May 5, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) drives against the Dallas Mavericks during game four of the 2012 NBA playoffs at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

2012 NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

With the surging Boston Celtics and the overwhelmed Indiana Pacers out of my playoff picture in the Eastern Conference and the aging San Antonio Spurs and the resilient Los Angeles Lakers left at home in the Western Conference, we’re now down to the final four. The Chicago Bulls have somehow hobbled their way into a series with the Miami Heat (keeping in mind I never adjusted the bracket for fair reasons) and the Oklahoma City Thunder found their way back into the Western Conference Finals for the second straight year with the Los Angeles Clippers joining them in the battle.

Western Conference Finals:

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers

After winning the scoring title for the third straight year, Kevin Durant is looking for something more than being a scoring machine to add to his legacy. A championship has been the focus of this very balanced Thunder team. James Harden might be one of the best bench players to win NBA Sixth Man of the Year in the history of the award and Serge Ibaka has the ability to swing a game’s momentum with one swat of the ball.

I’m not saying that the Thunder will easily dispose of the Clippers, but I can’t see this series going any further than six games. The balanced attack from Russell Westbrook (averaging 22.3 points) and Durant (averaging 26.5 points) will be a tall enough task for the Clippers to handle, who don’t have a good enough answer on defense for the Thunder’s high-powered offensive attack.

Chris Paul came into Los Angeles and immediately made an impact, transforming the Clippers into one of the dominant forces in the West in one year. If the Clippers play their cards right with Blake Griffin and Paul, soon enough the Clips will find their way to their first Finals appearance. For now, it’s the youth of the Thunder that will rule the NBA.

2. Thunder over 5. Clippers, 4-1

Eastern Conference Finals:

(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (2) Miami Heat

May 3, 2012; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks shooting guard J.R. Smith (8) defends Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half of game three in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals of the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Madison Square Garden. Miami won 87-70. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Injuries or no injuries, I still have to go with the Bulls making it this far in the playoffs. It doesn’t matter because the Miami Heat are not letting anyone or anything in their path stop them from achieving the ultimate goal of a championship. The embarrassing Finals appearance by the “Big Three” last season has Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James back this year to claim the trophy as their own.

The reason why the Heat will win the Eastern Conference starts with LeBron. He worked all summer on finding a new shot for himself, a nice 15-footer. Settling for less threes and willing to dish out the ball to his teammates, although sometimes in the wrong situations, James is a completely different player than he was in Cleveland. Averaging 27.1 points, 6.2 assists and 7.9 rebounds, he’s become the all-around best player in the NBA.

The Bulls right now stand no chance against the Heat, as they are a much more empty-handed this season than they were last season when they matched up against the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Bulls can contain either Wade or James, they might have a slim chance, but if they allow the two stars to run hog wild, it will be ugly.

2. Heat over 1. Bulls, 4-3

And that sets us up with one of the most exciting Finals since those heated Laker-Celtic match ups. Next week Right Down Euclid will preview the Finals, which will hopefully live up to the hype.

For now check out the completed bracket – http://betterbracketmaker.com/#!/ff68cf5bda9f4

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Tags: Blake Griffin Chicago Bulls Chris Bosh Chris Paul Dwyane Wade James Harden Kevin Durant Lebron James Los Angeles Clippers Miami Heat Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook Serge Ibaka

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