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by Ryan Irwin

Like Ned Stark of the hit television show “Game of Thrones” famously espouses, “Winter is coming.” The summer heat has come and gone. The trees are turning colors, from red, to orange to yellow. Baseball’s staggeringly long regular season is in the books, and the playoffs are dwindling into their final clash until spring in the coming months.

Football is in full swing, dominating the airwaves and the minds of America, for better or for worse. Hockey, the worst-run league of the four major sports, is in serious jeopardy of losing its entire season, again.

For those who need something to watch during the week or find the NFL painfully boring, the National Basketball Association is on the verge of starting its season.

The start of a season is always an exciting time for fans, players and coaches alike. Every team starts at the same record, has the same chance to go to the playoffs and play for an absurdly large trophy. Players have yet to suffer from fatigue, chomping at the bit to run a fast break, throw down monster dunks and come out victorious 48 minutes after tip-off.

Fans are the same way.  We forget the lackadaisical play, the blown leads, the constant finishing at the bottom of the conference. Or maybe that’s just Golden State Warriors fans such as myself.

Either way, the start of a season, regardless of sport, represents hope. And every start of a season features storylines to watch and expectations for teams. Here are the top stories to watch and my playoff predictions for the 2012-’13 NBA season.

Top 5 Things to Watch

5. Brooklyn Nets in their new city

A few years removed from a historically awful season, the New Jers—I mean, the Brooklyn Nets are debuting for their new fans in their new city. New York is a fantastic basketball town,  so there should be a great response to the move from a city that might be looking for an alternative team to root for besides the Knicks. The Nets have one of the best, and most underrated, point guards in the game in Deron Williams, and they also managed to get him a slick shooting sidekick in ex-Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson. A rejuvenated fanbase, more star power and a little bit of luck could make the new Barclays Center the place to be this winter.

4. Anthony Davis’s transition to the NBA

After leading his team, with the help of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, to a convincing NCAA National Championship, power forward/center Anthony Davis is off to New Orleans as the No. 1 pick of the NBA Draft. “The Brow,” aptly nicknamed for sporting a unibrow that he and fans embrace, set a freshman SEC record for shots blocked in a season, surpassing the old record set by Shaquille O’Neal during his days at LSU. Some believe Davis doesn’t have enough size to be a center in this league. Will Davis transform the Hornets into a playoff contender?

3. Andrew Bynum’s presence in Philly

Lost in the summer’s mega-blockbuster deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers, young center Andrew Bynum was sent to the Philadelphia 76ers. Nobody doubts Bynum’s ability, but his health has been a major factor throughout his career. Currently, Bynum has been having knee issues and hasn’t played a minute in the preseason. How big of a factor will Bynum be in the City of Brotherly Love, and will he ever get fully healthy?

2. Ray Allen’s move to Miami

Rarely do you see a championship team adding big pieces. However, the Heat did just that when they signed incredible three-point marksman Ray Allen. After several seasons with the Celtics, an NBA championship and multiple playoff births, Allen is ready to win another ring with the best team in the NBA. His skill set gives the Heat a dangerous option on the perimeter for Lebron & Co.

1.Dwight Howard, Steve Nash join the Lake Show

As mentioned above, the massive deal that sent Dwight Howard to the Lakers adds to a long line of supremely talented Los Angeles Lakers centers. Dwight is coming off back surgery, so how he bounces back from that will be worth noting. Also of note is the trade to acquire Hall of Fame point guard Steve Nash. Kobe Bryant has never had a legitimate floor general, so it will be interesting to watch how this team filled with superstars at will coalesce and gel over the course of the season.

Playoff Prediction:

Eastern Conference Finals:  Miami Heat over Indiana Pacers

This matchup is one that might seem a bit surprising to those unfamiliar with the Pacers squad. Roy Hibbert and Danny Granger lead a fantastic Indiana team that gave the Heat a scare in last years Eastern Conference semifinals. Expect the Pacers to be that much more dangerous with a year of playoff experience under their belt. Ultimately, however,  the Heat will prove too much and advance to the Finals once again.

Western Conference Finals: Oklahoma City Thunder over Los Angeles Lakers

While the Lakers have, on paper, the most talented and star-studded team in the league, games aren’t played on paper. The Thunder have tons of playoff experience, young players who are coming into their primes and one of the greatest scorers on the planet in Kevin Durant. The Lakers will have trouble gelling in the playoffs, just as the Heat needed a year to fully become a team. Maybe next year, L.A.

NBA Finals:  

Miami Heat over Oklahoma City Thunder

This is the least sexy pick that could be made about the upcoming season, but it is the most logical. The two best teams in the league will meet again in the Finals, with the same results. Ray Allen, as noted above, gives Miami another lethal dimension in its offensive scheme. When Lebron needs to kick it out because he is getting double-teamed, Allen will be there to knock down threes, opening up the floor for the rest of the team. The Heat are just too hard to contain, and they will raise another banner this year.

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