Who’s going to come out of the West this season?
Better question: Who do we want to come out of the West?
And again, with all due respect to all the other fanbases in the East, we want to see another “LeBrondown” in the NBA Finals.
Anything less would be considered a catastrophic disappointment.
If I had to make a bet on who wins it all, I’d take the "field” of Western Conference teams over the Heat.
That’s only because, as we know, anything can happen in the Finals when LeBron James and the Heat are involved.
That’s why, for this article, I’m willing to give every team the benefit of the doubt.
So, here is who I think will come out of the West, who we want to come out of the West (for TV ratings and entertainment purposes) and which Western Conference team has the best chance to slay the almighty Heat for the second straight year.
Likelihood of winning the West: 41 percent
Yes, I like the Clippers' chances to come out of the West.
All in all, they are a bit overrated, but I keep remembering how this is the best team that Chris Paul has ever been on.
Then I keep remembering how Chris Paul almost got New Orleans to the conference finals back in 2008.
And how Chris Paul almost single-handedly beat the Lakers in the first round last year.
So really, I don’t know what to expect from this team in the playoffs.
The Chauncey Billups injury concerns me for one reason: The Clippers are now forced to rely very much on Mo Williams.
Historically, Williams has played far (and I mean far) from his normal capabilities in the playoffs.
He’s actually a big reason LeBron James is in Miami. That, of course, is if you’re someone who believes that LeBron would have stayed in Cleveland had the Cavs won a championship in the 2008-2009 season.
Yes, Mo Williams is a giant reason for the Cavs losing to the Magic in the 2009 ECF.
Clippers vs. Heat Buzz: 9.3
Who wouldn’t want to see a Clippers-Heat Finals? Star-driven (check). Blake Griffin (check). Chris Paul trade veto haunting the Lakers for the next 50 years (check). The Los Angeles Clippers (dot, dot, dot) in the NBA Finals (check).
Clippers' chances against Miami: 42 percent
You can take the Los Angeles Clippers out of the shadows of the Lakers, but they’re still the Clippers. It’s just really hard to picture them winning it all this year.
Likelihood of winning the West: 33 percent
After a slow 1-4 start to the season, the Mavericks have quietly been playing some of the best basketball in the league.
They’re currently fourth-best in the West with a 21-13 mark. You’ve got to be impressed with their “age-to-win-total” ratio right now. Being that Dirk got the monkey off his back, the Mavericks will be more dangerous than they would normally be in the playoffs.
Mavs vs. Heat Buzz: 7.1
We would all love to see this Finals rematch, but remember, Dallas is the team that looks as if they’re going to potentially get both Dwight Howard and Deron Williams this offseason.
Do we really want to root for Mark Cuban and this team again months before they set themselves up to win the next eight NBA championships?
Mavericks' chances against Miami: 48 percent
Without Tyson Chandler, I really don’t like their chances of doing the unthinkable two years in a row.
Likelihood of winning the West: 43 percent
I don’t like Oklahoma City’s chances to get there, at least not as much as everyone else.
They’re still very young, and they’re limited to Durant, Harden and Westbrook for points.
Beyond these three guys, they’re offensively challenged.
That could actually be a good thing for playoff ball, but with this compressed schedule, the trio might be running on fumes in May, as they’ve been averaging a ton of minutes this season.
That's the problem with predicting this year’s playoffs in general: This lockout-affected season has made it so that we can’t really predict anything.
Thunder vs. Heat Buzz: 6.2
Remember, this is the NBA; we hate small markets on the big stage, even if it involves Kevin Durant. That's basically what this boils down to.
Thunder’s chances against Miami: 60 percent
This matchup right here is what we would call a "Skip Bayless specialty.”
That’s the only reason I give the Thunder a 60 percent chance against the Heat: The man is capable of strange things.
This particular matchup would render two weeks of Skip saying, with a smirk, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m begrudged to say, LeBron will finally get his ring.”
This is because he’s a huge Thunder fan, and he’s got a major beef with Russell Westbrook, believing he’s a burden on the real superstar, Kevin Durant—not to mention a cancer on the team's championship aspirations.
Then, after LeBron and the Heat are upset by OKC (a foregone conclusion at that point), we’ll have a standard case of Skip saying, “See, LeBron James, I've been saying it all along!”
So yes, I could definitely see the Thunder taking down the Heat.
But not as much as I could see these next two teams doing it.
Likelihood of winning the West: 38 percent
Don’t discount the Lakers' chances.
Right now, they’re probably the most underrated team in the league: Did you know they’re 20-13?
Based on all the perceived drama coming out of Los Angeles, probably not.
Here’s what’s interesting about the Lakers: Kobe Bryant and head coach Mike Brown.
I believe playoff time is where new head coach Mike Brown could really show his worth.
And in case you haven’t watched the NBA for the past 10 years, I believe playoff time is where Kobe could really show his worth as well.
When it comes to defense, next to Greg Popovich and (arguably) Tom Thibodeau, I believe Brown is the best in the league.
This is of relevance because the playoffs are more of a half-court, slow-paced game than the regular season.
They’re actually a different game altogether. That’s a benefit for Brown, Kobe and the Lakers. As the mantra goes, defense (or triangle offense) wins championships.
Even if this team doesn’t make a significant move at the deadline, I still like their chances.
Yes, Kobe is taking a million shots a game right now, but don’t overlook the value that two seven-footers (Gasol and Bynum) can have in the playoffs on a Mike Brown-coached team.
With the exception of his last two years in Cleveland, Brown and the Cavs overachieved in the playoffs every year; they were one defensive rebound away from taking away the Celtics' championship in 2008.
Sure, a lot of that had to do with LeBron James being the best player on this earth, but don’t we remember LeBron’s supporting cast in Cleveland?
Horrible depth or not, it paled in comparison to the supporting cast of this Lakers team.
Defensively, they are sixth-best in the league. That’s not bad considering they’ve had to learn Brown’s system on the fly because of the lockout.
Lakers vs. Heat Buzz: 9.5
I know that everyone outside of L.A. pretty much hates the Lakers and would be disgusted if they had to watch a Heat vs. Lakers Finals, but come on—Kobe vs. LeBron.
Mike Brown vs. LeBron. Mike Brown vs. the ghosts of Phil Jackson and Pat Riley. Kobe vs. MJ’s championship count. Millions of Cleveland Cavaliers fans passionately engaging in “Kobe is way better than LeBron will ever be” debates, when—not too long ago—that question wasn’t even up for debate because the answer was LeBron.
What’s not to love about a Heat-Lakers Finals?
Lakers' chances against Miami: 65 percent
At the end of the day you’ve got to trust Kobe more than LeBron.
Likelihood of winning the West: 33 percent
The Spurs own the second-best record in the West. That’s surprising because, well, our perception of them is that they’re the oldest team in the NBA.
In a way they are, and that’s why their playoff chances come down to one thing and one thing only—health.
Last season, they became the second No. 1 seed in NBA history to lose a best-of-seven series in the first round.
That’s mainly because Ginobli was injured. As of right now, he’s injured again, so I don’t know.
I do know, however, that if they’re healthy, I would take them over any team out West in a best-of-seven series.
Spurs vs. Heat Buzz: 8.9
Whoa, whoa 8.9 buzz? That’s a little high for the most boring franchise in the history of the NBA, wouldn’t you say?
Yes, normally that would be too high, but think about all the subplots we would have.
LeBron facing the team that he got swept by when he first got to the Finals with Cleveland back in 2007.
And because of that...
All of the “Uh, oh, do the Spurs have LeBron’s number?” questions that the media will infuse into LeBron’s head in the sheer hope that they will lead to another LeBron James meltdown.
All the “Is Gregg Popovich the best coach ever not named Phil Jackson?” talk.
All the “Did Tony Parker get robbed of league MVP by LeBron?” talk.
We've continually written San Antonio off for the past four or five years.
Spurs chances against Miami: 72 percent.
Put it this way, if there's one team you could see beating the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, wouldn’t that team be the San Antonio Spurs?
You know, because they’re the definition of “what basketball should be” (according to people who hate the NBA and the Miami Heat).
Oh, and because, again, it’s another Skip Bayless team, and by now, it should be evident that that guy has some sort of godlike power over LeBron James' ability to “get it done.”