Enter the Clippers

Brian Schmitz

Orlando Sentinel

You don't follow the bouncing ball any more in the NBA; you follow the bouncing stars.

Free-agentpalooza, with the A-listers calling the shots, has produced instant contenders and revived the dead.

We give you the Heat and the Clippers. The Heat's Big Three will join the Bulls in the East finals, and the Mavericks and Clippers will meet in the West finals.

Yes, the Clippers.

David Stern's decision to send Chris Paul to the other L.A. team has turned the West on its ear. By the end of the season, the once-downtrodden Clips will pass the Lakers. Look for them to upset the Thunder to reach the conference finals.

bschmitz@tribune.com

Where does Howard land?

Mike Berardino

Sun Sentinel

Making preseason predictions is always dicey, but never tougher than in this season's on-the-fly NBA.

Tell me where Dwight Howard and Steve Nash eventually land, and I'd feel a lot more confident about pegging the final four we'll be watching in May.

Lacking that information, I'll go with the Heat over the Bulls in an Eastern Conference finals rematch.

The same issues remain that plagued the Bulls last season against the Heat. Reigning MVP Derrick Rose is still going to be asked to do too much.

Out west, everybody loves the Clippers, and they'll definitely be fun to watch. I also like the fresh legs of the youthful Thunder against the playoff-tested Spurs.

mberardino@tribune.com

More of the same

K.C. Johnson

Chicago Tribune

This is boring: The same four teams — Bulls vs. Heat, Thunder vs. Mavericks — will meet in the conference finals.

At least the basketball will be anything but boring. In this odd, compressed season, continuity will be as important as talent. And, yes, the Mavericks underwent some changes. But the core of the team remains pretty much intact and few teams will match their depth and shooting ability. The Thunder remain virtually the same. The Bulls added Richard Hamilton. The Heat added Shane Battier. Those moves just made deep teams even deeper.

So in the end, it's those same four teams. We'll save the Finals predictions for another time.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

Heat are favorites — again

Broderick Turner

Los Angeles Times

In the Eastern Conference, it is easy to pick the Heat. After all, they are the favorites to win the NBA championship — again.

The Celtics are an aging group, so unless they find youth, it's hard to see them in the Finals. The Magic are in a quandary with the Dwight Howard will-he-be-traded situation?

That leaves the Bulls as the choice to meet the Heat in the East finals.

As for the Western Conference, the Thunder seem poised to reach the conference finals again.

The Lakers aren't the team they once were and are getting older. The new-look Clippers are exciting, but it's going to take some time for them to coalesce.

As for the Mavericks, until they're knocked off, they are the team to beat.

baturner@tribune.com