NBA Lockout: Playoff Predictions, Champion Picks for a Season That Never Was

John Friel@@JohnFtheheatgodAnalyst INovember 17, 2011

NBA Lockout: Playoff Predictions, Champion Picks for a Season That Never Was

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    Since the players and the owners didn't want to play out the season for us, I have taken the liberty of deciding how the NBA season would have progressed and how the top eight seeds in each conference would have fared. From the first round to the NBA championship, the series' have been decided and a verdict has been reached as to who would have came out on top if all was right with the world.

    The owners smitten with greed and the players enamoring their own pride have given all of us NBA fans a reality check into just how the world operates. If society corresponds with how the NBA is run, then it's a pretty accurate comparison considering that it really is the small percentage of the richest in the country that truly pull the strings while the workers who make up the majority of the country are at the mercy of those who have the money and decide when you get it.

    I'm not going to get political anymore, but tell me that the NBA doesn't at least remind you somewhat of these protests popping up across the country.

    The postseason has been decided and we have a victor, so check it out and come up with your own highlight reels of what could have been.

    You can follow John Friel on twitter @JohnFtheheatgod

Eastern Conference Seeding

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    1. Miami Heat (65-17)

    The big three are back and stronger than ever. Coming off of a depressing NBA Finals loss, the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh devastate the NBA regular season with their usual fast-paced attack.

    With the possibility that the team receives a center or veteran assistance off the bench, the Heat would have been nearly unbeatable if not for looking too far ahead to their ultimate goal of winning the NBA title.

    2. Chicago Bulls (62-20)

    The Bulls lose their number one seed, but they are just as good as the team from last year. MVP Derrick Rose looks to defend his crown, Carlos Boozer attempts to integrate himself into the offense with a larger purpose, and Joakim Noah looks to hold down the paint on both sides of the ball as they attempt to take the Eastern Conference crown and their first NBA title since 1998.

    The Bulls can improve with the possibility of the team obtaining a solid shooting guard to replace Keith Bogans, but keep in mind that they're in the Eastern Conference with a number of up and coming teams in their own division.

    3. Boston Celtics (54-28)

    The decline of the Celtics' big three in Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce continues, but would have made the 2011-'12 season their last significant push at a second NBA title together after winning the first in 2008.

    Boston will continue to work through the big three while allowing Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis to continue improving. Boston would have without a doubt pursued a solid center over the offseason to replace Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal. A strong presence to anchor the middle would have brought about a dramatic improvement in their overall defense.

    4. New York Knicks (52-30)

    Healthy and ready to make a significant championship push, Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Chauncey Billups help propel the Knicks over the 50-win mark for the first time since 2000 when they last made the championship. The Knicks' big three will push boundaries as possibly the best offensive trio in the league behind the Miami Heat's.

    The Knicks would have made at least a few pickups to help strengthen their bench over the offseason and it results in the team's improvement. With the only solid supporters outside of the big three being Landry Fields and Toney Douglas, the Knicks could have used all the help they could get for their own big three.

    5. Orlando Magic (49-33)

    A huge year for the Orlando Magic who will need to perform at their best if they look to keep Dwight Howard any further than next year. Howard has been at the talk of free agency for the past few months now and inclination has given that he might be jetting out of Orlando the first chance he gets.

    It's tough to see the Magic getting any better than Boston, Miami, or Chicago unless they make a significant move to pair up Howard with another scorer, or to allow the offense to strictly run through Howard rather than getting the majority of the offense coming from the perimeter.

    6. Atlanta Hawks (48-34)

    Blessed with being in the second most difficult division in the NBA, the Hawks are going to need their $120 million man Joe Johnson more than ever if they look to compete with the rising quality of the teams in the Eastern Conference.

    With the Hawks standing pat with Johnson, Al Horford, Jamal Crawford, and Josh Smith as their core, it's tough to believe that they'll make up any ground as we could actually see the team regress with the improved play of their division and the rest of the East.

    7. Philadelphia 76ers (43-39)

    A severely underrated team last season and already written off by many (if there was a season to be written off), the 76ers look to make a statement by making their second consecutive postseason. They'll continue to try to move Andre Iguodala, but they'll see Elton Brand's health continue to improve as well as the overall development of Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday.

    The Sixers have a deep bench and a complete starting lineup now that they picked up Nikola Vucevic as their new starting center to replace Spencer Hawes. They still have a long way to go before causing some serious damage in the postseason, but this is a good start.

    8. Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)

    The eighth spot will be open for the taking with Indiana, Detroit, Washington, New Jersey, and Milwaukee all possibly contending for the final spot to make the postseason. I'll have to give it to the Bucks, who will gain some much needed offense in Stephen Jackson to take over the role of primary scorer as opposed to the 40 percent shooting wonder, Brandon Jennings.

    With the pressure off of Jennings and a healthy Carlos Delfino and Andrew Bogut, this team could be a playoff matchup nightmare due to their hardnosed defense and the slow pace they force opponents to play at.

Western Conference Seeding

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    1. Dallas Mavericks (63-19)

    The reigning NBA champions will be back and better than ever now that they have Caron Butler back in the starting lineup to replace DeShawn Stevenson. The team has a number of aging veterans with Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Jason Kidd, but that's no reason to doubt this Mavericks team. They're dangerous as ever now that they have the championship they've been striving for since the turn of the millennium.

    A number one seed only seems appropriate for the best team in the NBA.

    2. Los Angeles Lakers (60-22)

    Could this be the last significant run Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers make? It could be unless they make a strong push for Dwight Howard and  surround him with talent to begin the newest era of Lakers basketball.

    Bryant may be 32 and dealing with injuries and fatigue, but if I've learned anything about the NBA it's to never doubt Kobe. He, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum will be looking for their third championship in the past four seasons.

    3. Oklahoma City Thunder (59-23)

    The scariest team in the NBA outside of Miami, the Thunder are littered with players reeking of athleticism and hunger with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook leading the forefront. There might be talk that the team is going through a minor crisis with both players attempting to fight for the role of offensive leader, but I wouldn't have any doubts about this Thunder team.

    With the progression of players like Durant, Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden, the Thunder will be looking to make a significant push to the Finals after coming up short last year with a Conference Finals loss to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks.

    4. San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

    Much like the Boston Celtics, this too could be the last chance for a significant run at the title for a dynasty. Unlike the Celtics though, the Spurs have reigned supreme as one of the NBA's top dynasties since the late-1990's and has continued to assert its authority each and every year by hitting the 50-win mark.

    Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are approaching the wrong side of 30 and it's going to be a huge surprise if they can guide their team through a conference that's packed with veteran-laden dynasties and up-and-coming, athletic squads.

    5. Portland Trail Blazers (52-30)

    The wild card of the NBA. Portland could very well find themselves near the top of the Western Conference if they get key players healthy and ready to play. Both Brandon Roy and Greg Oden have continued to suffer from setbacks with Roy's knees derailing what was once a promising NBA career and Oden just aching everywhere.

    Even without those two, the Blazers are in prime shape to make a run at the championship. LaMarcus Aldridge proved last season that he's ready to lead this team by averaging 22 points and nine boards per while Wesley Matthews stepped up into the role of perimeter threat. They're joined by the athletic Gerald Wallace and newcomer Raymond Felton who will be replacing Andre Miller.

    6. Memphis Grizzlies (48-34)

    Think the Memphis Grizzlies will regress after that monumental playoff run last year? Doubt it. The Grizzlies have arrived and they're here to stay. Memphis features one of the NBA's top frontcourts with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Star small forward Rudy Gay, who was forced to miss the post season after suffering an injury late in the regular season, will be one of the team's top offensive options.

    The Grizzlies are an extremely dangerous team with suitable post presences that would give any team fits, but they're going to need to improve in the backcourt when it comes to the offensive side of the ball as Mike Conley, Jr. and Tony Allen hardly provide any support.

    7. New Orleans Hornets (46-36)

    Possibly the last time you see Chris Paul in a New Orleans Hornets uniform, the organization will be doing all it can to keep CP3 in Louisiana and happy. After winning the Southwest Division in 2008, the Hornets have failed to win 50 games and haven't finished better than third since. This is mostly a result of every other team in the division improving with young talent while the Hornets have remained stagnant with their moves.

    With Paul and David West continuing to lead this team, it's tough to think that they'll be able to lead the Hornets any further than the second round after another average season. The Hornets will need to give CP3 at least one more scorer and another perimeter threat if they want to keep him around and not fade into obscurity.

    8. Los Angeles Clippers (44-38)

    Surprise, surprise. Look who felt like crashing the party. After an impressive season (30-52 is impressive in Clipper standards), the other team in Los Angeles is looking to leave its imprint on the face of the NBA with their first post season appearance since 2006. With young talent in Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon leading the way, a Clippers postseason appearance will be anticipated and beloved by all that love watching entertaining basketball.

    It'll be tough for the Clippers to make it, however, as they'll have to fend off the likes of Houston, Denver, Utah, Golden State and Phoenix just to secure the eighth seed.

Eastern Conference First Round

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    1. Miami vs. 8. Milwaukee

    The Miami Heat are clearly the better team between these two talentwise, but don't think that the Milwaukee Bucks are just going to lay down and die. The Bucks are a scrappy team that likes to force its opponents to play at a slow pace which is the exact opposite of how the Heat want to play. If the Bucks can get the Heat to play in games where both teams are scoring fewer than 90 points, don't be surprised if Milwaukee takes a game or two.

    Still, this is the Heat and they're not going to let an eight seed topple them in the first round. The big three are too hungry and they're anticipating another NBA Finals appearance for a second chance to obtain the title. The Bucks are solid on defense, but once the Heat get to running they're going to blow the doors off of Stephen Jackson and company.

    Heat in five

    2. Chicago vs. 7. Philadelphia

    This will be an interesting matchup that pits two athletic teams. The Sixers gave the Heat a run for their money in all but one of the five games from last season's first-round series. Philly has shown before that they're not going to shy away from competition, even though they possess one of the youngest rosters in the NBA.

    Philadelphia could possibly place Andre Iguodala to defend Derrick Rose as a way to limit him much like how the Heat placed LeBron James on Rose in last years Conference Finals. The only problem is that Rose is only improving his overall athleticism and his ability to integrate his teammates into the action.

    With Carlos Boozer, Joakim Noah and Luol Deng looking to make a statement, the Bulls should skate through this one.

    Bulls in four

    3. Boston vs. 6. Atlanta

    A rematch of the epic battle that took place between the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the 2008 postseason, this one could be just as entertaining with a possible upset looming. The Celtics might be worn out from another 82-game regular season and they're going to be run into an athletic Hawks team that's looking to make some sort of noise after failing to make it past the semifinals yet again last season.

    The Hawks will be a handful with Al Horford and Jamal Crawford playing the largest roles, but the Celtics veterans should prevail to avoid an embarrassing first round exit in what could possibly be their last chance to make a significant run at the championship.

    Celtics in six

    4. New York vs. 5. Orlando

    The most entertaining first round series of the Eastern Conference by far pits two high-octane offenses that feature three of the most lethal players in the NBA. With the Knicks featuring the high-scoring duo of Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire, and the Magic featuring the three-time Defensive Player of the Year and improved offensive threat in Dwight Howard, these two teams could be consistently posting up scores in the 110's and 120's.

    Both teams love to run, love to score, and love to not play a lick of defense. It'll be entertaining for those that like to see an NBA series run like it's the 1960's where set offenses didn't exist and players threw up a shot whenever they had the chance. It could go either way but the Knicks just have too many weapons on offense and it's why they'll prevail in a draining seven games.

    Knicks in seven

Western Conference First Round

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    1. Dallas vs. 8. L.A. Clippers

    The Dallas Mavericks have proven many times before their 2011 championship victory that they're not always ready to take on these young, upstart teams. Nowitzki and Co. will need to be at the top of their game if they want to take down a hungry and athletic Los Angeles Clippers squad. The Mavericks are a considerably old team and they'll be taking on one of the youngest in the league, so don't rule out the Clippers possibly taking a game or two.

    However, the Mavericks have been in this position before and they're not going to let it happen again. Their embarrassing 2007 first-round loss to the Golden State Warriors is still looming in Dirk Nowitzki's head and he'll be at the top of his game throughout the postseason in order to defend his crown.

    Mavericks in six

    2. L.A. Lakers vs. 7. New Orleans

    A repeat of the same 2 vs. 7 matchup from last year once again pits the Los Angeles Lakers taking on the New Orleans Hornets. The Lakers were thrown for a loop against the Hornets last season as Chris Paul became the CP3 of old by going into the Staples Center and stealing a win before his Hornets eventually faltered in six games.

    If CP3 is at the top of his game and his teammates are hitting the shots that Paul gives them, then the Lakers could very well be on upset alert. However, I highly doubt that Kobe Bryant is going to allow the Lakers to fall in the first round.

    Lakers in five

    3. Oklahoma City vs. 6. Memphis

    A rematch of last year's highly entertaining semifinals gives the Memphis Grizzlies a second chance to not only beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a seven game series, but also to advance to the second round of the postseason for only the second time in franchise history. The Grizzlies will have most likely have Rudy Gay this time around and it could spell problems for the Thunder.

    Both teams match up extremely well with each other except at one key position: point guard. The matchup between Russell Westbrook and Mike Conley, Jr. is one-sided on both sides of the ball and it's going to enable the Thunder to a series victory no matter how well Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol perform.

    Thunder in six

    4. San Antonio vs. 5. Portland

    In what is sure to be another terrific first-round series out of the Western Conference, one of the most legendary franchises in the NBA in the San Antonio Spurs take on an upset-minded, up-and-coming squad in the Portland Trail Blazers. The Spurs are experienced and have been to this rodeo before compared to many of the Blazers who have never been in this position before, aside from a few first-round series'.

    Sad to say, but this could be the last great Spurs team we'll ever see. With Duncan and Ginobili showing their age more and more as the seasons pass, it might be time for a change to the throne and the athletic Blazers could be the one to deliver the last blow. It'll be a highly competitive series, but the Blazers youth will pay off in the end.

    Blazers in seven

Eastern Conference Semi's

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    1. Miami vs. 4. New York

    In what could be one of the most entertaining postseason series in recent memory, the Miami Heat and New York Knicks will put on a show that features arguably five of the league's top 20 players on one court at the same time. The Knicks break out Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire to take on LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh as this series will most likely feature some of the best games out of the playoffs.

    The only problem is that these two teams are not very well matched up in a seven game series with the Heat having the advantage. Miami features a gauntlet of three All-Stars that could take over a game at anytime as well as having two key bench players back in Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. The Knicks roll out two of the games top pure scorers in Anthony and Stoudemire, as well as a clutch perimeter player and overall leader in Chauncey Billups, but the lack of a bench is going to be the x-factor as this series drags on.

    Not to mention, the Heat play defense and the Knicks don't. If the Heat want to win this series, all they'll have to do is focus on the Knicks two key offensive threats. The Heat can pull this off and the Knicks can't because they just don't have the defensive intensity and commitment that Miami possesses, and it's going to eventually lead to what could be an easy Heat victory.

    Heat in five

    2. Chicago vs. 3. Boston

    A rematch of two teams that put on a show in 2009 in a first-round series that is arguably the greatest postseason matchup in NBA history. The two teams went toe-to-toe for seven games in that series with a grand total of seven overtimes being played and five games being decided by three points or less. The Bulls were a young team at the time and they were giving the defending champions quite the run for their money before the Celtics pulled away for a 10-point win in game seven.

    This time around, the Bulls are smarter and have the experience to persevere through adversity. Fatigue could play a factor in this matchup as the Celtics are coming off of another lengthy regular season and a tough first-round series with the Atlanta Hawks

    Both teams match up well with Luol Deng on Paul Pierce and Carlos Boozer on Kevin Garnett, but they key matchup will easily be between one of the best offensive point guards in Derrick Rose and one of the best defensive point guards in Rajon Rondo. Rose is lightning quick and explosive, but Rondo is a stubborn defender that has quick hands and can frustrate opponents into bad shots and turnovers.

    This will be a tough series but it won't be nearly as epic as their previous postseason matchup in 2009. Athleticism and youth will prevail in this game as the Boston Celtics dynasty comes to a crashing halt.

    Bulls in six

Western Conference Semi's

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    1. Dallas vs. 5. Portland

    A rematch of the 3 vs. 6 first-round series from last season once again pits the Dallas Mavericks going up against a Portland Trail Blazers team that just had its hands full with another veteran club in the San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers will be worn down, but not enough to allow the Mavericks to walk into the Conference Finals.

    Last postseason, the Blazers were supported by the exploits of Brandon Roy who made an unbelievable barrage of shots in the fourth quarter that allowed Portland to steal a game from Dallas. This series could ride on the two wild cards in Roy and Greg Oden as they both could present huge problems for a Mavericks squad that may not have all the defensive answers.

    The athletic Blazers will be looking to run to keep the Mavericks moving and tired enough in the fourth quarter to pull out a victory. It's going to be tough against one of the deepest benches in the NBA. Dallas has a barrage of players that spend the majority of their time on offense along the perimeter anyway.

    Portland will give Dallas a run for their money but Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry will own the perimeter as they take down the Blazers.

    Mavericks in six

    2. L.A. Lakers vs. 3. Oklahoma City

    An excellent matchup between two fantastic all-around teams has the veteran Los Angeles Lakers led by five time champion Kobe Bryant taking on the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder led by Kevin Durant. Both stars are explosive scorers with Durant winning the past two scoring crowns and Bryant averaging as much as 35 points per game at one point in his career, but Bryant holds the edge in that matchup thanks to his tenacity and lock down defense.

    Once again, point guard play will play a tremendous role as Derek Fisher will be given the assignment of taking on Russell Westbrook. With Fisher and Steve Blake being the only point guards, the Lakers might need to have Bryant defending Westbrook and either of the point guards defending James Harden so that there could be some sort of resistance towards the basket for Russell.

    The frontcourts are even with hard-nosed defender Ron Artest taking on the offensive juggernaut Durant, Pau Gasol taking on the reincarnation of Dikembe Mutombo in Serge Ibaka, and Andrew Bynum drawing his former Boston Celtics foe in Kendrick Perkins. Both teams match up extremely well at all aspects and there's little doubt that this series doesn't get decided in game seven.

    In the end, athleticism and youth will prevail once again as the Durant and Westbrook offensive attack proves too much for Bryant and Gasol, who will be hounded by Ibaka and Nick Collison all series long.

    Thunder in seven

Eastern Conference Finals

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    1. Miami vs. 2. Chicago

    It had to come down to this. It just wouldn't have been right in the NBA world if the Eastern Conference postseason didn't come down to this. The 2011 Conference Finals might have been decided in only five games with the Miami Heat coming out on top, but only one game was one-sided and that was the Chicago Bulls' lone victory which came in a blowout in game one.

    The next four Heat victories would all be decided in the final minutes as LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade would hit the timely shots that Derrick Rose, Carlos Boozer, and Luol Deng couldn't. The Heat would win all four games by less than 11 points with the deciding game five victory coming by way of a frantic run led by Wade and James as they would erase a late double-digit lead before taking home an 83-80 victory and bragging rights in the East.

    It's tough to compare these teams when we have no idea what they would have done in free agency. The Bulls were obviously going to make a run at a shooting guard that could score and give some support to Rose while the Heat were expected to make a significant run at a center and possibly some veteran help off the bench.

    So we'll just decide this matchup with both teams being healthy and with their current rosters pre-lockout.

    Derrick Rose is the Bulls greatest offensive producer and the Heat have found a way to neutralize that by placing the larger LeBron James on him. Rose was quick and agile, but James was there every time the point guard attempted a move and it resulted in Derrick shooting 1-of-15 from the field when being defended by the two-time MVP.

    Perhaps the biggest factor in the Heat's win last post season was Chris Bosh's supremacy over Carlos Boozer. After Boozer stated that the Heat only had two great players, Bosh made it a personal mission to go out and prove the Bulls power forward wrong in every way by scoring over 30 points twice and 20 points in all but one game. Boozer wasn't hitting and wasn't showing up on defense and it led to a Heat victory.

    The Bulls will be looking for new ways to score if the Heat continue placing LeBron James on Derrick Rose and it could mean another defeat for Chicago. The only way the Bulls get a series win against the Heat is if they're able to get some production out of Boozer, neutralize two members of the big three and find another scorer outside of Rose.

    I don't see it happening, so the Heat win.

    Heat in six

Western Conference Finals

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    1. Dallas vs. 3. Oklahoma City

    Two Conference Finals with the same exact teams as the year before? You couldn't write this stuff.

    Well, actually you could because I did and I actually just noticed that I have the same four teams from the conference finals from the year before. While the Miami Heat pulled out a second consecutive victory over the Chicago Bulls, the same may not be said for the Dallas Mavericks prevailing over the same Oklahoma City Thunder club from last season.

    The Mavericks and Thunder are completely different teams with Dallas running an offense equivalent to a half-court, methodical pace compared to Oklahoma City who has a young, energetic and athletic team that is always looking to run and always looking to score as fast as possible. The same can be said for their defenses as the Mavericks slow teams down while the Thunder use their athleticism and quickness to outlet fast breaks.

    In their conference finals matchup from last season, the Mavericks came out on top in only five games. Don't just assume that the Thunder were annihilated however as they held a fourth quarter lead in each one of their losses before succumbing late and allowing Dirk Nowitzki to go off in one of the best postseason series' of his career.

    This time around, the Mavericks are one year older and that's a negative. The Thunder are as well and that's a huge positive. The Thunder lacked the experience to persevere in the fourth quarter and they failed to hold leads in every game that they lost. This time around, I could see a mentally stronger Thunder team that is looking to make a statement with their first NBA Finals appearance since 1996.

    The Mavericks have a number of key weapons, but athleticism and talent is going to come through as the Thunder make it to the Finals.

    Thunder in seven

NBA Finals

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    1. Miami vs. 3. Oklahoma City

    You wanted a dream matchup between the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers? Too bad because this one's a lot better.

    This series features five of the NBA's top players in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant all facing off in a battle royale to decide who has the best team in the NBA. Both teams match up extremely well as far as athleticism and talent and it could mean a variety of entertaining games that will feature more highlight-reel worthy plays than you'll ever see in a postseason series.

    The two teams split their regular season matchups last season with the Heat winning in OKC and the Thunder winning in Miami with both games being decided in the final minute. Both games possessed a wide array of highlight -reel plays as well as some of the greatest individual performances by James, Wade and Durant. It seemed as if each player took turns showing off by finding new ways to get the crowd out of their seats and into this matchup that pits two fast-paced teams who are always looking to score as quick as possible.

    Once again, the Thunder possess the advantage in the point guard matchup with Russell Westbrook set to hold an obvious advantage over whomever the Heat decide to throw at him. Unlike their series with the Bulls, James will be forced to keep his eye on his regular assignment instead of focusing on the quicker and more agile point guard.

    The center also holds an advantage for the Thunder as they bring out Kendrick Perkins to take on whichever Heat center they start. Of course, it's difficult to decipher this since the Heat were adamant about going after a center over the offseason. Still, even with Eddy Curry or Kwame Brown out there, it's tough to think that either of those players matchup well with Perkins.

    The Heat have matchups in their favor as well with Dwyane Wade holding a clear advantage over James Harden, and Chris Bosh possessing the better offensive game to work his way through Serge Ibaka. It could be argued that Ibaka may be too physical and lengthy for Bosh, but it's going to be tough to limit Chris since he's a multi-dimensional power forward that could hit from as far as the perimeter.

    The final matchup comes down to the league's top small forwards in James and Durant. Both are excellent offensive players and extremely dynamic. They can explode at any given time when driving to the lane with James holding the advantage in that area and Durant holding the advantage when it comes to perimeter shooting.

    What's going to decide this matchup will be defense. While the Thunder have a strong frontcourt featuring Perkins, Ibaka, and Collison off the bench, the Heat feature two of the league's top perimeter defenders in James and Wade as well as an underrated defender in Udonis Haslem who will be healthy this time around.

    In a matchup that could go either way based strictly on athleticism and talent, I have to hand it to the team that's going to want it more in the Miami Heat. Before you unleash your fury on the keyboard with the obvious biased talk, let me start by explaining the key advantages the Heat possess in this matchup.

    For one, the Thunder don't have anyone to stop Wade. You can put Thabo Sefolosha out there, but then you lose any hope for offensive support that James Harden could provide. In a lose-lose situation, the Thunder are either going to have to let Wade do what he does best or get no offensive production out of that position.

    Secondly, the Heat are the better defensive team. The Thunder may have the players to pack the paint against a team that loves driving, but the Heat possess the perimeter defenders that prevent players like Durant, Westbrook, and Harden from driving at will. Oklahoma City has their fair share of perimeter threats with Durant being one of them, but their shots won't fall for seven games and not with those defenders in their face every time.

    Lastly, LeBron James is just plain better than Kevin Durant, so please stop arguing it's the other way around. Durant is the humble phenom and James may be the evil villain that's just here to ruin small market teams and the rest of the league, but he still holds the advantage in this matchup thanks to his defense and his strength. Also if James puts that post game to work on Durant effectively, the Thunder won't be able to stand a chance.

    In what is sure to be a tightly contested matchup, the Heat come out on top as the NBA champions with Dwayne Wade taking home his second Finals MVP honors.

    If only...

    Heat in six