The San Antonio Spurs.
I've picked them thrice in the last 5 years ('07, '08, and '11), and so the percentages aren't exactly in my favor. But they've been so good this year (3 10-game winning streaks)--even better after the All-Star break--that I'd be foolish not to pick them again. They are playing the best basketball in the planet right now, Tony Parker is having an MVP-type season and is the best point guard not named Chris Paul (at the moment, at least), Tim Duncan has been rejuvenated since the All-Star break while Pop masterfully manages his minutes, they are ten-deep (the backups just won them their last 2 regular season games), and most importantly, everyone is healthy.
But, having said that... it's tough to insure that this crew will remain healthy the rest of the way. That's what happened last year, when Manu sustained an elbow injury in the last game of the regular season. [As a side note, they wouldn't have lost to Memphis last year had Manu been healthy, had Timmy not been playing on one leg, and had Richard Jefferson made straightaway trifectas.] There is always the possibility of players being injured in basketball, but with the Spurs, it seems that the odds have historically been ever in their favor.
Assuming that they remain healthy, however, it's just hard to imagine anyone beating them four times in a 7-game series. They are the only red-hot team coming into the postseason. The only teams that worry me are the Lakers and the Grizzlies, because of their big and offensively-skilled frontline, which could pose problems for Duncan-Blair-Splitter-Diaw.
So how do we get there?
ECF Round 1:
Bulls over 76ers in six. Could be tougher for Chicago than most folks think. I see the Sixers as a poor man's version of the mid-2000's Pistons team--a bunch of good players with no superstars, with a seasoned coach who the players respect.
Hawks over Celtics in seven. My customary "upset" pick (Hawks are seeded 5th but they do have home court). Given that Paul Pierce just sprained his ankle in the last game of the season, this actually makes sense. Except the T-Mac is with the Hawks and T-Mac has never made it to the second round. But I'll stick with it because contrary to what many Celtics fans believe, their window has definitely closed.
Heat over Knicks in seven. This is the marquee first round matchup this year. Melo-Amare-Chandler vs. Wade-LeBron-Bosh. Should be a very good one. I just hope it lives up to the playoff history between the franchises.
Pacers over Magic in six. No Dwight, no chance.
WCF Round 1:
Spurs over Jazz in four. The Spurs' last 2 defeats came at the hands of the Lakers and the Jazz. But the Big Three didn't play in that loss to Utah--and yet the game was close coming in to the last 3 minutes. So unless Pop leaves the Big Three in Texas for the 2 road games, it's hard to imagine the Jazz waltzing with the Spurs.
Clippers over Grizzlies in seven. Most pundits will likely pick the Grizzlies. But I'll go with the Clips for 2 reasons: 1) Z-Bo is not playing at the same level as he did last year; and 2) Chris Paul. Next to Miami-NY, this should be the most fun to watch.
Thunder over Mavs in five. The Mavs' title defense should be short and painless. Rudy T. once said, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion." Problem is, the heart and soul of last year's Mavs defense is already in New York. I don't think Dallas have another gear in them and OKC is just gonna run them out of the building.
Lakers over Nuggets in six. I'm praying for an upset but I just can't come up with a scenario where the Nuggets will beat LA. Unless, of course, Bynum's knee suddenly gives out.
Bulls over Hawks in six. Same story as last year. Except the Bulls are better this year.
Heat over Pacers in five. Another ho-hum second round series in the East.
Spurs over Clippers in six. The Clippers could be a trendy underdog pick except for the fact that they're coached by Vinny del Negro. It's like having one of those tambays playing chess against Gary Kasparov.
Thunder over Lakers in seven. This should be a real slobberknocker. It's got bad blood (thanks to the Metta Artest elbow), recent playoff history (2010 first round), this year's top 2 scorers (Durant and Kobe), and big bodies (Bynum-Gasol vs. Perkins-Serge). Methinks home court will be the deciding factor... and the revenge of the Beard!!!
Bulls over Heat in seven. It's really tough to pick the Bulls this year because of all the injuries to Derrick Rose. And given how LeBron killed them last year, things aren't exactly all rosy in Chicago. But I'm picking them for the following reasons: 1. Chicago plays better defense; 2. Wade hasn't been healthy either; 3. LeBron's playoff history ('11 Finals, '10 ECSF, '09 ECF); 4. the Bulls' frontline of Noah-Boozer-Asik-Gibson is tougher than anyone in Bosh's pit; and 5. the fact that Chicago finished with a better regular season record than Miami despite D-Rose missing a handful of games tells you something about the team's depth and character.
Spurs over Thunder in six. Remember when I said earlier that the only 2 teams I worry about are the Lakers and the Grizzlies? So what about OKC? Well, the Spurs actually match up well against the Thunder (winning the season series 2-1, with both Manu and Tony not playing in the lone defeat). Their big men aren't offensive threats, which would take pressure off the Spurs' frontline defensively. Ultimately, though, I think West-brick will be the cause of OKC's downfall. I'm with Skip on this one. Sure, they've won tons of games in the regular season thanks to Westbrook. But in a 7-game series, where one of the greatest coaches of all-time can make the necessary adjustments, where media scrutiny is at its highest--I don't think OKC can get away with it.
Finals: Spurs over Bulls in six. The Bulls just aren't ready yet.
Before I end, just for laughs: