Finals Analysis: Heat, Lakers on collision course


dirk nowitzki
Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki will be out at least six weeks after knee surgery. AP Photo

Forget the Dream Team. How about a dream matchup. More than 20 years after Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson squared off, could we finally see the NBA’s top two stars hold court in The Finals?

The consensus among prognosticators pegs Miami’s LeBron James, widely considered the league’s best player, to meet the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, the co-active leader in titles with five, for the title next summer.

“King James” and his cohorts ruled the court in last year’s strike-shortened NBA season. Competition for the throne stiffened over an intriguing summer.

A number of contenders court titles as the NBA season tips off. Apologies to the other 28 teams, but the Heat and Lakers alone constitute the prime suspects when it comes to copping the championship trophy come June.

James pulled off the rare triple feat of Most Valuable Player in the regular season and NBA finals, a championship, and Olympic gold medal last year.

Miami loaded up his supporting cast by acquiring former Seattle Supersonics (now Oklahoma City Thunder) teammates in sharpshooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis to a potent trio of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

The Lakers showed how the rich indeed get richer, grabbing first-team All-NBA center Dwight Howard, and two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash in a pair of summer blockbuster moves. The Lakers starting five of Nash, Howard, and a trio with eight NBA titles between Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace, rivals any in the league.

Other teams figure to make their case.

Oklahoma City’s 25-and-under nucleus of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka make the Thunder prime contenders to get back to the Finals, although the trade of James Harden to Houston cracks the door even more for the Lakers.

San Antonio’s chemistry, coaching (Gregg Popovich) and unchanged core (Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili) deserve mention, however, age continues to be a question.

The Los Angeles Clippers center their aspirations around a pair of all-stars in Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but they face a stiff enough challenge being city champions before thinking NBA title.

For all their talent, the Heat lack a standout center, but won without one last year. For all their talent, the Lakers lack proven chemistry, with their projected starting five playing together only once in preseason. The Heat have youth on their side, being the more athletic team; the Lakers have size on theirs, capable of not only matching Miami on star power, but beating them in the frontcourt.

Potential roadblocks stand in the way, as with any favorite. But the roadmap to The Finals figures to go through Los Angeles and Miami.

If nothing else, the possible dream season avoided a nightmarish start, like last year that wiped out two months of action.

Now if only the two favorites can make all the hoopla a reality.

NBA Predictions 2012-13

Champion

Los Angeles Lakers over Miami Heat

MVP

Dwight Howard, Los Angeles Lakers

Division winners

Atlantic - New York

Central - Indiana

Southeast - Miami

Northwest - Oklahoma City

Southwest - San Antonio

Pacific - Los Angeles Lakers

Texas Teams

Mavericks - 8th, West. An all-new backcourt (Darren Collison O.J. Mayo) and hobbled frontcourt (Dirk Nowitzki, Chris Kaman) amount to several question marks for one of the NBA’s most consistent franchises.

Rockets - 10th, West. How far the Rockets blast off depends on how their new guards (Jeremy Lin, James Harden) adjust to being the main options after playing on star-studded rosters last year.

Spurs - 4th, West. Perhaps the biggest threat to the Lakers and Thunder out West, the Spurs showed they have something left in the tank while leading the league in wins last year, and the conference in victories the year before.