Despite the success of the San Antonio Spurs, LA Lakers, and Boston Celtics in the 1st round of the NBA Playoffs, I suspect 2012 represents a changing of the guard in the National Basketball Association. You’ll always have veteran teams trying to hang on and younger squads seeking to break through, but the experienced teams usually have the better of it in the NBA. I’m saying 2012 is the year the young teams break through and the older teams start heading into the night.
The inevitable is going to happen in the East. The Miami Heat dispatch with everyone in their path. Because of the Derrick Rose injury, the Bulls expected challenge of the Heat’s supremacy is going to have to wait at least a year. Instead, we’re likely to see the Boston Celtics facing the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics are no more prepared to win that battle in ’12 than they were last year, so the Heat cruise to the finals. The Western Conference looks a whole lot more interesting this year, though I would like to have seen what happened if Rose and Noah had stayed healthy (and to a much lesser extent, Dwight Howard for the Magic).
You might not view the Miami Heat as a young team and it’s certainly problematic. But despite two trips to the NBA Finals, Lebron James is still trying to break through. Until he wins championship #1 or until he’s 30 years old, I’ll consider Lebron James-led teams to be one of the young, hungry teams. I suspect this is the last year the Heat fit in that category.
In the West, you have old lions in the Lakers and the Spurs vying with the young lions in the Thunder, Clippers, and Grizzlies. With the Clippers up 2-1 on the Grizzlies and playing at home in Game 4, you have to give the Clippers an advantage, but it’s a young team going through the playoffs together for the 1st time, so that series could (and probably should) end up long and taxing. If the Grizzlies won, it wouldn’t surprise me. But let’s assume the Clippers win. They’ll get the ageless Spurs for a classic battle of old versus new. Maybe it’s because I’m from Dallas and I hate the whiny Spurs (insert picture of Tim Duncan pleading with the refs) from all those battles with the Mavericks, but I imagine anyone who isn’t a Spurs fan pulling against them, just tired to see these guys still hanging around. I bet the Clippers have their moments and even look like they’re going to take it once or twice, but the Spurs ending up winning in the end.
That brings us to the Lakers-Thunder showdown. This is going to be the marquee matchup of the 2nd round. The Oklahoma Thunder which now expects to advance to the Western Conference Finals versus the LA Lakers with Andrew Bynum helping Kobe to make one more run, but without Derrick Fisher and Lamar Odom (and Phil Jackson). Then there’s the fact Derrick Fisher is going to be suiting up against his old team, though Fisher isn’t the starter, so it’s more of a subplot. I predict the Thunder win this series in a hard-fought, bitter battle. The Lakers won’t go easy, but they’ll go.
In fact, I wonder if the Thunder aren’t going to the Finals this year. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Despite their thumping my hometown Mavericks, I enjoy watching the Oklahoma Thunder. They’re the next nearest NBA team since I live about 10 miles from Oklahoma (poor me), so you find more Thunder fans around here than anything else. Plus, there’s no way you’ll find me rooting for the Lakers or Spurs. So maybe this is wishful thinking, but Kevin Durant & Company have paid their dues, the lost at the conference finals level last year, and the natural next step is the NBA Finals.
I can’t imagine actually cheering on Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. I respect those guys, but it’s not the kind of respect which translates to cheers. The Spurs seem to have found the fountain of youth, but it helps having built their depth up in the offseason. Tiago Splitter, Gary Neal, and Stephen Jackson all bring something, so this isn’t just a three-man show anymore. Man, I hope we don’t see Lakers/Heat or Lakers/Spurs, because I’d probably have to change my longstanding policy and go for one of those western teams. Maybe I’d just sit that one out.
Post-Script on the Mavs Title Defense
By the way, Mark Cuban is officially an idiot for letting Tyson Chandler and JJ Barrera walk out the door. Well, maybe it’s not official yet, but it will be when Daron Williams snubs the Mavericks in free agency two months from now. Seldom has an NBA champion conspired such much on its own downfall. It’s not at the level of the Bulls’ Jerry Reinsdorf and Jerry Krause at the end of the Jordan Years, but it’s the worst case of arrogant assumptions by the champ leading to bad personnel decisions since then.