So we're 30 games in to the 2012-13 NBA season and most "experts" are putting together their reviews and grades for the first half of the season. I'm going to skip all of that and take us straight to NBA Finals, or at least to who I see being crowned as the champs and why they'll almost certainly be a Western Conference team.
First, let's take a look at the Eastern Conference and what I believe will stop each of these teams from securing the Larry O'Brien Trophy this season. Rather than entertain every team, I'll look at the teams that are currently in playoff position, or the ones that I believe will be in playoff position by the time the NBA Playoffs begin.
Boston Celtics - People said that the Celtics were too old when they won it all in 2008, and despite Ray Allen jumping ship to their biggest enemy in Miami and adding some youth through the draft, this Celtics team is still too old. Paul Pierce is having a great season, but Boston's entire success is resting on Pierce's shoulders, and that didn't do so great before Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen turned up.
Brooklyn Nets - Having just fired coach Avery Johnson the Nets are in a state of limbo right now. With no certainty around leadership, and with Deron Williams struggling to perform like really they need him to, it's unlikely that Brooklyn will make it to the finals this season.
Indiana Pacers - Indiana is in a category with a couple of teams in the East with their main star injured. It is simply not the Pacers year despite the outstanding play of Paul George. With Danny Granger sidelined, so are Indiana's chances of winning it all.
Chicago Bulls - Much like Indiana, the Chicago Bulls have had to play 30 games so far without their star. Derrick Rose is sidelined until after the All-Star break, and the Bulls almost completely replaced the entire "Bench Mob", so while I still see the Bulls making the Eastern Conference finals, but I don't see them contending for a ring. Sorry #BullsFam.
Milwaukee Bucks - Simply put, they're the Milwaukee Bucks. It's been a long time since the Bucks were a serious contender, and it's going to be a long time before they are again. The Bucks always seem to have a great big man with average guards, or great guards with no strength in the post.
Atlanta Hawks - Atlanta has bolted out of the gates this year and many of the NBA's best minds are struggling to understand why. While the Hawks have been a great story so far, that's all going to end come playoff time. We all know that Josh Smith will pull his usual disappearing act, which leaves the Hawks minus a superstar at the most important time of the year.
New York Knicks - Knicks fans are constantly teased and brought to the edge of excitement, year after year, only to see their hopes dashed due to something at the last minute. This year will be no different. By the time Amare Stoudamire is ready to return, he'll disrupt the great chemistry that New York has, leaving them no closer to a championship than they were when battling Michael Jordan in the 90's.
Miami Heat - While Miami sits atop the East standings right now, they'd better not be organizing their parade through South Beach just yet. The Heat have remained the team to beat in the East, however, losing to teams like Detroit and Milwaukee in the same week makes me doubt their focus and killer instinct.
So with the East behind us, let's break down the Western Conference and why I believe the 2012-13 NBA Champion will come from this side of the country.
Minnesota Timberwolves - The Timberwolves finally have playoff team that is almost as strong as the "KG" and "Starbury" years. The Wolves starting five, once fully healthy, is a fairly imposing lineup. However, once you go to the bench, it's all over. I'm happy to see Minnesota with a good chance to get back into the playoffs, however, I expect them to exit in the first round.
Denver Nuggets - Denver got the best of the Carmelo Anthony trade, and having time to gel together this season while adding some key pieces has been the reason for their great play. Danilo Gallinari has been a beast this year, and while I expect the Nuggets to make some noise and cause an upset in the playoffs, I don't see them going all the way just yet.
Houston Rockets - Houston made a great trade in sending ageing star Kevin Martin to Oklahoma City in return for Rockets' main man James Harden. With Harden and Jeremy Lin, the Rockets have a guard combo as good as any in the NBA, however, that's where the star talent ends in Houston. I'd expect to see Houston out in the first round in six games.
Golden State Warriors - Golden State finally has a team to be excited about. Not since the days of Run TMC have the Warriors had a team this exciting, young and talented. The main reason I don't see the Warriors making it to the finals this year is because of their lack of quality depth.
Memphis Grizzlies - In my opinion, the Grizzlies have the best defense in the West. While I don't have them making it to the big show this year, I do see them making one or two small moves to get a deeper bench in the offseason, which is their current weakness.
San Antonio Spurs - Old man Tim Duncan seems to have found new life this year and is consistently playing at a high level again. However, he's not the only old man playing well this year for the Spurs. Tony Parker is in the conversation for MVP this year, and while I see the Spurs taking someone to seven tough games, I don't see them winning that seventh game to get to the Western Conference finals.
Los Angeles Clippers - The Clippers have one of the deepest teams in the NBA, and considering how young they are, it's a little scary thinking about what their future holds. Clippers fans haven't had anything to be this excited about since they had Danny Manning. I see the Clippers meeting the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals, in a matchup as exciting as the Lakers vs. the Kings from a few years ago.
Oklahoma City Thunder - With Kevin Durant playing at a career best level and Russell Westbrook finally becoming a team first point guard, the Thunder are the team to beat in the West, in my opinion. They have the kind of team that most organizations would dream of. I believe that the Thunder are not only the best team in the West, but they will ultimately be the best team in the NBA this season. Durant will get his first ring and his team will be a force in the tough Western Conference for the next five years. As a dedicated Bulls fan, I would liken this Thunder team to the Bulls teams of the early 90's—and we all know what they achieved.
Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or by tweeting me @CommissionerOTP. Remember to share this article with your friends. Let's get a real discussion going here. Thanks for reading.