NBA Preview 2012

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With the NHL locked out for the foreseeable future, the NBA season got underway last week. With the arrival of the new season, we would be remiss not to offer our take on how this season will play out. Let’s get into the projections.

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Most Valuable Player

Favorites: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul

Dark Horses: Rajon Rondo, Carmelo Anthony

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            LeBron’s ascent from “the most skilled player without a title” to “he may be better than Jordan” happened in the blink of an eye. After LeBron shrank on the biggest stage two years ago in the finals against the Mavericks, he stormed back to win a regular season MVP, NBA Finals MVP, an NBA Title and an Olympic Gold Medal. It’s incredible how one year can move your name from the biggest disappointment category to the best of all time category.

            Ultimately, anything less than a repeat championship will be a disappointment for James. That is simply a byproduct of being the best player on the planet attaining the ultimate prize – the bar of acceptability is fixed firmly at another NBA title. LeBron would be the first to tell you that regular season trophies don’t mean a damn thing, but if he can win another this year he would have four at the age of 28.

Even if he maintains last season’s absurd numbers – 27.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 6.2 apg – a regular season MVP should be a given. But if he can improve on those numbers – maybe even inches closer to averaging a triple double by reducing his scoring output – the Jordan comparisons will grow ever louder and more legitimate. 

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Western Conference Champion

Favorites: Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs

Dark Horses: Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers

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            So far Oklahoma City is 1-2, and the recently exiled superstar James Harden has had as good a start as he could have imagined in his new role with Houston. The energy that has surrounded this team for the last three seasons appears to be slipping away, as critics are questioning whether or not the Thunder can even get out of the Western Conference with their nucleus of players sans Harden.

            While I don’t agree with the Harden trade on a number of levels – see Bill Simmons’ article on this for a great take on the situation – I still think the Thunder has the guns to beat the aging Lakers and the ageless Spurs. The Lakers have looked even worse than the Thunder out of the gate and have lost Steve Nash to injury for at least a month. More than Kobe Bryant, more than Dwight Howard, more than Pau Gasol, the Lakers need Steve Nash to be healthy.

If any of the other stars go down, there are adequate resources off the bench to fill the holes that the injured star leaves open. Obviously an injury to any of your top players leaves you worse off, but what Nash injects into a team cannot be replaced, especially when Steve Blake is the alternative.

            In the end I think it will come down to the Spurs and Thunder – not the Lakers and Thunder – for the Western Conference, and my bet is that Scott Brooks and Kevin Durant will figure out a way to get this team back to the Finals.

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Eastern Conference Champion

Favorites: Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, New York Knicks

Dark Horses: Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers

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            There really shouldn’t be much of an explanation for why I am picking the Heat. Even without the addition of Ray Allen, Miami would be favored to dominate this conference.

You can make the argument that the Celtics have upgraded over Ray Allen with Jason Terry and Courtney Lee, and I do think Rondo has a legitimate shot at making a quiet run at league MVP.

You could make the argument that the Knicks are significantly better and more equipped to defend the interior this season with the slew of additions they made.

But in the end, the Heat has two top five players and a top 15 player that are all in their prime. Coming off a finals championship, how could you pick anyone else to represent the conference?

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NBA Finals Champion

Miami Heat

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            If you were forced to bet on who would win the title this year based on the information available, there is simply no way you can pick a team other than the Miami Heat. They have the best player in the world playing at the highest level he has ever played, and he is finally displaying a maturity and personality that mimics his play on the court.

Dwayne Wade, despite his occasional propensity for injury at times, is still one of the top five players in the league, and Chris Bosh has shown that he can carry the load when called upon in huge moments. I – as much as anyone – hate to say this, but we may have to prepare ourselves for the phrase “The Miami Heat are NBA Champions” for many, many years to come.