Last season at this time, there was no season. And when the season finally started on Christmas day last year, who knew that after all of the bickering and fighting between the owners and its players, over money of course; after all the delays of trying to get the season started in time to have a schedule of games that were sufficient to constitute a legitimate 66-game season, that through all of that…last season was probably a whole lot better than it deserved to be.  Probably one of the better seasons in recent memory.

Just to briefly recap, LeBron “King” James finally got crowned as he won his first NBA championship, in addition to his third MVP award and first Finals MVP award. Kevin Durant became the second best player in the game as he led the league in scoring yet again. Fan favorite, Dwight Howard, became an enemy in Orlando. And then there was the Knicks Jeremy Lin, whose emergence was a welcome sight in New York.

Now with the strike behind us and as much as we thought has changed in the NBA as a result of it with the new financial rules and supposed hindrances for big markets.  Little did change.  Dwight Howard is in L.A. now.  Nothing really has changed out East other than his departure and Joe Johnson going to Brooklyn and Bynum going to Philly,  so that basically means that it’ll be either Boston or Miami playing for the championship.

In the West, it’s Lakers looking better than ever on paper with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash in tow.  But the Oklahoma City Thunder are still right there at the top of the heap representing all little markets everywhere.

I guess it’s time for my predictions which is what many of you came to see.  And I guess you pretty much know who I have in the conference championships based on the above paragraphs.  And that basically sums up the level of parity in the NBA.  This isn’t the NFL where surprises can happen any given Sunday.  For the most part, the NBA sticks to the script…a pretty boring but somehow pretty entertaining script.

Despite an 0-8 preseason record and some inherent flaws, I don’t see anyone stopping the Lakers out West…until they meet the Thunder. The Thunder, who ironically were the one elite team forced to subtract while the Lakers, Heat, Knicks, Nets and others got better. James Harden is off to Houston because of the harsh financial realities facing teams like the Thunder, who are finding that competing with the glamour markets is harder than ever despite the supposed leveling of the playing field in the new CBA. Think about that for a minute: The Lakers added Howard and Steve Nash, while the Thunder were forced to trade Harden, perhaps the best sixth man in the league.

In the East? While so much changes, so much remains the same. The Heat and Celtics both catch a break because the Chicago Bulls’ Derrick Rose is likely out until springtime as he rehabs from last season’s knee injury. And even if he were back to full strength, I still can’t see Bulls beating either Heat or Celtics.  And while the Knicks, Nets and Sixers got better and the Pacers will have a year’s more experience, does anybody really see any Eastern Conference finals combatants other than Miami and Boston? I don’t. I’m just not buying that New York and Brooklyn are on that level yet, though it’ll be exceedingly fun watching both of them try to be. Basketball is back in a relevant, positive way in New York City, and I’m all for that.

So there you have it, my not-so-bold prediction of Heat-Celtics and Lakers-Thunder conference finals.

In the finals I have the Heat over Thunder. I could go with the Lakers here and if I were to go with them, I think the Lakers would beat Heat because of the match-up advantages that they have down low which was the Heat’s Achilles heel at times last season.

But with that said, I think the Thunder matches up even better with the Lakers because of their bigs being way more focused on the defensive end to cancel out the Lakers’ advantage that they have with Dwight and letting Durant and Westbrook dominate on the perimeter.  And also, I believe that this is the year that Kobe really begins to show his age.  He isn’t getting any younger and that combo of Durant and Westbrook should be even more lethal this year even without Harden.

The Heat are certainly better with Allen and perhaps Rashard Lewis (if healthy and effective) spreading the floor for LeBron and Dwyane Wade to do their thing as always.

I think Kevin Durant finally wins the MVP trophy that LeBron seems to have a stranglehold on.  Durant is at a point in his career where significant leaps in productivity and dominance remain very much within reach. And also the voters may be at that point of getting tired of voting for LeBron which also helps.  Plus, with Harden gone, OKC will rely even more on Durant for scoring, which will only help improve his chances.

Do you guys agree with my predictions?  Who do you think is going to take it all this year?  Sound off below.