Who is this year’s NBA champ?

By Steven Peek, Colin Likas and Lance Rinker

With 82 regular season games in the books, the National Basketball Association playoffs are underway.

Sixteen teams have a clean slate and are competing for the crown. The field is a mix of strong holdovers, fresh faces and proven champions.

This leads to a question for which everyone has an answer: which team will take home the NBA Championship?

We’ve pinpointed three teams as favorites: the Miami Heat, the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Steven: With the Lakers and Spurs struggling in the Western Conference, I think the NBA champion will come from the Eastern Conference this season.

The Bulls are a tempting choice, but they are too much of a one-man show. The Pacers, a team that was under .500 in the regular season, are proving that the Bulls are vulnerable to a diverse offense.

The Miami Heat have plenty of that. They will be able to survive the weakened and unimpressive Boston Celtics to make a trip to the NBA finals.

The “Big 3”—LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh—have always been superstars. Together, however, they have worked well with their teammates as the season has progressed, yielding better performances.

As long as the team’s defense creates opportunities for transition scoring, I see no reason why that success shouldn’t continue.

James, Wade and Bosh are not going to back down in these playoffs and their teammates will not either. I think the Heat are going to emerge victorious in the end.

Colin: The NBA is going to see a changing of the guard this season and the Chicago Bulls are going to grab the franchise’s seventh championship.

The Bulls finished with the league’s best regular season record, 62-20, and they are every bit as good as that record indicates.

Derrick Rose has been on fire down the stretch, scoring 30 or more points almost every night. Joakim Noah has been everything Chicago hoped for under the net. Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng have been great when healthy and head coach Tom Thibodeau has made the team defensively sound.

Chicago is also benefitted by playing in the East, where teams are weaker and have had trouble beating the Bulls all season, as shown by the squad’s 39-13 conference record.

Chicago should not fear whoever it might meet up with in the championship series either, as the Bulls sport a 23-7 record against teams from the West.

Add all of that to a 36-5 home court record and a nine-game winning streak to end the regular season and you have  a freight train headed for a trip to the NBA finals.

Lance: Having grown up listening to my dad tell stories about the legendary Larry Bird and his championship years in Boston, I developed a hatred for the Lakers. So, it pains me to say that the Lake Show, led by 13-time NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant, is primed and ready to win its third consecutive title.

Even at the age of 32, Bryant managed to finish among the top five in scoring for the ninth straight season. Bryant is co-captain of the Lakers with veteran point guard Derek Fisher, who has teamed with Bryant to bring five championship trophies to Los Angeles.

Fisher and Bryant make up what is easily the most experienced backcourt in the postseason. The two will be complemented by a talent-laden frontcourt, featuring Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest rounds out the Lakers starting five and will share time with versatile wing-man Lamar Odom.

This is not the year that an upstart team like Oklahoma City or Chicago makes off with the title.

The changing of the guard will eventually take place, but the Los Angeles Lakers will accomplish the rare feat that is the three-peat first.

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