The 2012 NBA season has come and passed, with the Miami Heat taking home the title and LeBron James winning both regular season and Finals MVP. The 2012 offseason, meanwhile, is in full swing as contenders have grown stronger and big names have shocked the world.
The fact of the matter is, it's not about those paper facts. Who won in 2012 holds no value as we approach 2013. Who received what type of cash during the offseason, meanwhile, bares no meaning as to what will transpire once the season begins.
What does matter, however, is what will happen once the players hit the court.
While a fan's favorite team is the obvious choice at this point, it's important that one evaluates who truly does have a chance to win the title. More importantly, it's pivotal to any prediction that the full postseason is acknowledged as a deciding factor.
After all, one poor matchup could lead to a favorite hitting the bricks before they know what hit them.
So how will the postseason lay out? Which teams will shock us and what franchise will miss out on the NBA's most important time of the year?
For those answers and more, take a gander at the following slides.
Miami Heat (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8)
The Miami Heat will have a tough task ahead of them in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs, as Josh Smith and Al Horford lead the Atlanta Hawks into battle. While the Hawks' combination of athleticism and sharpshooting will give the Heat trouble, the defending champs will advance behind a powerful performance by Dwyane Wade.
Lou Williams, Anthony Morrow and John Jenkins will shoot the lights out by committee. But they won't stop D-Wade.
Series Result: Heat win 4-1
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Orlando Magic (7)
Dwight Howard has single-handedly taken the Orlando Magic to an NBA Finals appearance before. He's also lost to the Boston Celtics in a postseason series. Unfortunately for Rob Hennigan and co., the latter will repeat itself in 2013.
The Boston Celtics may have lost Ray Allen but they added a surplus wing players to replace him, including Jason Terry, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green. This infusion of youth and athleticism will carry the Celtics to a tough series victory.
Series Result: Celtics win 4-2
Indiana Pacers (3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)
The Indiana Pacers are coming off of a tremendous season in which they established themselves as an elite defensive unit. The Brooklyn Nets are coming of an impressive offseason in which they re-signed Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez.
They also added some guy named Joe Johnson, who will be the key to this series.
The Brooklyn Nets will struggle to gel early in the regular season but show how dominant this unit can be in the postseason. Deron Williams will put up his usual 20 and 10 while Joe Johnson will prove how dominant he can be with a point guard alongside him. Just don't forget about Gerald Wallace, who is known for 30-point postseason performances.
Series Result: Nets win 4-2
New York Knicks (4) vs. Chicago Bulls (5)
This is going to be a series that people talk about for quite some time. A series that could re-define the Eastern Conference as two of the strongest teams battle in the first round. A round that will be highlighted by Derrick Rose's official return to form and Carmelo Anthony's establishment as a legitimately elite player.
Unfortunately, it will also lead to the disbanding of the Knicks' Big Three.
The Chicago Bulls' ranking is strictly a result of Derrick Rose missing a significant portion of the regular season. As we all know, however, this team is far stronger than their ranking would suggest. The combination of D-Rose and Tom Thibodeau's genius will prove just that as they take the Knicks down in 7 grueling games.
Series Result: Bulls win 4-3
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Dallas Mavericks (8)
The Utah Jazz are the team with more depth, making them a likely option to make the postseason. With Dirk Nowitzki still on the Dallas Mavericks, however, a weak Big D roster will make it to the playoffs in 2013.
Unfortunately, that's as far as they'll go.
In a repeat of the 2012 postseason, the Dallas Mavericks simply won't be able to handle Kevin Durant in the clutch. Russell Westbrook will also have another year of seasoning and will begin to focus more on defense than anywhere else.
Oklahoma City will move with as impressive a series as we've ever seen.
Series Result: Thunder win 4-0
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (7)
The Minnesota Timberwolves have placed themselves in prime position for a postseason run. Kevin Love is a legitimate superstar while Ricky Rubio and J.J. Barea offer one of the best point guard combinations in the NBA.
Unfortunately, the T-Wolves simply cannot slow the Lakers down at the 2 or 5 and will succumb to Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum's brilliance. After all, this is the postseason we're talking about and Kobe is nearly impossible to stop once that time rolls around.
Series Result: Lakers win 4-1
San Antonio Spurs (3) vs. Denver Nuggets (6)
The San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets are set for a slugfest. San Antonio is led by crafty veterans and the legendary coaching of the Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. Denver, meanwhile, have an explosive offense and a future Hall of Famer in George Karl at the helm.
So who will emerge victorious in this battle of equal wits and high-octane offense?
Ty Lawson will break out in a major way while rising stars Danilo Gallinari and JaVale McGee will play exceptionally well. Unfortunately, that simply will not be enough to combat the likes of Tony Parket, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.
Nor will it be enough to trump the depth San Antonio will put forth.
Series Result: Spurs win 4-3
Memphis Grizzlies (4) vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
In a rematch of the 2012 postseason, the Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers will remain the next best teams behind the Thunder, Lakers and Spurs. They'll also remain bitter rivals as their physical war finds a round two.
This time around, it will be the more fundamentally sound frontcourt that walks away victorious.
Rudy Gay will show up in a major way but that won't be the story. Nor will Mike Conley Jr. matching Chris Paul blow for blow as he did in 2012. The telling tale will be Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol as they combine for a dominant series in which 15 and 10 from each on a nightly basis can be all but expected.
Series Result: Grizzlies win 4-2
Miami Heat (1) vs. Chicago Bulls (4)
The series we've all been waiting for is coming to us a round earlier than we had expected. Believe you me, it will not disappoint.
Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls will take a game in Miami, leading to early panicking on behalf of the Heat. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will react strong, however, and take advantage of a free agency depleted Bulls roster as they take an away game of their own.
After continuous back and forth brawling, the fight will end in Miami as the series goes to Game 7. While LeBron may not have ended the doubt about his ability to perform when a series is on the line, a certain D-Wade has.
As has Chris Bosh.
Series Result: Heat win 4-3
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (6)
The Brooklyn Nets impressed in a major way during the first round. As the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals rolls around, however, they simply will not be able to handle the big time situation they're thrust into.
Kevin Garnett will outduel Brook Lopez in a lopsided battle while the Celtics' depth at the 2 will combat Joe Johnson's offensive outbursts. The true battle, however, will be between Rajon Rondo and Deron WIlliams.
Williams is always a threat to put up 20 and 10. Rondo, meanwhile, is a threat to put up 20 and 15. While these two will have no problem contributing, it will be Rondo who steps up when the postseason is on the line.
Brooklyn has depth but Boston has postseason experience. Jason Terry will make sure to point that out with his usual big game performances.
Series Result: Celtics win 4-2
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (4)
The Memphis Grizzlies have the superior frontcourt. They also have a point guard combination who could potentially slow down Russell Westbrook. What it all comes down to, however, is the battle that Memphis has long been preparing for.
Rudy Gay versus Kevin Durant.
Gay will play admirably and finally reach his elite-level upside. He'll score big, rebound well and even take some of the facilitating burden off of Mike Conley Jr. and Jerryd Bayless. Unfortunately, that simply will not be enough.
Kevin Durant is one of the top two players in the world. Most importantly, he's proven to be one of the game's elite closers. Between James Harden's crunch time scoring and Kevin Durant's impeccable timing to make the big shot, the Grizzlies simply will not be able to overcome OKC.
Series Result: Thunder win 4-2
Los Angeles Lakers (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (3)
Those who grew up in the late 1990s and early 2000s are going to love this.
Tim Duncan is looking to match Kobe Bryant at five rings. Bryant is looking to match Michael Jordan at six. No matter how this series ends up, one player will be on the brink of history. Just don't look to them to decide this bad boy.
A player in pursuit of his first career ring will step up when he's needed, as Steve Nash shows the world the difference between he and the new era of premier point guards. He will not be forced into turning the ball over as Chris Pau was in 2013.
Steve Nash will orchestrate an offense like very few players in NBA history ever have. He'll also show why he's been the key to four Western Conference Finals appearances in the past.
Series Result: Lakers win 4-3
Miami Heat (1) vs. Boston Celtics (2)
The Miami Heat and Boston Celtics have built quite a rivalry over the past two seasons. In continuation of this grand ordeal, the Eastern elite will face off in the Conference Finals for the second consecutive season.
This time around, the Boston Celtics are much more equipped to handle the Heat. They've added youth and athleticism with Jeff Green, Courtney Lee, Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger. They've also added a sharpshooter with ball handling capabilities in Jason Terry.
Even with the quality moves, however, the Celtics cannot be considered favorites.
The Miami Heat sneaked past Boston in 2012. Although they deserved and earned the win, a major reason why was Boston's inconsistency and tendency to find themselves in foul trouble. While the consistency will improve, the foul trouble came as a direct result of LeBron James' brilliance.
Something that will remain the same.
Where Miami will truly find their advantage, however, is with their second unit. A unit led by the sharpshooting abilities of Rashard Lewis, James Jones and Mike Miller. Oh, and some guy named Ray Allen.
While Rajon Rondo will nullify those advantages, LeBron James will push the Heat to a third consecutive NBA Finals appearance.
Series Result: Heat win 4-3
Oklahoma City Thunder (1) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (2)
The Oklahoma City Thunder are looking to make the leap and take home the young unit's first NBA title. The Los Angeles Lakers are striving to give their top tier veterans at least one more ring before they head out.
So who will prevail?
In 2012, the Lakers fell to OKC by virtue of their lack of athleticism, second unit scoring and point guard play. With the additions of Steve Nash, Antawn Jamison and rookie Darius Johnson-Odom, each of those woes could be cured.
But will it be enough?
We're through with the questions and on to the answers. Steve Nash will do nothing to slow down Russell Westbrook but will once again prove to be the most uncontainable offensive force at his position. He'll run the Lakers' offense in a way that the franchise hasn't seen since Magic Johnson.
That just doesn't do enough for a team looking to slow down Kevin Durant.
Durant will be a threat to put up 30 a night as Metta World Peace just isn't the player he used to be. Even if Devin Ebanks does reach his potential in 2013, that too will pale in comparison to what Durant is capable of.
Alongside Durantula will be Russell Westbrook, who should have no problem shredding Nash's defense. Throw in James Harden's ability to throw in 20 of his own and you have yourself an equally as dangerous team who could take the Lakers in any and every game.
The difference is, the Lakers have big men who can score. No matter how well rookie Perry Jones III may play, the Thunder simply do not.
Expect Pau Gasol to have an outstanding series as he and Steve Nash run the pick-and-roll. Also look for Andrew Bynum to exact revenge on the franchise that exposed his lack of effort on defense.
This will be a highly competitive series. Showtime, however, will advance.
Series Result: Lakers win 4-2
Miami Heat (Eastern Conference) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference)
Through all of the hype surrounding LeBron James and Kevin Durant, we seem to have forgotten what the true battle of legacies truly is. You know, that whole LeBron vs. Kobe ordeal that took up the better half of a decade.
As the two enter battle for the NBA title, it's interesting to note how evenly matched these two teams truly are. The Lakers, for instance, have a distinct advantage at the point guard and center positions. There is a virtual stalemate at the 2 and 4, however, and LeBron James is a far superior player at the 3.
As we dig deeper, the Miami Heat's overall frontcourt pales in comparison to that of the Los Angeles Lakers. L.A. could receive 40-50 combined points from Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol alone while Chris Bosh is the only true big who can score in a respectable manor.
With that being noted, Miami is an elite three-point shooting team while the Los Angeles Lakers remain amongst the worst in the NBA in that department.
As all things are weighed, we return to the battle of LeBron vs. Kobe. LeBron James has the physical advantage as he can attack the basket at will and get to the line. Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, is not the athlete he once was and must use his basketball IQ and shooting abilities to score.
With that being said, this isn't 2011 or 2012 Kobe Bryant. Heck, this isn't any Kobe Bryant that we're used to seeing. This, for the first time in his illustrious career, is Kobe Bryant without the task of creating his own shot every time down.
Steve Nash will run circles around Mario Chalmers. Andrew Bynum will dominate the paint and prove the doubters wrong who believe Dwight Howard offers the Lakers their only chance at victory. Pau Gasol will neutralize Chris Bosh while Antawn Jamison will score in bunches off of the bench.
It's Kobe Bryant, however, who will battle with Dwyane Wade and emerge victorious. Say what you will, but five rings matter when the battle goes on in the NBA Finals.
Series Result: Lakers win 4-3