Two weeks ago, I gave you my five bold predictions for the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now, it's time to head out west.
The Western Conference boasts six very strong teams, as does the Eastern Conference. After the top six, it's a bit of a crapshoot, and I wouldn't hold out any hope that the seventh or eighth seeds will get out of the first round.
But what will the top six look like?
The Los Angeles Lakers acquired 38-year-old point guard Steve Nash in July. Then, they swapped Andrew Bynum, a 2015 second-round pick and a 2017 first-round pick (along with some other pieces) primarily for disgruntled center Dwight Howard in a four-team blockbuster trade (per ESPN Los Angeles).
Howard, also known as "Superman," is a defensive dynamo and a powerhouse in the paint. He also shot a CYO-basketball quality 49.1 percent from the free-throw line last season.
And he skipped his own youth basketball summer camp in Orlando, because, according to Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, "he is rehabbing his back after an out-patient herniated disk procedure that was done 3 1/2 months ago. He was scheduled to be back with the Magic a few days after having the surgery in April, but he hasn't been seen in Orlando ever since."
Back issues have a way of lingering, and Lakers management will keep their fingers crossed.
According to Pregame.com, the Las Vegas Hotel's SuperBook ("the world's largest race book and Las Vegas' largest sports book") put the Lakers' odds of hoisting the Larry O'Brien trophy at 5-2, with Miami's odds at 9-4. Last year's Western Conference champs, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are 9-2.
But just as in last year's playoffs, I see the Thunder staying on top of the West. Here's how the seeding will break down: 1. Oklahoma City Thunder, 2. Los Angeles Lakers, 3. San Antonio Spurs, 4. Los Angeles Clippers, 5. Memphis Grizzlies, 6. Denver Nuggets, 7. Utah Jazz, 8. Houston Rockets.
Again, to borrow the motto of ESPN NFL columnist Gregg Easterbrook, "All Predictions Wrong or Your Money Back."
And here are my bold predictions for Western Conference playoffs.