From the "Bold Predictions of 2012" Department: The San Antonio Spurs will NOT win this year's NBA championship.
OK, so maybe that's not going all that far out on a limb.
Sure, the Spurs put together the best regular-season record (50-16) in the league — a mark shared by the Chicago Bulls — during this condensed 66-game campaign, thus earning the No. 1 seed and the home-court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs.
The Spurs begin their quest for the fifth league championship in franchise history Sunday against the eighth-seeded Utah Jazz. And as much as I'd like to say that the Jazz will be the ones to shock the world and stop the Spurs' title quest, it's probably not going to happen.
Oh, sure, the Jazz will give it everything they've got in what has already been a surprisingly fun, glory-filled season. But whatever happens from here on out should be considered gravy for Utah's favorite NBA franchise, because the over-achieving Jazz weren't expected to be here in the first place.
And the Spurs will most likely make this particular postseason appearance a short one for Utah.
Not that a No. 8 seed can't knock off a No. 1. It's been done before — most recently to these same Spurs last year, when they were shocked by the Memphis Grizzlies in a first-round stunner.
But with that upset in mind, it'll likely make it that much more difficult for the Jazz to do the same thing and ambush the more-wary-than-ever Spurs and their veteran trio of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
However, these Spurs are somewhat reminiscent of the Jazz of 1999 and 2000 — a great team that still featured its own stellar trio of aging stars in John Stockton, Karl Malone and Jeff Hornacek.
And this San Antonio squad might find out the same thing those Jazz teams learned the hard way: When it comes to postseason play, their best days are probably behind them.
That's why I don't think these Spurs, despite all their championship savvy and postseason experience, will walk off the court in June with another title trophy.
Instead, as much as I hate to say it, that coveted prize will likely go to LeBron James and the Miami Heat — especially after what happened Saturday.
The Bulls, the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed and the team with perhaps the best chance of derailing King James' championship express, saw star point guard Derrick Rose go down with a torn ACL in their series-opening victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
And the Bulls' own title hopes went down with him.
Even though Chicago compiled the East's best regular-season record despite Rose's injury-plagued year — he only managed to play in 39 of their 66 games due to a variety of ailments — the Bulls aren't going to win the NBA championship without him, no matter how well former Jazzmen Carlos Boozer, Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer might play.
The Boston Celtics and their own aging threesome of stars have got too many miles on the old wheels, and now Ray Allen needs ankle surgery.
Orlando star Dwight Howard had to have surgery, too, in precisely the same place he stuck that knife in Magic coach Stan Van Gundy, and none of the other Eastern Conference hopefuls — Indiana, Atlanta, New York or Philadelphia — have what it takes to win it all.
That opens the door for James, Dwyane Heat, Chris Bosh & Co. to likely cruise all the way to the NBA finals.
In the West, it's a four-horse race between San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Memphis and the Los Angeles Lakers, with Utah, the L.A. Clippers, Denver and defending champion Dallas not expected to make too much noise this time around.
The Spurs and Thunder should reach the Western Conference finals in what will be a heck of a series. But the winner probably won't have enough gas left in the tank to beat the Heat.
Yes, LeBron and his much-maligned "decision" will pay dividends with the first of "not one … not two … not three …" championships.
But this is one time that I'd be downright delighted to be dead wrong.
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