Point/Counterpoint: Which NBA team is most likely to surprise with a Finals berth?
Phil: The Finals have always been dominated with superstars. This year appears to be no different, with it looking like another rematch of the LeBron James-led Miami Heat and Kevin Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder. However, I don't think this will be the case, due to the catastrophic James Harden deal. Since they decided to trade away the second-best shooting guard in the league, they are now especially vulnerable to the San Antonio Spurs. With the best record in the NBA and a good mix of savvy veterans and fresh talent. I predict they will rise up to knock off the Harden-less Thunder.
Dalton: Athletes such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant expect success. Both live and breathe excellence and have built extraordinary careers. The 2012 NBA season came to its pinnacle when the two opposed each other in last year's Finals. LeBron's Miami Heat outlasted Durant's Oklahoma City Thunder in five games as James' walked away with his first crown. Many have come to the conclusion that a rematch is inevitable but don't bet money yet. The Heat fans looking to buy up tickets at American Airlines mid-June will stay grounded because here come the Indiana Pacers.
Dalton: One cannot overlook the emergence of the Eastern Conference's Indiana Pacers. The 2012-2013 Indiana Pacers are the nightmare standing between Heat fans and a good night's sleep. Boasting a respectable 4-4 record against Miami over the course of their previous eight meetings (including last year's grueling playoff series), Indiana is slowly re-asserting its early 2000s position as the "Beast of the East." The presence of 6'8" All-Star forward Paul George provides Indiana with a defensive counter to the dynamic LeBron James and the frontcourt mismatch created by Roy Hibbert, Tyler Hansbrough, David West and a healthy Danny Granger should not be disregarded, either. The Indiana Pacers just may be the rotten apple poisoning Miami's aspirations of a third straight NBA Finals berth.
Phil: I agree with you on the point that Indiana gives the Heat a lot of trouble, especially with their size. The team that I think can do the most damage is the New York Knicks. They have solid big men with Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton is a great fit in their system. What I like the most is the similarity they have with the Dallas team that beat Miami in the finals a few years ago. Both teams had Tyson Chandler, Jason Kidd and a bunch of role players who are deadly three-point shooters. Finally, I think Carmelo Anthony can replicate the success Dirk had versus Miami.
Dalton: There's no denying the talent featured on NYK's roster, but the club's legitimacy can be easily brought into question. What separates this year's Knicks from the 2012 version that got steamrolled last April? Only time will tell. Featuring what may be the league's deepest bench and the most electrifying athlete in Blake Griffin, the Los Angeles Clippers appear as ready as ever to make a deep run this spring. With 466 games of combined playoff experience on its roster, the Clippers' personnel are anything but amateurs when it comes to the postseason. This could be the year Los Angeles' "other team" goes all the way. Headlining the best team in franchise history are MVP candidate Chris Paul and probable sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford. Fans of Miami and OKC be warned: a potential "Pacers-Clippers" Finals could loom ominous.
Phil: I do like the Clippers, especially because they have the best point in the league. My pick in the West, though, is the Spurs. After last year's defeat in the conference finals, they will be on a mission in 2013. Led by the veteran trio of Parker, Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs play textbook basketball. Young players Kwahi Leonard and Tiago Splitter can also handle the load when the old guys need a rest. These facts lead me to predict that the Spurs will make it to the NBA finals to play NYC. Regardless, I think it's safe to say there is no lock in the NBA finals in 2013.
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