This is the first of three upcoming posts about the 2012-2013 NBA season. Because of the Olympics, it feels like the season just ended. For hoop fans, this is great. We had a two and a half month break with no basketball and now they’re back at it.

In our first part of a three-part Popblerd NBA Preview, I sent off questions to our NBA guy Jay and our editor-in-chief, Big Money Mike. We had quite the discussion about the upcoming season.

Before we get to the discussion, we have our own Facebook page for Roundball Soundoff. It’s not just about the column. It’s an all-encompassing basketball page with all the latest news, best articles, photos, and videos on the interwebs. Check it out and give us a like.

(We went back and forth before the blockbuster trade between Oklahoma City and Houston happened. James Harden is now a member of the Houston Rockets.)

LeBron finally got “his”. But what people aren’t really discussing is how close Kevin Durant came to getting “his”. And now Dwight Howard is on a team who can support him in the right way so that he can get “his”. But yet, most prognosticators are saying that it’s LeBron’s championship to lose now that he’s had a taste of success. Is it going to be his to lose again?

Jay: In my opinion, it’s always the defending champs’ title to lose. Dwight is in a really good situation in LA but they are still learning to play with each other. It’s hard to take away much from preseason but the Lakers weren’t good and Dwight only played one game. They may need a year to mesh like Miami did, and a few upgrades on the bench will help too. Meanwhile, Miami kept their core and added Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis and their only responsibility is to hit wide open 3s, something they are both really good at. OKC will be right there as long as they figure out the James Harden situation. Their top 4 players are on average 23.5 years old and will only get better.

Big Money: Yeah. I’m picking OKC/Miami again. The Thunder has youth on their side, but the Heat don’t have the lack of a championship hanging over their heads. Now that they have that monkey off their backs, they could be scary. Or they could get lazy. It could go either way.

GG: LeBron is working on his game! Just look at his baby sky hook! Like most, I think the Lakers and OKC will battle for that Western Conference title. I do wonder if San Antonio has anything else left. They had such a tremendous regular season and beginning of their postseason before losing four straight in the Western Conference Finals last year. On the other side, if they can stay healthy, I think the Heat can win 65 games. The Celtics will have to be creative, or get a MVP season from Rajon Rondo to stretch the Heat again.

Where does Boston fit in? They are much more like the Lakers in that they are older and have one young star (Rondo), but unless they can stay completely healthy and figure out a way to use their size in a way that Miami won’t be able to match them (vs. going small and just running them to hell), it seems like it will be similar to last season. What’s your take on Boston?

Jay: Loved Boston’s offseason moves. They lost Ray Allen, but replaced him with Courtney Lee and Jason Terry. Avery Bradley, while injured now, was promoted to the starting lineup before the end of last season and should only be better this season. If Brandon Bass can improve slightly and if Garnett doesn’t murder Darko, Boston has assembled an even better roster than last year. This is a team that was one questionable game away from the NBA Finals last year. Look for them to be right there again this season.

Big Money: I agree with Jay. Boston/Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals, I think. They’ll play each other tough–not that they don’t already do that…

GG: KG took Ray Allen’s number out of his cell phone! So when he gets that text from Ray mid-season talking trash, Ray’s going to get a text back that says, “Who dis?”

Similarly, the San Antonio Spurs out West are going to be overlooked thanks to their early exit in 2011 and last year’s weird playoffs where they swept their first two series and then won the first two games against the Oklahoma Thunder, but lost the next four in a row and failed again in their attempt to get back into the NBA Finals. With their core getting older by the minute, can they make one more run or are they just a regular season team at this point?

Jay: Every time you count the Spurs out they seem to come back even stronger. That being said, I don’t think there’s a chance they make it out of the West this year. Duncan and Ginobili are way past their prime and while their role players are good, a few of them would have to make giant leaps to have them get out of the West. OKC and the Lakers are definitely better and you can make a strong case for Denver, LAC, and Memphis as well.

Big Money: The Spurs get written off incorrectly every year, and they will this year. And I think it’ll be right. They’ll have a good regular season, but they’ll collapse during the playoffs.

GG: Last year, no one wanted to play the Spurs. Many prognosticators had the Spurs as the most dangerous team once the regular season ended. But then playoff basketball happened. Two things will have to happen for the Spurs to get back to the finals. Those two things are the Lakers and Thunder collapsing because of injury. Though, I think the Spurs will have another really good regular season.

We mentioned the tippity-top contenders. Which teams in each conference just below that top do you think have the best chance of making a run at a championship? I’m talking about a team like Chicago who won’t have Derrick Rose early on, Indiana, Jay’s Knicks, or even Brooklyn in the East. And in the West, teams like the Clippers who are deep, Denver who is deep, Utah, Memphis, and Dallas (without Dirk for a few weeks). Who has the best chance in each conference of breaking through?

DRose

Jay: I think there’s a 95% chance the East will be represented by Boston or Miami, however an injury or two could change the landscape, opening the opportunity for Indiana, Chicago or New York. Chicago’s hopes depend on Derrick Rose and New York’s depends on Amar’e Stoudemire, both if he can stay healthy and if he can play with Melo. So the team with the least questions would be Indiana, however a few players are going have to take the next step this season for them to make some noise in the postseason.

The West, as usual, is super deep. While Denver doesn’t have the typical super star, they are legitimately 11 players deep and can score from anywhere on the court at all times. I wouldn’t sleep on them. Memphis is another interesting team. Two years ago Gay was injured and last year Randolph was injured. So far this year they are both healthy. They could be a dangerous team by the end of the season. I think those are the top two contenders other than OKC and the Lakers out West, but the Clippers will also be a very tough out in the postseason if Paul and Griffin stay healthy.

Big Money: In the East, there’s Miami and Boston… and then there’s everyone else. I’d put Chicago third, at least until D. Rose comes back. Even with a healthy Rose, though, I feel like the Bulls are a definite number three. They don’t have a solidly reliable second option the way the other teams do.

GG: Like Jay, I think Denver is interesting. But Big Money talked about Chicago not having a reliable second option. Denver seems to have nothing but second options. I think we’ll see truly how good Andre Iguodala really is. Sadly, Minnesota was going to be fun to watch, but with Ricky Rubio out for a couple months and now Kevin Love out, they may run out of time. In the East, I think we’ll similarly get to see how good Deron Williams is with his Brooklyn crew. They spent a lot of money to put that team together. I am intrigued with Philly and the Joe Johnson-less Atlanta Hawks too. Andrew Bynum is always hurt, but Jrue Holiday may develop into something.

Let’s talk about the young stars in this league for a second. LeBron, KD, Kobe, Dwight, Carmelo, CP3 and stars of that caliber aren’t going away anytime soon. Do you see any of the second-level stars or first or second year players making a huge jump this year? If so, who?

Jay: Kyrie Irving will make the biggest leap and will be a household name by the end of the season. Keep an eye out for Klay Thompson on Golden State as well. He’s likely to make the jump but will be under the radar unless if Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut can stay healthy and the Warriors make the playoffs.

Big Money: I definitely think James Harden is gonna be one of those next-level cats this season.

(Kind of interesting that Big Money made this call a few days ago. Now, Harden is a lead dude.)

GG: I gauge the interest of the young players based on who my kids like. Kyrie Irving, yes. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, yes. John Wall, yes. Austin Rivers, yes. Meyers Leonard, no.

Actually, the rookie I’m most excited to see is Damian Lillard simply because he’s exciting and will get a chance to play a lot. Is he a true point guard? Who knows, but I think he’ll be even more interesting to watch than Anthony Davis.

What teams are you going to keep your eye on as a pure basketball fan? We know the good teams that will be on TV every week. What teams are you looking forward to watching play that don’t get a ton of hype by the NBA hype machine?

Jay: I’m keeping a close eye on Denver. As a Knicks fan, it’s like looking at an alternate universe where they made all the right decisions, like keeping Gallinari and Chandler and drafting Lawson and Faried. If Bogut and Curry can stay healthy I’ll be watching the Warriors and if Love comes back before it’s too late, I’ll be following the TWolves as well.

Big Money: The Knicks. Because I feel like this season is gonna be a disaster. HA!

GG: I will watch most of the Warriors games this season as I’m a big Warriors fan. Because of Irving, Cleveland could be one of those fun teams. I’m keeping my eye on Jeremy Lin too.

(With the Harden in Houston now, they’re probably on that list.)

Alright, let’s go home with this thing.

Give me your “dream” finals, and then give me what you actually think the finals will be. Also, give me your MVP award winner and your dark horse MVP winner.

Jay: Dream finals would be a classic Lakers/Celtics matchup. Probable finals is Thunder vs. Heat. Lebron wins the MVP award. Dark horse MVP is Carmelo Anthony carrying a Knicks team decimated by injuries.

Big Money: Dream Finals would be OKC/Boston, probably. Actual finals will be OKC/Heat. Durant is the MVP. Dark horse team is the Clippers and dark horse MVP is CP3.

GG: I’m still waiting on that LeBron vs. Kobe finals. What kind of drama would that be? And there’s a good chance of finally getting it. I still have OKC going back to the finals, but the Lakers are right there. LBJ is the MVP and Steve Nash is my dark horse MVP. He fundamentally changes the way that team can spread the floor.

Photos by Keith Allison and shared via Creative Commons

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