So far I have provided all of my previews and predictions for the 2012-13 NBA season (Atlantic Division, Central Division, Southeast Division, Southwest Division, Northwest Division, Pacific Division, Eastern Conference Playoffs and Western Conference Playoffs) which is set to begin in just a few short hours. Now it’s time for me to provided my predictions for the Conference Finals and NBA Finals which is the Association’s version of the Final Four. My Eastern Conference Finals predictions can be found here and if you continue to read you will get your fill of the Western Conference Finals predictions.
Last season the Oklahoma City Thunder stepped up and showed the rest of the Western Conference that they were here to stay for a while. The Los Angeles Lakers got handled by this Tunder team in the second round of the playoffs, 4-1 and rebuilt during the off-season. Following the unexpected trade of James Harden to the Houston Rockets for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and draft picks there are some who think this young, hungry and talented team has taken a step backwards, well guess what I’m not one of them. The Thunder and Lakers in this year’s Western Conference Finals is going to be every bit of entertaining than the Eastern Conference Finals will be this season if not just slightly better.
This series has the potential to go down as one of the best seven games series in basketball history due to the fact of the components which are packed into this series. First off there is an alpha-dog versus alpha-dog theme within the series as Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant will go head up to prove which one of the two is the second best player in the NBA.
Second you have two contrasting, yet talented, point guards in Russell Westbrook and Steve Nash doing battle. Then two forwards from Spain’s National Team, Serge Ibaka and Pau Gasol will go head-to-head at the four position. At center the newly acquired Dwight Howard will have to contend with one of the few players that in the NBA that can guard him without a double team, Kendrick Perkins.
This series will be filled with interesting side stories on a nightly basis, but the x-factor for both teams will undoubtedly be which team’s bench can produce more. Unless the Thunder completely reinvent the wheel with their lineup during the season (which I highly doubt that they will) then Martin will be coming off of the bench just as Harden which means now the Thunder have a guy who can easily score 20 per night coming off of the bench for them. Oh wait that’s what they had in Harden so maybe I just included that part in there for all of those who felt that trade was a bad one for OKC.
However, back to the bench and the fact that the Thunder have a very talented and deep bench where as the Lakers don’t really have that same depth. Los Angeles will feature a big time scorer off of the bench in Antwan Jamison but once you get past him, Jordan Hill and maybe Steve Blake there isn’t much fire power. Now when you turn your attention to the Thunder’s reserve unit they have Martin, Eric Maynor, Nick Collison, rookies Perry Jones III (in my opinion the steal of the 2012 Draft) and Lamb and maybe Hasheem Thabeat (if he can prove to be productive) all coming off the bench and providing the team with quality minutes and production while doing so.
The Lakers are going to have to rely too much on their starting unit to do all of the heavy lifting against a team that has younger and fresher legs than they do. That kind of recipe in a seven game series spells disaster for the elder team which the Lakers clearly are in this one.
Once this phenomenal series is all said and done, the Thunder will come out victorious simply because of their bench and the fact that I just don’t see this team taking a step backwards. Each and every season over the past few this team has gone further than they had in the previous one and I don’t see that changing this year with Durant and Westbrook beginning to move into the early primes of their career. Thunder in seven and back to the NBA Finals to meet up with a familiar foe once again.