Picking the NBA Conference winners

The most surprising thing about this year’s National Basketball Association conference championships is who is not playing. The San Antonio Spurs, who had the best record during the regular season, lost in the first round. The defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, as well as last year’s finalists, the Boston Celtics, lost in the second round.

That means that big-time, big-game players such as Kobe Bryant (Lakers), Tim Duncan (Spurs) and Kevin Garnett (Celtics) are home watching the Eastern and Western Conference finals on TV.

But there are still some terrific teams and players left. Let’s take a look at this year’s NBA conference finals matchups.

Eastern Conference:
Chicago Bulls vs. Miami Heat

The two best teams in the Eastern Conference won in different ways this season. The Heat won 58 games (and lost 24) during the regular season and knocked off the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics in the playoffs behind three superstars: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Miami’s Big 3 scored almost 70 percent of the Heat’s points and dominated play.

The Bulls are more of a team. Sure, point guard Derrick Rose was named the league’s most valuable player this season, but the Bulls were more than just Rose. Forward Luol Deng is an underrated scorer and defender. Big men Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer grab plenty of rebounds, and all of the Bulls play tough defense. The Bulls won the first game in the best-of-seven series on Sunday. Game 2 was played last night. Check the Sports section for the final score.

So who will win the conference title? The team or the superstars? I think the Bulls defense will find a way to stop the Big 3. I’m picking the Bulls.

Western Conference:
Dallas Mavericks vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

This series is simple: It’s the old guys against the young guys. The Mavericks have the oldest team in the playoffs. Their five best scorers in the playoffs are at least 32 years old. Dallas point guard Jason Kidd is 38; that’s ancient for a pro basketball player. I wonder if the Mavs will have the energy and speed to keep up with the fast-breaking Thunder.

Dallas does have Dirk Nowitski. The 7-foot power forward is a tough matchup for any team, but he will turn 33 next month.

The Thunder’s two best players — forward Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook — are just 22 years old. Durant was the leading scorer in the NBA this season, with almost 28 points per game. The 6-foot-9-inch superstar, who was born in Washington, poured in 39 points in the seventh and deciding game against the Memphis Grizzlies.

I think the young guys will outrun the old guys. I’m picking Oklahoma City in six games, even after the Mavs won the first game, 121-112.

Fred Bowen is the author of 16 sports books for kids. His latest book is called “Real Hoops.”

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