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Which four teams will be in the NBA conference finals?

December 20, 2011 |  1:39 pm

Writers from the Tribune Co. try to predict which teams will be the last four standing at the end of the upcoming NBA season. Check back throughout the day for more responses and join the discussion with a comment of your own.

Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times

Barring injuries and any other calamities that always seems to take hold of some team in the NBA, trying to decide which four teams will reach the conference finals is no easy task.

In the Eastern Conference, it is easy to pick the Miami Heat. After all, they are the favorites to win the NBA championship -– again.

The Boston Celtics are an aging group, so unless they find the fountain of youth, it’s hard to see them in the finals.

The Orlando Magic is in a quandary with the Dwight Howard will-he-be-traded situation. So no one knows how good this team will be and if Howard will even be on the team by season’s end.

That leaves the Chicago Bulls as the only other choice to meet the Heat in the East finals. The Bulls have reigning MVP Derrick Rose and they added Richard Hamilton to their backcourt.

As for the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder seems poised to take that next step and reach the conference finals for the second straight season.

After that, it’s really hard to choose.

The Lakers aren’t the team they once were and are getting older. The new-look Clippers are exciting with Chris Paul, Chauncey Billups and Blake Griffin, but it’s going to take some time for them to coalesce.

Well, that leaves the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks to get back to the conference finals, and they aren’t as strong as last season: they lost Tyson Chandler, their anchor on defense and Caron Butler, who joined the Clippers.

But until the Mavericks are knocked off, they are the team to beat.

K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune

This is boring: The same four teams -- Bulls vs. Heat, Thunder vs. Mavericks -- will meet in the conference finals. At least the basketball will be anything but boring. In this odd, compressed season, continuity will be as important as talent.

And, yes, the Mavericks underwent some changes with the losses of Caron Butler and Tyson Chandler and additions of Vince Carter and Lamar Odom. But the core of the team remains pretty much intact, and few teams will match their depth and shooting ability.

The Thunder remains virtually the same. The Bulls added Richard Hamilton. The Heat added Shane Battier. Those moves just made deep teams even deeper. Few teams can match the depth of the Bulls, who go legitimately two deep at each position. One has to believe the Heat, with more familiarity with each other, won't get off to a slow start like last season. Oklahoma City isn't just deep and talented; it's young. Look for the Thunder to take advantage of teams worn down by the nutty schedule.

So in the end, it's those same four teams. We'll save the Finals predictions for another time.

Mike Berardino, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Making preseason predictions is always dicey work, but it’s never been tougher than in this year’s on-the-fly NBA.

Tell me where Dwight Howard and Steve Nash eventually land, and I’d feel a lot more confident about pegging the final four we’ll be watching in May.

Lacking that information, I’ll go with the Heat over the Bulls in an Eastern Conference finals rematch.

The same issues remain that plagued the Bulls last year against the Heat. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose is still going to be asked to do too much, but he’s more than good enough to carry his band of plodders to the same level.

Out west, everybody loves the Clippers, and they’ll definitely be fun to watch now that Chris Paul has joined Blake Griffin, but I like the fresh legs of the youthful Thunder against the playoff-tested Spurs.


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Photo: LeBron James reacts as Miami wraps up the NBA Eastern Conference finals against the Chicago Bulls in May. Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press