tremendous last year in his rookie campaign but did miss 15 games due to injury. He also broke his hand in July in a practice. Irving's a star in the making but he does need to stay healthy. The Cavs made a pair of good picks in guard Dion Waiters, who I think could be a poor man's Dwayne Wade, and center Tyler Zeller, who has a decent offensive game that could work well with Anderson Varejao's great work on the boards as well as his love of the flop. The lack of depth is a concern but this is a club that is really building towards something big next year.

12. Detroit Pistons
This funky rebuilding job by Joe Dumars continues with some hope for 2012 but there are still many of the same questions. I do like coach Lawrence Frank, dating back to his days in East Rutherford and if he flips the right switches, they could reach the postseason. Detroit is a mess on the wing and they are relying on either a declining Tayshaun Prince or a declining Corey Maggette at small forward, which is not good. The team needs point guard Brandon Knight to take another step forward after showing flashes as a rookie and they need Rodney Stuckey to finally break through. I like Greg Monroe but they have nothing with him in the paint as Jason Maxiell is not the answer and Charlie Villanueva is still a fraud, plus rookie Andre Drummond, who has a huge amount of potential, is raw.

13. Washington Wizards
I know Randy Wittman did an all right job after the firing of Flip Saunders, but he is still a garbage head coach, considering the fact that he has a .338 winning percentage and is 120 games under .500. That said, this team has the potential to make a push for the eighth seed. They added some experience (and payroll) by making a move for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza and they return Nene at center. I really like Brad Beal at shooting guard and I think he can develop into a top-notch two-guard. The key is John Wall. Wall's injury that will cost him a month of play will hurt and reinforces the notion that in the offseason Wall is focused on wowing folks in offseason play, rather than working to improve his game. If he takes the step forward that he can toward stardorm, the playoffs could happen.

14. Charlotte Bobcats
There will be progress this season, even as this team will still fail to crack 20 victories. Trading the useless Corey Maggette for Ben Gordon will give the club some much needed scoring in the backcourt and I love second-overall pick Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. The real key is for Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo to take steps forward after both showed some promise in their rookie season a year ago. A real wild card is new coach Mike Dunlap, who comes to the Queen City after serving as an assistant at St. John's. You do not often see college assistants getting hired to lead NBA clubs but league sources believe it is a move so unorthodox that it may work.

15. Orlando Magic
I will be stunned if this team wins more than 20 games. We all know that they had to trade Dwight Howard in order to move on but they got pretty much nothing to work with. I like Aaron Afflalo a lot but when he is the centerpiece of their haul in the Howard deal as well as now the best player on the team, that is a bad sign. The frontcourt is a joke with the key players up front being Glen Davis, Al Harrington and Hedo Turkoglu, the last two really are small forwards. The team's best hope is that rookies Moe Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are ready to contribute right away, first time head coach Jacque Vaughn is not in over his head and the team wins the draft lottery.

1. Oklahoma City Thunder
After coming just shy the year before, the Thunder were able to break through in the West, only to take on a Heat team that was putting it together and came so close to being swept. That said, the whole team returns and they are loaded. Kevin Durant is the second best player in the league (anybody who says he is better than LeBron James is insane) and he is one of those few guys that can score anywhere he wants, plus his rebounding numbers are getting near double-double territory. You would like to see more assists from Russell Westbrook and you wonder if he can accept being the proverbial Pippen but he is just a scoring machine. Kevin Martin is not quite the offensive threat that James Harden was but he should still provide plenty of pop off the pine. Thabo Sefolosha is still a stopper on D. Couple all of that with the strong post defenders in Kendrick Perkins and especially Serge Ibaka and this team is pretty stacked.

2. Los Angeles Lakers
The team that everybody is looking for. When you have a quartet like Bryant-Nash-Gasol-Howard, that's unbelievable stuff. Just imagining the kind of stuff that this club can pull in the Princeton and try to think how awesome Steve Nash could work with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. You throw in Metta World Peace, who always has the potential for a bad blow-out and a whole lot of crazy but still a solid small forward, and a quality sixth man in Antawn Jamison, this team looks ready to kick some ass. It all comes down to Kobe. If he acts like the leader of the unit and not revert to his old self, demanding the ball and whining when he doesn't, and there is only one ball. Plus Bryant has been saying some odd stuff of late in press conferences, with Bill Simmons saying he's acting almost like Charlie Sheen. That said, I think he has matured to where there won't be many problems, although I have them second in the conference because I think they will have to feel each other out early on.

3. San Antonio Spurs
After game two of the Western Conference Finals, the Spurs were 60-16 on the season. And then they essentially got swept out and the Thunder advanced to the Finals. One of these days, this team is going to fall off, and it will not be this year. They return the same nucleus that could have feasibly went "fo-fo-fo" to the Finals and they have Manu Ginobili healthy, and one cannot discredit how important that is. Ginobili and Tony Parker is still an elite backcourt in hoops, plus Stephen Jackson can spell Ginobili off the pine. I love Kawhi Leonard and I think he is a hidden weapon for this club on the wing who is a really good defender and a quality slasher. Tim Duncan is 36 years old but he continues to get it done and DeJuan Blair is good enough to play for extended minutes if needby. And somehow, Boris Diaw and Tiago Splitter is a serviceable combo at center.

4. Denver Nuggets
I really like this Nuggets team on a lot of levels. Anytime you can bring in a guy like Andre Igoudala and he takes the minutes of a guy like Al Harrington, you have to pull the trigger. Igoudala is coming off probably best year of his career and he gives a flexible Denver club even more flexibility on the perimeter. The team needs Wilson Chandler to stay healthy and they needed Danilo Gallinari to improve his shot from three. JaVale McGee will always be a headcase and his offensive game still needs some work, he and Kenneth Faried will team up to make for a frontcourt that can jump out of any gym. Point guard Ty Lawson can't guard anybody but he is a gamechanger with his speed. While this team will struggle to slow down opposing offenses, although adding Igoudala helps, boy will they be fun to watch offensive.

5. Memphis Grizzlies
Could be the last year of the Grizzlies being together? It is not crazy that Memphis could be shopping either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol with a new owner and to try to get under the cap down the road. We all know how inconsistent O.J. Mayo was in Memphis but his touch beyond the arc played a huge role in helping create space for the big fellas and now they will rely on Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless for that shooting. That point aside, the main core of Gasol, Randolph, Rudy Gay and Mike Conley returns and that alone makes them dangerous, even as a three seed.

6. Los Angeles Clippers
A little lower than what a lot of folks are projecting because I really think that this could be a messy season for the Clippers. There are a lot of guys on this team and there are guys on the bench who could be getting a lot of playing time elsewhere in Jamal Crawford, Eric Bledsoe and Grant Hill. If there is a coach that I would want to juggle playing time, Vinny Del Negro is certainly not it. Plus I think Lamar Odom is all but done, he is not in shape and his personal life is a disaster right now. And the defense in the paint with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan is not great. That said, Chris Paul is running the show and he showed how elite he was last season as he and Griffin were an unbelievable alley-oop tandem last season. But do they want to excite (Griffin) or do they want to win (Paul)?

7. Utah Jazz
I was surprised to see the Jazz in the playoffs last season but we also say that they were overmatched and were dispatched in four games by San Antonio. I think they were be around equal to what they did last season, however as the Wolves have the injuries to their two best guys and the Warriors need too many breaks that they have never gotten. When you look at this club, the strength is overwhelmingly in the frontcourt with Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap and both are strong double-double threats, plus the team is bringing along a pair of highly regarded youngsters in Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors behind them. And Marvin Williams is all right at small forward, a decent player who is nothing special. The weakness was in the backcourt and they need Mo Williams to play like he has at the point and give them some solid shooting and they also need Gordon Hayward, who looked good last year, to take another step forward in his development. I think this is an intriguing club that could very well surprise.

8. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks took a nice tumble last season as they fell to the seventh seed in the West and so they had a little makeover in the offseason, bringing in Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman after failing to get Dwight Howard and Deron Williams to Big D. Dirk Nowitzki may be facing a decline as he hits my mid-30's as he averaged he had his lowest scoring average since the 1999-2000 season and he is out for six weeks anyways with a knee injury. Mayo brings some touch from deep but he also has the reputation of being inconsistent with his shot. Collison is only 25 but he is on his third team, should that mean something? Brand is a borderline has-been at this point and while I think Kaman is a solid big man and he played well last year.

9. Golden State Warriors
A lot of people think the Warriors are a sleeper team this year, but can they stay healthy? Stephen Curry is developing into one of the best point guards offensively...when he is healthy. Andrew Bogut is an elite defensive center and a pretty solid post force on offense...when he is healthy. David Lee is coming off a near 20-10 season but it is the same story with him as he could not stop his mother on defense, and he has a little bit of a injury problem history as well. The team has high hopes for Klay Thompson and the club needs him to take another step forward this year and rookie Harrison Barnes has to produce at the three if the team wants to stomp their feet and make some noise in the West. There are just so many x-factors for this team that they will come up shy.

10. Minnesota Timberwolves
I was buying hard on the Timberwolves this year, and not just because they perform excellent karaoke or would make for an excellent sitcom, but then the Kevin Love injury kills everything, coupled with Ricky Rubio being out until the new year at least. Love is one of the elite fours in the business and is the kind of guy that can carry a club into the postseason and thus losing him for six weeks, as with Rubio out as well, is a problem. Nikola Pekovic is developing into a very good center and should be another double-double guy in the paint for Minnesota. And the club has really upgraded at small forward by bringing in Alexei Kirilenko and Chase Budinger. Honestly, I have no idea what to expect from Brandon Roy at the two this season but there are some folks who are high on Russian import Alexey Shved, for what it's worth.

11. New Orleans Hornets
The future looks bright for the Hornets, or whatever owner Tom Benson plans to rename the club, with top pick Anthony Davis and tenth pick Austin Rivers, but the future is not in the 2012-13 campaign. In the meantime, Greivis Vasquez will handle the reins at the point and if that gets you excited, that is a problem. New Orleans needs Eric Gordon to be healthy this season because he is the focal point of their offense and one of the top scoring guards, however if he is hurt this season like he was last, there could be trouble scoring. I like Ryan Anderson a lot and he is a dead-eye from long-range plus a solid rebounder but was he a one year wonder? And while Davis looks to be a great center, he is only 19 so we should temper expectations for his rookie season. You only have to wonder, what if the NBA didn't pull some strings and give the first pick to...I won't even bother.

12. Portland Trail Blazers
Only a couple seasons ago, the Trail Blazers were one of the rising and intriguing teams in the league. So much for those days. Terry Stotts is the new coach and he brings to the Pacific Northwest a nice 115-168 record. There are high expectations for the pair of rookies in point guard Damian Lillard and center Meyers Leonard but there are some questions with both. For Lillard, he is coming to the league from Weber State and while he can shoot the lights out, can he effectively set up LaMarcus Aldridge in the paint like Andre Miller did? And Leonard was not spectacular at Illinois and he is pretty raw. Aldridge is the clear key cog but if the ships starts to sink, will he get unhappy and want out? Nicolas Batum has been tantalizing at times but the team really needs him to take the next step forward, particularly as he is now getting paid $46 million.

13. Houston Rockets
GM Daryl Morey looked to hit a home run this offseason by trying to swing a trade for Dwight Howard but when those plans proved unfruitful, now we have a roster in Houston that is chock-full of nice guys. The focus will be on a backcourt of the newly acquired James Harden, who is an elite shooting guard but has never been the main guy on a club before, and a guy you may have heard of in Jeremy Lin, who was unbelievable at times last season for the Knicks but still is kind of unproven over a full season although I think he will be very good in Houston. The wing is full of intriguing players like Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and a guy who I really like in Royce White. No question the team overpaid for center Omer Asik but he is a tremendous defender in the paint.

14. Phoenix Suns
A lot of folks worried what the Suns would look like after Steve Nash departed and now that he has left the Valley of the Sun, this team sure looks like a mess. Goran Dragic is a solid point guard and played well last season in Houston but he surely is no Nash. Wesley Johnson may have needed a change of scenery from Minnesota but he sure looked like a bust there. I really like Marcin Gortat and he has turned into a consistent double-double threat in the post, which is something the Suns have locked for a few years, but the rest of the frontcourt in Michael Beasley, who is one of my least favorite players in the league, and Luis Scola, who was a guy they got for a bargain.

15. Sacramento Kings
There really is not a whole lot to like with this Kings club, but I really think that DeMarcus Cousins is taking those steps necessary to be a star in this league. He's a consistent double-double threat and as he continues to mature, he will be elite. And I think he and first round selection Thomas Robinson should make for a pretty strong frontcourt duo. The rest of the club, however, is a bunch of chuckers. Marcus Thornton averaged almost 19 points a game but he actually averaged more shot attempts per game than Cousins. Personally, I have no idea how Tyreke Evans is going to work out at the three. I do think that Isaiah Thomas is a solid point guard but as Bill Simmons described it, the "pick-up team from hell."

East Quarterfinals
(1) Miami Heat vs. (8) Atlanta Hawks
Unless Josh Smith developed superpowers (which could happen) if he is even still on the club in the spring, the Heat will roll.
Heat in 4

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls
The obvious x-factor is Derrick Rose and I think he will be playing in this series, which will be his decision not the team's decision because the Bulls organization will want to hold him back for next year. I think having Rose back as well as the excellent Chicago defense will push this series to the limit but Boston would prevail with a hearty sweat on their forehead.
Celtics in 7

(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets
The Nets, I believe, will be the team that is happy to be there. For how awful they have been so long, just to get to the playoffs will be a success after all they have gone through to get to this position. Their offense will steal them a game, but their defense, which is a major problem, will hold them back against a superior Pacers club.
Pacers in 5

(4) New York Knicks vs. (5) Philadelphia 76ers
You know, with this Knicks team, I think they will get more wins in the regular season but I do not see them having success in the postseason, the way they are put together where their top three guys cannot play on the court together holds them back. I think the Sixers will play strong defense, pound the paint and grind the Knicks in this series.
76ers in 6

West Quarterfinals
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (8) Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks will take one game from the Thunder due to Dirk Nowitzki, who will win them one game to stave off a sweep. But there really is not a whole lot to like with the Mavericks so save for that one game, the Thunder will take this with relative ease.
Thunder in 5

(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) Utah Jazz
I must say, I do like the Jazz this year and they will sneak up on the Lakers and take a game from them in this series. But they do not have the starpower and the horses that the Lakers do and even if Bryant pulls his petulent act, that still would not keep them out of the semifinals.
Lakers in 5

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Los Angeles Clippers
Like I said earlier in my predictions, I am not buying the Clips this season and there is a chance that they are playing for an interim coach at this point in the season. San Antonio is strictly business and they do whatever it takes to get the job done while I think Los Angeles looks more to have fun and excite the crowd and all that jazz. But at least the Clippers will take a game in this series, which you could say is progress from when they got sweep in the second round by San Antonio last year.
Spurs in 5

(4) Denver Nuggets vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
I think this would be the best matchup of the first round and not even close because I do not see other matchups that have two dark horses that could make a Finals run. The difference will be the Grizzlies' struggles to space out the floor for their big men and I think that George Karl can keep JaVale McGee's head on straight and slow down Marc Gasol.
Nuggets in 7

East Semifinals
(1) Miami Heat vs. (5) Philadelphia 76ers
Now I like this 76ers team more than most do. I'm buying into Andrew Bynum in town, despite the fact that I fear Doug Collins will kill Nick Young by this point. But they do not have the horses that the Heat do and they do not have a shot when the Heat utilize their small lineup.
Heat in 4

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Indiana Pacers 
While I like the Pacers, I fear that they may have actually taken a step back this offseason. Nobody is going to tell you that D.J. Augustin is an upgrade over Darren Collison and they gave away Dahntay Jones for no reason. What I really fear in this matchup is that Rajon Rondo could tear Indiana apart on offense because George Hill is a good point guard and a friend of the blog, he does not have the quickness and the speed of Rondo.
Celtics in 6

West Semifinals
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (4) Denver Nuggets 
You know, I really came close to taking the Nuggets in this series and I wanted to do it. The biggest reason is that I think Andre Igoudala can slow down Kevin Durant defensively and that is why I believe that they wanted to bring him to Denver. That said, I do not see the rest of the club being able to slow down the other key pieces of the Thunder attack in James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
Thunder in 7

(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (3) San Antonio Spurs
Everybody is expecting the Lakers and the Thunder to meet up in the Western Conference Finals. But not this guy, and I will give you a couple of reasons why. First, I think the Spurs are gearing up for one last run and how they went out last year left them with a dirty taste in their mouth. Second, I worry that there is where we see something weird with Kobe Bryant where it will leave the Lakers just shy this year, and poised to have an unbelievable 2013-14.
Spurs in 7

East Finals
(1) Miami Heat vs. (2) Boston Celtics
The Heat will struggle to put away the Celtics in this series. They come in with two straight sweeps and they always seem to struggle a little bit with the Celtics, and in particular Rajon Rondo. That said, Boston has nothing for Miami's small lineup and one Rondo can only do so much.
Heat in 6

West Finals
(1) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (3) San Antonio Spurs
Nothing like getting a pair of rematches in the conference finals but I am going to shock you once again, as everyone is expecting the Lakers or the Thunder to take on the Heat in the Finals because there is nothing better than making lazy predictions that do not stray from the norm. The Spurs have the offensive firepower to take on the Thunder, can bang with their big guys, and are gunning for revenge.
Spurs in 7

Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs 
I have mentioned the Spurs making one more run a couple more times in this post but I think that that run ends with a loss in the Finals. Honestly, I do not see the Heat, after finally breaking through last season, falling short now. LeBron James is going to dominate, Dwayne Wade is going to have a huge year and the Heat will repeat.
Heat in 5

Awards Predictions
MVP: Kevin Durant, SF, Oklahoma City Thunder
This will be 1997 all over again, LeBron will deserve MVP but the media will pull the usual crap and give to the guy who hasn't won it before.
Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis, C, New Orleans Hornets
It's an easy pick but looking at this rookie class, I think Davis will have the biggest impact in year one.
Coach of the Year: Tom Thibodeau, Chicago Bulls
Another easy and generic pick but getting that club to the postseason largely without Rose will certainly make him deserving. 
Sixth Man of the Year: Jason Terry, SG, Boston Celtics
This got significantly harder after the James Harden trade but Terry should have a big impact in Beantown.

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard, C, Los Angeles Lakers
Now Howard won't whine like he has of late with Tyson Chandler winning it last year. I did give real consideration to Serge Ibaka. 

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